We continue exploring John Hick’s, The Fifth Dimension, a book in which Hick makes an extended argument for the reality of a “spiritual dimension to life.” If his argument holds, it would mean that God / “the Transcendent” / “the Divine” (depending on if you use Western, personal categories or Eastern, impersonal categories, is an ontological reality, not simply a projection of humanity’s imagination. Today we’ll look at Chapter III where Hick tries to open the door for at least the possibility of interpreting the Universe in Spiritual terms…
Chapter III: The Big Bang and the Ambiguity of the Universe
The universe is confusing. What the heck kind of reality are we in and how the heck did we get here? These questions have consumed human minds since they had the ability to think of such things. And different minds, from different places and times, have come up with very different answers.
This, Hick believes, is because the universe is ambiguous. That is, it lends itself to different interpretations.
The primary division in interpretation Hick has in mind is between a purely material understanding of existence, and an understanding which includes spiritual reality. One could look at the brute data and conclude that nothing exists outside of matter, or one could conclude that God/Spiritual Reality exists. In Hick’s mind how we interpret the Universe is essentially a choice, not an obvious fact…even if many Materialist thinkers would have you think otherwise.
A test case that Hick looks at is the data which leads to the idea of a “fine-tuned” Universe. This data has commonly been used in a Teleological argument for the existence of God, which tries to show that the physical laws of the Universe are so fine-tuned to allow the existence of life, that there must be an Intelligent Mind behind it. The Universe seems “designed” for the purpose of life. Hick quotes Martin Rees, who was not a theist, several times to cite these kinds of data:
If Q (a measure of the degree of “non-uniformity” of matter at the beginning of the Universe) were much smaller than .00001, galactic ‘ecosystems’ would never form: aggregations would take longer to develop, and their gravity would be too weak to retain gas. A very smooth universe would remain forever dark and featureless…. On the other hand, a rougher universe, with Q much larger than .000001, would be turbulent and violent. Lumps far bigger than galaxies would condense early in its history. They would not fragment into stars.
A universe hospitable to life – what we might call a biophilic universe – has to be very special in many ways. The prerequisites for any life – long-lived stable stars, a periodic table of atoms with complex chemistry, and so on – are sensitive to physical laws and could not have emerged from a Bib Bang with a recipe that was even slightly different. Many recipes would lead to stillborn universes too short lived of too empty to allow anything to evolve beyond sterile uniformity. This distinctive and special-seeming recipe seems to me a fundamental mystery that should not be brushed aside as merely a brute fact.
But this data, usually also including physical constants such as strong and weak nuclear forces, is open to multiple interpretations. Materialist/Naturalistic thinkers might make the jump to a Multi-verse or the idea that probability doesn’t apply to the formation of our Universe (i.e. we shouldn’t think in terms of it being “fine-tuned” or “improbable” because the Universe is simply a brute fact). While of course the Theist or religious person sees this fine-tuning as evidence of a Higher Mind.
Thoughts: Basically Hick is just trying to loosen hardened Materialists to the possibility that you could interpret the Universe in a way which allows room for a “Spiritual Dimension.” He will spend future chapters making an argument that this understanding is, in fact, a better explanation.
The previous installment can be found here…