If you could have been there when the big bang went bang 13.7 billion years ago, you would likely think that God (if God exists) was pulling your leg if She said to you, “From this explosion I’ll make a world; a complex cosmos of stars, planets, life, and intelligence will gradually evolve from it.”
If you expressed disbelief–and it would be rational for you to do so–God might retort with an outline of Her creation method: “I’ll do it by leaving the hydrogen molecules that came from the bang to cool in accordance with the physical laws I’ve established.”
Such an explanation of the process probably wouldn’t help. In fact, it might make God’s claim seem even more absurd. Like Ezekiel in the Valley of the Dry Bones (“Can these bones live?”), you too might well express skepticism: “Can these scattered clouds of hydrogen live?” Of course, the question answers itself. They cannot.
Yet they did (and do). Hydrogen molecules cooling and moving through their phase states became the complex cosmos we see around us and in us. This fact seems as implausible as a cosmos coming from, say, super-heated water molecules left to cool (which are, after all, just hydrogen and oxygen). The fact that the hydrogen-cooling method for making a cosmos has been ongoing for 13.7 billion years doesn’t help; it’s still jaw-dropping to contemplate. If it’s not a miracle, it’ll do until the miracle gets here (to echo a line of Tommy Lee Jones’ in No Country for Old Men–“If it ain’t a mess, it’ll do till the mess gets here”). In an interview, the physicist Richard Feynman put his own astonishment at the gap between nature’s elemental simplicity and its dumbfounding productions this way:
There’s such a lot in the world, there’s so much distance between the fundamental rules and the final phenomena, that it’s almost unbelievable that the final variety of phenomena can come from such a steady operation of such simple rules.
Reid Gower, as part of the Sagan Series, has made a meditative video to accompany Feynman’s expression of wonder (see below), and when I reflect on the complexity that has evolved from so elemental a beginning, I too am thunder-struck. It brings me, as an agnostic, up against the ontological mystery–the mystery of being itself. And it’s not just, “Why is there something when there might have been nothing?”, but “Why is there something so complex that has grown from something so simple?” The cosmos just seems too elegant to be the product of chance alone.
Is it absurd to think that maybe, just maybe, some sort of mind or telos is behind it all?