Why is there Something rather than Nothing?

This is for those who like trying to imagine travelling to infinity and beyond! It is a sort of sequel to ‘Eddies in the Stream‘.

Why is there something rather than nothing?
Something is something we can understand –
things are all round us, but why are they there?
Why is there sunshine and birds in the air?
nothing is no-thing, and this seems absurd,
nothing is something for which there’s no word.
Nothing is absence, and that is something;
no song for no singer that no-one can sing.
What are those things that just cannot be?
Just between you and just between me,
nothing is something, and that cannot be.

Why is there something rather than nothing?
Is there a Maker that calls us to be?
an infinite-finite source of all being?
or multiverses to infinity?
Religion nor Science have answered the question,
‘Why is there something where nothing could be?’

Nothing is no-thing, and that is a problem,
it describes both a void and things that are not.
I search for a word that speaks not of things,
that does not suggest an absence of what?
for a void is a something, and an absence is too,
and nothing is something that just will not do.
I search for a word and zilch is no answer;
I search for a word and get diddly-squat.

Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why is there something where nothing could be?

There is no word for nothing
that does not mention things,
or speak about the void
the absence of them brings,
then nothing must be something
and so we talk in rings.

So surely it is possible,
and some may well say probable,
that something so intangible
can simply not exist.
Then nothing is a no-thing,
an impossible-to-go thing,
so surely there is something
rising from this mist.

Space and time and energy
are something we can feel:
eddies whirled in spacetime,
an expanding, whirling reel;
a dark, flowing energy
with eddies of its own,
spinning, ever spinning,
in this turning cosmic wheel

And those we see and know
as fundamental particles,
atoms, light and molecules,
flying to and fro,
may be eddies within eddies,
that draw the flow around them;
eddies in those eddies.
that make this cosmos grow.

Eddies bend the space-time flow around them.
Spacetime tells the eddies how to move.
Something more than nothing is no problem;
but something we can wonder at and love.

I have a sort of feeling that your mind like mine is reeling.

– – –

Scientists often say the language of the universe is mathematics, so is number an essential thing? an irreducible something, the reason for ‘something rather than nothing’? Perhaps, perhaps not.

We cannot explain numbers to children without words; sometimes lots of words. As children learn numbers in words, so students learn mathematics – plus, minus, times, divide, integrals, calculus, matrices, in many, many words. The most complex mathematical concepts, cosmic infinities, sub-atomic minutiae, could probably not be said in the words of a mathematician’s lifetime. A neighbour in Sue’s Birthday Bunnies called numbers the collapsed waveforms of words, a shorthand for the infinite words that might define this universe.

They take out all the hassle.

But in the beginning was the word.

There is another word for which we have no word. See you in two weeks.

Marius’ Mules

‘Lent’ comes from an Anglo-Saxon word,
lencten meaning springtime,
lengthening days.

As winter stores run short,
the last tightening of the belt
before the earth sprouts again
and birds return,
we look to seed-time.

Buried seed rises, life resumes,
seed-time leads to regrowth,
as regrowth leads to harvest,
and God who gives the seasons,
turns seed-time celebrations
to the greater one of Easter.

We mark this time of self-denial,
the desert of temptation
and the journey to the cross,
with Jesus’ words:
If any would be my follower,
let him deny himself,
take up his cross and follow me.

Then they heard Him differently,
not as we do now, but then.
Now we sometimes change the words
to include men and women,
but His listeners thought of men.

They saw lines of Roman soldiers
with crosses on on their backs,
their nickname, ‘Marius’ Mules’
from the general who led them
and made them wear cross-shaped packs
weighing over sixty pounds.

The pack was called a sarcina,
a military marching backpack,
but in their slang it was furca,
the word for two pronged forks,
for crucifixion crosses and punishment yokes;
furcifer was slang for jailbird,
gallows material.
All a man needed was tied, or hanged,
on his furca,
his cross.

There is more.

Soldiers can’t be individuals,
self-seekers or go-getters,
but a troop with a leader;
holding together as one.
Legionaire, centurion,
cook, quartemaster,
introvert, extrovert
or barrack-room lawyer;
soldiers are part of a company,
one esprit-de-corps,
watching each other’s backs,
carrying their full packs,
denying personal wants
for the sake of the legion,
following the one in charge.

We know our King was crucified,
His hearers, then, just heard the call:

If any would be my follower,
let them deny themselves,
take up their cross and follow me.

What was Jesus saying to that first century crowd? Many were waiting for a Messiah, a warrior in Joshua’s mould, who would drive out the Romans and restore Israel and David’s throne. Here was a stirring speaker with Joshua’s Aramaic name, speaking in soldierly language, calling for followers. Was He speaking to them?

We read His words knowing He was crucified, and interpret them differently, but so would his first-century listeners just two or three years later. It is as though He was not talking to that crowd, not then, not there, but to that crowd as it would be when His work was done.

John (ch.6:15) described how, having heard Him speak, with their high expectations they tried to force Him to be their king. Instead they gained the Servant King who so loved the world that He came as His own Son so they might have eternal life.

We often only understand God’s words and actions after they are fulfilled.

God’s Daydream

Last September I posted a scientific parallel of Genesis. Here it is again as a children’s story:

Some of God’s days are longer than others and some much shorter. Some are made up of lots and lots of our days. Peter, a very good friend of Jesus, said one of our days could be like a thousand years for God, and a thousand of our years could be like just one day for Him. He really doesn’t mind.

This story is about God’s days, his first special ones.

God’s First Day – Let there be light.

It is a story before all stories, the story of a daydream. It wasn’t a dream in the night because there was no night yet, and it wasn’t a dream in the day because there was no day yet. It was a daydream about a day that hadn’t happened. There was nothing, an emptiness with no people, no animals and no places for them to be. But the emptiness shimmered with little almost-waves like the surface of a calm sea just before the wind comes, but these were not almost-waves of water, they were almost-waves of light.

God knew His day needed light so he blew on the almost-waves and said ‘Let’s have light.’ They shimmered and shimmered until suddenly there it was, beautiful and dazzling and a little bit frightening. Well, actually, much more than a little bit – it was very frightening.  That is it would have been if we had been there to be frightened but luckily for us we weren’t and God liked it and there was no longer nothing. There were great, glorious waves of light.

It was the first day and it went by in a flash, which was quite long enough for God.

God’s Second Day – space.

The dancing light waves pushed and pressed at each other like children fighting for sweets. ‘All that light with nothing to do and nowhere to go.’ thought God. ‘I think there should be some order here.’

So he made a rule: some waves could not be in the same place at the same time but other than that they could do what they liked (actually he made some other rules we call the initial conditions but I don’t want to bore you with that).

The waves did as they were told. They flew here and there (which was of course the first ‘here and there’ – before that there was nowhere). As they flew they changed. They became red and green and blue, and strong and weak, and big and small – all the colours of the rainbow and many more things you and I could hardly understand and the space between them became bigger and bigger. It was the second day.

God’s Third Day – the Earth forms with land, seas and early life.

God said, ‘If they carry on like this they will fly away and disappear again. Let’s have a little bit of gravity here.’

And the waves came together in space and, wherever they did, they behaved as though they were tiny specks, smaller than the smallest piece of dust, but so many that they made galaxies and stars and planets and moons and all sorts of places – and one of them was our own home, Earth.

In the Earth, and other places too for all I know, some of them got together and made tiny almost-plants like the first almost-waves and these made more and more until they got together and began to build real plants. Each new plant could make more, bigger and bigger and bigger ones.

It was the third day, a very long one. For us it would have been millions of millions of years but to God it was just another day.

God’s Fourth Day – the seasons of the sun and moon, life in seas and land.

God said ‘Let’s have a few changes here.’

Now, if you remember, everything was made of waves of light, so the plants needed light to grow and change and they got most of it from the Sun and the Moon and the stars. The Moon is big like a small planet although it is not as big as our Earth. We are like two planets turning round and round each other as we go round the Sun together. This makes summer when it is brighter and hotter, and winter when it is colder and dimmer, and the in-between times, spring and autumn. It makes the sea tides rise and fall, and gives us bright days and dark nights.

All these changes caused changes in the plants. After millions of our years some of them changed a lot but to God it was just another day. The fourth one.

God’s Fifth Day – the spread of mammals.

God’s fifth day was even longer. Slowly the changing seasons and tides, and days and nights, and all the changes that the plants had to make to keep up, made the seas swarm with plant life and some of them became almost-animals. God liked that.

‘Let’s have more.’ He said.

So just as the almost-waves had become light, and the almost-plants became real plants, so the almost-animals became real animals. It took a very long time, fifty million of our years, until the seas became the home of millions of tiny creatures. Fifty million years is a very long time but it took a hundred million years before a very different animal grew called Trigonotarbids. It was different because it lived out of the water. It was the first land animal.

Have you been counting? I have. So far God’s fifth day has been a hundred and fifty million of our years but it wasn’t over yet! It was another two hundred million years before much larger animals grew. You will have heard of these, they were Dinosaurs.

And still God’s fifth day was not over!

The Dinosaurs roamed the Earth for another hundred and seventy million years. There were lots of them: small ones, large ones, very, very large ones, even some that could fly, but eventually they came to an end and the only ones left were some of the ones that could fly. They became birds. I expect you guessed that. And that was the end of God’s fifth day.

If you have been counting it took five hundred and twenty million of our years, and if you weren’t counting it still took five hundred and twenty million.

God’s Sixth Day – the coming of Mankind.

Once the big dinosaurs were gone the world was safer for smaller animals. God’s dream was getting better and better.

‘I like them.’ Said God, ‘Let’s have some more.’

So monkeys and pigs and songbirds and horses and camels and little shrews and all sorts of creatures spread far and wide but God’s daydream was still not finished.

God said, ‘There’s no-one else here quite like me. I want someone to share it with.’

He didn’t mind what they looked like because he had made many different creatures, but he wanted someone who would be pleased with this world and love it like he did – friends who could look after it all. Once the animals had spread all over the Earth, which took nearly sixty million of our years, God breathed his spirit into one of the creatures and it loved the world he had made. After many more millions of our years it became us. That was the end of God’s sixth day.

God’s Seventh Day – He rests.

So the heavens and the earth were finished and everything in them, and on the seventh day of God’s daydream he blessed it because it was the day that he rested from all the work that he had done. The seventh day went by in a flash just like the first.

Then the serious work began.

Small Deaths and Life.

When the leaf or the sparrow falls,
or the bough breaks or bends,
the curtain falls and the encore calls no more;
when sunset fades from castle walls,
there, writ small in a thousand daily ends,
the quiet message of the Word
blending time with eternity :
past, present, future,
in one, continuing, I AM.

And did He share in all our common ills?
scratch at an itch, or sneeze?
ache with weariness, suffer with the miles?
Did He feel the weight of troubles borne alone?
or dash His foot on many a wayside stone?

Did He disdain the tempting devil words?
Nor use the eternal power that sent Him here?
Did He die our thousand daily deaths
until that greater death we forced on Him,
that He so freely died for us,
the glad gift of the Lover to His beloved?

And was His death a gift?
or mark the value of the gift,
of the giver,
and the receiver?

For God so loved the world
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that all who believe in Him shall not die
but have eternal life.

The Son of God, the Son of Man,
did not come into the world to die,
but to bring the gift of eternal life
to all who believe in Him.

But what are we to believe?
The world displayed the Word from the beginning.
What new thing was this?
He came. That is mere history.
His teaching was not new –.
He taught the unchanged Law,
the truth we should already know,
leaving no excuse.

The unity of Father, Son and Spirit
binding the Eternal into time,
the Son of Man, the Son of God,
the Lover that so loved the world
that He who came to bring us life
died at the hands of His beloved.

That was His gift,
a new law:
‘Love one another
as I have loved you.’

Rivers of Memory (3)

(1) Pishon                    (2) Pishon and Havilah

Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

Havilah extended beyond the fabled garden, beyond ‘Eden’. If it was the whole land mass that encompassed them then Havilah is Africa; a land of great stretches of deserts, savannah and rainforest, crossed and fed by rivers such as the Congo, the Nile and the Zambesi. The fertility of this region is steeped, as is all fertility, in water. Hunter-gatherer families followed it through the rich waterlands of the Great Rift Valley. This richly rivered region in the east of Africa led west to the Congo and east to the sea. Southward lay savannah, woodland and the Zambezi from which they had come. To their west, between them and the Congo, lay the far ridge of the Great Rift Valley rising to over two thousand feet, above the tree line, keeping them to the east. Through the Rift Valley itself ran the chain of rivers which fed Lake Kalahari. Lake Victoria however flowed out to the river that would become the Nile. And the Nile led them north.

‘The name of the second river is Gihon, it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush.’
Genesis 2: 13

 The land of Cush is what we now call Ethiopia, where even older remains have been found, and Gihon the Nile or perhaps the narrow split which opened in the northeast of Havilah and has opened further since then to become the Red Sea which is growing even now. It drew our ancestors on, eventually to Mesopotamia: the land of the Hittites, Tubal, and the Sumerians; the gateway to the eastern arc of the fertile crescent and the country of Ararat. The naming of Assyria shows it was established by the time Genesis passed into written form.

Tigris and Euphrates

‘The name of the third river is Tigris which flows east of Assyria. And the name of the fourth river is the Euphrates.’                                                                                                                                         Genesis 2: 14

And so to the last of the great rivers associated with the genesis of humankind whose names we still know today: Tigris and Euphrates. Here the sequence of the rivers is broken. To get to the Tigris from Africa you must cross the Euphrates first, yet the Euphrates is placed fourth. The Tigris was the more important waterway. Ninevah, capital of Assyria, was built on its banks, as was Asshur, the city of the Assyrian god. The placing of the more important river first may be explained by the oral history having been written into this later historical setting.

The names of the earliest rivers are lost in prehistory, somewhere, long after the Taung child who was given the name Lucy,  between the time that language developed enough for us to tell stories and share memories and histories, and the development of writing, perhaps around the time long before writing, when we recorded our daily lives in cave paintings. Nowadays the name Pishon means a bouncing or jumping waterflow, conjuring pictures of falls and white water, whereas Gihon us a river that gushes on. The earlier root sounds may have had other meanings.

We will never know how much of the prehistoric oral record survives and how much is later addition, but we do know the history of our ancestors is rooted in these stories of ours as much as in our genes.

(1) Pishon                    (2) Pishon and Havilah

Rivers of Memory (2)

(1) Pishon                   (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

Pishon & Havilah

Pishon… that flows around the whole land of Havilah where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellyium and onyx stone are there.’
                                                     Genesis 2: 10-12

These early names carry echoes of a homeland, Eden meaning pleasure. Havilah means stretch of sand, a dry or coastal land associated in the collective memory with dry savannah, desert or coastal dunes, yet watered by the waterways of our first home. Fertility in the midst of a parched land of fragrant gum trees, precious alluvial deposits and banded quartz. This memory, handed down orally from our earliest understanding of home, is earlier than the ‘Garden’ of Adam and Eve. That was not Eden; the garden was in Eden, a dim, half-recollected image of another land in the west, unnamed and scarcely understood, from which Eden was eastward.

The only thing we are told which might identify Havilah is that there was good quality gold there, and bdellyium and onyx. Gold must be panned or mined and refined. It must be melted, moulded and crafted; bdellyium is a fragrant resin or gum from which perfumes and unguents were made. Onyx is a dark, banded agate, often treated by immersion in sugar or honey solution for several weeks, then soaked in acid solution turning its natural colour to bands of black and white. A jewel in its own right, the dark and light layers lent themselves to the production of cameos. The worlds choicest supply is in Algeria; one of the earliest onyx quarries was in Egypt.

The story of Pishon and Havilla would have been an oral tradition from long before the development of writing. Gold, bdellyium and onyx imply a level of expertise, co-operation and sophistication way beyond what one would expect in such an early society, but this has become a written account. By the time of the development of writing these skills were well developed, and writers have always been ready to add an editorial comment, here illustrating the land of Havilah with products known to readers.

To come, the final part: rivers Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates.

(1) Pishon                   (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

Rivers of Memory (1)

(2) Pishon and Havilah                    (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

There are personal and race memories: the past, woven into the present in language, in relationships, and in stories. Words and names have roots in history. Etymology, the study of the origins of words, can throw light on the history of humanity. With what we know already, with archeology, palentology, and old stories that predate writing, we can get a glimmer, a tiny vision, of our past.

There were once four rivers: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates.

Pishon

‘A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon…’ Genesis 2: 10,11

In 1924 in the southern heart of Africa, limestone quarrymen in Taung in the Kalahari, found the skull of a female, early pre-human child, who lived and died there two and a half million years ago. Taung is some fifty miles from the African township of Bethlehem, but there was no Bethlehem then, no Taung, no Kalahari. We might not recognise the humanity in her family group with modern eyes, but it was there; tenacious, adaptable. They had survived for a million years and spread throughout Africa in the tropical rainforest through valleys and plains, following the provider of fertility: water. Today we have given these waterways names: the Orange River, the Limpopo, the Save, the Zambezi, and its tributary the Shire into which Lake Nyasa empties, falling, some fifty miles downstream, over the Kholombidzo Falls to the coast. As well as these great rivers there are lakes like seas. Lakes we call Tanganika, Rukwa, Jivu, Rwanda, Mobutu Kyoga, Turkana and many others. Greatest of all is Lake Victoria.

Somewhere here, in what is still among the most densely populated regions of Africa, early humans found their voice, language. We have few clues to the nature of their early speech: just a collection of root sounds common to later tongues, but home must have a name. Crows are said to have two main calls: kia! which signifies returning to their roost, and the deeper kaa! which signifies flying away from the roost to feed. These two cries can be heard in competition in any flock. They are voting. Whichever cry predominates determines the action of the flock.

One of the early root sounds in human language is pi, associated with drinking. Perhaps it came from the lapping sound. Another is a group of sounds all associated with water and beginning with s such as Spu: spit, sru: flow or stream and snu: to bathe, swim, float or flow. These sounds are not a language, they are roots from which language springs. Just possibly they had two sounds that joined meant home: pi-snu (drink-flow) or Pishon.

… the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellyium and onyx stone are there.’

                                                     Genesis 2: 10-12

(2) Pishon and Havilah                    (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond