Scientists in Russia, led by Svetlana Yashina and David Gilichinsky, are reported to have successfully resurrected a narrow leafed Campion plant (Silene Stenophylla) from fossil fruit buried in northern Siberia 32,000 years ago. Squirrels had buried the fruit in burrows on the banks of the lower Kolyma River in an area populated at the time by mammoth and rhino, among other life. The burrows, recently excavated, were buried under 38 meters of sediment in tundra frozen at minus 7 degrees Celsius. That’s as cold a case of death as a plant can get. The Campion plant dethrones an Israeli date palm as champion of revivification from
ancient fossil matter. The date palm, however, retains the considerable honor of lineage to seed recovered from the fortress of Masada, in the Judean Desert, where the Zealots made their last stand against the Romans. Yet, that seed was a mere 2000 years old; the Campion wins by 30,000 years! A snippet of DNA from the ancient ice age fossil was used to recreate the plant. If this resurrection proves authentic, and there is every indication it is, ancient gardens will surely flourish again.
In truth, 32,000 years is virtually yesterday in the history of earth, which materialized along with the rest of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago, a fairly recent emergence compared to the inflation of the universe in the Big Bang 9.1 billion years earlier. But, yet, and you’ll have to judge the importance of this fact for yourself, 32,000 years ago is deep pre-history compared to the publication of Genesis around 1440 BCE, by Moses, if he is its author, or as compiled earlier from Jahwist (J), Elohist (E), or Priestly (P) sources in the 10th, 9th, and 5th centuries BCE respectively. The Campion plant, it must be admitted, has arisen from a time prior to official Creation, when the standing of God was somewhat nebulous. This is not God’s problem, of course, but we can’t know, without a written record, whether God was omnipresent at the time of the last ice age, when the Campion ancestor bloomed. We have no grounds to assert that God hadn’t been recognized yet, although that remains a disturbing possibility. The absence of a written announcement and opening premiere causes some perplexity and awkward residual problems. If Egyptian, Babylonian, and Persian Gods are thrown into the historical mix, alongside dieties from China and India, enhanced by knowledge from Anthropology about sacred being in so-called primitive cultures, we have every reason to assume that humanoids of all varieties had their divinities in the Stone Age. Nevertheless, few experts are willing to assert that the one true God then existed, and everyone knows that the God of peace awaits ascension to this very day. It would have helped if the humanoids around at the time of the last ice age had left some sign or mark establishing God’s eminence and bona fides.
There are, to be fair, several not totally satisfactory points of view on God’s status in those times. Some say that God had created the Universe 13.5 billion years ago and dwelled thereafter everywhere in the universe, but had no place of His own on earth, leaving modern earthlings to surmise that heaven and hell, to say nothing of purgatory, might be beyond the solar system and perhaps even outside the milky way. God, it is widely understood, wouldn’t in any event be acting as maitre d’ to newcomers entering any of those places, a role reserved for the devil in the case of hell and for Peter in the case of heaven, leaving the name of the host of purgatory’s entrance ceremony in limbo.
Others say that God started the universe and then absconded, leaving behind beings of all kinds to sink or swim on their own. Proponents of this position assert that God is entirely transcendent; He creates the universe, and then loses interest and leaves, or maybe just hides for fright out of sight. Those who think to the contrary that God is omnipresent in the universe are forced by the lack of divine intervention in wars and natural disasters—such as the earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal on Saturday morning, November 1, 1755, at about 9:40 a.m., where 100,000 perished—to conclude, as Voltaire bitterly did in Candide, that He or She has been, to say the very least, reckless, abusive and neglectful of His or Her creation. In Biblical times, a terrifying occasion is recorded when God supposedly got in a hissy fit and caused a deluge to come over the earth destroying all evildoers. To everyone’s dismay, this category turned out to include every one of them, which is to say all but Noah and his family. Noah and kin were expected to start life anew all by themselves, after the flood had subsided, with the help of as many heterosexual pairs of other animals as could be fitted into one ark. Unattainable idealism and anger management are thought to be two of God’s major problems, an infrequent wish to sacrifice sons another. Who knows what remarkable acts would appear on the divine Vita from earlier times if the details were known?
To summarize, before Genesis, and after as well, unnamed sources paint a picture of an absent, hidden, easily bored, unpredictable, and restless God who is best avoided because of occasional abuses of power and intemperate bouts of anger. This may make some of the views of modern physicists tolerable in comparison. Yet, be forewarned, the views of physicists can infuriate in other ways. Even scientists who confess a religion caution that scientific and supernatural explanations are antithetical to each other. For example, you have to say either that insects with the help of wind transport pollen from stigma to ovary, or that God and the angels do, but you can’t say both. Others claim you can say both, but only on different occasions and before different audiences. Audience segregation is important. The hardheaded scientists quietly state: God is not needed to explain the physical world; science is succeeding in doing that. Don’t waste your breath. You will only be making statements that can’t be proven.
The more debilitating attack on God comes from the multiverse theorists who estimate that 10500 universes could exist, depending upon how the nascent powers of nature sort themselves out in the endless first second, and first three minutes, of the Big Bang. Ten to the 500th universes seems like way too many universes for one God to manage. That should be more than enough to make any God in his right mind abscond. But that’s a problem of no interest to Physicists. The heart wrenching fact is that the singularity out of which the bang materializes voluminously, commencing a universe such as ours, doesn’t include time before or at the start. Time doesn’t exist, nor does space exist either. That’s because singularity is a point where density is infinite. Try that out in your mind: imagine infinite density. If we rewind our universe back from now to earlier than 10-43rd of a second, which is known as Planck time, space-time would have collapsed out of existence, along, of course, with everything else, including the famous four forces—electro-magnetism, the strong atomic force, the weak atomic force, and gravity—which would be unified or homogenized, take your pick, no one really knows. So you see, there would be no time and place for God to employ in engineering a big bang. Space-time, we are told, develops within (or after) the big bang and within its stages, like everything else that comes into existence in our universe, but it does not exist beforehand, a priori, so to speak, if you know what I mean, which I’m not sure I do. So if you were to insist on saying that God is the First Mover, from a time before the singularity, you would be wrong, for all we know. Indeed, if you must use God’s name at all, it is recommended that you address God as “P” for Planck, or “H” for Planck’s constant, a measure of a minimal quantum of generic energy. I doubt that Planck would have wanted such an honor—so much did he come to dislike the implications of the quantum theory his work helped establish—so it can be asked, why should God be any different? The Planck stage, or H, is surmised to be a murky nothing, a plasma, a foamy froth of energy in which the four forces are united just before gravity breaks off and exerts its force independently after the inflation. Space and time and me and you and God come out of the Big Bang. There isn’t even a comforting void to reference.
All of this leads me to invent my own view of humanity and divinity, that a singularity explodes with a bang, a universe inflates, atoms cohere, photons speed, galaxies circle, rock forms, life evolves, plants thrive, and finally, we arrive on earth, only yesterday in cosmic time, live awhile, and then do God the honor of inventing Him into creation. Or put simply: We’re not quite stupid enough to think we created ourselves, out of whole cloth, so we invent God for our comfort, protection, and related uses, to see us through our days and make a claim, totally unwarranted of course, for immortality.
Man and God are intertwined, complementary aspects of each other. But we—stealing a word from a recent President of the United States—are the deciders (or the determinators). As we grow into a definite kind of person and adopt a system of beliefs, we invent the kind of God our beliefs predict and our efforts deserve and require. Thankful people invent a God to thank. Aggressive people invent a God to carry the banner of war. Despairing people invent a God of comfort. Angry people invent a God of retribution. Fearful people create a divine protector.
Aristotle taught that happiness, eudaemonia, is a spiritual reward for living a life fit for a human being. Happiness, an emotional and spiritual mood, comes over us unexpectedly, taking us by delightful surprise, like a wave, or a gentle breeze. Something close to Joy overtakes us when we’re doing worthwhile and good things. The finest Gods are invented and liberated into the world when people find themselves and dwell in such a divine mood.
Humans conjure, for better or worse, the God their rich and miserable lives need and require. In the long run, this bodes well for the future of divinity. If life endures on earth, humanity may eventually get living right, and God could assume a more humane dominion. In the meantime, mankind may have to put up with many a devilish idea and endless boatloads of clever dervishes.
For my part, and in the interim until finer divinity appears, the picture of the beautiful, quietly perfect, Campion plant with its elegant white flowers, recently reborn from long ago, fills me with happiness, wonder, and joy. What could be finer spiritually than that lovely flower? Nature, seen up close and seen in fine focus from afar, is beautiful, and, I find, spiritually fulfilling. If your religious life temporarily resides in the Stone Age, you may claim in justice that your God rocks! But look here, stop, and meditate on this amazing Campion. Is it not apparent? Divinity flourishes!
Will Callender, Jr. ©
June 21, 2012