Nature (Video Script)
From the earliest times, humans have viewed nature as an expression of God or Gods. The worship of nature deities associated with natural forces and phenomena was common in ancient cultures. Hence the reverence for deities of water, sky, and vegetation.
The idea that God or divinity is identical to nature or the universe, is called pantheism, derived from the Greek PAN meaning “all” and theos meaning “god”. Although there are varieties of Pantheism, the essential concept is that the Cosmos is a sacred unity.
With the advance of modern science, some theologians and philosophers developed a viewpoint called Deism. Like pantheism, the divine is associated with nature. However, deists regard the universe as the product of an all-powerful creator who could be known by reason and observation of the natural world. But for the deist, the creator is not personal. Having created the cosmos, God does not alter creation by interacting with it. This concept of god as a “supreme architect” leaves no room for supernatural events such as miracles or any type of divine intervention. God can be thought of as a “First Cause” or “Prime Mover.” Thus deism, in its purest form, envisions a clockwork universe, designed and built by God, who then withdraws and allows it to run on its own. This approach has also been called natural theology.
One of the most accessible explanations of natural theology was put forth by William Paley. Paley reasoned that a rational person, upon finding a watch in a field, would probably conclude that the instrument had been created by an intelligent watchmaker rather than somehow being assembled by undirected natural causes purely by chance. Using this logic to explain the source of the exquisitely designed universe, Paley compared the universe to a watch and concluded that there must be a watchmaker.
Paley’s “argument from design” published in 1802 has found fresh resonance with modern thinkers who are dissatisfied with the materialistic/naturalistic model of contemporary science. Supporters of the “intelligent design” movement reject the idea that undirected natural causes are solely responsible for the origin of the universe and development of life. Whereas Paley’s belief in a designed universe was primarily based on intuitive feelings about creation, the modern intelligent design movement relies on the complex, information-rich structures of biology as the rationale for the presence of intelligence.
In its strictest sense, the intelligent design theory is not theological, although it is compatible with theism. Theoretically, it focuses on intelligence without necessarily speculating about the source or nature of the intelligence. In practice however, the movement appears to be driven primarily by Christian fundamentalists advocating the young earth creationism model.
Scientific thinkers have been quick to aggressively protest that such theories are simply a god of the gaps explanation. In other words, wherever there is a gap in scientific knowledge, god is cited as the cause or reason for the phenomena. But as science progresses and fills in the gaps, there is less and less room for God.
Probably the most outspoken of the atheistic proponents of godless science is Richard Dawkins, whose book The Blind Watchmaker, seeks to explain how the “blind forces of physics” is the driving influence behind evolution in every manifestation of life. Thus we have polarization of the debate between the proponents of “intelligent design” and Darwin’s theory of evolution. Currently it would appear that evolutionary scientists have gained the advantage in the domains of law, education, and public perception.
However, there are numerous thinkers, both religious and scientific, who seek to avoid polarization and find a more integrative worldview. For example, the theoretical physicist, theologian, and Anglican priest, John Polkinghorne, has pointed out the shortcomings of the mechanical, clockwork universe approach of both natural theology and classical physics. A nuclear physicist who made contributions to quantum theory, Polkinghorne cites the inherent “cloudiness” of quantum mechanics and chaos theory as possible examples of the limitation of human knowledge – inherent gaps in human understanding that my never be filled. Polkinghorne advocates a concept of god as loving creator who is clever enough to create a universe with the potential to make itself, to unfold through processes governed by natural laws. Since the universe is not a machine, not a predetermined process, there is room for continuous divine intervention at various levels, such as the quantum level of nuclear physics.
Immanent And Transcendent
From a philosophical perspective, Polkinghorne’s approach could be classified as Panentheism. Whereas Pantheism makes god entirely immanent and synonymous with nature, Panentheism acknowledges that God is within nature but also beyond or outside of the physical universe. Thus God is both immanent and transcendent.
The Cayce readings embrace the panentheistic approach by recognizing God as the Creative Energy or creative influence within all of nature – not only every plant and animal as a lifeform, but within inanimate substances as well, such as minerals. God seeks all to be one with Him. And as all things were made by Him, that which is the creative influence in every herb, mineral, vegetable, or individual activity is that same force ye call God–and seeks expression! Even as when God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. For, this is law; this is love.
This is consistent with modern physics that recognizes that matter is energy and energy is matter. The energy that is the basis for all that is – all the substance of the universe, is the creative energy or force called God.
The laws of physics that govern the functioning of the universe reflect the mind of God. The awe and wonder that a scientist experiences in the study of nature is a form of worship, whether acknowledged as such or not.
Thus we can learn about god by reasoning and observing nature, as the deists have insisted. The Cayce readings even recommend taking children out into nature as a means for learning about god. By including nature in the search for God, we learn of the God within and the God without – the God that is both immanent and transcendent, personal and impersonal.
Stewardship of the Planet
With the recognition that God is within all of nature, reverence for this planet and the entire universe for that matter, becomes a spiritual imperative. How we treat nature is how we treat God. Some spiritual traditions have a long history of such reverence. In particular, Buddhists have recognized the sacredness of all life and sought to avoid doing harm, even to relatively simply creatures such as insects.
In contemporary culture, pantheistic philosophy has been popularized by ecologists as the Gaia principle in recognition of the Greek earth mother goddess. Due to the efforts of ecological activists, human-related environmental crises ranging from air and water pollution to global climate change have become prominent in our collective consciousness. At the personal level, production and consumption of food has become a profound spiritual matter, whether from the perspective of pollution and disease, or as a reverence for all of life.
In the Genesis creation story, God created the world and its creatures with a blessing, calling it good and assigning the responsibility for stewardship to humans. And yet, we find ourselves in the midst of a mass extinction event with the elimination of numerous species that many scientists believe is due, in large measure, to human activity. If God is within nature, the search for God must include a reverent stewardship of the life, land, and resources of this planet.