What does cutting-edge research in cosmology mean for the work of those who want to become a minister? Will new insight into the origin of the cosmos render the online church irrelevant? At a recent conference in Santa Clara, California, scientists tried to tackle the "God" question, yet the answer remains as elusive as ever. The findings aren't necessarily a death knell for spirituality, though: we simply don't know what created the universe, which means there is a theory to suit just about every type of ULC minister out there.
The scientists shared their thoughts during a discussion panel called "Did the Big Bang Require a Divine Spark?" 23 June at the SETICon 2 conference. Among them was astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley. "The Big Bang could've occurred as a result of just the laws of physics being there," he said, adding that "[w]ith the laws of physics, you can get universes." Also present was Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the non-profit Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, who said that "[q]uantum fluctuations can produce the cosmos." This doesn't mean that God doesn't exist, however; it just means that science cannot presently answer the God question, as Filippenko points out. Where, then, does this leave the online church, and what purpose does the ULC minister serve?
Suppose it were true that the universe came into being out of nothing, without the hand of a creative agent. This poses no problem for atheists who choose to become a minister. The question of God's existence has little to no practical impact on the function of atheist ministries, which tend to focus on issues of a secular, earthly nature. Nor does it conflict with the theological vision of online churches like the ULC Monastery, which encompasses multiple belief systems, including atheism.
But the current scientific view also leaves open the possibility of a divine creator, consistent with the beliefs of other ULC ministers. The precise nature of this creator, however, might surprise the average believer. "[I]t could be that this universe is merely the science fair project of a kid in another universe" created by twisting space and time in just the right way, Shostak said. Thus, even if God did exist, we might need to revise our portrait of the white, bearded man sitting on a throne in the clouds.
There is a third, even stranger possibility. What if God is everything and nothing, space and non-space, time and timelessness? This is the god of the pantheist or phenomenalist, who believes that consciousness, not matter, is fundamental to the universe, that matter emerges out of consciousness, and that new discoveries in quantum mechanics support this theory. As discoveries are made and beliefs challenged, a growing number of people who become a minister are embracing this view.
We may not know what force set in motion the string of events that led to the universe we see
today, but this gives us the opportunity to consider the wide range of possible answers. Whether the universe sprang from nothing, arose from a science fair project in another universe, or emerged from a state of pure consciousness, we still share a purpose and vision as interfaith ministers--to do that which is right, so long as this respects the rule of law and the rights of others.