I was 17, and happened to be sitting next to that girl – Gail or something – who was generally considered by the rest of the class to be a bit weird.
“I mean just look at bees,” she said to me.
This was a conversation opener, apropos to nothing. We weren’t even doing a biology lesson.
“What about them?” I said warily.
“Well just THINK about it!” she exclaimed. “I mean how can anyone – ANYONE – argue that life is random, that everything just happened to evolve the way it did by a series of chances. So stupid! Think about bees, Janet. (I hate it when people use my full name, but Gail wasn’t the sort to shorten it, the way everyone else did.) Think about the way they live… the patterns… it’s all just SO perfect.”
She drifted off into a blissful reverie, religious ecstasy temporarily quenching her evangelical zeal. Gail was a fundamentalist Christian.
I grunted and began focusing hard on my work.
The fact that I can recall that rather odd snippet of conversation fifty years later, though, goes to show the effect her comments made on me. I’ve never forgotten that incident and as I continued through my life, my mind often travelled back to Gail and her bees. Were we, and all that we share our planet with, really the result of some fluke of natural selection? It merited consideration, certainly.
If you’ve just done the maths, you’ll have deduced that I was educated in the shiny black and white op-art sixties. Science was at its zenith. It was the new religion. Scientists knew everything. They could send rockets to the moon. They could explain anything that needed an explanation. Other points of view were rudely brushed aside as superstition or ignorance. To disagree with the concept of life emerging from a rather fortuitous combination of chemicals, temperature, light and moisture in primeval swamps was almost heresy. It meant you had to be a Creationist – someone who, like Gail, believed the beginning of the Bible contained a factual account of the beginning of the World.
Decades rolled by and I kept thinking. I became increasingly disillusioned with the pomposity of the scientists who were more than happy to sweep inconvenient truths under their lab benches and persuade museums to hide away artefacts that didn’t fit their version of events. On the other hand, I remained unconvinced by Gail’s merciful-but-actually-pretty-vengeful God and his six day fix on the bottomless void.
Fortunately for me, life is more nuanced these days. The growth of digital information, multi-culturalism and alternative ways of thinking and being, mean that despite the continued persistence of some purists and fundamentalists on all sides, terms like Consciousness and Awareness and Intention have gained sway.
It’s no longer either/or. Even scientists are discovering that we influence our lives, our bodies, our wellness and our experience through our thoughts and expectations. For me, God has drifted away from being a strict headmaster with a hippy son to become a benign Intelligence, of which all Life is some kind of infinitessimal part.
Understanding the implications of quantum science removes the barrier between living and non-living. We know, now, how much energy, how much LIFE there is in even the most apparently inert object. Everything is, well, ert.
So OK Gail, I’ll give you that one. There is no randomness in bees. They are a pretty wonderful example of that Divine Intelligence playing out.
And now, I’ve got one for you: eclipses. Is it random chance that when we stand on this one little planet, amongst a mass of celestial bodies, our Moon (which is, in astronomical terms, tiny but very close) can exactly block out our view of our Sun, which is far bigger but far further away?
If Life didn’t randomly evolve on this planet, then do the positions of the heavenly bodies need to be viewed as random, or is there a Divine Intelligence at work there too?
Can we listen again to the music of the spheres? Can we begin to understand why the ancients built megalithic structures with such care and precision, aligning them to star patterns, compass directions and equinoxes?
We are all hard-wired to love pattern, to reach into it and to understand and reproduce it, whether we are humans or bees.
And there’s this….