Monday, February 27, 2006

Celebrating what is

For those of you who haven't read An Intimate Look at the Night Sky, here is a way (from the book) to come as close as you will ever get to the first moment of Creation.
Take yourself as far as possible from city lights, to a place where the night is inky black and thick with stars. If you can, turn off all local lights. Make sure the Moon is not in the sky, or at least no more than a slender crescent. A winter or summer night is best, when the Milky Way arches high overhead and the sky is posted with brilliant stars. Two other requirements: solitude and silence. You'll also want an audio CD player and a recording of Joseph Haydn's The Creation oratorio. Lie back comfortably on a deck chair or a blanket, facing up to the stars. Place your finger on the "Play" button, and close your eyes. Wait a few moments until you are perfectly relaxed, then, with your eyes still closed, push "Play."

Silence. A C-minor chord, somber, out of nowhere. Followed by fragments of music. Clarinet. Oboe. A trumpet note. A stroke of timpani. A prelude of shadowy notes and thrusting chords, by which Haydn meant to represent the Darkness and Chaos that preceded the creation of the world. Listen now, eyes closed, as the music descends into hushed silence. Hear the voice of the archangel Raphael: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, and the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep." The chorus, subdued, barely audible, sings: "And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters; and God said: Let there be light!" Then, the voices whispering, once and only once: "And there was light." Open your eyes! A brilliant fortissimo C-major chord! A sunburst of sound. Radiant. Dispelling darkness. A universe blazes into existence, arching from horizon to horizon. Stars. Planets. The luminous river of the Milky Way. As you open your eyes to Haydn's fortissimo chord and to the (almost) forgotten glory of a truly dark starry night, you will feel that you have been a witness to the big bang.

But was the big bang truly creation ex nihilo, or was it only a singular moment in an endlessly oscillating universe? Was it unique? Maybe our universe is just one in a vast number of universes that pop into and out of existence like champagne bubbles in a greater, and perhaps eternal, metaverse. Who knows? It seems to me that to use the big bang as an argument for a divine personal Creator is a bit of a stretch. Better to just glory in what we know -- as in the Haydn experience above -- and leave the theology for those who like to wander the echoing corridors of non-empirical speculation.