Book Review: God & The Big Bang

Daniel C. Matt’s (2001) book God & The Big Bang: Discovering Harmony Between Science and Spirituality (originally published in 1996 with a new edition being released in December 2015)

This was the second time I read God & The Big Bang. The first time was around 2000 to 2001. At that time in my life, I was recovering from a stint of atheism. I seemed to see some kind of connection in the world that made me believe that there was something more. I was not quite sure what it was, but I started writing out my feelings on the subject. You can find some of these early writings here. By the time I read this book, I had a pretty well-developed belief system that I had come up with on my own. To be sure, I borrowed from ideas I had learned from my religious studies, anthropology, biology, and astronomy courses, but the fitting of the pieces was my own. Then, I read God & The Big Bang and realized that none of my thoughts were indeed original at all. How did I come up with nearly the same belief system, but in different terminology to that which was described by Daniel C. Matt?

Daniel C. Matt nearly seamlessly blends Jewish mysticism and Talmudic tradition with science, showing how scientific findings are actually just now catching up to what the Jewish mystics have known for awhile now. Science can only explain what occurred from the point of the Big Bang and beyond, but the Kabbalists describe what occurred before the Big Bang. This is the distinct difference between science and spirituality, but it is interesting that ideas theorized by these Kabbalists are now discovered as scientific realities. He also describes how the Kabbalistic Tree of Life describes the Big Bang and how humans should not be negatively affected by the idea that God is the universe. He shows how beliefs can be transformed to incorporate this new understanding of reality, so that we can live fuller lives.

I always remembered that book and referred many scientifically-inclined agnostics to it. Nearly 15 years later, I purchased the book again to read through a new lens. As a Mason with interests in Kabbalah and esotericism, I thought I might find something new, and I did.

If God spoke the world into being, the divine language is energy; the alphabet, elementary particles; God’s grammar, the laws of nature. Many scientists have sensed a spiritual dimension in the search for these laws. For Einstein, discerning the laws of nature was a way to discover how God thinks (p. 29).

When I read these words 15 years ago, I saw the connection between the belief system I had created for myself and one that seemed to already be present in the world. There was something common in the aether. Now 15 years later, I still see that connection, but I also see something deeper in regard to what I have learned through Freemasonry: The Trivium. What I now see is the grammar (input), logic (process), and rhetoric (ouput) of a divine hand. It is a means of understanding that working hand. The Biblical idea of God speaking calls to mind language immediately and the process by which language works, which we find in the Trivium. Now, Matt broke it down differently for his analogy with energy, but it’s truly a semantic difference. If we see the Trivium as input, process, and output, then we can see the elementary particles as the input, the laws of nature as the process, and observable reality as the output. As such, the analogy fits for energy and the idea of the divine (or voice of the divine) as energy or the first cause.

Mystics and poets have perceived the oneness [of God], as did the philosopher Heraclitus, who wrote: “When you have listened not to me but to the Logos, it is wise to agree that all things are One.” Oneness is grounded in the scientific reality: We are made of the same stuff as all of creation. Everybody that is, was or will be started off together as one infinitesimal point: the cosmic seed” (pp. 35-36)

Here we find the scientists playing catch up to what the mystics, poets, and philosophers have been saying for so many centuries. The problem is science is observed and measurable reality and the mystics, poets, and philosophers go beyond the observable and measurable. However, what they only once speculated about has indeed found evidence within science today: We are indeed made of star dust.

Matter is energy in a tangible form; both are different states of a single continuum, different names for two forms of the same thing” (p. 44)

This fits well with my description of Source Material Dualism, which can be read about here, here, and here, although it may be more in line with Betty’s Transcendental Materialism. We find that there is one common source, a single thing from which two types emerge, depending on their state, like the difference in H2O as water, ice, or perspiration. They are all H2O, but they differ along the continuum in regard to speed of molecule movement. The matter is the input or the grammar of God within the Trivium, as we see it is through those elementary particles all things come into existence. As Matt writes, “divine energy pervades all material existence” (p. 44).

In chapter 3, Matt breaks down the Ten Sefirot of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and their emanations from the divine source, which he calls Ayin (Nothingness), corresponding to the Crown (Keter). Within his description is a correspondence to the Big Bang and creation presented in such a way that one can almost see it as the Truth. Of course this is only another human’s interpretation of the divine, but in combination with the scientific reality and with the age old explanations he draws from Jewish texts, it is not difficult to be compelled to believe he is correct. We see ultimately in the Tree of Life, an understanding of the Divine and its working, as well as the blueprint for human life, and within each life is a Divine Spark.

[The Divine Spark] yearns to rejoin the whole. Letting go of mental images, the self discovers it is no longer merely an isolated fragment, but rather a unique expression of the Self of the universe. As the self becomes aware of the Self, personal consciousness tastes the oneness. In the words of Psalms, “Taste and see that God is good.” Yet God–the self behind all selves–is not a passive object of our budding spiritual awareness. By evolving through spacetime, by organizing Itself into the complex variety of existence, God grows and learns endlessly, discovering awareness through each of us–God’s countless, immitable selves (pp. 66-67).

In this explanation, I see much similarity to my own developed understanding of God and the interplay between the spacetime constrained material reality and the beyond, whereby the immaterial Divine Spark within us returns to the Divine Source upon material death, absorbing new information into a collective consciousness that the next Divine Spark to manifest from the source and enter into a material body to give it life shall contain the new knowledge that moves in a forward momentum, which we see as evolution. We can then see how evolution is one of the laws of nature indicating the work of the Divine in action.

We discern these laws of nature through a scientific approach, as described by Einstein above, to discover how God thinks. Again I see that connection to Freemasonry in what we are taught of the The Quadrivium. In Arithmetic, we look solely at the basics building blocks to develop the understanding and skill necessary to move beyond it. At this point we are only looking at the numbers or the input in a two-dimensional way, but when we add a third-dimension with Geometry, we are able to look more fully at the Divine hand and its influence upon and within Earth. Stephen Hawking calls the second dimension “Earth,” the third dimension “Space,” and the fourth dimension, “Time” (Matt p. 27). It is through the study of Music that we find our knowledge of time tested and grown. While arithmetic is numbers and geometry is numbers in space, we find music is numbers in time. This leads us to the final method of ascertaining the work of the Divine within observable reality, Astronomy, or numbers in space and time, which Hawking describes as a fifth dimension having no boundary or singularity.

Although this book is obviously not about Masonry, I believe that reading with the Masonic lens can be very revealing. To be sure, there are much similarities to find within Kabbalah, and Freemasonry. I recommend reading this book for yourself and seeing what you will see. So, I will only leave a few more paragraphs quoted here to entice you and then end this review.

The Hebrew word for “universe,” olam, originally meant “eternity,” so the word spans all of time and all of space: spacetime. According to the mystics, olam derives from the same root as “hiding,” he’lem. God is disguised as the world, and the purpose of the game of creation is to uncover the divine, to explore the limits of who we are, to actualize God’s self-awareness. Our very consciousness is the universe becoming aware of itself, God becoming aware of Itself. When the God within each human creature discovers that it is not separate from the God beyond, the players–or, rather, the Player in all Its guises–is overjoyed (p. 79).

If the vessels had not broken, our world of multiplicity would not exist. We exist because we have lost oneness. We have forgotten ourselves into existence. Our spiritual task–the object of the cosmic game–is to recover what has been lost, to remember, to raise the sparks (p. 81).

The multiplicity we experience in the world derives from a primordial unity fractured by the breaking of the vessels, a symmetry broken in the Big Bang (pp. 110-11).

The message is: Cultivate an appreciation of the divine spark within you. Fan the spark into a flame (p. 113).

We are not that different from each other and our actions should reflect this (p. 121).

Torah commands us to fight the social evil of injustice and to wrestle the personal evil of selfishness and greed (p. 143).

The main component of yetser ha-ra is desire. Desire is not inherently bad; as we have seen, it has a positive function…. Desire keeps us alive… The problem arises when desire for more–more material things, money, sex, food, attention, status–becomes an end in itself (pp. 144-45)

Maybe, as mystics and some prominent physicists believe, there is a cosmic intelligence or consciousness. If so, it’s not any more out there than right here, not separete from who we are, or what we think and dream. By evolving through us, it becomes aware of itself (p. 167).

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