Taylor: Either/or thinking, or both/and thinking

Did the Big Bang make a bang?…At the instant of creation, there was nothing to ripple. Not even space for the ripples to expand into.

You’ve heard the old question: “If a tree falls in a forest, and there’s no one there to hear it fall, does it make a sound?”

It’s a kind of koan—a question designed to make the hearer think.

Yet most of us persist in offering our own versions of an answer.

One group will say, “Of course it makes a sound! Sound consists of vibrations, transmitted through a medium. The shock of a tree falling creates vibrations, whether or not anyone measures them.”

A second group will say, “Sound is a sensory phenomenon. Without an ear to translate those vibrations into a neural response that we call a sound, there is no sound.”

Both answers are valid.

“So what?” you ask. OK, translate those responses into a different context. How do you prove that God exists?

The first group would say, “God’s existence does not depend on human proofs.”

If the second group are logical, they would have to say that if no one can discern the presence of God – by whatever name—then God does not exist.

Which, logically, would make God and a pantheon of previous gods a human creation.

Of course, logic is not, and cannot be, the final arbiter of reality. Not even in science. Logic cannot tolerate direct contradictions. But in fact, nature runs on two contradictory laws.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics, commonly called the Law of Entropy, says that all energy dissipates. Kinetic, electrical, nuclear and chemical energy all eventually degrade into heat, and all heat will eventually cool towards absolute zero.

Entropy moves from the complex to the simple.

But evolution does exactly the opposite. Each new evolutionary development moves from the simple to the more complex. Algae became giant redwoods; tiny lizards became soaring eagles; comb jellies eventually mutate into sentient beings.

There is, as far as I can tell, no evidence of evolution ever reversing itself. Of eagles reverting to lizards, of a human race losing opposable thumbs.

Granted, evolution has had dead ends. Whole species have died out. Genetic malfunctions cause some babies to be born with shrunken skulls, or no brains at all. But these adaptations do not help them survive; flawed mutations eliminate themselves from the gene pool.

So maybe both entropy and evolution are right.

Perhaps we need to accept that “either/or” is a choice we humans impose on our thinking.

I suspect that if God were rewriting the Ten Commandments today, the second commandment might come out something like this: “Thou shalt not make me subject to any human formulation—such as logic, mathematics, philosophy, or science.”

Try applying the falling-tree koan to the Big Bang that, we’re told, launched the universe. Did the Big Bang make a bang?

On the one hand, it was the most catastrophic explosion of all time. It must have created gigantic ripples. Astronomers claim they still echo through space.

But vibrations must be carried through something. At the instant of creation, there was nothing to ripple. Nothing at all. Not even space for the ripples to expand into.

So did the Big Bang make a sound? Or not? Or both?

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