In a sense, nature can be defined as the totality of what exists, which in turns makes nature the equivalent of reality. Nature includes the totality of space, which is comprised as a whole by the universe, and it also includes the totality of natural objects, including man. The objective of philosophy, rational inquiry, and scientific inquiry is to observe both nature and the universe, the latter of which incorporates the former, and to decipher natural laws and principles to which humans should conform.
According to Plato in Timaeus, in totality there are only three things. For one, there are objects which come into being. Second is the place or space in which objects come into being, which is the universe. Finally, there is the ultimate source for which all things come into being. From antiquity until now, it has been argued that there is a supreme intellect and soul that both drives and underlies all that is visible to the human eye. As a result, there is an unseen world composed of the intellect and the soul on one hand, and there is the physical universe that is intelligible to the human eye on the other hand. The point is to observe the universe and to understand it for our personal betterment and for the perfection of our bodies and minds.
Plato also suggested that “sense-perception” resulting from disturbances, love, pleasure, pain, and emotions should be controlled in order to lead a just life, and this ability of self-control can come about only as a result of the improvement of both body and soul through the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom about nature and the universe. The main organizing principle of the universe from which all laws and forms emanate is subject to debate. However, the likeliest principle, given the singular underlying essence of the universe and the objects which are embedded in it, is the soul or spirit. This principle of the soul or spirit was also put forth in the 20th century by the philosopher and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The idea is that everything emanates from one soul or spirit, and as a result everything is interconnected and interdependent. It is the soul or spirit which animates everything. Without the animating force of the soul or spirit, everything would equate to dead and motionless matter.
One particular area of study that is now the “crown jewel” of science which perhaps best serves as a metaphor for the essence of being, global interconnection, interdependence, quantum entanglement, and unity of being and existence is the area of study known as “quantum mechanics,” or “quantum physics.” The scientist Paul Levy has written the following in regards to quantum physics: “The vision of our universe and our place in it that is revealed by quantum physics is ultimately spiritual – the fundamental interdependence and inseparability of all phenomena is the central pillar in every spiritual wisdom tradition.” In a sense, quantum physics is the doorway to mysticism and spirituality given that the latter is the only available means of uncovering the mystery of nature. In the end, quantum physics merely describes the universe in a mathematical manner, whereas mysticism and spirituality provide answers as to why everything exists.
In terms of our space-time-matter continuum which has arguably emanated from a “Big Bang” approximately 13.8 billion years ago, it appears to be merely an illusion. For one, time appears to be an illusion in the sense that there is no real differentiation between past, present, and future, given that everything which exists can only be situated in the present moment, not necessarily a past or a present that does not exist. Time is ultimately based on perception, which is subjective. Moreover, space and matter are merely images of an underlying source for everything, thus the space-time-matter continuum is an illusion or an image that is undergirded by an all-permeating intellect and spirit. The belief in matter, if it is to be justified, is based merely on perception, as suggested by J.M.E. McTaggart.
Also, given that the universe and man are both constituted from the same substance, it follows that man is a “microcosm” of the universe. It has been argued by the likes of McTaggart that the universe is the singular substance that possesses all other substances within it. After all, in a physical sense, the universe and man emanate from the substance or substances that were contained in the tiny speck of energy that burst forth at the moment of the “Big Bang,” which in turn brought existence to the fore. As a result, man is entangled with the substances of the universe and is in fact shaping the evolution of the universe in terms of both essence (spirit) and form through the development of the universal intellect and spirit. Matter is in a natural state of inertia and it resists change and motion. Thus, human bodies and matter are moved by the soul, and the soul is in turn moved by “divine decree” to borrow from Leibniz. Therefore, everything is being moved by divine decree, and thus God is the “very nature of things” from the viewpoint of Pantheists like Spinoza and others. In Aristotelian terms, God is the “unmoved mover” which moves the soul and in turn the soul moves both human bodies and matter.
The aforementioned view of nature and the universe stands in stark contrast to the view of nature and the universe espoused by the school of scientific materialism. The core assumption or belief of “dialectical materialism” is that nothing preexists the universe. Moreover, according to this assumption and belief, there was nothing needed to bring nature and the universe into being. Nature and the universe have always existed, and both have neither a beginning nor an end, according to the scientific materialist viewpoint. Yet, the advent of quantum physics has shown that there is no “objectivity” to an understanding of nature and the universe. As Paul Levy has stated: “Scientific materialism, with its hidden metaphysical belief in an objectively existing world, can be considered to be the metaphysical illness of our age.”
Ultimately, any study of nature and the universe must include metaphysics, which to many scientists of our modern age is non-sensical. The prevailing ontological state of our modern age is one that is largely detached from metaphysics. However, a metaphysical perspective is necessary in any attempt to uncover even a bit of the mystery that is behind the creation of nature and the universe. What we can infer from the natural transition from quantum physics to mysticism and spirituality is that the meaning and purpose behind the creation of the universe is essentially a mystery that can only be uncovered through immersion into mysticism and spirituality.
Basically, nature and the universe, which comprise of one entity, and all of its contents are an allegory for something outer-worldly and unseen. Moreover, it is the outer-worldly and the unseen that is real, whereas the observable and worldly are merely an allegory or image of the former. As McTaggart has written: “If there is existence, there must be something other than the quality of existence, which exists.” Existence is thus merely a quality which is derived from a mysterious substance. As the recent discovery of the “Higgs-Boson” Particle, or the “God Particle” has shown, what we perceive as material existence is contingent upon a specific particle that constitutes a particular substance which in turn constitutes all of physical existence.
However, if we are to transition into mysticism and spirituality for an explanation as to the creation of nature and the universe, we will have to tackle the question of good versus evil, given that evil is a thing within nature and in turn nature is the totality of all things. The biggest challenge and stumbling block for theists is “the problem of evil.” The question is: how can a God who is all-good and all-powerful allow for evil to exist? Any of the attempts to “vindicate” God by various philosophers and religious figures are known as “theodicies.” The challenge of creating a valid theodicy is indeed an intellectual challenge and stumbling block for theists, and there are no simple conclusions or solutions for explaining “the problem of evil.”
Theodicy amounts to the creation of a defense for God, as an attorney or lawyer would for a defendant in a court of law. Some religious figures have equated theodicy to blasphemy, under the assumption that humans are in no position to “defend” or justify what God does. Nevertheless, theodicy intends to understand two particular types of evil. For one, there is physical evil which manifests into things such as diseases and natural disasters. Also, there are moral evils which stem from human thoughts and behavior. Many people have written off evil as being the consequence of immoral thoughts and actions. The suggestion made on the part of these folks is that the existence of free will makes the existence of an all-good and all-powerful God compatible with the existence of evil. However, the counter-argument that arises is that if God were all-powerful, then why does God not intervene and prevent these immoral thoughts and actions from occurring? Certainly, God has the power to do anything, so why not take preemptive action against evil? Also, why should free will be preferred over the adverse effects of the exercise of free will in the way of evil?
As a result, the quest for meaning is ultimately the quest for why evil, pain, and suffering exists. The argument put forth by Islam is that the world is denying a natural religion, and as a result evil exists. Hinduism puts forth the argument that not only are we being punished for our own sins, but we are also being punished for the sins of our ancestors and forefathers. In the Western tradition, there are three famous theodicies. For one, there is the “Weberian theodicy” stemming from the thoughts of Max Weber, which states that predestination, dualism in the form of both God and Satan, and karma are sufficient to explain the existence of both God and evil. There is also the “Augustinian theodicy” stemming from Saint Augustine of Hippo, which states that evil does not originate from God, but rather from man’s state of “original sin.” And third, there is the theodicy of Irenaeus, which suggests that evil originates from God but that God is justified in its creation.
In more recent times, J.M.E. McTaggart has asserted that good and evil are both inherent aspects of the “self,” and that each can either be relevant or irrelevant to a situation depending obviously on the situation. In some cases, what we perceive as “good” can actually be “evil” and “evil” may be “good.” Also, “good” and “evil” are both quantitative and relative. Some people are “better” than others, and some are “evil” in comparison to others. Also, in many cases, good and evil are undefinable. Nor is there a maximum good or a maximum evil. Existence, according to McTaggart, is something separate from good and evil, with the latter being qualities of the former but not the nature of the former. All that exists, according to McTaggart, is the spirit.
Some theists have completely blown off the famous “problem of evil” as a mystery that humans cannot rationally solve, thus Christianity’s tendency towards “blind faith.” Or, evil is to be viewed as a consequence of God’s goodness and power, or merely the absence of goodness without having any intrinsic value of its own. “The problem of evil” accounts for more defections from religion than any other cause. Many historical figures and saints, including the Prophet Abraham and the Prophet Job, were known to have lodged a “protest” against God for allowing evil to run rampant. In a sense, there perhaps cannot be a generic answer or solution to the problem of evil given that God’s relation to each individual is of a personal and intimate nature and as a result the answers and solutions will undoubtedly vary.
Nevertheless, there are five common arguments as to why evil exists that have been posited by theists throughout history, as outlined in an essay titled “God and Evil” by a philosopher named H.J. McCloskey. These arguments are:
- Physical good is impossible without physical evil
- Physical evil is God’s punishment for sin
- Physical evil is God’s warning to man
- Evils are the result of the operation of laws of nature
- The universe is better with evil in it
All of the aforementioned arguments are either convincing or bogus depending on one’s sentiments and viewpoint. But the most popular and plausible justification for the existence of evil is that a certain degree of evil is necessary in order to facilitate the overall greater good. As W.D. Niven has stated:
“Physical evil has been the goad which has impelled men to most of those achievements which made the history of man so wonderful. Hardship is a stern but fecund parent of invention. Where life is easy because physical ills are at a minimum, we find man degenerating in body, mind, and character.”
Apparently, it is the struggle which makes life worthwhile. Niven adds: “Which is preferable – a grim fight with the possibility of splendid triumph; or no battle at all?”
But if evil is necessary for the greater good, then why should there be an attempt to increase the overall good by mitigating evil? If evil is necessary for the greater good, is it then futile and worthless to do things that would mitigate evil? Moreover, why should evil be necessary in order for there to be good? One can contend that the assumption or belief that excellence necessarily results from evil is completely false. Why is there not something other than evil that results in excellence? Is not predestination with absolute goodness better than free will with physical and moral evil?
For some, the beauty of the goods originating from free will outweigh the moral evil that originates from free will. This alone, namely, the beauty that emanates from doing good as an act of free will, can suffice as a justification for moral evil as a possible byproduct of free will for some thinkers. However, free will does not guarantee that men will incline towards the beautiful and good. In fact, it is hard to deny that there is a defect installed into free will that inclines men more towards moral evil than beauty and good. Thus, it is assumed that God is in fact allowing only a few to attain beauty, goodness, virtue, and salvation while allowing the majority to fall into eternal damnation, sin, and torment. Basically, God is allowing the vast majority to perish while choosing only a select few for himself. “Quality over quantity.” This can by all means be possible, given that God is an omnipotent being who is capable of actualizing anything out of infinite possibilities. Moreover, God, as an omnipotent being, is free to do whatever he wants.
As an insignificant creature in the overall scheme of an ever-expanding universe with a multitude of other creatures, human beings do not have the discretion nor the power to direct God’s actions, thus the notion of Kantian “freedom.” Nor does God have to always provide an explanation or justification for everything he does, which is a semblance of what we know today as “executive privilege.” Also, if there is anything in our imagination that embodies the notion of freedom, it is in fact the idea of an omnipotent God, and anything that is conceived in our imagination can also be conceived in reality. Nietzsche’s “Ubermensch” was conceived out of the notion that there is no middle ground between those who perish and those who are saved by spirituality in a nihilistic age. In the current postmodern epoch characterized by nihilism, there are only two possibilities: either evolve or perish. Gnosis and salvation are things that an individual has to work for, just like anything else in life.
Also, it follows that this world is not the best of all possible worlds as Leibniz had claimed, and it is in fact by design that this world is not the best of all possible worlds. Otherwise, there would have been no differentiation between this world and the notion of Heaven. Nevertheless, the basic assumption and belief that underpins any theodicy is that good will prevail over evil, despite the overwhelming force exerted by evil and malevolent agents in every epoch of history. This basic assumption and belief are the only source for hope and optimism amidst significant confusion and hopelessness in our day and age.
After a general observation and inquiry into the various branches of study pertaining to nature and the universe, the natural course would be to specialize into one particular area of study through which one could advance the development of the intellect and the spirit. Theodicy and eschatology are believed to be areas of study that are interconnected, thus prompting an interdisciplinary approach to the study of nature and the universe. Also, both theodicy and eschatology are considered to be the limits of natural studies. These limits enable nothing more than a surface understanding of core issues relating to what amounts to the mystery of nature and the universe. Unfortunately, there is only scarce information, knowledge, and insights relating to these issues, despite the obvious need for more.