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Light on Dark Matter ?

I’m going to wander well outside my areas of competence here, armed only with my curiosity and intuition. I’m going to do so because there are several areas of enquiry that have been engaging me, some of them for some time, and I’m beginning to wonder whether they might be connected.

Astrophysicists suggest that around 5% of the universe’s mass is made up of ‘baryonic matter’, matter we can touch with our hands & witness with our eyes & instruments; a little over 68% is presumed to be made of ‘dark energy’ an enigmatic force that seems to be accelerating the ongoing expansion of the cosmos; the remaining 27% is thought to be made up of ‘dark matter’, the particles of which wholly refuse to interact with baryonic matter, so we have no means of detecting it save through its perceived gravitational influence. It emits no light or energy, but is fundamental to everything in the universe, anchoring all structures together. Without it galaxies, planets, our earth and us humans would not exist, yet we know nothing about it. The particles thought most likely to be the constituent of dark matter traverse our livers, skulls and guts in their trillions each second. Its thought that they were created in sufficiently vast quantities in the seconds after the birth of the universe to account for the missing mass. Scientists reckon that to prove and decipher the existence of dark matter, would require us to acquire a whole new way of knowing everything.

In his book ‘Underland’ Robert Macfarlane talked with Christopher Toth, a physicist working in a laboratory more than half a mile under the earth, searching for evidence of dark matter.
“‘My sense,’ I say to Christopher, “is that the search for dark Matter has produced an elaborate, delicate edifice of Presuppositions, and network of worship sites, also known as laboratories, all dedicated to the search for an invisible universal entity which refuses to reveal itself. It seems to resemble what we call religion rather more than what we call science.
‘I grew up as a very serious Christian, Christopher says. ‘Then I lost my faith almost entirely when I found physics. Now that faith has returned, but in a much-changed form. It’s true that we dark matter researchers have less proof than other scientists in terms of what we seek to discover and what we believe we know. As to God? Well, if there were a divinity then it would be utterly separate from both scientific enquiry and human longing. No divinity in which I would wish to believe would declare itself by means of what we would recognize as evidence.”

I am intrigued by a number of things about dark matter:
[1]. The idea that we are not able to touch or quantify something, but assume its existence because of its perceived influence, is one that I recognise. Its like love, which you cant touch or quantify but you can sometimes perceive its influence. Its also like beauty, peace, hospitality, friendship and a while host of other things that are crucial to human happiness and fulfilment.
[2]. Macfarlane sees the search for dark matter as akin in some ways to humans search for God, and the language that is used in both does seem to overlap.
[3]. To understand dark matter will require a new way of knowing, in much the way the mystics of all faith traditions speak of their experience requiring a new way of knowing.
[4]. Dark matter accounts for five times more mass in the universe than the baryonic matter of which we are made. Its particles are traversing our bodies all the time and always have been. It seems reasonable to assume that its likely to have some influence on us, and if it has then it must have always done so, so it would be an influence that we know well & take for granted. What might that be?

My intuition wonders if all this might connect to several other bits of thinking that also intrigue me, some of which I’ve written about before.

[1]. The human brain uses 20% of the body’s total energy, but it would appear to need only about a quarter of that to perform its functions. What is the remaining 15% of the brain’s energy doing?

[2]. Human consciousness is the ability to form a subjective and therefor unique view of the world. It has a rational aspect which engages with baryonic matter, and also a non rational aspect, which uses our imagination and intuition, and which drives both our creativity and our most important personal decisions. I wonder where the insights and ideas of our non rational consciousness come from, and where the silence takes us ? And I also wonder if they might be connected in some way to this dark matter? Perhaps they are even nourished and sustained by it?

There is currently no way of either refuting or verifying this suggestion, but my intuition tells me that there is truth in it. So I apply the “as…..if” principle. If I live and act as if the above is true, is life richer, deeper, more meaningful and satisfying? I find that it seems to be so, and so I am trusting it.


  1. Jonathan Hales

    This is really interesting and encourages me to look into whatever is known about dark matter (though I realise my grasp of physics may mean I reach a brick wall pretty early in any investigation).

    It intrigues me that Christopher Toth says, “Well, if there were a divinity then it would be utterly separate from both scientific enquiry and human longing. No divinity in which I would wish to believe would declare itself by means of what we would recognize as evidence.”

    At one level it’s hard to reconcile such a view of God with the Christian view of God incarnate in Jesus, and the statement of a very personal wish on God’s part, implicit in the text, “For God so loved the world…. “. And yet there’s an assumption, which is presumably as old as Christian mysticism, that God cannot be fully known (a notion encapsulated in the title, ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’). So there’s a God who cared enough to come to us in person and who chooses to be, at least in this life, largely unknowable. Perhaps this ‘unknowability’ is itself an act of love? Paradox as always. It seems essential that we learn to live peacefully with paradox.

  2. Mike Catling

    Over the years I have increasingly found it difficult to use the word ‘God’ as it implies a knowable other object or existence that can be ‘pinned down’ to a particular place or time. Therefore, I tend to use the words ‘God Presence’ or ‘Living Presence’ that is always and everywhere. For me, this is a loving Presence (‘God is love and those who live in love live in God’). If this is the case (and, of course, I can’t prove it) then I have to accept that this Presence exists in everything that happens, both good and bad, but at the heart of it all is Love. Where does Jesus fit into this? I’m still working on that question. I’m not happy with the theory of atonement, but trust that Jesus’ humanity was an expression of what it means to be truly human and somehow totally aware, awake, enlightened of and by this living, loving Presence many of us call ‘God’. The Cross was the ultimate act of unconditional Love that opened up for humanity the potential to become truly human too (to be sons & daughters of God with whom this Presence is well pleased. So potent is this unconditional Love that it leads to the death of self and resurrection into a whole new way of being and becoming human. This not a creed as such, but rather a sacred conversation that continues day by day.

  3. Mike Catling

    At Henry’s request, I’ve added a recent piece placed on Richard Rohr’s online daily meditation which speaks to the cosmic Christ and the God Presence that is always and everywhere.

    Author and Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor has been writing about the intersection of faith and science for a long time. In this essay, written over twenty years ago, she was already exploring a new cosmology, one that honored her deep understanding of both God and the workings of the universe. She has the courage and conviction to ask hard questions and wrestle with them alongside us. Her insight into God’s unifying and enlivening presence has much in common with the mystics. As Franciscan theologian Bonaventure described, God is One “whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

    In Sunday school, I learned to think of God as a very old white-bearded man on a throne, who stood above creation and occasionally stirred it with a stick. When I am dreaming quantum dreams, what I see is an infinite web of relationship, flung across the vastness of space like a luminous net. It is made of energy, not thread. As I look, I can see light moving through it as a pulse moves through veins. What I see “out there” is no different from what I feel inside. There is a living hum that might be coming from my neurons but might just as well be coming from the furnace of the stars. When I look up at them there is a small commotion in my bones, as the ashes of dead stars that house my marrow rise up like metal filings toward the magnet of their living kin.

    Where am I in this picture? I am all over the place. I am up there, down here, inside my skin and out. I am large compared to a virus and small compared to the sun, with a life that is permeable to them both. Am I alone? How could I ever be alone? I am part of a web that is pure relationship, with energy available to me that has been around since the universe was born.

    Where is God in this picture? God is all over the place. God is up there, down here, inside my skin and out. God is the web, the energy, the space, the light—not captured in them, as if any of those concepts were more real than what unites them—but revealed in that singular, vast net of relationship that animates everything that is.

    At this point in my thinking, it is not enough for me to proclaim that God is responsible for all this unity. Instead, I want to proclaim that God is the unity—the very energy, the very intelligence, the very elegance and passion that make it all go. This is the God who is not somewhere but everywhere, the God who may be prayed to in all directions at once. This is also the God beyond all directions, who will still be here (wherever “here” means) when the universe either dissipates into dust or swallows itself up again.

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