Each individual thinks himself the center of the world. Nothing seems more important to us than our own existence. We have the feeling that our life has a profound significance. Is this feeling a mere illusion, a device of nature to oblige us to obey the law of the conservation of life? What is our real position in the universe?
Certainly we are the masters of the earth. But the earth is only one of the planets which turn round the sun. And the sun is only a tiny star among the millions of stars which make up the Milky Way of which it is part. And beyond the Milky Way there are many other universes; floating islands in the vastness of space. The telescope at Mount Wilson has deciphered such universes at a distance of more than 400 million light years. Obviously, from the quantitative point of view, the presence of man in the universe is completely negligible. But the value of a thing does not depend on its size or its weight. A watch, for example, differs from a pebble of the same weight. The Venus of Milo is something more than a block of marble of the same dimensions still lying in the quarry.
Compared to the vertiginous grandeur of the sidereal world or even compared to our own small earth, the brain of man is something infinitesimally small. Nevertheless, it is of an incomparable quality. This harmonious association of more than twelve thousand million nervous cells, bound to each other several trillions of times by delicate fibrils, has no equal in the cosmic world. From this infinitesimal quantity of living matter springs the immense force of thought Thought not only encompasses the whole material universe from the vast nebulae to the nuclei of atoms but extends far beyond it. The human being has incomparably greater value than the huge inanimate mass of the cosmic world. Nowhere else is such structural perfection found. Perhaps the brain is the one single point in the universe where the conditions indispensable to the emergence of spirit from matter are to be found.
Does thinking matter exist only on the earth, to the exclusion of the planets which possibly revolve about innumerable other suns? It is highly improbable that spirit should only have manifested itself on this microscopical point of the sidereal universe. Nevertheless, the physical and chemical conditions necessary to life as we know it are complex. They are not generally to be found in planets other than the earth. The moon has neither water nor atmosphere; a telescope reveals no sign of vegetation. The atmosphere of Venus contains much carbonic anhydride but neither water vapor nor oxygen. The climate of Mars is temperate; its atmosphere contains oxygen, carbonic anhydride and water vapor: the seasonal changes in the color of certain regions of the planet indicate the presence of abundant vegetation. In the solar system, life is only possible on the earth and on Mars. Are there no other worlds which might be habitable for beings like ourselves?
We know that planets are produced when two stars approach each other so close that satellites are formed by their mutual attraction. Perhaps our humble planet really has that privileged position in the universe which the astronomers, philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages attributed to it before Copernicus. According to Eddington, over a period of ten thousand million years, only one star among a hundred million other stars has sustained such an encounter. Thus, since planetary systems are extremely rare, it is possible that there exists no other human race.
In the cosmos, spirit is not found outside living matter. Yet all the elements which make up the bodies of men and animals are furnished by earth, water and air. Does spirit also come from these elements? Is it born when certain chemical reactions take place? Does the cosmic world contain psychic elements of which we are ignorant just as we were ignorant of the cosmic rays until the invention of a technique which discovered them?
At this moment, we have no conception how chemical reactions and physiological processes can bring about the development of the human person. We may, however, allow ourselves to suppose that the external environment contains diffused psychic energy, either free or united to inert matter. This energy would enter into the composition of the body and principally of the brain and there personify itself. But if such spiritual energy existed in the physical world which surrounds us, we should not be capable of detecting its presence. Just as we are incapable of establishing the existence of mental processes when we observe the brain of an unanesthetized patient during an operation, so is it impossible for our sense organs to apprehend spirit directly.
Man has always refused to believe that he was the only thinking being on earth. Our ancestors believed in the existence of spiritual entities who inhabited their houses as well as river, mountains and forests. The cities of antiquity were founded on religion, that is to say on certain obligations which linked men with invisible spirits. Extremely detailed techniques were elaborated to render these spirits favorable. The dead consented to return among their relatives and friends and sometimes gave them useful advice. Laws, too, were inspired from on high; was not the constitution of Sparta revealed to Lycurgus by Apollo?
Later, Christianity purified these beliefs. Angels and saints replaced the little domestic gods. During the Middle Ages the humblest peasant lived in the company of spiritual beings. In the solitude of the fields or forests, he was never alone. It was St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret who gave Joan of Arc her mission. Each one could live his life in the company of God and His saints and receive from them inner strength and peace. The Mother of God blessed innumerable places with her presence: for example, the grotto on the bank of the Gave near the village of Lourdes.
Later still, industrial civilization developed. The Calvaries which stood at the crossroads and the chapels in the fields were little by little abandoned by their divine guests. Even the spirits which were sometimes met after sunset near old wells and deserted farms vanished, never to return.
As a result, modem men reverted to the customs of their pagan ancestors. Once again they attempted to communicate with the dead. For the saints and the angels they substituted vague spiritual entities: disembodied souls and psychic factors which, with the help of mediums and automatic writing, brought us singularly uninteresting information about the beyond.
Today, as in other ages, man seeks the company of invisible beings capable of helping, loving and protecting him. But he knows that these spiritual entities are beyond his reach. Only the great intuitives and the clairvoyants may perceive their presence and communicate with them.
If inanimate matter contains psychic elements, we shall always remain ignorant of them. Nevertheless, the cosmos carries, as it were, the imprint of a spirit which our own spirit resembles in certain aspects.
There is, as we know, an evident order in the universe.
It is an order we are capable of understanding. Even the mathematical abstractions constructed by our mind express almost exactly the ways in which the world about us behaves. There must be, then, some resemblance between our reason and that which appears to have created the world. This creative reason, this God, appears to us to treat inanimate matter as a mathematician would do. This God of our mind remains very far away from us. Inexorable as the law of gravity, inaccessible as the sun, He only bends down to great geniuses such as Newton, Ampere, Planck and Broglie. But, when He concerns Himself with animate matter, He loses the simplicity of His method and His triumphant logic. The evolution of living beings seems to us to have been directed by a clumsy, wasteful, brutal and vacillating, though obstinate force toward a definite end which is the rise of spirit. All along the road there have opened up innumerable impasses into which life has strayed as if by mistake. Only at the price of ambiguous and complicated maneuvers, only after a very long and frequently misdirected effort does Nature, or the Will of God, seem to us to have realized the human being.
The hypothesis of God, wrote Arthur H. Campton, gives a more reasonable interpretation of the universe than any other hypothesis. It is quite as legitimate as many of the hypotheses of physics and its fertility has already been immense. There is no reason for rejecting it Millikan, Edding-ton and Jeans believe, like Newton, that the cosmos is the product of a creative intelligence. But this hypothesis which satisfies physicists and astronomers, is not sufficient for the man in the street. This God of Newton does not concern himself with our joys, sorrows and anxieties any more than does the God of Plato. We do not want to have for God a mathematician or a cruel and clumsy experimenter. We need a God who loves us, hears us and helps us.