RELIGION: keystone of rational structure


L. Kurt Engelhart

Human survival and prosperity depend on having an effective universal model we call knowledge. An effective universal model is both comprehensive and integrated, requiring significant portions of the model to be based on imagination and faith. Since these portions are the weakest link in the model, they decide the overall strength of the model. The portion of our knowledge that is based on faith we call religion. Religion is therefore the keystone to the effectiveness of all our knowledge. The measure of whether this keystone is in place is individual and group spirituality.

"Nothing is so firmly believed as that we least know." - MONTAIGNE

Introduction A Universal Model The Cosmos
The Universal Force Living Matter Homo Sapiens - Humans
Intelligent Use of Models Conclusion Email Response


Religion is the repository for an important portion of group knowledge in all human cultures. As such religion is the keystone of an intellectual structure that distinguishes humans from other animals. This structure insures the survival of the human species through the power of adaptability. The following model illustrates why this is so.

A Universal Model

The Cosmos

The universe is everything that is. Space is the container of the universe; its shape determines the shape of the universe and its contents. Energy is the substance of the universe. Energy is shaped by space into matter. Matter, so formed, affects the shape of space so that particles of matter are trapped with each other in a small pocket in space which the particles themselves have created. These particles, limited in type by the structure of space, have properties which, when combined into these groups in a variety of ways, determine the properties of the individual groups. One of these properties is mass. Mass shapes space, sweeping the groups of particles together into larger and larger masses. When the masses become sufficiently large, the matter at their centers comes into such intimate contact that groups of particles are fused. In fusion, the energy which had held the groups together individually is freed. In the largest possible masses, all matter is reduced to particle form and the entire surface of the mass releases energy continually. At the center of these largest of masses, even particles are fused and their energy freed. When many these largest of masses are swept together, fusion of matter and conversion to energy is so complete that the force of its release disperses it to the limits of the universe.

The Universal Force

In the universe, the existence of the fundamental elements, space and energy, is governed by respective sets of rules. Obeying these rules and behaving according to their respective properties, a basic conflict between space and energy establishes certain potentials. Space and energy react to these potentials following a single, unifying law which commands that order be obtained, that conflict be resolved, and that the potential be eliminated. We can refer to this tendency toward zero potential as entropy.

As space and energy interact to form increasingly complex units of matter, particles - atoms - molecules - elements - compounds - cells - organisms - species - genuses - families, each level of complexity is increasingly more stable. At each level more and more complex rules govern the interaction of substances with different, conflicting properties. While levels are increasingly more stable, properties of forms at each level cause instabilities and new sets of potentials for that level. Because the quantity of energy and therefore the potential mass of the universe is constant, creation of any form is at the expense of some other form or forms. Thus the entropic force to create a given form is opposed by economic pressures for the same entropic force to create other forms from the same resources.

The power of entropy, being the basic force in the universe, is irresistible, yet it is inconsistent. It will cause water to be absorbed into the air in one set of conditions and cause it to fall out of the air as rain in another. The same mountains it causes to be thrust miles into the atmosphere, it will eventually cause to be worn flat. It is also infinitely creative and meticulous in its solutions for equalizing positive or negative potentials: crystals will form precisely the correct shape to help their growth in a supersaturated solution, lightning exactly travels the most conductive route between clouds and earth, and a meandering stream will always find the path of least resistance across a plain, even when that path is constantly changing.

Living Matter

Matter seems to "want" to do what fulfills its potential. In some forms, matter is so creative in accomplishing its will that it seems under the influence of some intelligence. In these forms, matter becomes an agent of the entropic force, although a passive agent. In certain chance combinations, matter formed a substance with properties which enabled it to seek for itself those conditions which fulfilled its potential. Then, an active agent had been created. These substances were capable within themselves of finding and consuming organic matter. They converted it into more substance like themselves, and into the energy needed to continue this process. Made of star stuff, they shared the abilities of the stars.

As conveyors of the entropic force, the active agents, or live forms, enjoyed certain advantages over passive, inorganic forms. As exemplified by the stream which enlarges a newly found and more easily followed path, the entropic force encourages the proliferation of those means which most efficaciously meet its ends. The most significant advantages of the live forms were their abilities to survive by adapting themselves to their environment, and their ability to reproduce themselves.

Following the entropic principle of proliferation of efficacy, organic material organized itself into cells or groups of cells, gaining improved abilities to adapt and reproduce at the expense of more simple forms. Improved adaptability became important whenever the means for survival became scarce. When competition for resources was critical, the more efficacious forms survived. This included the ability of the organism to reproduce more of its kind than would be lost before being able to reproduce.

Different forms adopted various strategies during the process of selecting the most efficacious. The outcome of this evolutionary process generally separated life forms into two types: animals and plants. Each had its advantages and disadvantages but both became established as successful and permanent life forms, given the conditions in which they had evolved on this planet.

Plant life was content to sit in one place waiting for the essentials of life to come. Animal life, possibly less able to survival by passive means, developed various methods of movement, covering a much greater area finding the means to nourish and reproduce themselves. During times of plentiful resources these creatures grew bigger, while during difficult times sizes and numbers grew smaller and the less capable ceased to exist. Soon they were not only in the sea, where they began, but also on the land. As always, the forms these creatures took were increasingly complex. Complexity was more stable, more flexible, and more able to survival in a constantly changing environment.

So critical to survival was the ability to adapt to change that sensing change and selecting an appropriate adaptation was essential to life. The individual organism accomplished this through awareness and learning, and on the large scale by evolution of form and instinctive behavior. Each new demand on living organisms brought new forms and behaviors to insure survival. Each iteration resulted in forms more physically or more intellectually complex, their complexity having enabled them to survive by creatively adapting to ever expanding aspects of their environment. Each crisis in adaptation pushed the capabilities of these creatures just a bit beyond their limits, to improved form and behavior.

Homo Sapiens - Humans

Of the animals which had developed characteristics of intelligence, one had developed these while maintaining relatively weak physical characteristics. A series of crises that erased many other forms of life forced these animals past their existing intellectual level to another, representing a quantum leap in intellectual ability. Where the intelligence of other animals operated on a microcosmic level, consisting of specific knowledge and instinctive behavior related only to the immediate needs and environment of the animal, the intelligence of humans expanded to awareness of the macrocosmic environment. The essence of this instinctive survival strategy was: the more aware of and the more you know about your total environment, the more capable you become of survival. A quantum leap from awareness of what is (in the limited microcosmic sense) to awareness of what could be (in the macrocosmic sense) required a new intellectual tool. The new tool combined necessary relativity and necessary cohesiveness of knowledge.

This is a double-edged tool—recognizing the relativity of knowledge takes away its absoluteness, certainty and allows imagination or seeing things that aren't really there. Recognizing the necessary cohesiveness of knowledge gives a way of roughly estimating its correctness or putting an amount of certainty back into it.

Cohesiveness of knowledge is not necessary to the intelligence of lesser animals. Their intelligence is based on a firm sense of reality, directly relating all knowledge to their own experience and to their immediate surroundings. Intelligence based on what could be, on the other hand, is apt to be undependable, even dangerous, if it is not integrated with other knowledge to form a cohesive model before it is used as a basis for action. The understanding of this strategy is intuitive/instinctive in human beings. They need not understand it intellectually for them to use it.

Intelligent Use of Models

Humans need not base all knowledge directly on experience, but it must all fit together in a complete, integrated, cohesive model of reality (the universe). All action or effort to survive and prosper is based on this model. Where we do not have experience of our own to complete the model, we borrow from other people's experience or create from deduction. Where there is no adequate experience or basis for deduction, we interpolate, or fill by imagination, and we accept these filled blanks in our knowledge on faith. By this means we obtain, individually and as a family of animals, knowledge in a complete, cohesive model. On this model, we can base our actions to insure our survival and realize our fullest potential as human beings in the universe.

The human mind composes its model of the universe of the same elements it finds in direct experience of the universe: content and process. We are concerned with what physical things exist and with what the relationships are between them. Since so much of the model's content and process is unknown and created through the investigative and interpolative efforts of the individual, different persons can reasonably have differing models. However, since using the experiences and beliefs of others is also acceptable, all members of a group can help to create and agree upon the same model.

One of the strongest human instincts, also one of the strongest forces upon matter, is to combine in a way that helps to fulfill the potentials of the individual members. With humans, mutual acceptance of a common model accomplishes this combining and enables coordinated group activity. One process of the group will be to codify the agreed upon model so the members can ratify it. New members are presented the codified model and, upon accepting it, are accepted into the group.

An individual's personal, universal model may be composed of many separate exclusive or overlapping models which need not totally agree in content and process. Each will be as complete and cohesive for a certain portion of reality as the user feels is necessary. Together they must describe the universe for that individual. Therefore, the usefulness of the individual's model is dependent on the extent to which either the individual or the source of the model has integrated, completed, and correlated it.

A set of models, closely enough related to be considered different perceptions of the same model, originates from the trauma humans experienced which sets them so widely apart from other animals. Having come to recognize the value of models in understanding the world around them and knowing intuitively that completeness was essential to a useful model, humans sought to explain the aspects of their universe, of which they were newly aware, that were not explainable through direct experience or reason. So they constructed a model of the unknown based upon the content and process they observed in the world about them. They sought explanations for how the world came to exist, who it was that peopled the world with humans and such a great assortment of other creatures. What was the relationship between humans and this prime mover, between humans and the other creatures inhabiting their world, and between humans and the entire universe as humans perceived it? Having this model, a man could move confidently through the world about him, secure in his understanding of the relationships between himself and other people and things. Solely because of having a complete, cohesive model, humans have had a strong enough structure to support the complex cultures and communities we are fortunate to enjoy today.

As human beings, our collective knowledge of the universe serves us under all conditions. Our knowledge allows us to subdue our environment and to have dominion over it, as described in Genesis of the Old Testament. It is in this efficacy that humans are the image or the likeness of God; for God is the power and the purpose behind such efficacy. Through knowledge of the universe, humans become administrators of that power and agents of that purpose. The evolution of this efficacy, this capability for knowledge and thus for survival, is the story of the human species. Not only the story of humans, it is the story of the universe and of God.


The description above is a model of the universe. It is my personal model. It is not a complete description any more than a blueprint is a complete description of a house full of people, pets and things. It is a simple and complete enough model that I can inspect it for errors of representation, missing pieces, faulty logic, etc. Whenever I come across new information, I can compare it against this model to see if it fits. If it fits, I add it on where it belongs. If it doesn't fit, I may have to adjust my model or I may reject the new information as an error or an unrecognized factor. I must account for unrecognized factors outside the model, as I may eventually accumulate enough information to demand their inclusion.

Whenever I have to make a decision or judgement, I refer to the model and try to make it correspond as closely as possible to what the model requires. The model doesn't have to exactly match reality, if any such match exists in knowledge. Whether or not it works determines the success of the model. Of course, that is a very subjective determination. Someone else's pragmatism may be completely different from mine.

The material for this model is drawn from the content and process of my own life experiences. It reflects my family background and my professional and avocational interests. Formal and informal education have provided a substantial part of the framework and much detail has come from literature, theater, newspapers, television, conversation, etc.—all secondhand. I have tried to fill in the gaps I have found with the results of my own brand of deductive reasoning. Where there was no basis for such reasoning, I have made the structure consistent, or the way I wanted it to be.

Like any structure is only as strong as its weakest element, the parts with no foundation in experience, deduction and imagination, determine the strength of this model. The strength of deduction is in the ability to reason, but the strength of imagination is in faith. The strength of the entire structure therefore depends on the weakest element, the faith I have in my model of the unknown. We may refer to the measure of this strength in the individual as spirituality.

For most people, including myself, an individual religious model describes the content and process of the unknown. Even those who profess they have no religion usually mean they have not accepted the model of a formal religion, a group model. If one inspects the universal model of an atheist, one will still find built into it a model to explain the unknown. This, for the atheist, is religion. If that religious model describes, as most do, an entity that incorporates the universe and is eternal, infinite and ubiquitous, one may call that entity God.

For some, a formal, or group, religious model is completely acceptable. Others may accept a formal religion yet adapt it to their own universal model. Some formal religions today are incapable of describing the content and process of the unknown as perceived by contemporary society. As for myself, no formal religion can describe the unknown as I perceive it. Even my own religious model requires occasional adjustment.

Reference: Barbour, I.G. (1990). Religion in an age of science. San Francisco: HarperCollins.


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