Apr 12, 2012 by

Colin Hannaford – All teachers know this nightmare. This is supposed to be a quiet lesson, and the whole class has gone berserk, shrieking, fighting, tearing each other’s work … then the classroom door begins to open.

You open your eyes. Aah! It’s just a dream, not real.

But we cannot make our nightmare disappear. It is our world.

In previous essays I have insisted that there is no need to imagine a God who is a companion and teacher; or that we are modelled on his kind; or that our ambitions are his.

All these beliefs are very ancient.1 They have caused many to suppose that they are fulfilling God’s ambition in dividing, excluding, and destroying other people, whilst making them the scapegoat of their sins.

These beliefs are still common in many countries: look behind you.

Which is why I am about to turn an intellectual somersault.

Very rarely elegant, this manoeuvre is sometimes necessary.

In my case it is necessary for a deeper reason.

I hope you will forgive me for withholding this from you: but I know that God exists. I know that he tries to teach us: his endlessly unruly children; I know he must be appalled that we have still not decided on an ambition that we can share; that instead we are still squabbling over which of our ambitions is his.

The paradox is that today virtually no-one actually believes in God. Whilst science denies his existence, his function has been taken over by an enormous industry whose millions of workers declare that they are the proof of God’s existence, for they know his thoughts, his dislikes and desires and, of course, his ambitions. Our religions are perpetually at war over these.

And yet for all thoughtful persons, questions remain.

What if God exists, quite apart from religions?

What if he has looked in on our world and was appalled?

What if this God decided to show us that he is active?

What if he is sufficiently like us to have a sense of humour?

Obviously he will need to demonstrate all of this.

Since scientists believe that they can best distinguish natural from supernatural, it would be amusing to reveal some new knowledge supernaturally: not anything that might be hijacked to prove one nation’s superiority: just something that science thinks impossible to prove.

He will need a witness: a natural sceptic: fit; thoughtful; trained to observe and report; moderately courageous; stubborn; and, of course, young, for it may be decades before it is safe for his report.

There must be no violence; but, since modern scientists can equal Inquisitors in their zeal in consigning frail bodies to the flames, and since they rarely reflect that science would not exist without previous ‘supernatural discoveries’, it will be best to make the demonstration in such setting that the witness cannot be declared insane – as poor George Cantor was, for example, for daring to explore infinities – a modern psychiatric hospital should serve very well.

Then there must be a reason to make him ready for the demonstration.

I always felt that my situation was highly artificial.

Eventually, apologetically, I was told that a journalist to whom I had sent a spoof essay (I wrote, even in those days) had taken it to a senior government member of his London club and had advised that his government should ‘fix’ me.

Did he know how I had annoyed the government? Even if he knew, he was famous for campaigning against the use of psychiatric medicine to silence political dissidents in Russia.

It seemed unlikely that he would want the same for me.

The hospital doctors had their orders, but were puzzled.

Most fortunate of all for me, their director did not like being used to fix the government’s problems. He told me in our final interview that his orders had been to begin treating me, very dangerously, as soon as I arrived. “Without clinical notes! As soon as I met you I could see some bloody fool had made a mistake.”

Perhaps I was someone’s scapegoat: ‘Here’s a freak who disagrees with us.’

In the first week, I was tested every day.

What had happened on the evening of the first day had already changed my life. I never doubted my sanity. Now I could now relax as modern medicine agreed with me.

But on my first free afternoon, sitting alone in the hospital gardens overlooking the sea, I puzzled too. What exactly had I seen? 2

I still felt that violent embrace – I can feel it now – but I could not remember seeing.

At first there had been deep black space in front of me.

Then that huge dark presence rushed towards me, ever growing larger.

But from where?

No, wait! I had seen …

No, no: impossible.

But there it was.

This vast spirit which embraced me had come from a perfectly black sphere faintly glimmering against the deep black of space.

I shook my head. It made no sense: none at all.

But it remained. This was what I had seen.

By the fourth day the tests were becoming tedious. [See the rampant rabbit story]. Then there was a long wait. On the sixteenth, I was discharged. The director wrote in his report: ‘This young man, of high intelligence, is not a psychiatric patient.’

This was in 1972. Most of you know the rest of the story. I qualified as a mathematics teacher. I became aware that honesty is essential to understanding mathematics, and other sciences, that it is essential to understand ourselves spiritually as well as intellectually: that modern teaching is killing honesty.

Teaching is engrossing, rewarding, exhausting. Years went by. I learnt to pray properly, a great relief. From time to time I recalled the mystery. I had seen: what?

A totally black sphere in totally black space?

Still impossible.

But it was all impossible.

Could the intelligence that had received me short-circuit space-time; could it take human form; could its home be beyond our reality; could it be amused?

In 1930 Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, a young doctoral student at Cambridge, predicted the existence of stars which collapse under their own gravity. His theory was rejected by the Cambridge professor, Arthur Eddington, whose evidence had made Einstein famous.

By the 1950s the scientific community had accepted Chandrasekhar’s mathematics – proving that not even light could escape from these stars. They must be invisible.

In 1967, James Wheeler, one of the best minds trying to understand their physical structure, was the first to name them ‘black holes’.

Sci-fi movies were soon showing vast swirling vortices, swallowing everything in range of their gravity, crumpling everything, in Wheeler’s words: ‘into an infinitesimal dot, extinguishing space and time like a blown-out flame’3

The movies made it look as if everything around a black hole was being sucked down into a cosmic plughole to disappear like bathwater. To where? No-one knows.

These pictured holes were visible. They could swallow anything. They must even swallow physics. No-one could work out what happens inside them. Perhaps time disappeared as well.

This was how it was told on Star Trek, This was good enough for me.

But about ten years later I was listening to James Wheeler being interviewed on the radio, when I heard him declare very impatiently: “And a black hole isn’t a hole, it’s A SPHERE!”


But still only half a revelation.

Black holes are now spheres, but are still invisible.

When I saw what I saw, I had been angry, but not frightened.

This was also a fairly critical moment in my life.

It is also true that I am very stubborn.

In 1976 I wrote the basis of ‘Source’ for the Epiphany Philosophers in Cambridge. They published my account in their journal. 4 Its editor, Margaret Masterman, placed a copy in the British Library, telling me: “One day theology students will be citing you in their theses.”

I think this highly unlikely. Religions do not favour fact.

In 1973 two Russians physicists, Zeldovich and Starobinsky, told the British cosmologist Stephen Hawking that black holes might emit particles.

In 1974 Hawking theorised that pairs of photons might be created close enough to the event horizon for one to be gobbled up, whilst the other might radiate outwards.

A black hole would then produce a faint glimmer of light.

It would be just visible against the deeper black of the space around it.

It would look rather like a sphere of polished black quartz on black felt.

Scientific theories must be supported by observation. This observation is impossible to make naturally. Perhaps it could be made supernaturally.

But this is also impossible.

Where does this leave us?

It certainly seems impossible that we share our reality with an intelligence which can set and reset space and time; which can take human form; which appears to enter our reality, and possibly leave, through something resembling a black hole.

Cosmologists now believe that black holes may exist at all galactic centres.

There would be, therefore, many entrances and exits.

But all of this is impossible. This whole ‘demonstration’ can be dismissed. Who cares whether something impossible to see was ever seen, however it was seen, or that it took forty years to report it! Poof!

The truth is that none of this matters. I might also be another shameless fraud like so many previous gurus, with a real appetite for blondes, jets, and Swiss bank accounts.

I leave you to decide what to believe.

For me the demonstration lasted for years.

It was my experience in teaching many of you which convinced me that all children have the right to be brought up as young messiahs: knowing that they always have the right to be honest and that they always have the right to ask questions. This is what I learnt.

We need these young messiahs. We need their innocence and energy.

The fact is that we are killing our young messiahs like the angel of death over Egypt.

Help put an end to this desecration.

Start today. Tell your child that you love honesty.

Explain that science is the art of honesty.

Explain that we only truly worship God through honesty.

Explain that the rest,” as the great Hillel once remarked, “is commentary.”


Oxford, Easter.

1 “And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us.” Genesis 1.26

2 See

3 A Life in Physics, Wheeler, J.A., 1999

4 Theoria to Theory, Journal of the Epiphany Philosophers, Cambridge.

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