John 1:1-18 In the beginning was the Word
One of the reasons I love living in the Hampshire countryside is to experience the cold and clear winter nights (like tonight) where we can step outside and look up to the stars.
Surely no-one can fail to ask themselves big questions when faced by the incredible array of beauty of the cosmos.
Where does it all end – how did it all begin and why?
The questions of infinity and eternity.
I have a theory that one of the reasons that Christian faith has been in decline in the developed countries is the pervasiveness of street lighting – people living in towns and cities cannot see the stars; and perhaps don’t ask themselves the big questions.
We can so easily live as if the universe is only what is around us. That it is limited to the tiny range of our own perspective.
The Christian answer to these questions is given in the reading that we have just had read –that God created all things and that the Word –or in Ancient Greek the original language of NT – the logos – whom we know as Jesus –was with God –and through him all things were made.
The Greeks, for whom John was writing his gospel,had for centuries recognised in their philosophy the idea of the logos as the shaping, ordering or directing principle of the universe.
John describes the logos as the light which shines in the darkness; as a person who was with God at the beginning of all things and who gives to all who receive him, all those who believed in him,the right to become children of God. Children of the creator God and made in his image.
However, it has to be said that not everyone who gazes into the cosmos now comes to the same conclusion. There is a significant body of opinion which denies the existence of God and has an entirely naturalistic and atheistic view of the universe.
Of course, Richard Dawkins is one, but also the very distinguished physicist Stephen Hawking has declared for this perspective. Other scientists have a different view.
In discussing these things,I need to point out that, unlike my predecessor as curate in Itchen Valley, Revd. Dr Stefan Collyer I do not have a PhD in Astro-Physics, just a simple lawyer turned vicar.
So in what I say this evening,I am leaning very specifically on the work of others – particularly the Prof of Mathematics at Oxford University and lecturer on the philosophy of science,John Lennox, and his book‘God’s undertaker’http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gods-Undertaker-Has-Science-Buried/dp/0745953719/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419491753&sr=8-1&keywords=god%27s+undertaker
In a short talk it is difficult to even scratch the surface of this debate. However, I would like to make a couple of observations which may be helpful and I hope get you thinking over the holiday about what are the basic questions of our existence.
Firstly, it’s important to realise that not everything that scientists say is science.
We should try to recognise when scientists are operating out of belief discussing meta physics or being speculative rather stating the product of empirically repeatable observation of natural phenomena
But it has to be said that physicists, have done theists – believers in God –a great service in the last 50 years.
The introduction of Big Bang theory has put the Biblical narrative of creation back on the philosophical agenda.
The idea that there was a beginning to the cosmos is something that theists (believers in God) have known from Genesis chapter 1 (and indeed from John Chapter 1 which mirrors it) –but for much of modern history it was thought by scientists (following on from Aristotle) that the universe had always existed.
Now that we have a very credible scientific hypothesis about the beginning of the universe, there has come with it fascinating insights into the apparent fine-tuning of the universe and the fragility of life on Earth.
Steven Hawking has written:‘If the rate of expansion One second after the big bang had been smaller Than one part in One hundred thousand million million The universe would have re-collapsed Before it ever reached its present size’
Theoretical physicist Paul Davies says:change the ratio of electromagnetic force constant To gravitational force constant by only 1 part in 10 to the power of 40 only small stars can exist. Decrease it by the same amount and only large stars can exist.
Both are necessary for life
This level of probability has been compared to firing a bullet at a target just inches across on the other side of the universe and hitting it first time
But if your mind is not boggling already, eminent mathematician Sir Roger Penrose of Oxford University calculated the likelihood of our universe starting with low entropy (a measure of disorder) which increases, a fact enshrined in the Second Law of Thermodynamics, as 1 part in 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 123.
He describes this as a number which would be“impossible to write out in the usual decimal way because even if you were to put a zero on every particle in the universe there would not be enough particles to do the job”
But the levels of fine tuning do not end with Big Bang.
Our planet is a remarkable place.
If the earth was even slightly nearer to the Sun, the seas would all evaporate; too far and the earth would be too cold for life. A change of only 2% or so and all life would cease.
If the earth spun a bit faster our atmosphere would spin off our planet; if it spun more slowlywe would be baked to death during the day and frozen to death at night.
For life as we know it is a very fragile thing.
There are a huge number of other examples of the Goldilocks nature of our planet and its galaxy it’s just right for life.
It is very extraordinary that we are here at all.
But given the unlikelihood of a universe permitting life existing, And of the Earth being habitable which one might have thought tends to point us toward the hand of a Creator,those who reject such a possibility postulate that instead of all of this being started by God,that the universe sprang into existence from nothing through the operation of the laws of physics.
But Theists point out physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe laws do not create anything,they are merely a description of what happensunder certain conditions.
The atheist argument continues – it is called M-theory that there are there are trillions upon trillions of universes – a sufficient number in fact to make it more probable that our particular universe has just the characteristics that it needs to be the cradle of our existence.
But that just pushes the argument back further – who started the first of the multi-verses?
The contrary view says ‘well what about God? Where did he come from?’ The theistic view is that he is eternal and outside the system of nature all together – unlike the universe, not bounded by time, as the universe is and we are; he always has been and always will be.
He is the uncaused first cause of everything other than himself. He is the eternal first mover who himself has no beginning and no end but who acted at the beginning to create our universe and our world out of nothing.
So the debate boils down to a debate about nothing.
But not a pointless debate at all. A very important debate about how something came out of nothing.
Indeed a debate about whether there is anything (such as rules of physics) in the nothingness that preceded the Big Bang.
As Philosopher Richard Swinburne of Oxford University has put it we have a choice before us provided by discoveries in Physics –whether we believe that one God created the universe or that multiple unknowable and unknown universes sprang into existence from nothing and we happen to be occupying the only one which is precisely tuned to make our life possible.
He says: “to postulate a trillion-trillion other universes, rather than one God, in order to explain the orderliness of our universe, seems the height of irrationality”
So as always with the gospel, we are left to make a choice.
It’s not a choice between science and Christianity Which can in fact be perfectly complimentary with each addressing their different areas of knowledge science dealing with ‘how’ and theology dealing with ‘why’
So it’s not a choice between science and Christianity rather a choice between two beliefsAbout the nature of the beginning of the universe belief on the one hand in a cold universe which springs out of nothingto no purposewhich accidentally produces everything that we see around us (including all the world’s unnecessary beauty) a cold universe which then moves relentlessly towards its own destruction which will end in pointlessness and will make everything that we or our race may achieve totally futile.
And on the other hand A belief in a universe created by a person who loves us so much that he was willing to become one of us in poverty and suffering to be born in a stable in an unimportant village on the fringes of the Roman Empire on an unimportant planet in our rather minor solar system 2000 years ago.
A being who in what he said and did continues the work of Creation by shedding the light of his salvation into our lives and enabling those of us who have been made in his image as John 1 says to become sons and daughters of God.
A person who has set the whole universe on a journey to a destination. A journey on which we are all travelling. A being who makes sense of all we experience of the universe and gives eternal meaning and significance to our lives.
The choice is yours and mine.
For as John Betjeman wrote in his poem ‘Christmas’;
“And is it true? And is it true?
This most tremendous tale of all
Seen in a stained glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a child on earth for me?
And is it true? For if it is
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies
The sweet and silly Christmas things
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant
No love that in a family dwells
No carolling in frosty air
Nor all the steeple shaking bells
Can with this single truth compare
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives today in bread and wine
For further reading go to: http://www.bethinking.org
From the Wall Street Journal