Save us from 7 years or more of haggling over an EU free trade deal, while the economy drifts and politics is paralysed. Any suggestion we can “get Brexit done” in any conclusive sense early in 2020 is simply misleading.
Save the United Kingdom from dissolution as the Scots demand independence and Ireland drifts towards a border poll, with a risk of renewed violence.
Save the 3.5% of GDP (around £70 billion each year) that Brexit leads us to miss out on compared with remaining in the EU.
Save our labour and environmental standards that the government plans to water down.
Save the NHS from bankruptcy at the hands of US drug companies following a US trade deal.
Save the UK more generally from an abject, grovelling position of political dependence on the US, as witness Trumps recent intervention.
Save our farmers from bankruptcy when UK markets are opened to imports at world prices.
Save many of our EU citizens from the horror of a Windrush-style immigration policy.
Save our elderly social care, the NHS, construction, farming, food and other sectors dependent on EU labour.
Save our right to strongly influence EU rules and policies.
Save the right of our children and grandchildren to live, love, work, start a family, start a business, own property, and contribute to society anywhere in the EU.
Save the young from suffering all these consequences for much longer than the rest of us. We offer the younger generation a poor deal already due to the burden of pensions, university loans and house prices. And this will be worsened immensely by Brexit, both economically and politically.
Let’s not have it said of our generation “the middle-aged and elderly want a divorce and they don’t care that it’s the children who will suffer most”.
Not cancelling Brexit saves a lot less:
Save the Tory and Labour parties from their own internal contradictions and psychodramas.
Save the net payment to Brussels of £10 billion or so per annum, except that it may be required to continue to secure a trade deal with the EU and prevent economic collapse
Vote Liberal Democrat – Cancel Brexit – Let us Lead and not Leave
The world is facing a crisis in the warming of the planet due to greenhouse gas emissions, which threatens the very future existence of humanity. What does the Bible tell us about the environment and ecology in general? What bearing does that have on the current pressure by young people to respond, led by Greta Thunberg? What should Christians make of her work and how should we view the environment?
Genesis records that God created the whole of reality from nothing, from the stars to the earth, the seas and all the animals and plants and finally humanity. As the Psalmist wrote “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it, for He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters”. (Psalm 24:1). And Isaiah speaking of God “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” (Isaiah 40:12).
God’s care for his creation apart from humanity is widely apparent in Scripture. “And to all the beasts of the earth, and all the birds of the air, and all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food” (Genesis 1:30) “Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no man lives a desert with no one in it, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass?” (Job 38:26-27). “He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches..He makes grass to grow for the cattle…There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number… These all look to you to give them food at the proper time. When you give it to them they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things” (Psalm 104:10,11,12,14,25,27,28).
On the creation of humanity, It is written “Then God said “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground”” (Genesis 1:26). The so-called creation mandate goes on to say “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it”” (Genesis 1:28). So what does it mean “image”? Being in God’s image should mean that we maintain his benevolent care for his creation that he showed in its provision. We should act as his stewards given care of his good creation. Equally, “rule” and “subdue” surely means maintain and not destroy. This is clear in the light of God’s provision for man as “ Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth, and every tree that has fruit with seed in it, they will be yours for food.”” (Genesis 1:29). His generosity requires a response of care for what he has given to us. This is underlined by “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). Again the operative concept is that we are stewards, we are to take care of the creation for God and for future generations.
Scripture records a number of points where God mandates protection of nature against humanity’s exploitation. For example “For the Scripture says, do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain” (I Timothy 5:18). “The seventh day is the sabbath to the Lord your God: on it you shall not do any work… nor your animals” (Exodus 20:10). “For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather your crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the Lord.” (Leviticus 25:3,4).
There are explicit warnings of punishment for humanity if exploitation of nature goes too far “The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great – and for destroying those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18). That said, we are also warned to worship God and not his creation itself “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal men, and birds and animals and reptiles…they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creation more than the Creator” (Romans 1:25)
In light of the above, what should a Christian make of the world wide movement, especially among the young people, for better care for the environment and action against global warming. Especially how should we see the role of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year old who began the movement by striking from school in front of the Swedish parliament. It is not evident that she is a Christian and hard to predict how her work shall develop. But for the present I suggest she has many of the characteristics of a Biblical Prophet such as Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel. I quote from her recent speech at the UN.
She is a reluctant messenger as “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean” even as Jeremiah’s (1:6) commission he claims “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” The ministry of Jeremiah alone tells us not to disregard Greta’s message because she is young. Mary is generally assumed to have been in her early teens when she gave birth to the Son of God, while Paul had to remind Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth (1 Timothy 4:12).
Her message is urgent “How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight”. Even as Jeremiah 6:8 “Take warning, Jerusalem, or I will turn away from you and make your land desolate so no one can live in it.”
She bears a message that others have developed rather than from herself as “For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear” even as the prophets spoke the word of God as Ezekiel 23:28 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to deliver you into the hands of those you hate, to those you turned away from in disgust.” While we draw no parallel between the findings of science and God’s inspiration, it is worth noting that development of science itself was widely inspired by scripture as in the creation mandate above and passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:33 “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace” and “The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.” (Proverbs 19:8).
She has brought her message to the powerful such as President Trump and indeed the UN but is widely criticised and disdained, even as King Jeroiachim tore up Jeremiah’s scroll and burnt it on the fire (Jeremiah 36:23).
She uses forthright language as at the UN general assembly “And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.” But so did the prophets as for example Isaiah 57:4 “But you—come here, you children of a sorceress, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes!” and Jesus himself in Matthew 23:27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”
She was willing to undertake discomfort to make a prophetic point, as in sitting alone outside the Swedish parliament and enduring the discomfort of sailing across the Atlantic to avoid flying and contributing to global warming. Even as Ezekiel lay down on his side to bear the sin of the people of Israel and Judah (Ezekiel 4).
And most important, her message is consistent with the care of creation that God requires of humanity in the passages above, to care for the garden. In an interesting article from a Jesuit standpoint (https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2019/09/24/greta-thunberg-and-trouble-changing-world), Nathan Schneider says “I think of Ms. Thunberg’s ethic as following the Jewish notion of tikkun olam, or healing the world. To heal means focusing first of all on protecting what one loves, what we know to be good. If doing so requires drastic change, as Thomas Aquinas would put it, that is that. To be a healer means your motivation begins like this: What do you love, what do you protect, what do you refuse to harm? What is worth more than the illusions we cling to? As Greta said “We are at the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth?”
We need to pray for Greta, for her protection and also that she comes to know the Lord Jesus Christ as her saviour and Lord. What an evangelist she would be! But can Christian faith be consistent with her vision of creation care and healing and the need for drastic change to achieve them? I believe it can.
The challenge to the Christian is to see that the teachings and resurrection of Jesus also draw us to care for the creation. For he is creator and is their keeper “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, whether thrones of power or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him or for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17). The resurrection of Jesus and resultant coming of the Holy Spirit has key implications for the mission of Jesus’ followers as set out in Romans 8 19-21 “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”.
To give an example of the need for freeing the creation, it is estimated that rising sea levels will create over 18 million climate refugees in Bangladesh alone in the coming decades. As followers of Jesus, who came to “bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18), it is clear that we cannot afford to remain indifferent to such crises and it is better to offset the cause (CO2 emissions) and not just the consequence (disaster relief).
Scripture suggests that the new heaven and the new earth are redeemed and not recreated. While “In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13), Colossians 1:19-20 says all things will be redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross”. Hence the need for all generations to put in the effort to prevent global warming, to redeem and reconcile!
A Christian approach to global warming should inspire hope and be based on love for God and gratitude for his creation. It should thus have less of the anger and fear that pervade some of the secular debate. That said, the challenge of changing lifestyles cannot be underestimated. Are people in rich countries such as the UK willing to minimise or abandon meat intake, avoid unnecessary flights and make ethical purchases? Despite it being clear that’s what is needed to prevent global warming, to redeem and reconcile….?
Among acts for Christlike redemption of the creation, besides getting carbon emissions under control, one of the most important things is to reconcile also the generations. The younger generation has a growing sense of betrayal, notably in terms of the environment as voiced by Greta. But also, to give the example of the UK, in respect of Brexit, poor pensions, university fees and high house prices, from the choices and behaviour of the older generation. This passage at the end of the Old Testament, is a salutary warning in that regard:
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6).
While Greta may not be Elijah, her words still evoke this passage powerfully. “You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are
 There remains an interpretation of 2 Peter 3 that the current earth will be destroyed before the new heaven and new earth: “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly….The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare”. If so, then there is no use for creation care. However, the context suggests that the passage may rather refer to the fire of judgement (as in the water of Noah’s flood) and not the destruction of the creation itself.
At Christmas we remember the birth of Jesus Christ. The Christ without whom Christmas would have no meaning. Christians call him King, Lord and Saviour – and these come through in all the well known carols. It’s worth considering the flow of what Christmas does mean. That it brings mankind from darkness through hope to realisation and light. Although many rejected him, some accepted him.
Why darkness? Darkness comes from humankind’s rebellion against God. The things we do that we should not do. The things we do not do which we should do. That separate us from him. This is a paradox. God intended that we should live in his loving presence and take care of his creation. But we have chosen not to trust our creator but rather to follow our own selfish ways. This has spoilt our relationship not just with God but with one another and with the creation – as we can see all around us. And in the end that rebellion leads to death. The Psalmist knew all this 2500 years ago when he wrote “Bring us back, O God our saviour, and stop being displeased with us! Will you be angry with us for ever? Will your anger never cease?”
Through hope? Amid that darkness, God spoke through his prophets that he would not always be displeased with mankind. That he would provide us all with a way back to him. The wonderful vision that one day, “Love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will embrace. Human loyalty will reach up from the earth, and God’s righteousness will look down from heaven.”
And that was a concrete hope. Jesus’ birth was not a chance event, it was prophesied in detail hundreds of years earlier:
Born of a virgin: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) 700 BC
Born in Bethlehem: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old,from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2) 700 BC
Born of the clan of Judah: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.2 (Genesis 49:10) 1400 BC
Born a descendent of king David: “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. (Jeremiah 23:5) 600 BC
To realisation? The realisation of those hopes is the wonderful Christmas story. The fulfilment of the prophecies. As the angel puts it “I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people.” That’s the coming of Jesus at Christmas.
And light? The angels shone out with God’s glory to the shepherds. But the true light was and is Jesus himself. This too was prophesied long before by Isaiah “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Everywhere we live is in that shadow of death, but the light has dawned there too. It is written of Jesus “This was the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on everyone.” And “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.” And yet we are all free to choose darkness instead of light in our lives.
Why rejection? Rejection of Jesus too was prophesied. As Isaiah wrote “There was nothing attractive about him, nothing that would draw us to him. We despised him and rejected him; he endured suffering and pain. No one would even look at him – we ignored him as if he were nothing.” And still people mock Jesus and reject him.
Some of you may know of the film The Life of Brian. It mocks Jesus pitilessly. That film could never have been made about other religious leaders. The makers would have been under threat of dearth. And yet being open to mockery and rejection is core to Jesus’ mission. He came to earth, he was born in that stable to undergo the humiliation of the cross, dying for all who would follow him, giving us all that promised way back to God. But leaving the choice whether to follow him open to each heart. To choose life or death. Light or darkness.
Why acceptance? Some chose light and life during Jesus’ life on earth and followed him, received him and believed in him. And some do today. Our scripture states what amazing promises are open to those who put their trust in Jesus: “he gave them the right to become God’s children. They did not become God’s children by natural means, that is, by being born as the children of a human father; God himself was their Father.” Although many choose darkness, the choice of light is still open to all of us. To be reconciled with God despite what we have done wrong, thanks to Jesus sacrifice on the cross.
From darkness through hope to realisation and light. In contemplating this upwards flow, it helps to realise the marvel of what Christmas actually means. “The Word – that’s Jesus, the Son of God, the creator of all things – became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us.” How wide is the contrast between the divinity of Christ and the helpless infant in Bethlehem’s manger! How can we span the distance between the mighty God and a helpless child? And yet the Creator of worlds, He who was and is the Son of God himself, was manifest in the helpless babe in the manger. Far higher than any of the angels, equal with the Father in dignity and glory, and yet taking the form of humanity! Divinity and humanity were mysteriously combined, and man and God became one. It is in this union that we find the hope of our fallen race. Jesus.
Jesus, the child who grew to be a great moral instructor whose teaching has shaped our society. Jesus, the miracle worker whose healing power is still available today. Jesus, the Saviour and Lord of all mankind who gives life to those who follow him. Jesus who accepted the penalty for rebellion in our place by dying on the cross, so we might be forgiven and return to God’s fatherly love.
From darkness through hope to realisation and light. Although many rejected him, some accepted him. What about you?
The arguments for Brexit – and important to “leave” voters – can be seen as a “three legged stool”, economic benefits, sovereignty gains and the curtailment of EU migration.
The first leg has been shown to be illusory given the projections this week by the government and other bodies that we shall be worse off under Brexit than remaining in the EU, regardless of the plan chosen. Since the Government’s plan is the one on the table, we can note that the loss in annual GDP after 15 years is around 3.9% or £100 billion, an amount which dwarfs the UK’s net contribution of £10 billion or so. Note that the “benefits” of all potential trade deals with the US etc. which are allowed for in the projections, amount to only 0.2% of GDP. This is even assuming the UK is willing to accept US farming standards, and inroads by US healthcare firms into the NHS that would be the likely “price” of such a deal with the US.
Hence, it must be argued that the £90-100 billion is “the price worth paying” for the other benefits of sovereignty and migration reduction. I have argued elsewhere that the sovereignty benefits are contestable, and the UK would be better off to “lead not leave” (see http://www.ephilipdavis.com/home/2018/11/19/on-sovereignty-and-brexit/ ). What about free movement? It’s highly relevant to discuss this in a week when net EU migration has fallen to 70,000, the lowest since 2012.
The discussion of free movement rarely notes that it is a two way street and leaving the EU implies a diminution of the rights and freedoms of all UK citizens. Up till Brexit, everyone in the UK can live, love, work, start a family, start a business, own property, and contribute to society anywhere in the EU in the same way that someone could move from Kent to Cumbria in the knowledge that their citizenship and status would remain inviolable. And 1.3 million or so people are currently taking advantage of this.
A Brexit which takes away those rights and freedoms will block young people from the opportunities the older generation had to study, work and live in the rest of the EU, whether they took them or not. It also ends the dream of many working people of a retirement in Spain. We should consider carefully why this freedom is to be cast aside.
There are strong positive arguments favouring freedom of movement in terms of immigration, too. This is especially the case given our own population is ageing, with more and more retired people relative to workers. Partly as a consequence, we suffer a shortage of labour and the sectors most dependent on migrants are crucial, notably the NHS and elderly care that help the UK cope directly with population ageing. Immigration boosts economic growth, which helps us cope with ageing. Furthermore, immigrants who are typically young taxpayers help share the burden of paying pensions to old people, and also repaying the public debt. Meanwhile, the proportion of EU migrants claiming benefits is lower than other groups in the population.
This is not the way immigration is typically presented, where it is often argued that immigrants “take jobs” from UK workers. I contend they do not. They focus on the areas where UK workers lack skills or simply are unwilling to perform the relevant tasks. Think on the one hand of NHS doctors and nurses from the EU. And scientists who are key to advances in medical and scientific research in the UK. And on the other hand consider the fruit pickers without whom crops will rot on the ground, and those poorly-paid carers for the elderly without whom retirement homes will shut and elderly will lack care in their homes. The construction, food processing and hospitality sectors are also highly dependent on EU migrants. The promised immigration policy focused on highly skilled and highly paid workers might let some scientists and doctors in, but what about the other needs, especially nurses and care workers?
More generally, the idea that immigrants take jobs from natives is simply wrong. It’s what economists call the “lump of labour fallacy” that there are a fixed number of jobs that means one person’s gain is another’s loss. In fact immigrants bring new demand into the economy that creates extra jobs for young people – and some set up their own companies that employ many. And as noted, at the current level of 4.4% unemployment, there is clearly a shortage of labour even before Brexit. Furthermore, studies have shown that the effect on wages of EU migration is very minor.
The housing crisis is not due to immigrants either. Successive governments, of all political persuasions, have failed to build enough houses. Demand has outstripped supply and house prices have soared, far out-pacing wages, leaving the young as “generation rent”. Indeed, the demand for houses is related to the number of people (and so by extension – immigration) much less than most people realise. By far the most important determinant is real incomes. As people get richer they try to buy bigger and better houses and if we do not build them, the real price of all houses goes up. There is even evidence that immigrants demand less housing than long-term residents, given their incomes. And if ending free movement harms the construction sector, that will itself hinder resolution of the housing shortage.
As regards local congestion in the health and education systems that immigration may occasion, part of the £90-100 billion can easily create extra infrastructure – not to mention EU structural funds. Worth also remembering the EU allows an “emergency brake” on too-rapid migration, a point barely mentioned in debate.
It’s worth noting that the salience of free movement has been declining since the Referendum. Immigration was often named as Britain’s ‘most important issue’ between 2001 and mid-2016, but since the EU Referendum people have been more likely to name Europe/the EU and the NHS as their primary concerns. Immigration’s salience has fallen from 48% in June 2016 to 21% in December 2017. Comparing attitudes before and after the referendum from within the same groups of individuals suggests that both Leavers and Remainers have softened in their attitudes towards immigration, according to the Migration Observatory of Oxford University. Culturally, the UK has been a successful melting pot for many years and what was disturbing very rapidly becomes accepted. The Prime Minister appears in this sense to be “behind the times” in considering immigration so crucial, this may rather relate to her own background in the Home Office.
I contend that free movement, looked at broadly, is hence a major benefit to the UK and its people, viewed both as a freedom for UK citizens and a benefit to them from those entering. The remaining leg of the stool being removed, the milkmaid is sat on the floor….crying over a spilt £100 billion a year and lost freedoms?
In my view, it is time for a further referendum now that people know the full facts about Brexit. To quote David Davis; “countries which cannot change their minds cease to be democracies”.
In the current crisis I think it’s time to review the case for sovereignty in the EU, not least given Mrs May’s comment that an option now is “no Brexit”. Time to return to sanity and shared sovereignty of membership! Note that this is a mild update of a post I wrote prior to the referendum, just to show these suggestions are not “new discoveries” but were evident all along…
Sovereignty was one of the key arguments in the EU referendum debate. “Take back control” said the leavers. Unelected bureaucrats have to be stopped from writing all our laws. We want sovereignty and democracy and these can only be achieved by Brexit. But this is a highly challengeable contention. Let me explain:
The regulations proposed by Brussels are mostly necessary for ensuring free trade within the Single Market. In the absence of harmonisation, countries typically set up non-tariff barriers to protect their own economic sectors, which due to the EU common regulation is prevented. Worth adding that the UK is well known for “gold plating” proposals from Brussels, i.e. going beyond what was envisaged in directives.
The EU is a group of sovereign states who agree to share certain powers peacefully. (The peace that the EU has generated contrasts with centuries of war that preceded 1945.) The Commission can only propose laws these have to be agreed democratically by the EU parliament (elected on proportion of votes) and the council of ministers who are our own governments – and where the UK was very rarely outvoted (2% of cases where there is qualified majority voting – and in vital areas member states have a veto). Commissioners are also to my knowledge chosen by national governments. The EU only affects 15% of our laws, as mentioned mostly to do with the Single Market.
And of course if we look at democracy and sovereignty in the UK, it’s highly imperfect. There is an army of unelected bureaucrats called the civil service, not to mention the unelected House of Lords and the hereditary Monarchy, and the fact governments are often elected on well below 50% of the votes in the first past the post system.
Meanwhile the UK has been far from a powerless bystander in EU developments, we drove the Single Market, and the inclusion of the Eastern states emerging from tyranny – and more recently effective sanctions against Iran and Russia, and the EU support for combating Ebola in West Africa. Lead not leave would seem to be the best way forward.
Leaders of the leave campaign are clearly of the opinion that EU membership is incompatible with British sovereignty. For them, being sovereign is like being pregnant—you either are or you aren’t. Yet increasingly real sovereignty is relative. A country that refuses outright to pool authority is one that has no control over cross border pollution, standards of financial regulation, consumer and trade norms to which its exporters and importers are bound, the cleanliness of its seas.
Britain is subject to some 700 international treaties involving multilateral submissions to multilateral compromises. Its membership of the UN, the WTO, NATO, the COP climate talks, the IMF, the World Bank, nuclear test ban treaties and accords on energy, water, maritime law and air traffic all require Britain to tolerate the sort of trade-offs that Eurosceptics find distasteful: influence in exchange for standardisation, laws and rules set mostly by foreigners not elected by Britons.
If sovereignty is the absence of mutual interference, the most sovereign country in the world is North Korea.
Norway and Switzerland are weak arguments for Brexit. Leaders of leave believe these countries are quite dramatically more “sovereign” than Britain. But in practice, and as we are finding out, they must subject themselves to vast numbers of EU rules over which they have no say in order to access the Single Market (as well as making sizeable contributions and accepting free movement of labour).
Consider the EU trade-off: let foreigners have some influence over your country of 64m and in return receive quite a lot of influence over a union of 743m. When Eurosceptics only mention the first half of this bargain, they imply that Britain is too weak to take advantage of the second. Which is odd, as the national strengths they otherwise celebrate give the country a tremendous ability to do so. And this is all to say nothing of the tremendous economic damage that Brexit will wreak, not least in a no-deal case.
Scientists like Richard Dawkins are often in the news for mocking the irrationality of the Christian faith. The title of his book “the God delusion” tells it all. He has said: “When talking to a politician you would demand proof for what they say, but suddenly when talking to a clergyman you don’t have to provide evidence.” “There’s absolutely no reason to take seriously someone who says, ‘I believe it because I believe it.’ ”
I disagree with Mr Dawkins and suggest there are many reasons to see our faith as rational. The most important is the evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, which is very well documented. But today I want to focus on the consistency of scientific discoveries with the Bible, which is Dawkin’s home ground. As you know, I’m a sceptical and broadly rational person. Well, I found learning about these discoveries helped me powerfully in becoming a Christian. They strengthened my belief in God and willingness to put my trust in him. So, I hope and pray that my material will be useful for sceptics here – those who might feel a barrier owing to the belief that science and Christianity are incompatible. Also, I hope that you who are Christians will yourselves find the account interesting and that it will increase your awe in our creator’s divine power. And it will I hope also help you to witness.
I confess upfront that I am not a scientist, just an economist. And in the time available I can only scratch the surface. So, I invite you to investigate the books I used such as Ross “The creator and the cosmos” and Schroeder “The science of God”. The authors are active research scientists themselves. I am also conscious that there are different views among Christians about some of the topics – such as the Big Bang. I am not trying to lay down the law in any of these matters. Please take it as such. Even if you disagree with what I say, consider that it may help you understand how the world thinks today, when you witness.
1 A baseline
I want to start by sketching what is currently believed and taught in schools and universities, and what militant atheists like Dawkins proclaim as their faith. We’ll then compare it with a view informed by the Bible. The received view suggests that the universe began – by chance – from a concentrated point or singularity around 15 billion years ago. The universe initially consisted of pure energy expanding infinitely rapidly. As its expansion slowed and the universe cooled, matter, hydrogen and helium separated from energy – by chance.
Gravity took hold of much of the matter to form galaxies and stars. Once matter was sufficiently compacted by gravity in stars, nuclear reactions began and stars shone, and “light separated from darkness” (Genesis 1:4).. In large stars this process generated heavier elements including carbon, the basis for life – by chance. Large stars often explode when their fuel was exhausted as supernovas, scattering heavy elements across their galaxy. That material would be captured by new stars forming like our own sun. It formed rocky planets orbiting them. On one planet, the earth – by chance – amino acids combined to give rise to life around 3.5 billion years ago. This life – by chance – was able to develop by natural selection and evolution – Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” from single celled organisms into the way we are now.
My reading of the evidence is that there is some truth in this account but much that is misleading. I contend that the possibility of the universe, the planet and life happening by chance is utterly remote. I think the sense of a caring divine purpose is overwhelming. We shall even see that science is converging on a number of views in the Bible. The rationality of faith, and its compatibility with science, is strongly supported. Meanwhile, we should note that it takes a lot of faith to be an atheist and believe all the “order” in the universe comes about by chance!
2 Genesis and the age of the universe
Let’s first look at the age of the universe and the six days of Genesis. Scientists maintain that the universe is around 15 billion years old. Evidence includes as the speed with which galaxies move away from each other (the red shift) and the detection of cosmic background radiation from the Big Bang. Theorists such as Hawking confirm through the space-time theorem of general relativity that the universe, and time itself, had to have a beginning.
Does confirmation of the Big Bang supports Christianity or atheism? The Bible has always maintained that the universe had a beginning. Scientists long believed that the universe was eternal – and only fell wholly in line with the Bible thirty or forty years ago. To me, the implication is that God acted to create the universe before time began, but is not part of it himself, as Hebrews 11:3 states “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible”. I am not alone. The atheist astronomer Geoffrey Burbidge has complained that his peers were “rushing off to join the First Church of Christ of the Big Bang”.
The six days of creation in Genesis if we measure them as 24-hour days from our point of view, give an age of the earth of around 6000 years. This seems on the face of it to conflict with the scientific age of the universe of around 15 billion years. It may be that God did indeed create the earth only in BC 4400 (a date devised by Rev Usher only a few centuries ago). In that case he left clues to an older age, such as fossils and cosmic background radiation, for purposes we do not understand. But there are other possibilities. One is that God’s time is simply not like our time, as stated in Psalm 90:4 “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.”
Building on this text, Schroeder offers an interesting suggestion looking at time from God’s point of view from the time he created the universe, and seeing what 24 hours to him would mean for us. Schroeder points to the fact that the first six days of Genesis are written differently from the rest of the Bible, from the point of view of an external observer. There may thus be grounds to assess them differently.
Scientists know by general relativity that time passes at different speeds depending on the position of the observer. This is due to varying gravity and velocity. On a massive planet, or moving close to the speed of light, time would pass more slowly than here on earth. Using this insight, one could measure “universal cosmic time”. This is as God himself would measure it from the beginning of the universe, instead of on earth. The wavelength of cosmic background radiation was millions of times shorter, and its energy higher, at the Big Bang than it is now. The wavelength – and space itself – as been stretched as the universe expands and time slowed down. This is hinted at in Isaiah 44: 24 “I am the Lord, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,” Using this alternative “clock”, it would indeed be the case that the first day would be equivalent to 7 billion years on earth as we perceive it now. Time would slow exponentially to be consistent after 6 days with our current earth time, 15 billion years having elapsed. The table (appended) shows this.
Let me note something interesting in Genesis. Repeatedly it states “there was evening and there was morning”. The Hebrew word for evening has as its root “chaos” and morning, “order”. Thus God was bringing order in each case. This is an action entirely contrary to the second law of thermodynamics, which states that chaos (entropy) always increases.
Moving on, I think there are at least three areas where we can look at God’s wonderful provision even through the eyes of hard science. All three show that it is laughable to think that our current situation arose by chance. There is overwhelming evidence of purposeful Creation.
3 The characteristics of the universe
The first is the way the universe was formed, from galaxies to atoms. On the side of galaxies, as said in Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” On the side of atoms, as stated in Colossians 1:16-17 “all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together”. Jesus made the “Higgs Boson” particle that scientists in CERN are telling us about!
Today’s scientific evidence suggests that the Big Bang was anything but an uncontrolled explosion that its popular title suggests. It was rather a finely tuned event whose control and care exceeds human capability immeasurably. We see this when we look at the way the universe is calibrated to be a cradle for life.
For life, we need the right atoms of various sizes. – 40 elements at least it to exist. The existence of such a variety of elements needs incredibly fine tuning of the constants of physics. For example, if the strong and weak nuclear forces, which hold atoms together, were slightly different, the universe would consist solely of hydrogen or solely heavy elements, while for life we need both. Without finely tuned gravity, the nuclear fusion in stars which generates heavier elements could not occur, and nor could a planet orbit a star stably as the earth does. The ratio of electromagnetic force to gravity has to be calibrated to an accuracy of 10 to the power 40 for large and small stars to coexist. The accuracy of the tuning is equivalent to finding a single coin, blindfolded, in a pile covering the United States and reaching to the moon. The speed of expansion of the universe has to be just right for galaxies, stars and planets – slower and we would be a super dense lump, faster and the universe
would be just dust.
Fred Hoyle, an atheist astronomer, states that “A superintellect has monkeyed around with physics as well as chemistry and biology”. Roger Penrose, Professor of Maths at Oxford,
suggested that the overall likelihood of the initial conditions producing the universe we have by chance is 10 to the power 10 to the power 123. Just to speak out such a number needs more time than the universe has existed. Atheist scientists are seeking ways out of the obvious conclusion of God’s design. They hypothesise an infinite number of universes – but a purposeful creator is still needed, especially if they are all supposed to be different. The idea of an eternally and stably oscillating cycling universe as in Hindu mythology has been shown to be physically impossible according to the second law of thermodynamics. The conclusion, I suggest, should rather be that of Psalm 33:6 “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.”
Still, just saying that God created the universe may let us reach a “Deist” conclusion, that God set in motion the cosmos then left it to its own devices. I think his personal care for his creation comes to the fore when we look at our planet and the basis of life.
4 Our “just right” planet
Consider Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” Then consider the following so-called random chances:
Unlike most others, our galaxy is isolated, which avoids intergalactic collisions that could destroy life. Ours is one of only 5 % of galaxies that are spiral, allowing protection from radiation for selected stars like our own. The supernovas occurred in great numbers early in the life of our galaxy, creating heavy elements for life but are rare now, so dangerous radiation is low. There are sufficient binary white dwarf stars to create fluorine, which is also vital for life. The position of our solar system in the galaxy also helps us to understand the vastness of God’s creation. As we are permanently outside the ‘spokes’ of the galaxy, we have a majestic grandstand view of the universe that would be impossible from most other points.
Our stable burning star is essential for life. The earth’s distance from the sun is just right for life – water can exist in solid, liquid and gaseous form. Our climate avoids runaway heat and cold due to the distance, atmosphere and speed of rotation of the planet. Gravity and surface temperature expel harmful gases such as methane and ammonia (atomic weights 16 and 17) while the vital water (weight 18) is retained. Our massive planetary companion Jupiter’s gravity protects us from comets that could destroy life. The earth’s molten core, while it generates dangers such as earthquakes and volcanoes, also provides a strong magnetic field, deflecting harmful rays from the sun.
In Ross’s book there are listed 128 unique characteristics of this planet (up from 41 in his previous 1995 edition due to new discoveries) that make it suitable for life. To get them all would need a probability of one in 10 to the power 144. Without divine intervention, there can be no other planets like earth, in other words.
5 The miracle of life
The third topic is the way life is constructed. Atheist scientists clung to a belief of an eternal and infinite universe so that there could be a chance for spontaneous generation of life. That is why they hate the Big Bang. Even given infinite time, the odds remained very low that chance combinations of molecules could give rise to DNA, the building block of life. Ilya Prigogine, recipient of a Nobel Prize for chemistry, stated that “the idea of a spontaneous generation of life is improbable, even on a scale of billions of years”. A colourful expression for this – again from the atheist Fred Hoyle – is that we have to conceive that a whirlwind hitting a junkyard would spontaneously build a 747. But in fact, billions of years were not available. Life appears to have emerged almost at once after the earth cooled from an inhospitable molten crust and as water formed, in a mere 40 million years. This is as set out in Day 3 of Genesis where the earth is said to have brought forth life, after the sea was created. I believe the chance that this was spontaneous in such a short time rather than the work of God is close to zero.
Let me now talk briefly about evolution and natural selection. First, the evidence for the theory as popularly taught is weak, according to fossil evidence. At most, the evidence is only available for microevolution – such as different breeds of dogs. There seem to be sudden jumps in development of species in time periods too small for natural selection to operate. There are no “missing links”, just species that suddenly emerged and lived unchanged for millions of years. This suggests divine intervention.
Second, fossil evidence now shows that the earth was populated by single celled animals and plants for 3 billion years, and then suddenly highly complex animals (with eyes, jointed limbs and stomachs) emerged in a very short space of time about 550 million years ago. This was the “Cambrian explosion”. It is as in Genesis 1:20 “And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures”. Since that period, no new phyla (groups of species) have emerged. I believe this is evidence of direct creation. Otherwise we have to believe that genes for complex organs developed in the DNA of the preceding single celled creatures – by chance – although they were of no use to them.
What about creation of man? Genesis says God “created” something from nothing at only three points – the universe and animal life (as we discussed already) and humans. The implication is that elsewhere he “made” his creation from raw materials. How then did he create man? We know that it was a marvellous process, as shown by Psalm 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” One possibility is of course that we were created from nothing. But another possibility is that God indeed “made” man using existing genetic material from animals. Man would still be unique in the sense of Genesis if we understand that God’s creation was to breathe the human spirit into Adam – the neshama in Hebrew – as is stated in Genesis 2:7.
Man’s emergence is utterly improbable if we follow evolution and natural selection. Genetic differences between apes and men are such as to require 40 million generations of random mutations – whereas fossils suggest man actually emerged only a few million years ago!
6 Dimensions beyond space and time
Let me talk finally about dimensions. Before the universe began there was no time. (This means that the question “who made God?” which Dawkins sees as conclusive proof of God’s non existence, has no meaning, as cause and effect only operate within time.) God’s independence from time is consistently taught by the Bible, as in 2 Timothy 1:9 “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” and John 17:24 “You loved me before the creation of the world”.
So-called string theory in cosmology suggests that the universe at its beginning must have had ten dimensions. Only four expanded and are apparent to us today – width, height, depth and time. But God created the extra dimensions – and could make others at will. He can use them to transcend space and time. Extra dimensions can make sense of Biblical concepts that are otherwise puzzling and to some, a stumbling block. These include the Trinity, predestination along with free will, God’s nearness to us, his ubiquity and invisibility, Jesus’ appearance to his disciples in the locked room, and Jesus promise never to leave us. Heaven is close to us and not a remote place as Jacob found in Genesis 28 “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”…… “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven”. Extra dimensions also give a realm in which the spirit world of “powers and principalities” operate, suggesting we should take them very seriously.
I personally found the concept of God transcending our dimensions helpful. I had a powerful feeling of Jesus’ presence by my bedside, waiting patiently when I turned to him and became a Christian. I know he is always with me and waiting for all mankind. If you don’t know him yet, he is waiting for you, too!
So scientists are increasingly astonished at the revealed order of creation. The provision for us specifically on earth and not just for the universe in general, I beliver, underlines the personal care God has for us. New discoveries indeed suggest that science is converging on the Bible’s unchanging worldview – confirming the rationality of faith and its compatibility with science. As his colleagues measured the cosmos, the agnostic Robert Jastrow stated “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries”. And many scientists have found Christian faith convincing.
God’s infinite wisdom is increasingly apparent in the flood of discoveries – consistant with the Bible – that we are witnessing. Ross suggest that the reason why we are subjected to such a deluge of new evidence of God’s wisdom, power and care of his Creation is that he provides evidence to generations in proportion to our resistance to truth. For our sceptical, self satisfied and materialist generation, he has granted a multiple portion. As Psalm 19 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” Or as Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem puts it “Earth is crammed with heaven, and every bush is aflame with God. But only those who see take off their shoes”.
To conclude, nature and science tell all mankind that they have a benevolent creator. But nature and science alone are not enough, they only provide a small part of the truth. The Bible tells us nature and life have a purpose which science does not. The Bible clarifies how, in his infinite love for us, God bridged the gulf between us and him, entering into his own creation as Jesus Christ. He offers us a personal and everlasting relationship, if we are ready in submission and humility to accept him into our hearts. And I believe the overwhelming evidence that Jesus lived and rose again is an even stronger argument for faith’s rationality than anything science can show.
Still, I think that looking at the awesomeness of what God created through the eyes of science may help us reach just such a position of submission and humility. As we consider how much God as our caring creator loves the world, knowing that love can help us to believe that he would also “send his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”? When we become willing to accept Jesus as our personal saviour and friend, we can take a role in fulfilling God’s purposes in his creation!
Hugh Ross (2001), The Creator and the Cosmos, NAV Press
Gerald Schroeder (1997), The Science of God, Broadway Books
John Polkinghorne, (1994), Science and Christian Belief, SPCK
Hugh Ross (1994), Creation and Time, NAV Press
Hugh Ross (1999), Beyond the Cosmos, NAV Press
Gerald Schroeder (1990), Genesis and the Big Bang, Broadway Books
John Polkinghorne, (1992), The Way the World Is, Triangle
I published this letter on Facebook on 22nd June 2016, the day before the Referendum. I think it is still worth considering since the issues continue to bear weight as Brexit proceeds.
Letter to a friend in my generation (let’s say aged 50-75) considering to vote for “leave” on 23rd June.
My dear friend,
I know you care deeply about this country, and for that reason have decided to vote leave. I’d just like to offer you some considerations relating to the younger generation that might lead you to reconsider.
To put it bluntly, even abstracting from the referendum, we are giving the younger generation a rotten deal.
We are dependent on the goodwill of the younger generation to pay for our pension, through their taxes in the case of social security, and through the generation of corporate profits for a funded scheme. As you know, the population is getting older so the young are required to finance our pensions against a background of worsening demographics. That means they will pay higher contributions for their same pension just to support us. ·
Meanwhile, the type of pension they will receive is much less generous than what our generation was typically offered. No more final salary schemes, except in the public sector.
The young are burdened with future taxes to pay off the government debt which we have accumulated. We won’t pay so much since the tax regime on the elderly is very generous. We don’t pay national insurance once we retire, for instance.
The young also face ever-heavier costs of a university education. Those of us who went to university in the 70s had grants available, especially if our parents were poor. Not the case now, with students accumulating debts of £40,000 or more after a university education.
Especially in London and the South East, the young are priced out of owning residential property. We may add to this the impact of quantitative easing (QE) on asset prices which benefits the older people who hold financial assets.
So what has this got to do with the referendum you may ask? A great deal. 90% of economists agree that the Brexit would be extremely damaging to the UK economy, not least due to the damage it will inflict on the financial services sector and the car industry, as well as exporters more generally.
“Prosperity on an unimaginable scale” as promised by the “leavers” is much less likely than job losses close to a million in the short run as uncertainty hits investment, and a crippled economy in the long run due to trade barriers and loss of inward investment, with all that means for financing of public services. The idea that the EU will give a soft trade deal to the UK is not plausible since that would give an open door to further defections and that dissolution of the EU itself, contrary to the vital national interest not least of Germany. Meanwhile, we would be very weak in negotiating future trade deals with countries such as China and the US (as Switzerland has found) as opposed to through the EU, simply because we would lack bargaining power.
And who would be most hit? The young people of course. It is the entry level jobs that are most vulnerable in a major recession. We risk creating a “lost generation” of young people by our own deliberate choice, if we leave the EU. Is that a legacy you would like to pass to your grandchildren?
And what about immigration you may say? Isn’t that bad for the young since they “take jobs”? I contend it is not. First, free movement of labour is a two way street and leaving the EU would block our young people from the opportunities you and I had to study, work and live in the rest of the EU, whether we took them or not. Second, immigration benefits young people as immigrants who are typically young taxpayers help share the burden of paying pensions to you and I, and also repaying the public debt. Third, the idea that immigrants take jobs from natives is simply wrong. It’s what economists call the “lump of labour fallacy” that there are a fixed number of jobs that means one persons gain is another’s loss. In fact immigrants bring new demand into the economy that creates extra jobs for young people – and some set up their own companies that employ many.
The housing crisis is not due to immigrants either. Successive governments, of all political persuasions, have failed to build enough houses. Demand has outstripped supply and house prices have soared, far out-pacing wages, leaving the young as “generation rent”. Indeed, the demand for houses is related to the number of people (and so by extension – immigration) much less than most people realise. By far the most important determinant is real incomes. As people get richer they try to buy bigger and better houses and if we do not build them, the real price of all houses goes up. There is even evidence that immigrants demand less housing than long-term residents, given their incomes.
The UK’s fundamental economic difficulty is in my view low productivity due to inadequate education of the bulk of young people (and banks that don’t provide appropriate finance for firms). We have been admiring Germany’s system of advanced technical education in skills for those not going to university since 1870 but have been unable to emulate it. Reasons for this are clearly nothing to do with the EU, but could in my view link to the dominance of private education and a social disdain for industry that may come from the aristocracy. In Germany (and France and Switzerland) engineers – and skilled tradespeople like plumbers – are highly respected and this hugely benefits their economies, while we turn out graduates in arts – and economics – leaving many of those not going to university without skills. This problem will in my view not be resolved by a bonfire of regulations and likely reduction in public spending that “leavers” seems to advocate. Rather, it will need more public spending on education in the long run interests of the economy, generated by the growth we can achieve by remaining in the EU.
Young people know all these things. In a typical poll, 75% of 18- to 24-year-olds say they support remain, compared with 38% of 50- to 64-year-olds (and 34% of those aged 65 and over). They will have to live with the consequences for many more decades than the rest of us. But they need our votes too. Don’t their views – and their interests – deserve weight in our decisions?
Let’s remember the early 70s. That mythical time that “leavers” want to return to. Don’t you really remember what it was like? Inflation of up to 30%. Strikes crippling the economy and daily life. A runaway “Barber boom” that ended with having to call in the IMF to bail out the country. And why have we avoided this since? Yes because of Thatcher’s reforms and the independent Bank of England, but also the Single Market that Thatcher herself inspired, and which has led us to unprecedented levels of prosperity and full employment, despite the subprime crisis. Do we want to go back to the 1970s?
And finally, many people older than us in their 80s and 90s, who remember the horrors of the second world war, reflect on the last 70 years of peace on our continent, thank the EU for helping it be so. Large numbers of us “baby boomers”, so lucky to have never experienced bombing, starvation, and evacuation, risk to ignore the most important thing of all: our freedom and that of our future children to exist without armed conflict.
So there you have it. We offer the younger generation a poor deal already due to the burden of pensions, university loans and house prices. And this will be worsened immensely by Brexit, both economically and politically.
Let’s not have it said of our generation “the middle-aged want a divorce and they don’t care that it’s the children who will suffer most”.