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?
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