My 1st Letter to Brian Cox

My 1st Letter to Brian Cox

Background: Inspired by David Robertson’s “The Dawkins Letters”, I’m writing a series of short letters to Brian Cox in light of his new series, The Human Universe.

Dear Brian Cox,

Congratulations on your TV series, “The Human Universe”.  It has been extremely well thought out, and marvellously well produced.  For years I’ve enjoyed BBC documentaries that make science accessible, and in many respects your programme has achieved that aim.  You’ve come a long way since you were playing the keyboard for D:REAM.  Then again, as you sang yourselves, things could only get better.

But Brian, before you simply add this to your pile of fanmail, I’m actually writing because – as a Christian – I have some deep concerns about The Human Universe.  I can’t possibly raise all of them, as there were lots of little asides throughout the series that I felt unfairly dismissed belief in the God of the Bible, or inaccurately presented your own beliefs and contentions as though they are facts rather than theories.  But I think instead that it’s both necessary and helpful just to take up a few issues that you raised and discussed, in the hope that they cause you – and others who I hope will read these letters – to think again.  To be honest, I am very concerned about all of this.  I’m concerned that you yourself seem to have picked up false ideas about the Christian faith, and dismissed it for wrong reasons.  But I’m also concerned about the influence that you yourself – and your documentaries – have upon your viewers.  So, without further ado, let me dive in.

Myth 1: scientific progress stands in conflict with belief in God.

Brian, you called your second episode, “Why are we here?”  I was very intrigued by this title, especially because that’s not a question that science can answer. But you claim at the start of that programme that modern science is very close to answering it.  I found this a surprising claim.  Even if we were to get to a point where we could explain absolutely everything material – from the existence of our universe, to the reason that life came into existence on our planet, to the development of humanity – all of that, using science, it still would not give us an answer to the question, “Why are we here?”  It’s a philosophical question.  Science does not answer questions like that.

So as you got going, I was wondering, “What part is God going to play in Brian Cox’s search for an answer to this question?”  And I didn’t have to wonder for long.  You took a Hindu chant that seemed – from what I could gather – to claim or suggest that perhaps “the gods” came into existence after creation.  And then you commented:

“That’s a remarkable statement, it displays real intellectual rigour and honesty.

… and is a sign of what you might say is the prerequisite or the first signs of a scientific way of thinking…

The scientific approach acknowledges that if we’re ever going to ask questions like, “Why are we here?”, we have to begin with,  “How?”

Your last sentence that I’ve quoted there is a confusion of categories.  Hopefully we would all agree that what’s absolutely crucial to knowing “Why we are here?” is to know if an intelligent being (or beings) made us, what that being is like, and why that being did choose to create us.  For example, taking my own worldview, if the God of the Bible exists then He is crucial to knowing what we are here for.  How He actually made us is an absolutely fascinating question.  But it will not help us answer the question Why.

But let me also take issue with the other thing you said there, which is that “the first signs of a scientific way of thinking” include to remove the idea of a creator god (such as seems to have occurred in a chant that speculates that gods came after creation).  In other words, before we do science, we have to get rid of God.   Once you’ve said that at the start of your programme, the viewer is left with the seed planted that everything “scientific” you’re going to show us – as you point out patterns in the universe and explain the order and rules behind them – all of that “science” should stand against belief in God.

But Brian, I’m afraid that’s just not right.  The foundation of modern science came in Christian Europe.  This was no accident.  It was not because people dis-believed in God, but rather precisely because people believed in the God of the Bible.  People expected to find laws in nature, because they believed that there is a Lawgiver.  This is why the following words are written in Latin above the door of the old Cavendish Laboratories in Cambridge: “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them, Psalm 111:2”.  It’s also why the majority of the founding members of the Royal Society were professing Christians.  Their belief in God drove their scientific endeavor.

These Christians, as well as the many Christians who today work at the forefront of scientific research, didn’t look for God simply to explain the many ‘gaps’ in our scientific knowledge.  No, the kind of God they and I believe in – the good God who has made Himself known to us in the person of Jesus Christ – He is much bigger than that.  He is the very reason that there is order to observe in our – or, rather, His – Universe.

The more that we can explain using science, the more that we simply demonstrate how brilliant God must be.  Advances in scientific knowledge don’t provide us with evidence against God.  They are clues that point us towards there being a master planner, and should leave us standing in awe of Him.

Discovering this sends you on an exciting journey.  It means that the constants and equations and laws of physics that you find so exciting to grasp, find their origin in a personal God – one whom we can know and praise and marvel at for His creative genius.

But you seem to take issue with the existence of God.  So I will shortly write you another letter.


Martin Ayers

Read the 2nd letter here.