My 2nd Letter to Brian Cox

My 2nd 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.

Read the 1st letter here.

Dear Brian Cox,

You’ve certainly seen the world, during your series.  It’s hard not to be envious of the stamps on your passport.  You’re in the Rift Valley, then you’re watching that Soyz capsule land safely in Kazakhstan, then you’re at a shrine in Kyoto, then visiting Hindu boys at training school in Pushkar.  I find myself imagining conversations between you and the finance manager … “No, I’m sorry but there’s really no way I can illustrate this point without going to Easter Island.”  Whoever was in charge of the budget must have been mightily relieved when you planned episode 4 and let it slip that you grew up in Chadderton, and not Sydney or somewhere like that!

Brian, though there was lots that I liked about your documentary, my second letter is going to be quite negative I’m afraid.  It’s because of what you went on to say about the biblical God – or, more generally in your words, “some kind of deity”, in your episode, “Why are we  here?”

You began with a series of comments about the sheer improbability that we find ourselves in a universe that is capable of sustaining itself, and intelligent life.  You were teeing up the question, “How did we get here?”  And then you said the following:

It’s obviously not a sufficiently good answer to say, “Well, all this exists because it was willed into existence merely by some kind of deity.  It’s reasonable to then ask the question, “well, what’s the source of the deity?  Has the deity existed forever? Has the universe existed forever?”

If these are important questions to you, and others, then they need to be answered.  Just to be clear as I start, though, I would like where I can to talk about something more specific than “some kind of deity”.  I want to talk about my own belief that the biblical God is the true deity.  But I’ll get on to Him later.

Let me deal first off with that very last question in your list.  You asked, if there was a deity who willed the universe into existence, “has the universe existed forever?”  The answer is, “No.” The universe had a beginning.  I would imagine this is fairly uncontroversial to you, as you also believe via the Big Bang theory that the universe had a beginning – a theory that I believe is remarkably consistent with the Christian faith.

So then, on to the bigger issue:

Myth 2: The Myth of the Created God

In asking why we are here, you said that it’s “obviously not a sufficiently good answer” to say the following: “all this exists because it was willed into existence merely by some kind of deity.”  It’s worth pointing out that, though Christians do say that, they say much more than that.  Following on from the point of my last letter, a scientist who is a Christian might say something like, “The Bible reveals to me that God willed us into existence.  I wonder how He did it.  If I try to find out, using science, I will be able to marvel all the more at His creative genius.”  So in that sense, there is more to the answer, and you are right in that sense, as a scientist, to say it is not sufficient to stop there.

But I think you meant something more.  The reason you said that this isn’t a good answer is that you think it’s reasonable then to ask “Well, what’s the source of the deity? Has the deity existed forever?”

This is a different way of putting forward the objection, “If God made everything, who made God?”

I agree it’s a reasonable question to ask, but only for about 3 seconds to be honest.  The answer is really very straightforward.  It’s, “nothing.”  Nothing made God.

Yahweh – the biblical God – is the uncreated creator of all things.  He is the one being who has not been made.  He is eternal.  He exists outside of time.  He has no beginning and no end.  He made everything else out of nothing.

This could only be hard to accept if we were to say, “there can never be anything uncreated.”  But where would we get that from?  Christians simply don’t believe in a created God.

I did also find it deeply ironic that you dismissed God like that, and then ended up where you did in the programme.  You told us about the multiverse – the theory that there’s an infinite number of universes out there beyond ours.

And how were they formed?

We don’t know.  But you mentioned inflation theory, and the idea that perhaps if you’ve got energy, you can get lots of universes coming into existence from that energy.  And you hit us with this climax: “Before our universe became filled with particles of matter, it wasn’t empty.  It was filled with energy.”

Do you not see the contradiction there?

Could we not just rephrase what you said at the start of your programme?

Is it not reasonable to then ask, what’s the source of that energy? Has that energy existed forever?

If you believe energy is eternal, how can you then reject the idea that God is eternal?  If you believe energy is not eternal, don’t we just end up another step back asking the very same question we were asking about the big bang?  What is the source of the energy?

Without God, we’re still left with the fundamental question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  What is the very first cause?

Dawkins thinks that, if God is the answer, then something must have made Him, because he believes that everything complex has to start with something simple.  In your programme you didn’t say this. But you did spend some time demonstrating that, when observing patterns in our universe, things that become very complex tend to start out very simple.  You showed us that with rivers, obeying a beautifully simple rule all over our planet and even our solar system.

Dawkins uses evolutionary theory to make the same point.  He talks in the God Delusion about the way that natural selection brings the complex from the simple.  He then applies that to God, and says, in effect, as the big climax of his book, drum roll please… there almost certainly is no god because … he would have to be complex, and if He is complex then He must have been caused by something simple, and so … in effect, if God made everything, what made God?

It is of course true that God is incredibly complex.  Infinitely so.  We can truly know Him (Christians believe), but we can never exhaustively know Him.  This is why knowing him is so satisfying to the Christian.  Here is no fleeting pleasure.  We could study Him forever and still go on learning.  We can delight in Him and never get bored.  The Christian minister Charles Spurgeon said this in 1855:

“There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity.  Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, ‘Behold I am wise’. But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with the solemn exclamation, ‘I am but of yesterday, and know nothing’.  No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God.”

God is indeed very complex.  But it’s just not true that things that are very complex have to start with things that are very simple.  We can’t take a principle from biological scientific theory, or from other areas of scientific theory, and turn it into a universal principle.

As John Lennox has said, what if I was to say, “I just read The God Delusion.  In some ways it was a complex book.  But Richard Dawkins, it’s creator, can’t be as complex as the book because complex things only come from more simple things.”

It would be absurd.  Why?  Because we all know that the simple-to-complex principle – even if it applies in some areas of science – doesn’t apply where a person is involved.

And God is a person.

Brian, I do hope that this has answered the questions you raised, and also demonstrated how unsatisfactory I found your alternative to a divine creator, namely, that before our universe there might not have been, “nothing”, there might have something after all – namely lots of energy.

I realise I’ve sounded quite negative in this letter, but that’s about to change.  In my next letter I’m going to talk about my favourite thing about The Human Universe, and how delighted I was to see it on TV.

Yours sincerely,

Read the 3rd letter here.