Tag Archives: John 1

A highly improbable universe. Notes from the Book club.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God –  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John 1:1-5, 9-14)

Imagine a chilly desert night. Jesus and His friends gathered around a fire. One of them leans back, looks up at the stars and says: ‘Tell us how it all started Rabbi’. So Jesus starts ‘In the beginning…’ and they all settle back to hear the familiar story. But instead of the story they all know He begins to talk about a word, an idea, being the start of it all and He himself is the Word, and caused all things to be made. Not the normal story of animals, plants and people but a universe born out of an idea and a person.

He wouldn’t have got it out in one go. There would have been questions, lots of them. But through it all John sat quietly, listening, his poet’s brain working out how to write the conversation down.

To me, it makes perfect sense. If God needed to create a universe with living breathing creatures that could be his children; if He wanted His own son to become a living breathing human being and be with these creatures then this would be the way to do it. The purpose was there right from the start. It is the most human purpose of all, to create a family.

God's Undertaker bookOur book for this week was ‘God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?’ by John Lennox. The answer to the question is no, but more than that, it seems that science is revealing God, bit by bit. This can be a bit unnerving for the scientists involved. Here are some quotes from the book:

The remarkable picture that is gradually emerging from modern physics and cosmology is one of a universe whose fundamental forces are amazingly, intricately, and delicately balanced or ‘fine tuned’ in order for the universe to sustain life. Recent research has shown that many of the fundamental constants of nature, from the energy levels in the carbon atom to the rate at which the universe is expanding, have just the right values for life to exist. Change any of them, just a little, and the universe would become hostile to life and incapable of supporting it.

Theoretical physicist Paul Davies tells us that, if the ratio of the nuclear strong force to the electromagnetic force had been different by 1 part in 10 to the power of 16 (10 with 16 zeros after it), no starts could have formed.

The distance from the earth to the sun must be just right. Too near and water would evaporate, too far and the earth would be too cold for life… Astrophysicist Hugh Ross lists many such parameters that have to be fine tuned for life to be possible, and makes a rough but conservative calculation that the chance of one such planet existing in the universe is about 1 in 10 to the power of 30.

We were much taken by the sheer improbability of the universe. This does seem to show a real intelligence in its design.  And this does not mean that we need to find the ‘gaps’ in science to make God real (I am in debt to Wendy for pointing out my tendency to fall into the ‘God of the Gaps’ error). For instance there is currently almost no evidence for how individual species get started. The fossil records do not show a gradual change between one species and another. What they actually show is new species coming into being very suddenly and then staying the same for millions of years. They then die out and are replaced by other species.

Once we know this it is tempting to say ‘Oh, that means God steps in and miraculously creates new species’. Well that could be the case or it could be that there is a scientific and physical explanation for how this happens. Evolutionary biology has only been studied for about 150 years and there must be a lot left to learn. The truth is we do not need to find holes in scientific knowledge to reveal God’s work. Science itself will provide this evidence.

Before we ended the discussion we went onto the whole idea of life as information. This can be a difficult idea to grasp and I will admit that, as a computer programmer, I have a bit of an advantage here. Sometimes I sit next to the people using the computer system I look after. They are entering data onto a screen much as they would fill in a paper form. To them the form they are entering the invoice data into has an almost physical form. But I know that what they see is actually constructed from written lines of code. These are broken down by the operating system (I am simplifying a lot here but you get the idea) into machine code which is ones and zeros and this is then used to display the screen the users see. So, the whole system barely has any physical form at all, it is almost all information.  But a single cell within the human body makes my computer system look like an abacus:

Each cell has, curled up within it, about 2 metres of DNA with 7 billon bits of information. The information in the DNA is used to create proteins, the simplest of which have about 100 amino acids. Each protein must be perfect and precise otherwise our bodies will not work properly and all of this is happening every moment of every day without us even being aware of it. Although DNA itself seems to stay the same the information it expresses does not as bits of it can be turned off and on.

This is all wonderful but the question that no-one can answer is ‘How did life start?’ Lennox makes a good case that the only way life could have started is by an ‘Input of information’, that something (or someone) must have got it started. Dawkins himself makes a good case for this when he says:

It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn’t work. You don’t need to be a mathematician or physicist to calculate that an eye or a haemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck.

Before I finish this post I’m going to go back to Jesus and His friends sitting under the desert stars. We have become used to the idea that the natural and supernatural are separate, that stuff happening in the world around us is caused by one or the other but not both. But the ancient Jews did not see things that way. For them, there was no dividing line. I think we need to recapture that, to see everything as God’s work. I love science. I love what it tells me about the world we live in but it is all God’s world.