The Mystery of God audio (4MB)
“I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. 11He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Eccl 3:10-11 NRSV) So writes the author of Ecclesiastes. He sees that there’s something in the human mind that knows there’s more out there than we can grasp; there’s more than the now. He goes on: “14I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him.” There seems to be an innate recognition in the human spirit that there’s a God who works in the world. Yet he’s a God that we’re unable to comprehend.
It’s this unknowable aspect of God that confuses so many people I think. Because we’re so tied to the idea that reality has to have a material manifestation we can’t get our heads around the idea of an unknowable God.
Yet at the same time we do all we can to find an explanation for the unexplainable. We ask ourselves if there’s a God what is he like? Is he a he? Or a she? Or an it?
If you sit down with a group of non-Christians and ask them what they think God is like you’re likely to get a whole range of answers and in the end no-one will be quite sure they’ve got it right. Some might even question whether they’re wasting their time. Perhaps God doesn’t exist at all. Perhaps this searching after God is just an attempt to find someone else to blame for the troubles of this world. Others might argue as we saw last time, that science has proved that God doesn’t exist.
They’d argue that all there is, is the material world that we can explore and examine.
Still others will say that unless they hear a rational argument for the existence of God they couldn’t believe in him anyway.
Well, let me ask you, how do you know that God exists? Is what you believe rationally provable? My guess is that it’s not? The reason most of us believe is connected with a subjective experience of God supported by historical records or other observations that may or may not constitute a form of proof. But if that’s the case is it a problem? Is our modern desire for rational proof in fact rational? Do we have to have a rational proof before we believe something? As someone who’s been married for nearly 40 years I can tell you without a doubt that my wife loves me. Do I have a rational proof for that statement. No. She may just be a very good actor. It may all be a delusion on my part. She may just be putting up with me for my money, or my collection of Peter, Paul and Mary records. I may just be the lesser of two evils. But does the fact that I can’t prove it decrease my level of belief in her love? Of course not. I know she loves me for a host of reasons.
The same goes for my belief in God. I can’t prove that he exists. But I have a host of reasons for believing that he does. Let me suggest some of those reasons. These aren’t proofs, they’re just clues for the existence of God, of a being who’s beyond us and who’s responsible for the creation and sustaining of the universe.
Clue 1: The Mysterious Bang
When we begin to think about our universe one of the questions that arises is “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Most cosmologists are agreed that our universe began some 15 billion years ago, give or take a century or two, with what’s been called the Big Bang. It seems that the universe is expanding from its beginning in a single, infinitesimally small point. That immediately raises the question, was there nothing there before? In which case, where did it all come from. The universe can’t have created itself. So who did?
If the scientists are right and every thing is part of a long chain of cause and effect, what was the first cause? What made the big bang happen? It could only have been something that’s outside of nature: supernatural, that is.
As I said, this is only a clue. It tells us nothing about the nature of this supernatural being except that he’s not part of nature itself. It certainly doesn’t equate with the personal God of the Bible. But it is a pointer, a clue, to something that looks a lot like the God of the Bible.
Clue 2: The Cosmic Welcome Mat
Not only do we understand that the universe began with a bang, but as we examine the world we live in we discover that there are numerous factors that are necessary for life on earth to exist. The speed of light, the force of gravity, the relationship between the various nuclear forces within matter, all need to be within a very small range for organic life to exist. In fact there are 16 major constants calculated by scientists to an incredible accuracy: from the speed of light, to the mass of an electron, to the charge of an electron, and a whole lot more that I remember from my physics lectures but I haven’t a clue what they were. If any of these constants were to be even slightly different our world would never have come into being.
I think it’s in his book “A Brief History of Time” that Stephen Hawking says that the odds against a universe like ours emerging from the Big Bang are enormous. His conclusion is that there are clearly religious implications.
Of course this too is just a clue. It’s easy enough to suggest alternative explanations. Richard Dawkins suggests there could be trillions of universes and ours just happens to be the one where everything came together just right. Of course we have no proof that there’s even one other universe, let alone a trillion, but still it is possible, if you want to believe it.
I was watching The Mentalist the other day. It’s a TV show about a man who’s a great observer of human nature and a bit of a showman in the process. He was tossing a coin in front of a couple of his work mates and it was coming up heads every time. They’d look at the coin and couldn’t see anything wrong with it and he’d toss it again and it’d come up heads again. Now it is possible that you could get a series of 25 heads one after the other. The probability of each toss is always 50%. But nobody believes you could actually do it, do they? Well as it turned out he was cheating. He was using a double headed coin and swapping it with a real one when they went to examine it. But you see, even though they couldn’t prove that he was cheating it’d be unreasonable to conclude that he hadn’t, wouldn’t it?
So even if it is technically possible that organic life could have just happened by chance, without a creator, with the incredible diversity and intricacy that we find in it, is it reasonable to live as though that remote chance were true?
Clue 3: The Regularity of Nature
How do we know that the sun will rise tomorrow? How do we know that water will boil at 100o (at sea level) every time? Our whole life is based on the assumption that nature behaves consistently. This is the only basis upon which scientists can operate. What they proved yesterday has to be assumed true today. If they observe certain characteristics in an experimental sample they assume they can generalise it to all samples of the same thing. That’s called inductive reasoning. It’s how we learn.
But how can we be sure it will always be the case? What evidence do we have that the past will be repeated tomorrow? What grounds do we have for expecting the regularity of nature to persist? It’s interesting to think that modern science arose in the form it has because those early scientists believed in an all-powerful God who created and sustains the universe in an orderly and predictable way.
Clue 4: Beauty
We thought about this a bit 2 weeks ago. Why are we able to look at a work of art or listen to a Beethoven symphony or look up at a mountain range and exclaim at their beauty? Is this just a product of our genetic conditioning, that this appreciation of beauty somehow helped our forebears to survive and now it’s been passed down to us? I can’t see, it can you?
When Di and I visited the Hallyburtons in Antafogasta, in the middle of the Atacama desert, 2 years ago, we commented on how there was beauty there even in the desolation of that grey sandy landscape. There was nothing there that would have helped you survive as far as I could see, if that’s the basis of genetic development. Yet there was beauty to be enjoyed.
But it’s more than that. When we experience that moment of joy at seeing something beautiful or hearing a sublime piece of music we’re lifted beyond the material world to something beyond, to the true source of joy and beauty. It’s as though there’s an innate desire within us to experience that which is beyond us, what C.S. Lewis called a “God-shaped hole”.
The evolutionists would argue that we enjoy beauty because we’ve become hardwired to appreciate it. We love because we’re hardwired to do it for the propagation of the species. We believe in God because we’re hardwired for belief because it once helped humans survive in a difficult world. But if that’s the case: if our belief systems are just the product of evolution how can we trust any of our beliefs. For that matter how can the scientist trust her belief in the theory of evolution?
But what if our belief in God were true? What if God really does exist? That’d explain all these clues we’ve just thought about. The Big Bang isn’t a problem if there’s a God who can create all there is out of nothing. If God is the creator we’d expect the world to be fine-tuned wouldn’t we? We’d expect the fine detail we find when we examine the human body, the delicate balance of nature, the consistency of nature.
If God has made us we’d expect to look at the world that he’s made and find joy and beauty there wouldn’t we? When a commentator with no religious background listens to a piece of music and describes it as heavenly we’re not surprised, are we?
No, a belief in God seems so obvious when you think about it. You may have heard of Occam’s Razor. It says: “When competing hypotheses are equal in other respects, the simplest answer is likely to be correct.” It seems to me that in the absence of a clear rational proof, the accumulation of evidence as we’ve seen today can only lead to our faith in God being reinforced. It can’t be proved but the alternative explanations are far more implausible.
Well, next time we’ll be thinking some more about how we might come to a knowledge of God and what he expects of his creation.