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Vol. 81 - No. 10
Oct 2010

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

Dispensing with God?

I don’t watch a lot of television, but one show I try to catch is "Fringe". It’s something of an "X-Files" knock-off–FBI agents dealing with the paranormal. The show centers on the existence of an alternative universe–a world parallel to ours, but with interesting differences. The World Trade Center still stands in the Manhattan of the parallel world; the city skyline is festooned with lighter-than-air zeppelins (so the Hindenburg apparently never exploded); the twenty-dollar bill bears the likeness of Martin Luther King Jr.; a hugely popular Broadway musical is titled "Dogs". Part of the show’s fun is catching all the subtle differences between the parallel world and our own.

What’s presented as science fiction in "Fringe" is advanced as science fact by the legendary physicist Stephen Hawking in recent articles and in a best-selling book, The Grand Design. Not that Hawking thinks that there are universes exactly like ours except for small details–but certainly he does feel that there are many, many universes, possibly billions of them. What makes these universes different is not subtle things like whether "Cats" or "Dogs" is on the Broadway marquee–rather, these universes all have different laws of nature.

Sadly, Hawking uses this concept of billions of universes to undercut the concept of God as creator. This is what made headlines a few weeks ago–Dr. Hawking announced that the concept of God was unnecessary. What Hawking is trying to do is refute the most powerful argument for God’s existence–the argument from design in nature, especially the sophisticated modern form of this argument called "the anthropic principle". This concept holds that, for intelligent life to exist in the universe, the physical conditions have to be exactly right. And in our universe, they are exactly right. Dr. Hawking agrees with this part of the argument:

...a change of as little as 0.5 percent in the strength of the strong nuclear force, or

4 percent in the electric force, would destroy either all carbon or all oxygen in every

star, and hence the possibility of life as we know it...The emergence of the complex

structures capable of supporting intelligent observers seems to be very fragile. The

laws of nature are extremely fine-tuned, and very little in physical law can be altered

without destroying the possibility of the development of life as we know it.

So Dr. Hawking would agree with the idea that this world seems to be precisely engineered to produce intelligent human life. But he refuses to take the next step–which is acknowledging that there must be an intelligent creator who did this precise engineering.

Instead, he asserts the existence of billions of universes...and if there are billions of universes, each with different conditions and different laws of nature, then there must be at least one where the conditions are right for intelligent life. So you don’t need God.

Dr. Hawking says that the idea of spontaneous creation of innumerable universes arises from quantum physics. No one, of course, has ever seen another universe spring into being. So it all remains very theoretical. But it is a theory, Dr. Hawking says, that allows us to dispense with God as creator.

Dr. Hawking is a heroic figure, someone who has shown that a person can excel despite disabilities–so I am reluctant to criticize him. But I do have to ask the question–ultimately, which seems more far-fetched...billions of universes that pop spontaneously into existence, or a creator God who fashioned and designed this universe in which we live? As Dr. Francis Collins remarks in The Language of God, "This near-infinite number of unobservable universes strains credulity". (It also ruins a great Woody Allen routine, where he imagines a final exam with this question: "Define the universe. Give three examples.")

Like Dr. Hawking, Dr. Collins is also one of the greatest living scientists. As the head of the Human Genome Project, he has worked on cracking the code of our DNA. He is a Christian believer, and his mission as a scientist is to help us better understand God’s creation. He shows that serious science does not have to repudiate God.

So I continue to be strengthened in my faith by the fact that God has wondrously designed the universe:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His

handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

And if there should be "alternate universes", even they are the work of God; as the great Frederick Faber (best-known as author of "Faith of our Fathers") wrote years before Dr. Hawking was even dreamed of:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea...

There is grace enough for thousands of new worlds as great as this

There is room for fresh creations in that upper home of bliss.

For the Christian, though, it’s not enough to embrace God as creator; we also look to Him as Redeemer. Because our deepest questions really aren’t, "Why is there a universe?" Our deepest questions are, "Do I matter? Is there Someone out there who loves me?" And the Christian faith has a precious message–the creator of the universe loves us, became human for us, and was willing even to die for us! Our sins are cancelled by the precious blood of Jesus! Indeed, we live in a universe that is exactly right for us, where the nuclear forces and gravitational forces and carbon line up precisely...but we also have a blessed and loving Redeemer who is exactly right for us! We are sinners and He is forgiving; we are wandering lost, and He is the Way; we are in darkness, and He is the light! Praise to the God who created us and who saves us in Jesus Christ.

God loves you and so do I!

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