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We all have our creation stories

Just watched this documentary on the Large Hadron Collider: "The Big Bang Machine." (BBC4) presented by Brian Cox.


Here's an extract from around 4:20 - 7:20.   

Physics is stuck and the only thing left to do is recreate the universe as it was a fraction of a second after the big bang.  That's what the LHC is designed to do.  To smash bits of matter together at energies  never before achieved so that we can stare at the face of creation...

 So here's the aim - to stare at the face of creation.

And this is the means - to smash particles together.

Notice the disjunct between the stated aim and the means!   Cox excites us about the scientific quest promising us a 'face' to creation.  Of course "face" says communicative, conscious.  It says personality.  It's no wonder that Cox wants to reach for this kind of language because at bottom it's personal reality that we long to see.  But all Cox can give us is particles.  This is the trouble. 

What do you say of a person who promises you a face but gives you only particles?

What do you say of an enterprise that can describe a face only in terms of its sub-atomic particles?

He continues...

...Every civilization has its own creation story.  The ancient Chinese, indian mystics and Christian theologians all place a divine creator at the heart of their creation stories.  Science too has an elaborate story that describes the universe's genesis.  It tells us how the fundamental constituents of the cosmos took on their form.  The difference with this story is that we can test it.  We can find out if its true by tearing matter apart and looking at the pieces.  All you need is a machine powerful enough to restage the first moments after creation...

 This was the sentence that made me sit up and take notice: "Every civilization has its own creation story."  And Cox puts 'science' in there among Indian mystics and Christian theologians.  Ok good.  We're all telling stories about the world around us - scientists included.  But what does Cox say is the difference with science?  Answer: "we can test it."  Hmm.  How will science be tested?  Tearing apart matter and looking at the pieces. 

Well now that's a very sensible test if you think that matter is what explains everything.  If you have a story about the world that says everything came about via material means then test matter.  Yes indeed that's testable.  But it's not the only thing that's testable.  What if your story about the world says 'Everything came about via the Word who was with God in the beginning and then became flesh and dwelt among us.'  Is that testable?  You betcha!  Every bit as much as the 'science' story.  It's just that you test this story in ways appropriate to its nature.

All science works by testing its object of study in accordance with its nature.  You don't do astronomy with a microscope - your means of testing is adapted to the thing tested.  So if you think it's all about matter, you study matter.  But if you think it's all about the Word then you study the Word.  Theology in this sense is completely scientific.  It is taking its Object of enquiry completely seriously and pursuing thorough investigation according the nature of the Word - ie it is listening obediently to Him.  That's good science.  And it's our only hope of actually seeing the Face that explains our world.  Particles won't get you to the Person - but the Person can help you explain particles...


Cox continues...

In the beginning there was nothing. No space, no time just endless nothing.  Then 13.7 billion years ago from nothing came everything.  The universe exploded into existence.  From that fireball of energy emerged the simplest building blocks of matter.  Finding experimental evidence of these fundamental entities has become the holy grail of physics.

Notice first that this creation story is just as miraculous as any other.  "From nothing came everything".  No explanations are given.  None ever could be.  This is the astonishing miracle at the heart of our modern creation story.  It is not the case that only primitive 'religion' believes in miracles.  The 'science' creation story is equally miraculous.

And again do you how science proceeds?  It proceeds like theology.  The scientific worldview says there must have been simple building blocks of matter that existed after the big bang.  Of course we've never observed these.  Nonetheless the worldview tells us they must have existed.  Therefore science seeks after evidence of what it believes to be true even without the evidence.  It has faith (an assurance of things hoped for (Heb 11:1f)) and from this faith it seeks understanding.  That is the scientific pursuit and it is no more or less a faith-based enterprise than theology.  And that's no bad thing, it's just the way things are.  It would just be nice if scientists came clean about it!

The point is this - don't let anyone tell you science is about matter not miracles or fact and not faith.  The truth is we all have our creation stories. 


0 thoughts on “We all have our creation stories

  1. jerryk

    I enjoyed your post. Seriously, did they really infer by analogy that Science can be considered as a wholly different civilization? I think I'll stick with Genesis; the creation story of the Science Civilization requires too much of the wrong kind of faith.

    1 Cor 13:7-13.

    Grace and Peace.

  2. Gav

    Hi Glen

    In regards to the 13.7 billion years theory. Why is it that some christians say that creation has only been around 20'000 years (cant exactly remember though)

    How do you explain this?

    Thanks for your site.


  3. glenscriv

    Hi Jerry - impressive avatar! I'm glad we agree, wouldn't want to cross you ;-) Welcome to the comments!

    I think it's even worse - I think the assumption is that we're in a new civilization beyond the Christian one with its inferior 'untestable' creation story. You're exactly right to say this new creation story also requires faith - faith of the wrong sort.


  4. glenscriv

    Hi Gav,

    Briefly, the 13.7 billion year old story is told with some very important background assumptions. These assumptions are that all reality has come about through chance and time. (Even if a scientist believes that there is more to the universe as scientists they operate as though this were the case). But those are the only two ingredients - time and chance.

    Now given the astronomically small odds of such an astronomically complex cosmos arising by chance then you're going to have to have astronomically long periods of time to give rise to it. This is the only real option when time and chance are the only two factors. Small chance must mean big time. The smaller the chance, the bigger the time.

    And, to be honest, the story still has immense problems. For one thing, you can give nothing as much time as you like - 'nothing will come of nothing' as King Lear once said. And you might also want to ask in a universe characterized by entropy and the overwhelmingly *negative* effects of genetic mutations, whether 'time' is really on our side?? But perhaps all those other problems are for another time.

    My main point is to say that the 'time and chance' story could never be anything other than cosmically long-winded! If time and chance is all there is then the story *must* posit inconceivably long periods of time - there is no alternative.

    The Christian story looks very different. This is because time and chance are not the main players in this story. The Christian story begins with a purposeful Creator Father who makes all things in and through and for His Son, Jesus, in the power of His eternal Spirit. Already you can see that the Christian's story of the world will be very different. You simply don't need to invoke 'time' as the explanation for the world's complexity. The universe is as weird and wonderful as it is because it's the love gift of the Father for His Son. It's as broken and vandalised as it is because of our rebellion against Christ - the Logic of the universe. Time's just not a big player in this story.

    Many Christians (myself included) say the earth is 6000 years old (many others say 10 000. Many also go with the billions of years story as well as the Christian story, though I think there are problems with this). But this comparatively 'young' earth position is the result of doing good science. Not of the emprical observation kind (though that may well come in later.) First the Christian will be a good scientist of the word.

    As I said in my post, science operates according to methods that are appropriate to the object of study. If you think the speaking God made the world then listening to His word seems an extremely fruitful line of enquiry. So good science will mean good bible study. The bible itself gives us genealogies from Adam all the way through to the time of Christ's incarnation - the first Christmas. The bible is extremely keen to trace this through for us (I'll say why in a second). But what it means is that the evidence is there for all to see. Good science means taking the evidence seriously and on its own terms. Doing so yields an age of 6000 years (or 10 000 if you think some of the genealogies leap-frog generations, which is possible).

    Now why is this important?

    The bible tells the story of the universe as the story of two men. Adam and Christ. In Adam the creation fell into frustration and death. In Christ, the One who made the world - the eternal Logos (the Logic, the Word) - He enters His world, takes it to Himself and redeems it, bringing glory and immortality. And just as Adam was a real man who really rebelled and really took creation with Him - so Christ is a real man who really obeyed God and really redeemed us. Ever since Adam rebelled the promise of Christ coming to save echoed on down through the Old Testament. The genealogies are carefully recorded to cultivate hope and to show the path from death (in Adam) to life (in Christ). Unsurprisingly, as soon as Jesus is born the bible doesn't bother with genealogies ever again. But whereever there are genealogies they are emphasizing for us the concreteness of the bible's story. This isn't a mythic tale about some heavenly bust-up. In the real world the real man Adam really rebelled. And in the real world, the real man Christ really redeemed.

    All of this should make us very excited about our desire to
    see the 'Face' of creation (as Cox put it in the BBC documentary). The Reason for everything is not hidden in dark matter. And neither is He unattainably beyond our world. He has entered in to be known - really entered as a real man. You really can know the heart of the universe - and it's not a sub-atomic particle. The real explanation for reality is not an equation or an explosion, it's a Person. And because He's a Person, He can be known. And His story is a story you can enter.

    In a sense you can enter it by being a good scientist. Not running off to the Large Hadron Collider (although I'm sure it'd be great fun to go!). But the science I'm talking about is picking up the bible and asking God to show you His Face who is Jesus Christ. When you see Him walking around planet earth like He owns the place you know you've come to the real heart of the matter. To understand and know Him is to have your finger on the pulse of reality.

    I'd be really glad to continue the discussion if you like. (Promise I won't swamp you with such a long answer next time!)


  5. Gav

    Wow! My brain nearly exploded! What do you eat?!

    Thanks very much for your time Glen. I know you are on Holidays at the minute so enjoy yourself and rest up mate.
    But when you get back I would like to continue this conversation. I'm a relatively new christian and find this difficult to get my head around. (Especially if I try to explain it to somebody else)



  6. glenscriv

    Hi Gav,
    Back from holiday.
    I'll post a bit more on creation stuff in the next couple of weeks.

    One thing I'd say about all this for new Christians is that people get the importance of this stuff way out of whack.
    One problem is to never think about it. That was me for years and years until a mate started asking me questions (I'll post on this next).

    But probably the bigger problem is making too big a deal out of it. Unfortunately a great number of the 6-day creationists you may encounter bang the drum on it like it's the gospel itself. It's not! Not even close. And nor is it the way to convince others to become a Christian (I'll write on this soon). So don't get too hung up on having to defend certain views on the origins of the universe to your mates. There's heaps of better things to talk about!

    When I talk to mates about these sorts of things I just keep it light. I raise things like what I wrote in my comment above - "The billions of years story works on the interplay of chance and time. I don't reckon it was chance - that's gonna affect what you think about the time." Just set it up as a different way of looking at things. And then say 'But you're not gonna buy my story if you don't buy Jesus, cos He's the key player. So what do you make of Him?' That kinda thing.

    Anyway, I'll post more in the future. Great to hear you're a 'relatively new christian' - love to hear the story some time...


  7. agyapw

    I'm glad to have found this post - loved this: "So if you think it’s all about matter, you study matter. But if you think it’s all about the Word then you study the Word. Theology in this sense is completely scientific."

    Leaves me wondering, though, (and I know this a huge question) where, if anywhere, do you think any concept of natural revelation comes in for Christian theology? Does the world of matter have anything to teach theologians, and how do they relate it to what the Word teaches?

  8. glenscriv

    Hi agyapw,
    Glad you found the blog too. I think a few cliches run through my head that I think are quite useful. One is that theology is the 'Queen of the sciences.' It's not the only science, but the one that co-ordinates our approach to, analysis of and co-ordination of the findings of every other science. The other cliche is Calvin's - that the Scriptures are a set of spectacles through which we can view the world. We don't simply study the bible. And we don't simply study the bible on one hand and nature on the other. But we first study the bible and then study nature through the lens of the bible.

    And then we see a butterfly emerge from a cocoon and we don't need a verse to tell us that creation is proclaiming the resurrection to us. That sort of thing.

    I think creation is telling us a LOT of stuff - day in and day out.

    But I think we are in no position *naturally* to be able to hear it:

    But once we've come to Christ in the Scriptures our eyes are open to be able to treat creation properly and assess what God is saying through it:

    Those sorts of thoughts...


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  10. PhiJ

    Okay, I've just stumbled across this, and I must disagree. Especially with "These assumptions are that all reality has come about through chance and time"

    Ideally, I think science has only one assumption, that the universe contains patterns that we can observe. For instance, Galileo's famous experiment, where found that anything falls at a constant rate in a vacuum does not require us to assume that everything came about through chance and time.

    When you can't observe things directly (like the origin of the universe) then it becomes more difficult. Observing things indirectly often requires a number of assumptions. These are usually that your method of observing the system has not affected the system itself, and when talking about the past, that the physical laws we observe today still worked in the past. The second one is an example of science's assumption - if the physical laws were different, we wouldn't know it, and wouldn't be able to observe the pattern.

    So if God jumped in and created the universe at some 'recent' time, then these assumptions are incorrect.

  11. Glen

    Hi PhiJ,

    Thanks for commenting - I don't mind the time lag at all.

    I think I'm probably using the term 'assumptions' in a sloppy way. In the context in which you quote me, I'm not using it to refer to operational assumptions about scientific method. I'm aware that science operates upon assumptions of constancy etc. But the 'assumptions' I'm referring to relate to 'the 13.7 billion year story' (as the context makes clear) and how life arose at all. I'd still say that the telling of that story really only 'assumes' that there are two factors generating biodiversity - time and chance. Again, as the context of my quote makes clear, scientists may well believe in some kind of theistic metanarrative, but the 13.7 billion year story is one that is told as though biodiversity arose solely through time and chance. Would you say that that is a fair assessment?

    I'm interested that you speak of God 'jumping in' to the creative process. I think this is just the sort of problem we get into when we think of the universe as a closed system that God has to somehow break into. Essentially it's the problem of saying 'everything is time and chance' but occasionally God shows up. This is certainly not the way the bible presents things.

    But I'm well aware I could be seriously misinterpreting you. Apologies if so. Good to interact.


  12. PhiJ

    Haha! I've never heard anybody on the internet, other than myself, say 'I could be misinterpreting you'. But I'm not sure you are. After all, it does look like I was misinterpreting you.

    I suppose the telling of the story may assume time and chance, but it does so because today we observe time and chance (scientifically), and assume that extrapolates backwards (unless we see evidence to the contrary). And that's not an unreasonable assumption for the atheist or the scientist, especially given the data about how things seem to work nowadays.

    As for God 'jumping in', on further thought I was being silly, and thinking of it like that. It really annoys me when I see other people doing it.

    So yes - now that I get you, I take it back. You have a valid point.

  13. Glen

    Hey PhiJ,
    Blogging's not always the clearest medium!

    It's one thing to say 'we observe time and chance' operating on the biosphere'. It's another thing to say 'time and chance are the only variables that ever have or ever will operate on the biosphere'.

    The former statement is a perfectly valid scientific observation. The latter is not and cannot be derived from empirical observations. It is naturalism pure and simple and is driven by philosophical (theological!) commitments that can neither be proved nor disproved by science.

    Which links back nicely to the post's title - these are creation *stories* that are being told and we should be aware of that.

    God bless,

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