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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. 



Still don't have the time to write properly on a Christian approach to cosmology.  Never mind I'll jot down some thoughts as they occur.


For now, let me just jot down three thoughts on the multiverse, two quotes from Barth and then a suggestion about how to pursue Christian cosmology.

The multiverse

1) The Bible teaches a division of creation into invisible and visible - the heaven and the earth.  This is not the same as the observable universe versus the non-observable multiverse.  For the bible the unseen realm is intimately linked to the seen.  Heaven is the counterpart to earth in a way analagous to the unseen Father's correspondence to His visible Image, Jesus. 

2) The seen and unseen realms are reconciled to one another in the decisive, once-for-all event of the crucifixion.  (Col 1:20)

3) There simply is no room in a Christian cosmology for multiple incarnations or multiple atonements.  And this is really the downfall of the multiverse - its relation to Christ.  Christ does not bridge multiple universes in multiple incarnation, He bridges heaven and earth in His singular incarnation. 


Two Barth Quotes from Dogmatics in Outline

“‘Heaven and earth’ describe an arena prepared for a quite definite event, in the centre of which, from our standpoint of course, stands man.” (p60)

“…heaven and earth are related like God and man in the covenant, so that even the existence of creation is a single, mighty signum, a sign of the will of God. The meeting and togetherness of above and below, of the conceivable and the inconceivable, of the infinite and the limited – we are speaking of creation. All that is the world. But since within this world there really exist an above and a below confronting one another, since in every breath we take, in every one of our thoughts, in every great and petty experience of our human lives heaven and earth are side by side, greeting each other, attracting and repelling each other and yet belonging to one another, we are, in our existence, of which God is the Creator, a sign and indication, a promise of what ought to happen in creation and to creation – the meeting, the togetherness, the fellowship and, in Jesus Christ, the oneness of Creator and creature.” (p64)


How to proceed in Christian cosmology

Beginning from 'the Cosmic Fine-Tuner' would be like beginning with heaven alone.  Beginning from the standpoint of the anthropic principle would be like beginning with earth alone.  The Christian can refuse both option.  We begin with the heavens and the earth - the theatre of God's Glory.  Of course God's Glory is His Son, dying to save.  The cross is the crux of creation (Col 1:20).  When we begin with this in mind we are able to relate the unseen and seen coherently.

The Christian knows that not only is there a Word (Logos) to make sense of the world - not only an explanation beyond.  That Word became flesh, taking our world to Himself.  Therefore the Word from beyond has become a Word in our midst.  The Christian can simultaneously be in touch with this world and with its Explanation - they are one in Christ. 

While we ought not to approach Christ 'according to the flesh' (2 Cor 5:16), still according to the Spirit there is a way of examining this earthed Logos.  Now 'according to the Spirit' means 'according to the Scriptures' and therefore this will be a thoroughly theological enquiry.  And yet it will not for that reason be a groundless, ethereal investigation.  This world in its this-world-ness has been taken up into the life of God and proven to be, beyond any question, a realm fit for God (Col 2:9).

Now that we have seen the creative Word in the world and now that we have seen Him - the visible Image - reconcile the world to the invisible Father in the creative Spirit, we have seen a triune dynamic that is inherent to all creation.  Interpenetration of spirit and flesh, then and now, unseen and seen is at the heart of reality.  This will lead us to expect similar perichoretic dynamics in the created order.  As we move on from what the bible strictly says about creation, we will wear these bible-glasses to investigate creation.  This conceptual framework will help us to understand the inter-related-ness of space and time, of waves and particles etc etc. 

I'll have to leave it there.

Night night.


Let me say before I continue that I've had no formal training in science and my views on contemporary scientific theories are completely amateur and I'm sure terribly simplistic.  However, if we're looking for academic credentials, my first university could probably claim to have 'trained' me in philosophy of religion and science, cosmological debates etc - that's what I studied much of the time.  But really, that's not why I'm writing about it.  I'm writing about this because these scientific claims are theological.  They are all-embracing world-views founded upon a logos other than Jesus.  That makes them fair game.  It also means I should try to be as even-handed and informed in my criticism as possible and this I will seek to do.  But that's where I'm coming from.

In the last post we considered that belief in multiple universes or belief in an intelligent Designer are just that - beliefs.  They are not directly testable by the science that faces them.  It is not the case that the naturalistic scientist deals in the realm of pure facts and the supernaturalist shadily slinks off into the realm of faith.  Both positions are founded upon and shaped after beliefs.

Yet not beliefs divorced from evidence.  Both positions claim that their belief has more explanatory power in accounting for that which is testable and both move forwards on the basis of this belief.   Everyone conducts themselves according to the dynamic of 'faith seeking understanding'

(As an aside, naturalistic science conducted according to it's own beliefs and methods will turn up many fascinating things, draw many remarkable links and make innumberable positive contributions to our common life.  This is precisely parallel to the 'good' done by atheists and other religions in many charitable causes.  It is not testimony to the 'rightness' of their underlying beliefs but to the inter-relatedness of all things in Christ's creation.  The child who makes a bridge out of their mechano set will, on one level, have produced something good and useful.  On another level the components used were meant to form a helicopter and it's all 'wrong' - but it works (but it doesn't).)

But now that we've established that the multiverse and the intelligent Designer are faith-positions - should we accept the dilemma offered to us?  Should we prefer a Cosmic Fine-tuner to a multiverse explanation? 

Well, both positions are inferences from human reason to possible explanations.  Therefore, by my reckoning, neither option is properly Christian.   Why not?  Well the route to both explanations begins with the certainty of us, of 'the facts' and of our ability to assess 'the facts.'  It then puts confidence in our working towards the truth.  Finally, at the end of this process, we come to 'God' who is posited as the most probable of the explanations (even if the probability claimed may be astronomically 'likely').

Such an intelligent design deism falls into a number of errors. 

First, it effectively considers God's Word as one among many voices to be considered. And in practice it is a much lesser and later voice in the process.  First we investigate the strong force of the atomic nuclei, then we listen to God!

Second, it capitulates to the naturalist's worldview from the outset.  It makes the starting point for both the Christian and the atheist the same - us!  We decide to go along with the belief (and it is a belief!) that, while the existence of a deity can be doubted, the veracity of 'the facts' and of ourselves as competent judges of reality is bedrock truth! 

Third, it falls for a god of the gaps.  When our human enterprise comes to an end, 'god' comes to the rescue as the explanatory cause.  God is not the beginning, middle and end of our doctrine of creation, He is the poly-filler to be used only where our 'understanding' falters. 

Fourth, it is natural theology pure and simple to argue from nature to God.  I'll let David Congdon lay out the perils of this:

[Natural theology] is antithetical to the Christian faith for a number of reasons: (1) we do not know who God is apart from Jesus Christ; (2) we either begin with the triune God revealed in Christ or we do not begin at all; (3) we are incapable of knowing anything about God apart from faith, because the Fall has noetic implications, i.e., our reason is fallen; (4) therefore, knowledge of God is saving knowledge, because we only know the God who saved us in Jesus. There is no other god, no prior abstract deity, no foundational divine reality upon which Christ builds. The point of these (and other similar statements) is that we either know the one true God who reconciled the world in Jesus Christ or we simply have some concept devised by fallen human reason that has no connection to this revealed God. Philosophy does not provide a stepping-stone to theology. We either do theology from the start, or we don’t do theology at all.

(For more on this see David Congdon's post here.  I agree with the first three of his four theses).

So really it's not a case of sitting with the atheistic scientist, agreeing to their presuppositions, their epistemological self-confidence, their scientific method and then demurring on their conclusions.  If 'their science' leads them to the Cosmic Fine-tuner that's interesting.  It's not the stepping stone to faith in the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ.  There is only one Mediator and He's not the god of intelligent design.

What can we say?  Maybe next post I'll give some thoughts.



Don't believe me?  Check out this article which seeks to explain the fine-tuning of the observable universe.  (source: MetaCatholic).

Here's a representative quotation:

Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us.

Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multi­verse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.

The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non­religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life...

It boils down to this:

“If there is only one universe,” [Physicist Bernard] Carr says, “you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.”

So, we're told, it's a choice - either we posit some kind of god or we posit an unobserved and unobservable reality, a multiverse. 

To be honest I don't think that is the choice.  And I don't think the Christian position is to deduce from the data 'some kind of god.'  It's not as though we're the brave defenders of 'The Cosmic Finetuner'!  More on that in the next post.  But first let's have some fun thinking about the multiverse as a faith commitment

Because above all else, that's what the multiverse is.  It is not a conclusion suggested by the data.  It is a theory that comes to the rescue of a scientist determined not to accept the alternative.  Don't let any naturalistic scientist tell you they deal in the realm of objective fact while the Christian runs off to the realm of 'blind faith.'  Not only have scientists not observed direct evidence of the multiverse, there can be no direct observation of alternate universes - they lie beyond the reach of experimental science.  There's nothing more 'intellectually honest' about postulating a multiverse as opposed to faith in intelligent design.  That's the minimal point I'm making at the moment.  I don't actually think the real choice is between fine-tuning and multiple universes (more in the next post) but if the scientific establishment think that those are the options, then both positions should own up to being faith-based.

And that's ok.  True enquiry is necessarily faith seeking understanding.  This was Anselm's description of theology, but, as these considerations show, it holds also for science.  Everyone has beliefs about the nature of reality that shape how they enquire into that reality.  On top of this methodological issue, those beliefs further shape how the data is understood.  No-one simply deals with 'the facts'.  What we believe affects every level of our enquiry.  This is not a lamentable state of affairs, it's just the way things are.  And it means that all endeavours, science included, are believing endeavours.  This is inescapable.  (Go here for a post on the Large Hadron Collider as a prime example of faith seeking understanding).

All scientists are believers.

Next post we'll consider this supposed crossroads - either multiverse or Cosmic Fine-tuner.  We'll see that in spite of what the scientific community thinks (including the Intelligent Design proponents!) we do not follow their methods, forced to choose between absurdity and deism!  We tread a different path.  


Are we really post-modern after all?  Actually isn't the West incurably modernist?  Isn't post-modernism just ultra-modernism anyway?  And who gives a flying rip?  All these thoughts jostled for prominence as I read the first five pages of the Times this afternoon.  I'll let you guess which thought won.

Here's what brought on this A-level philosophizing.  On page 2 the Editor comments on the pundit-confounding fall in oil prices.  He writes:

Wayward forecasts have been part of the human condition since at least the Oracle at Delphi. People hunger for insight into the future; numerous methods of forecasting, from the statistical to the mystical, aim to satisfy that need. The painful truth is that the only non-trivial predictions that can be made confidently lie in the natural sciences. In human society, there is no equivalent to Newton's laws of motion and gravity.

Now I stopped doing science when my physics teacher said there were exceptions to laws he'd just spent two years beating into us.  I was outraged that, having concocted and then memorized my ridiculous mnemonics, they proved to be more like helpful suggestions than laws.  So I don't know much - but something in my brain was registering puzzlement as I read this afternoon. 

First, are Newton's laws really such a bedrock of absolute certainty?  Second, what does it say about a person when they opine 'Life's full of uncertainty, but one thing we know: F=ma'?   It certainly is painful but is it really true that 'the only non-trivial predictions that can be made confidently lie in the natural sciences'??  You can see why all those modernism / post-modernism questions were getting raised.

Well two pages after Newton was set forth as the only Rock on whom we can depend, Oxford Physics Professor, Frank Close said this:

At the beginning of the 20th century, science could explain almost all physical phenomena then known. Isaac Newton’s laws of mechanics described the heavens; the Industrial Revolution both inspired and was driven by thermodynamics; and Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetic waves explained light. The atomic nucleus, relativity and quantum mechanics were not yet in the lexicon, but soon would change everything.

As the 21st century begins, a similar story might be told – of far-reaching theories with tantalising implications, and of ambitious experiments with the potential for discoveries beyond our present imaginings.

So apparently everything has changed since Newton.  Our Rock has gone.  But don't worry, this is a new century and this time we'll definitely get it right.  How?  Well now we have the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which begins smashing particles next week.  Frost's article on the LHC was entitled: Journey back to the beginning of time is nearly complete

The article is full of this strange mixture of confident assertions and admitted bewilderment.  See, for instance this:

Why are there three spatial dimensions; could there be more? If dimensions beyond our ken are revealed at the LHC this would be one of the greatest cultural shocks of all. Our theories work if everything is massless and flits around at the speed of light, yet if it were so we could not be here. How did mass emerge; what indeed is it?

We know how the seeds of normal matter emerged in the relatively cool afterglow of creation. However, it appears that “normal” matter is but 1 per cent of the whole; we are but flotsam on a sea of “dark matter”, whose existence has been inferred from theoretical cosmology but remains undetected. What that dark sea consists of, how it was formed, why there is any matter at all rather than a hellish ferment of radiation, are unknown.

Now as I said, I'm no scientist but is science really fit to answer the "why three dimensions?" question?  What kind of scientific answer would it be that didn't instantly beg more?  In the first paragraph we are told that the scientists' theories 'work' upon assumptions that should have rendered life impossible.  In the second paragraph we are told that their theories lead us to posit a hundred times as much matter as scientists actually detect. 

Well alright then!  Now I can understand why such hype over LHC.  This thing had better produce the goods!

I am cheered though by the optimism of those involved.  The article finishes on this confident note:

"What actually took place in that long-ago dawn, only nature knows. Soon humans will too." 

I mean Close had just told us that finding the origin of the universe (time zero) was like finding 'the end of the rainbow' but still, you've got to admire the passion for scientific endeavour. 

The other article on page four was just as confident.  It was entitled:

Mysteries of the Universe will be solved, starting next Wednesday

It said things like:

"The mountains of data produced [by LHC] will shed light on some of the toughest questions in physics. The origin of mass, the workings of gravity, the existence of extra dimensions and the nature of the 95 per cent of the Universe that cannot be seen will all be examined. [ed: Apparently the Times Science Editor has closed the dark matter gap by another 4%.  Someone should tell the professor!]  Perhaps the biggest prize of all is the "God particle" - the Higgs boson. This was first proposed in 1964 by Peter Higgs, of Edinburgh University, as an explanation for why matter has mass, and can thus coalesce to form stars, planets and people. Previous atom-smashers, however, have failed to find it, but because the LHC is so much more powerful, scientists are confident that it will succeed.

I do genuinely love the enthusiasm.  What a quest!  Here are people convinced that they will find this dark matter (and maybe they will!), convinced they will find the 'God particle' (and maybe they will!).  But their investment in the existence of such entities is explicitly that their world-views just don't work without such unproved phenomena!  They need these unobserved and often unobservable things to be true or else their theories fall apart. 

Don't let anyone tell you that science deals in hard fact while religion deals in blind faith.  We are all in the business of 'faith seeking understanding.'  This is how Anselm described theology in the 12th century.  But I hope we can see it's also how science works.  We believe and we move forwards on the basis of those beliefs.  We find confirmation as we go.  But as we set out we don't have in our grasp that which faith seeks. Instead our intial faith is grounded in the internal cogency of its object.  For the scientist this object is the self-authenticating explanatory power and even elegance of the existing theoretical paradigm.  For the Christian it is the self-authenticating Word of God. 

None of this is to posit some false antithesis between science and religion - the very opposite.  The theologian can and should do science and the scientist is already doing a kind of theology (just with a different logos - a different object of faith).  

But here's the point - both the scientist and the theologian begin from the foundation of faith.  From there the faithful follower explores and articulates that faith and tests it against its object.  So it is with theology, so it is with science.  The proper method for both is the same.

So much so that as I read the scientific optimism for LHC I couldn't help but think of that biblical verse:

"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1)

What differs is not the method.  What differs is the object of faith.  To put it all too simplisitically (but I think with some explanatory power!): the majority of the scientific establishment trusts in the logic of humanity.  The theologian trusts in the Logos of God.


More on faith and science:

All scientists are believers

Both the multiverse and Intelligent Design are wrong!

Christian cosmology



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