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God, the universe and all that: Part 3

From the Sola Panel:

This is the third instalment of a five-part series (read parts 1 and 2.)

We’ve been looking at Psalm 8 and have discovered that stargazing should make us wonder why God the creator should have anything to do with us.

At this point, if you were sceptical about the existence of the creator himself, I could point you to proofs of a designer in the universe. For example, I could use the ‘fine-tuning’ argument for the existence of God—the fact that there are over 20 fundamental physical constants in the universe that all work together to make the universe work as it does, and that can’t be explained as a coincidence—at least, not yet. If any one of these constants had been a tiny bit different, life couldn’t appear. For example, if the force of gravity was even slightly different by a colossally tiny factor (1 part in 1040), no life-supporting stars could exist. Or I could talk about the statistical improbability of life itself emerging—the fact that even a small protein has 1095 possible folding combinations, and the chances of a protein folding by accident into a functional life-conducive shape during the lifetime of the universe is something like 1 in 1065.

But then you might come back with an answer—the multiverse. Do you know about the multiverse? The multiverse is a philosophical theory, born out of reflection on cosmology and quantum theory. It’s the idea that we are just one out of a gigantic number of different possible universes. The multiverse is a way to solve the problem of the fine-tuning of the universe. Since there’s such a huge or infinite number of possible universes, it’s no problem that our universe just happens to exist by chance—a universe with impossibly fine-tuned life-supporting physical constants, where proteins folded in just the right way. The multiverse is an act of faith; it’s not a scientific hypothesis in the strict sense. There is no scientific evidence for the multiverse; in fact, there’s no experimental test that anyone has conceived that could possibly prove it or disprove it. It’s a philosophy that tries to solve the apparent design of the universe without resorting to a designer. The multiverse theory is complex, physically and philosophically, and it seems to me to be the last resort of the desperate. But if you’re philosophically committed to atheism, that’s what you’ve got at your disposal at the moment.

But actually there’s a bigger problem with my proofs for a designer. You see, even if my arguments for the existence of a cosmic designer were true and irrefutable, and even if you believed them, what does that actually prove? That there is a great designer—a purpose—to the universe doesn’t say anything about you and me.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that there is a great grand design to the existence of the 70 sextillion-plus stars out there. Say there is some grand 13-billion-year-old design to it all, and that God the creator is behind it all. So what? What on earth would that have to do with you, your life, your relationships, your joys, your sorrows, your acts of kindness, your feelings of guilt at those evil things you’ve said and thought and done, your goals, your children, your ethics, your conviction that it’s wrong to hurt and right to love, and your death as you dissolve back into the dust you came from? What is that to God? Why does that matter at all in this gigantic universe?

Yet this is the question of our poet, as the song continues:

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

(Ps 8:5-8)

This is actually a real puzzle—a problem—the crisis of the song—that this God, the one who made the heavens for some reason, deliberately and personally sees you and me as important. You and I are a key part of his creation. We (as the song says) are “crowned … with glory and honor”. We are rulers. We have dominion.

These words ‘rule’ and ‘dominion’ recall the words of Genesis 1-2. They are used to describe the reality that humans are put on the earth by God himself to care for it, not to exploit it for our own ends. It’s a statement of our glory and our responsibility, not a statement of our God-given right to use the world any way we want. Our poet in this biblical song recalls these words to express wonder at the fact that we specks of dust are somehow glorious in God’s eyes. The evidence of the stars suggests that we are nothing, but God himself, the creator of the stars, says we are something. We have been made by God for a purpose in this world: we have responsibility. We have responsibility to God to do what is right—to rule the works of God’s hands. And, as the rest of the Bible points out, we have a responsibility to live rightly in our relationships with each other—to honour God, to care for his world, to care for each other, to live under his loving rule.

But that’s the problem. That’s the puzzle. How is it that such a great creator—such a great and super-powerful supreme being—has given us specks of dust this responsibility?

Verse 9 gives us no answer:

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

The song ends where it began. It hasn’t solved the puzzle; it has just expressed it. God is great in the earth, and somehow, for some reason, we are important to him.

To be continued …

Comments on the Sola Panel
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