Based on a talk by John Lennox, at the Keswick Convention 2013. He is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and a lecturer at the Oxford Centre of Christian Apologetics.
The most important thing said in any book of Scripture, is about God. Yesterday we began to unpack the first sentence of the Bible, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth', and we haven't finished it yet. We have discovered in it, that God already was, he existed eternally, and that this universe, by contrast, is a creation. The Universe came to be. But the fact that God is creator deserves to be unpacked a little bit further.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth. That is, everything.
We've been told that if we want to be intellectually respectable, we have to choose between God and science, and then choose science. I used to think that they said that, because they'd failed to understand the nature of science. But I think it's because they are not understanding the nature of God.
Many well-meaning Christians think that God resides in the parts that science has not yet explained. We used to think thunder was the roaring of God. Now we've done some atmospheric physics, and that God disappears. So, the more science the less God; the more God, the less science. If you define God that way, of course you have to choose between God and science, because that's how you've defined God.
When Isaac Newton discovered his law of gravity, he didn't say, 'oh wonderful, now I've got a law, I don't need a God'. No, he wrote 'Principia Mathematica', and wrote in the front, that he hoped that it would encourage people to have more faith. The more you understand about engineering, the more you can admire the magnificence of a Rolls Royce. The more you understand about paintings, the more you can admire the genius of the artist.
Atheists say you have to choose between god as an explanation and science as an explanation. That's foolishness. There is a difference between the agent, and the mechanism. Science explains, but God is the explanation why science explains. There are different kinds of explanation. I wish I'd been told at school the limits of scientific exploration. Newton was clever enough to see his laws didn't explain what gravity is. Nobody knows what gravity is.
This message from Genesis 1, verse 1, is that God is the creator of the whole show, not the bits with which science currently has problems. The more we understand, the more we can admire the genius of God.
For centuries, science believed in an eternal universe. Then cracks began to appear. I was in Cambridge in the 1960s. It was fascinating to see how the scientific establishment reacted to the beginnings of the idea that there might have been a beginning to space and time.
Some said it was unacceptable, because it gives those who believe in Genesis ample justification for their belief. A scientific advance was resisted because it converged with what Scripture had been saying for centuries; 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth'.
If there was a beginning, what was before it? Why is there something rather than nothing? Stephen Hawking stepped up to the scene, and said in his book 'The Grand Design', that spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, and it's not necessary to invoke God. 'Because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing'. Pardon? Flat contradiction number one. If there's only a law of gravity, will that create anything? Well of course not.
I asked Peter Atkins, the former Professor of Chemistry at Oxford, what he thought had created the universe. He said, 'mathematics'. These are serious thinkers. Newton's laws of motion never moved a billiard ball in the history of the universe. This is one of the world's leading scientists. But, laws do not create. Nonsense remains nonsense even if high powered scientists talk it.
The atheist Lawrence Krauss has written a whole book, 'A Universe from Nothing'. He does this by re-defining nothing. They are desperate to get a universe from nothing. Listen to this for extreme intellectual desperation, from Krauss's book: 'Surely nothing is as every bit as physical as something: especially if it is defined as the absence of something.' And that is taken seriously, by one of the world's leading physicists.
Alan Guth, is the father of the theory of inflation, which some cite to say that something can come from nothing. I said to him one day, 'there's a big problem with nothing out there. A lot of people think that you mean philosophical nothing. But you don't mean that, do you?' He said no, it's not nothing in that sense.
It is a confusion. They cannot get the universe from nothing. The universe did not come from nothing, it came from God. In the beginning... God created the heavens and the Earth.
I must cite a review by an atheist of these ideas, from philosopher David Albert. "But all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right. Who cares what we would or would not have made a peep about a hundred years ago? We were wrong a hundred years ago. We know more now. And if what we formerly took for nothing turns out, on closer examination, to have the makings of protons and neutrons and tables and chairs and planets and solar systems and galaxies and universes in it, then it wasn't nothing, and it couldn't have been nothing, in the first place. And the history of science - if we understand it correctly - gives us no hint of how it might be possible to imagine otherwise."
It's foolishness. I tell you it in some detail, because I meet many young people and old people who are disturbed by these things. But if you analyse the logic, it collapses. And what's left standing is 'in the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth'.
CS Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else”. This first statement in Genesis throws a flood of light on everything. Atheism makes less and less sense.
Let's celebrate and emphasise the fact of creation. Genesis 1 is interested in time, as it cites six days. Different Christians think different things about this. But let's never allow differences of opinion of timing to take us away from the factuality of creation. The fact of Creation is something emphasised throughout Scripture.
In verse 2 of Genesis 1, we see that the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. This brings us to the Trinity, the theme of the Keswick Convention this year.
The Trinity is not merely a Christian doctrine. It's not just an explanation… no, the Trinity is the way God has revealed himself. The word of God tells us that God is a very complex being. Are we surprised? You only have to start in John's Gospel to run out of capacity in your brain to deal with it.
The notion of mathematical dimensionality can perhaps help us to deal with it.
Can we understand the Trinity? No. A young physicist once said to me, 'that was an interesting talk. You must be a Christian. So you believe that Jesus was both God and human. You're a professor of mathematics. You can't seriously believe that.”
I said, "Can I ask two questions. The first is, 'What is consciousness?'" After a moment he said, "I don't know".
I said, "Let's go for an easier one, what is energy?"
"Well, we can measure it… I don't know."
'I'm glad you said that, because that's what the physicist Richard Feynman believed. You believe in consciousness and energy – but you don't know what they are. I'm thinking of writing you off as a physicist! You believe in energy and consciousness, but why do you believe in it?” Being a kind Irishman, I helped him out. I said, "You believe in them because of their explanatory power".
"I can't explain to you how God became human, but it's the only explanation that makes sense of the evidence."
The law of gravity doesn't explain gravity. As the philosopher Wittgenstein said, 'The greatest deception of modernism is that the laws of nature are explanations of the phenomenon of nature. They're not, they're simply descriptions.'
Sometimes it's useful to be honest that you can't answer a question. If you don't know what gravity, energy, light and consciousness are, then we don't need to be embarrassed that we can't fully explain the nature of God.
As Paul writes of our Lord, he is the image of the invisible of God, the firstborn of all Creation. In Him, all things were created, in heaven and on Earth, visible and invisible.
This is not deism, a god who lit the blue torch paper and let it all run. This is the Lord Jesus Christ, who came into our world and who keeps it all going. Who spoke into existence the phenomenal capacity of the brain of a migratory bird. Who invented the nuclear furnaces of the stars. Where are we to find a story like this?
The sequence in Genesis 1 implies that it didn't all happen at once. If God was speaking, speaking, speaking, then the present will not be a total source of information about the past. It has huge implications for our understanding of the universe.
The active words in the sequence are, 'and God said…' That's the exact opposite of a mindless, unguided process. In all the verses in Scripture that emphasise Creation, they all mention the Word of God. The worlds were made by the Word of God. Creation was by speech, by the word of the Lord.
It seems to me, that here is one of the supreme evidences that God has left in his Creation. What evidence is there that there is a 'Word' out there? One of them is the fact that we even can do mathematics and science at all.
I'm not remotely embarrassed to be a scientist and a Christian. Christianity gave me my subject. The belief that there is a rational intelligent force behind the universe drove science in the first place.
Exploding onto the scene recently, is a book from Thomas Nagel, an atheist philosopher; 'Mind and cosmos' - why neo-Darwinian is almost certainly false'. Just go onto the internet and see what he's been called for saying this. His argument is simply this. If there is no God, then what is my brain? It's the end product of a mindless unguided process, and we can't trust it.
My biggest objection to atheism, it's not because I'm a Christian, it's because it undermines the rationality I use to do science.
Inside the trillions of cells of our bodies, is DNA - a language. It's billions of letters long, written in the letters ACTG. It indicates a higher intelligence. 'In the beginning', makes infinite sense to me. 'In the beginning was the word'. Information is derivative. Mind and information are derivative. Which makes more sense - atheism or belief in God? I submit to you: In the beginning was the Word.