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April 20, 2013

Chester V. Clark III: God and the Big Bang

Some people certainly seem to have more faith than others.

The famed British theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking caused a stir once again this week as he made a presentation at the California Institute of Technology.

Individuals anxious to hear him began lining up 12 hours before his lecture was scheduled to begin, the line growing to more than a quarter-mile long. A second auditorium was arranged with a video feed, but still there was not enough room for the throngs that wanted entrance. One man was observed to be offering $1,000 for a ticket, to no avail. A huge jumbotron was set up outside on the lawn, where an estimated 1,000 listeners clambered for a view.

And what did Hawking have to say? The main point of the presentation seemed to be his continued insistence that the universe came into existence without the help of God. He joked about God’s supposed power and omnipresence. He ridiculed contemporary religion’s approach to science, citing Pope John Paul II’s insistence that creation was a holy event, and beyond the scope of observational science. “I was glad not to be thrown into an inquisition,” Hawking joked.

For someone who doesn’t believe in the existence of God, Hawking certainly does bring him into the discussion surprisingly often. As I have read Hawking’s materials, and noted his frequent pejorative references to the idea of God, I’ve been struck with how his conception of God differs so drastically from mine.

To be absolutely frank, I would have to admit that the God that he has rejected, I reject as well. I think if I were to ask him to describe the God that he doesn’t believe in, he would be surprised to learn that a Christian pastor doesn’t believe in that God either. Even in Tuesday’s presentation he poked fun at the idea of an eternally present God with the quip, “What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”

Unfortunately for Hawkins and many others, their perceptions of God are based upon the imperfect representations that we as Christians have made of him. We claim to be disciples of Jesus, but too often our own spirit and attitudes and ways of treating others are nothing like his.

Through the centuries, traditions and doctrines, sometimes borrowed from pagan philosophies and superstitious deities, have supplanted the Bible’s clear revelation of the character of God, until thinking men and women are led to reject these caricatures, thinking they are rejecting God. But back to Hawking’s theoretical question: Was God whiling away his pre-creation eternity scheming the demise of his detractors or doubters?

Quite to the contrary. If Hawking would only learn about God from the Bible, the written word of God, and from the life of Jesus, the incarnate Word sent to reveal God to mankind, he would not be asking such foolish questions. In fact, the Bible does not present the picture of a God who in the beginning was selfishly scheming to punish those who might doubt or even reject his existence. The God revealed in the Bible foresaw the plight of humanity fallen in sin and proactively planned to save mankind even at a tremendous cost to himself. Rather than being the egocentric God that Hawking’s question presumes, defensive of himself and punitive towards those who don’t appreciate him, the Bible reveals instead a God who unselfishly loved, and unselfishly gave. And who planned to do this if necessary even before the world was created.

“Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish or spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” (1 Peter 1:18-20)

Referring to Jesus, John the revelator calls him the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8) Not that Jesus actually died before the world was founded, but the decision was made in the heart of God that even should man rebel, God would save mankind at any cost to himself. Rather than scheming the demise of Stephen Hawking (and you and me, for all have sinned and gone contrary to the ways of unselfish love), God was selflessly planned to save mankind at any cost to himself, even to the point of giving his only son to perish in our place (John 3:16).

Does it take faith to believe in such a God? Certainly. But it’s not faith without evidence. There are good reasons to consider the Bible trustworthy, dependable. There is striking evidence in favor of intelligent design. And most of all, the evidence of divine power to work changes in my own heart and in the lives of others strengthens belief in my God and his word. I believe that you and I are here today because a loving God intentionally and intelligently created us (John 1:1-3) and still sustains us (Colossians 1:16, 17).

But it also takes faith to believe in other theories of origins. Hawking’s preferred view of why we are here, as he explained Tuesday evening, involves what’s known as M-theory. It posits that the big bang not only created the universe — it created multiple universes, increasing the odds of a universe being capable of sustaining life. The problem is that the likelihood of an unexplainable event creating multiple universes seems less likely than that of it creating only one. This theory is an admission of the improbability of life coming about on its own through naturalistic means, and in order to increase those odds it assumes even more faith in the accomplishments of the big bang. It’s simply a transference of improbability to an event they make no claim to understand anyway. It’s like they’ve been confronted with the fact that an explosion in a print shop is not likely to form a fully accurate dictionary, and responded with the theory that the explosion must have created many, many dictionaries, increasing the odds of one entry in one of them being accurate.

Some people certainly seem to have more faith than others.

Chester V. Clark III is pastor at Dalton Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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