The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

Sep 30, 2019 by

Sermon by Bob Bond

Proverbs 8:22,27-30, Psalm 19:1-4b, Romans 1:20, Colossians 1:15-20

 

There are few specific days I can recall-with-detail from Public School.  One of them – and I could walk into that Kitchener Senior Public building today, take you to the room and the desk I was sitting in, and tell you about the teacher at the front – [this] was an English class, with me precociously longing to hit high school where I’d finally get to study biology which was to be my next step towards a world renown career in marine biology(!).  Accordingly, recently-baptized me had chosen as my first-ever formal English essay writing topic, ‘the Bible and evolution’.

I remember this – for one reason – because the teacher gave me encouragingly respectful feedback when I took what I knew about evolution, put it together with my Sunday School and Church exposure to Genesis 1 and 2, and came up with these two points-to-get-across:  One, that the ‘Genesis 1’ order to the creation-of-life is interestingly similar to the ordering of evolution.  The second, that Genesis 1 and 2 are two stories which cannot be reconciled (the order of creation is completely different in each), so what the Bible is telling us is something other than science.

Not bad for a kid.

I went on to find high school biology was not my thing, but physics and mathematics very-much-were.  It is a story from 20th and 21st century Physics that I want to relay to you today … the story of what popularly-came-to-be-known as “the God particle”.

To tell this story aright in church, the stage must first be set.  I’ve started doing so already, actually.  There first is the unspoken assumption behind that old essay of mine:  that there is only truth, not two opposing truths (science verses religion).  What’s more, after reading just the Bible’s first two pages comes this oh-so-important recognition:  Scripture reveals whole realms of truth beyond what modern science knows and seeks as its truth.

So, people, you are hearing from a person with some grounding in science and theology, and accordingly the stage-setting for this sermon about ‘The Cosmos’ includes (a) God as protagonist (the Creator), and (b) both ‘the Big Bang’ and Evolution among our best understandings-to-date of God’s means of making it all happen.

We need next look for a while at that ‘Big Bang’ phenomenon because in popular thinking there’s a glossing over of important detail which – once perceived and appreciated (even-just-a-little-bit!) – fills our theological house with such breath-of-new-life as to echo the winds of Pentecost.

Pretty much everybody knows a number of the important details:  The universe as a whole is expanding, and between mass and trajectory calculations it is known that it will do so forevermore.  If you turn and look back-in-time instead of forward, the whole of our current universe originated at the centre of this now-continuing expansion, in what is popularly called the Big Bang.  The physics of it is pretty clear (though way more sophisticated than I can completely grasp!) [it is pretty clear] back to within the first oh-so-small fraction of a second; but that first fraction of a second the science has not cracked open.  There, there is still mystery.

Let me help you look a bit further into that mystery than you’ve possibly gone to date.

What it means that science understands the business after that first moment-in-time is that the trajectories since then are understandable.  There’s mathematics to give voice to the physics of what’s going on.  At any time since that first so-small fraction of a second, what happens makes sense upon the basis of what was before.

But not so within that first so-small moment.  It was then-and-there that what modern physics has enumerated as twenty-five dimensionless physical constants were established.  About half of these are the masses of fundamental particles, out of which ‘everything-that-is’ is made.  The rest are constants expressing the fundamental forces and relationships of the physical universe.   None of these 25 has any dependency on other things … they cannot be derived from any yet-scientifically-explainable source.  But upon the tuning of these 25 is built the whole functioning of universe as we know it.  For atoms to exist and interact the way they do, for forces to operate the way they do … which eventually is to say that for a sun to exist, a planet to exist, water to exist, air to exist, living cells to exist as we know these things … each of these 25 constants had to be ‘nailed’ at the particular value it has.  But how could this possibly have happened?

This is where the thinking should perk up your ears as theists (people who believe in God).  Because every mathematician on the planet let alone every theoretical physicist let alone every cosmologist (the ones specifically studying these things) knows and agrees that the odds of those 25 constants landing on what they have to be in order to make this universe of ours work the way it does are so astronomically improbable as to be near-impossible.  There are only two options:  Either there is indeed a Ground-of-Being (a God) behind what we experience who fixed these 25 constants, or (modern science says) the actual scope of reality must be not just a universe but rather what is termed the multiverse.  People, take a breath, sit back and picture this:  “Multiverse” means our universe is just one of a basically infinite number of universes, in each of which those 25 values are different, such that the make-up-in-every-way of what goes on inside each universe is different (so very different we’d not recognize any of it).  “Multiverse” means there is overall randomness to the whole of reality, therefore no need to postulate some Force / some Thing / some One ‘out there’ who required things to be this particular way (our universe’s particular way).

Let the magnitude of our good fortune within this universe-of-ours be clear:  We are in a set-up where, from the ‘big bang’ and the sum total of the universe’s energy driving all that has come since, those elemental particles together with the physics of gravity have seen the development of the simplest atom (hydrogen) and then the birth of suns, the fusion-generation of each heavier atom eventually filling the periodic table, the ever-increasing complexities of compounded particles, the coming together of asteroids, planets, moons, comets; where conditions are just right the generation of atmospheres and at times even water.  I could go on trying to name stages for you but I’d rather make the observation that essentially the same process of ever-increasing diversity, ever-growing complexity, ever-expanding relationships marks (a) the biological world we know, as marks (b) the physical universe.  And not as a past event but as continuing creation.  If we could travel into space and somehow manage to set ourselves up to observe an expanse of vacuum, we’d eventually see matter created there.  Similarly, if we’d go as field biologists into any ecosystem on the planet, and if we could set ourselves up for the very long haul we’d observe the diversities and the interdependencies of species, and the complexities of the systems they co-create, growing before our eyes.  Or, on another playing field, if only the CaT scans and PET scans and MRIs and nuclear medicine were sufficient to the task we could look into the human body and watch how the immune system, the endocrine system, the nervous system and the neuropeptides work in response to any accident or disease to minimize damage, then repair and restore; we could watch the DNA at work to bring us the resources of our ancestors and then pass possibility forward to our young.  People, we are in the one universe that is set by 25 constants precisely tuned so that providence abounds, and it abounds unceasingly for everything / everyone, just because we are part of it.

Let me say to you, again, the cosmologists’ theological conundrum:  It cannot possibly be random (it cannot be a fluke) that the 25 constants are set the way they are set in just one universe.  Either there is a God who ordained it this way, or – if there’s not – then there must be a basically-infinite number of universes with all the permutations and combinations of differing values of these 25 set-point playing out across the lot of them and we are simply among the products of this particular one.

Here, the story moves into genres of suspense-followed-by-comedy.  In the 1970’s, theoretical physicists (the researcher Peter Higgs in their lead) acquired what they held up as the test to see which version is true: universe or multiverse?  They had been working on a unified theory that would knit together what was known about electromagnetism, light and matter.  They hypothesized the brilliant model that predicted a particle as-yet-never-detected, the Higgs boson, which would function like bosons already-known within electricity and magnetism and like photons do in light, only this one was for subatomic particles having mass.  (Too much detail, there! … you don’t have to understand this.)  What you do really want to know is that the theorists made a set of calculations based on the multiverse-as-true and came up with a value <let’s say on a horizontal-axis here>, and they made a set of calculations based on the universe-as-true and came up with a different value <over here>.   Now, if this particle indeed was found to exist-at-all it would verify the unified theory; but depending on its mass it would reveal either

  • the universe is all there is and so, philosophically, there’s a strong argument there must be a God who set it up this way, or
  • we are in a multiverse and back to ‘no need’ to postulate the existence of God.

It’s not too surprising, then, how this particle came to be known, in the popular media, as “the God particle”.

Teams of scientists and engineers from around the world converged on CERN (le Conseil européen pour la recherche nucléaire) in north-western Geneva Switzerland to retrofit the world’s premier particle accelerator so it could seek out the existence of the Higgs boson.  The retrofit took many months of work.  Then, once the testing turned on, it was many weeks of watching, analyzing, and waiting for statistically clear results.

In July 2012 the announcement was made, with theoretical physicists around the globe sitting on the edge of their seats in anticipation:  Yes, indeed, the Higgs Boson was verified, and its mass was precisely in between those two predicted values(!!!).  For which we have no model, no understanding.

People of mystery, people of faith, you’ve got to love this!  Oh there are those who salivated over the thought of proof for God, and those who salivated over the thought of proof-there-is-no-God.  But then there is the reality, which reflective humanity has known all along, of

  • the great creativity, the great providence, the great mystery,
  • the grand-and-growing diversity,
  • the ever-evolving complexity,
  • the inexpressible intricacy and beauty

in which we live,

and within which we (like many around us and before us) [we] choose to relate

  • in-and-through Sophia,
  • in-and-through Christ

to the Creator, the Provider, the Saviour who wants not to be proven but by every ‘sentient being’ sought-out and found.

The great Providence behind-it-all only once spoke a name-for-Self which for us is the all-sufficient answer:  “I am”.

Oh my, yes indeed, the heavens declare the glory of God!

Amen.

 

Prayer for Ourselves and Others

 

Creator, Provider, Saviour God, when we consider the work of Your hand

  • writ large in the vastness of the cosmos,
  • writ intricately in the microscopic (yet parallel!) expansiveness of an atom,
  • writ with grace and power in the life of pond or river, lake or ocean,
  • writ with majesty in the expanse of forests and meadows, mountains and plains, deserts and ice caps, and in all the creatures upon them,
  • writ with careful balance throughout the thin, protective, life-sustaining envelope which is the atmosphere, supporting the flight of insects and birds, and enabling Ruha / Pneuma / the breath-wind-spirit of life,

we are in awe of You!  If we come at it from the science we find how You set those 25 constants and thereby established a universe where all the energy ever needed pours upon us from the sun, plants replenish and clean our oxygen, water is cycled around and provided afresh, food grows in vast variety and quantity upon and across earth and sea, our bodies are built not just with amazing capacity but with indwelling pharmacies and evolving immunities so that tissues-and-whole-systems might mend when somehow assailed.  Every creature and thing is cascaded with its requirements by Your design.  O God, how great thou art!

 

Then if we each come at ‘what is’ from personal experience, we are aware of how You placed us in families and communities not perfect yet overall (this communion among them!) raising us up into the life we have and into new life.  God, thank You for the love we know … ultimately it is from You and of You.  Thank You for the feedback You provide us individually and communally, be it from dreams, relationships, sicknesses, all the way up to signals from the planet itself in disappearing species, water no longer drinkable, rising oceans, worsening storms, climate change.  God help us stop reveling in the sense of privilege that we in the West and North have confused with salvation (having so consistently confused mammon with God).  Help us finally hear and heed the prophets who have spoken for decades (the Al Gore’s, Stephen Lewis’s, David Suzuki’s and a great host-more-of-scientists behind them) as we are awakened afresh by young astounding prophets of our time.  Thank you for Greta Thunberg, for Autumn Peltier, for every child on the planet who marched in solidarity on Friday, for every child activist addressing the water and the life and the justice and the peace of the earth.  Let us adults be ashamed, and then repentant, and then actively engaged in ways that tear down false privilege and instead resonate with, because they invite, Your salvation.

 

God we pray for the people and the issues of the planet that are right at hand to our lives.  We think of people and creatures, families and environments that are sick or have been harmed.  We name and pray for specific individuals from our midst:  Charles and Cheryl; and individually we pray for others whose names we bring to You in silence. <pause>  God, help them!; be clear to them as “Ground of Being” Who provides for them “full throttle” and never abandons anyone/anything You have made.

 

Our prayers we would sum in Christ’s kingdom prayer:

 

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, ….  Amen.

 

Benediction

In the words of Joshua: “Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  [Joshua 1:9]

In the words of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” [John 14:27]

Go now in the providence of God, the grace of Jesus, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

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