This year we have been observing the Season of Creation. We have talked about the world, we have considered humanity, made in God’s image, and today I want to give a thought to science.
Too often when someone talks about the ‘theology of creation’ the conversation instantly moves to the supposed debate between sciene and religion.
I want to look at the scientific view of the origin of the world, but rather than see theology as opposed to science, I want to draw some theological reflections from scientific theory:
Einstein, Albert said: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” So this sermon is an attempt to bring Science and religion together…
In the beginning was nothing.
Then 13.7 billion years ago, in a singularity, an infinitely small pinprick of existence, the big bang was sparked into existence and there was light.
As the infant universe expanded faster than the speed of light, and within the first fraction of the first second of existence the laws of physics crystalised out of the chaos. At first the universe was only a hot soup of quarks, gluons and leptons, but while the universe was one ten-thousandth of a second old protons, neutrons and electrons (the famalier building blocks of atoms) had appeared.
The whole universe remained hot enough to be nothing more than constant nuclear reactions until beyond the first three minutes.
There were still no atoms yet – just the raw materials – the universe was not cool enough for atoms for half a million years.
At this point the gross nuclear structure of the universe was left at the ratio of today with a quarter helium to three quarters hydrogen. (Although the ratios of protons to neutons and electrons had made this inevitable three minutes after the initial big bang.)
The greatest miracle, ever had already occurred. Water into wine? Feeding 5,000? These are nothing to the laws of physics created in the first second of existence and the protons, neutons and electrons that formed in the first minutes. If any of these forces or measurements were even slightly different, no life would exist. For example if gravity were slightly stronger, or any of these nuclear particles just a little bigger (giving them a stronger pull, and so having the same effect) then the big bang would have been followed by the universe pulling itself together within a few billion years in a big crunch with no opportunity for suns and planets to from. If gravity were slightly weaker, or any nuclear particles just a little smaller (giving them a weaker pull, and so having the same effect) then the big bang would have been followed by the universe expanding so fast that stars would never form, and the universe would be an ever-expanding and ever-thinning cloud of hydrogen and helium.
But in our perfectly ballanced universe, once atoms formed, the forces of gravity started to draw them together, forming larger and larger clumps of matter, until some clumps became so vast that their internal forces of gravity became so strong that they broke apart the atoms in nuclear reactions and the first stars were born, about 1 billion years after the Big Bang.
In these first stars the atoms of hydrogen and helium were broken apart, and they reformed as new elements, including the carbon that is the elemental building block of life were formed – every atom of carbon in your body was created in the nuclear reactions in the heart of a sun.
Our sun and our home planet were formed in the second generation of stars.
Around 4.5 billion years ago life on earth began. (Just 3 million years ago the human race appeared.) The evolution of life is every bit as wonderful as the physical origen, but I will not go into it, as we will run out of time, and I was always much better at physics than biology.
But I would like to echo the words of Carl Segen who said of human civilisation: “These are the things hydrogen atoms do given 13.7 billion years.”
Science has its own miracles that can inspire awe, and wonder, and spirituality.
Atoms are mostly empty space, if you were able to remove all the space from and atom and compress it, then the entire human race could fit into a space the size of a sugar cube.
Some of you may know that I edit the Newsletter for the campaigning charity, Inclusive Church. The editorial that recieved more comment & feedback than all my others put together was based the sermon I delivered here on Ash Wednesday. I hope those who were here on Ash Wednesday will forgive me repeating what I said back then.
As I have already said, after the Big Bang, scientists believe that the only elements that existed were hydrogen and helium (the lightest and simplest elements). No carbon or metal or any complex elements. Then these atoms of hydrogen and helium slowly clustered over unimaginable aeons of time the clusters became enormous balls of matter that had so much gravity that the atoms were pulled apart in a nuclear reaction, and the universe’s first generation of stars sprung to light.
All of the heavy elements that exist in the universe – metals, and the carbon of our bodies was created in the heart of the first generation of stars.
On Ash Wednesday we say “remember that you are dust…” we are not just made of dust, as Genesis tells us, we are made of stardust! “Remember you are stardust…”
Our human bodies that we so often feel ashamed of (or are made to feel ashamed of) are the stuff of stars, made by God, loved by God, inhabited by God.
We are stardust! We need to learn to stand tall and not be ashamed: regardless of gender, sexuality, race, disability, social status, education: you are stardust. You are a child of God. You matter.
We are frail, but we are also part of a holy adventure reflecting God’s love over billions of years and in billions of galaxies.
Our lives are strange and sometimes difficult, but life is also wonderful and beautiful.