Title: The Story of the Cosmos, How the Heavens Declare the Glory of God
General Editors: Paul M. Gould & Daniel Ray
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers
Price: US $22.99
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
The night sky is the last great frontier. From a dark country site, away from the lights of towns and cities, the full grandeur of the starry heaven can be enjoyed. It melts even the hardest heart and fills us with awe as we contemplate its vast size, its teeming multitude of effulgent hosts and its great preternatural beauty. But for the Biblical King David, the night sky also presented powerful evidence that a Creator had fashioned it all. As an avid stargazer from my youth and a committed Christian, I have always regarded the majesty of the night sky as a grand expression of the created order.
That’s why my curiosity was piqued when I came across a new book, The Story of the Cosmos: How the Heavens Declare the Glory of God, edited by former schoolteacher and amateur astronomer, Daniel Ray, and philosopher/apologist, Paul M. Gould, who have assembled a stellar line of some of the finest Christian minds across a multitude of disciplines from the sciences, arts, philosophy and theology, united in their conviction that the Universe at large displays the unmistakable hallmarks of order, design and foresight from the microscopic realm of the sub-atomic to the macroscopic world of stars and galaxies; the handiwork of an all-powerful God; the God of the Bible.
The Story of the Cosmos comes at an especially exciting time when Darwinian ideology is being toppled by an avalanche of new science. The origin of life is as mysterious as ever; the more we probe its depths the more complex it becomes. So too is the nature of human consciousness. The book draws upon an exceptionally rich repository of intellectual thought from Aristotle, Plato and St. Augustine in the ancient world, to great Christian thinkers in the modern era including C. S Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, John Lennox and others who have all formulated the same answer to an age old question; why is the cosmos intelligible, rational and ordered? Their answer, arrived at using various philosophic approaches, is that the universe is the way it is because its Creator is also rational and human beings, made in the image of God, are capable, to some degree, of thinking God’s thoughts after Him.
Three chapters in Part I of the book, written by distinguished scientists, Guy Consolmagno, Guillermo Gonzalez and David Bradstreet, respectively, explore another, related question. What was God’s purpose in creating a cosmos that is intelligible to humankind? Their answer is that God has allowed us to be active participants in unravelling the mysteries of His creation and delights in humans figuring things out through the dual virtues of deep, logical thought and scientific experimentation. Our God has spilled his grace upon humankind in such a way that it encourages us to explore the riches of the Universe and to delight in learning something new. Planetary scientist, Dr. Guy Consolmagno, imagines himself studying the precious meteorites in lock step with his Creator, who he imagines is ‘sitting across from him’ in his laboratory, watching as he stumbles on some new insight. Astrobiologist, Dr. Guillermo Gonzales, describes the fascinating details of how our planet, far from being an ordinary world lost in the immensity of space, shows all the hallmarks of super-intelligent design for life in general, but human beings, in particular. He offers fascinating insights into things few people would never even consider. Why can we see the stars? Why is the Earth just right for launching probes into space? Why are we located on the outskirts of an enormous spiral galaxy, where the night sky is dark and transparent? The answer, as Gonzalez explains so eloquently, is that our Creator had it in mind all along to allow humans to come to some understanding of the great power, majesty and glory of His creation. In this sense, when we express awe for the beauty of the night sky, we are, in a certain sense, offering up a prayer to the Almighty. The same kind of enthusiasm is conveyed by stellar astronomer, Dr. David Bradfield, who describes how studying the complex light curves of variable stars is an exciting way to unravel the machinery of God’s creation.
It is not only through the media of science, philosophy and theology that humans have reacted to the created order. Artists too have also responded with their delicate brush strokes. In a wonderful essay by Terry Glaspey, we learn how the great out of doors and the beauty of the night sky inspired artists throughout history to see both the terrestrial and extra-terrestrial realms as a “grand cathedral” wherein the presence of God is palpable.
But all of this naturally raises other questions; what happens when scientists do not pursue the evidence wherever it leads? That’s a fascinating question that is answered by astrophysicist, Dr. Sarah Salviander, who describes in some considerable detail, the consequences of abandoning what I would call Judeo-Christian ways of thinking. Salviander showcases the disputes that arose between the astronomer, Sir Arthur Eddington, and his brilliant Indian graduate student, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (Chandra). Although Eddington admired Chandra’s theoretical achievements, he refused to accept where those conclusions concerning the fate of massive stars (neutron stars and black holes in particular) would lead him. Salviander writes:
The answer is that Eddington fell victim to some combination of the four primordial barriers to understanding that are constantly at work in the minds of every person; limited perspective, misleading emotions, intellectual inertia, and excessive pride……………..Longstanding and popular ideas are often difficult to overcome even when compelling evidence like Chandra’s is presented. And, sometimes people like Eddington experience a lapse in humility that causes them to use their authority to oppose an idea they just don’t like.
In similar fashion, the distinguished nuclear physicist, Robert J. Oppenheimer fell victim to the same kind of cognitive dissonance:
A close friend of Oppenheimer’s, the Nobel laureate physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi, believed that Oppenheimer’s abilities as a physicist suffered as a result of his turning away from the beliefs of the Old Testament in favour of the literature of Hindu mysticism. According to Rabi, Oppenheimer was scientifically blinded by an exaggerated sense of mystery and the boundary between the known and the unknown and became incapable of following the laws of physics to the very end. pp 95.
The same resistance to wholly rational and reasonable conclusions about the nature of reality is explored by Christian apologist, Dr. William Lane Craig, who explores the mindset of atheist cosmologists such as Lawrence Kraus, who expects his readers to believe that the Universe came into existence out of nothing, with no material cause or need for a Creator. In particular, he focuses on what Kraus attempts to pass as ‘nothing’ and convincingly concludes, citing sonorous rebuttals by his own scientific peers, that Kraus’ concept of nothing is in fact, a whole lot of ‘something.’
Physicists, Luke Barnes and Alan Hainline, who take a decidedly neutral stance on Christian theism in the book, similarly debunk ill-thought-through statements made by Darwin-thumping atheists such as Richard Dawkins, who famously declared that;
The Universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares, DNA just is. And we dance to its music.
Unlike Dawkins, whose expertise is in zoology, Barnes and Hainline are actually qualified to comment on the notion of cosmic fine tuning, observing that, at every conceivable level, our Universe provides compelling evidence of being very special indeed. Why? Because if Dawkins’ statement were actually true, our Universe would simply not harbor life, especially conscious human life.
Given the overwhelming evidence for design and purpose in the Universe, how should the atheist or agnostic best respond to it? That question is explored in a thought-provoking essay by Paul M. Gould, who sets out a robust argument for theism based on the reasonable premise that naturalism cannot account for the flourishing of human life. Gould highlights the significant weaknesses of the so-called neo-Humean synthesis, which asserts that all of physical reality can be reduced to its micro-physical parts, in favor of what Gould calls the Aristotelian-Christian worldview, which much more robustly accounts for the properties of the Universe we humans observe in practice as image bearers of God’s character.
It was a great pleasure to read this beautifully composed work of Christian literature. It is timely, thoughtfully written and illustrated, reverent and inspiring, with great apologetic appeal. The Story of the Cosmos is a refreshing oasis for the human soul and deserves a special place in the library of all Christians, sky gazers and curious agnostics alike.
Dr. Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy. His large historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, explores the lives of astronomers and how their work often re-affirmed their strong Christian convictions.