Book Review: “The Story of the Cosmos.”

Putting God back at the centre of all things.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” Genesis 1:1. With majestic simplicity the author of the opening chapter of Genesis thus differentiated his viewpoint not only from the ancient creation myths of Israel’s neighbors, but also effectively from pantheism, such as is found in religions like Vedanta Hinduism and Taoism, or twentieth century process theology, and from polytheism, ranging from ancient paganism to contemporary Mormonism. The biblical writers gave us to understand that the universe had a temporal origin and thus imply creatio ex nihilo in the temporal sense that God brought the universe into being without a material cause at some point in the finite past.

William Lane Craig( pp183)

 

 

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

ISBN: 978-0-7369-7736-4

Price: US $22.99/ UK £18.65

 

Eloquent, profound, powerful – here’s a beautiful and sweeping affirmation of God’s breathtaking creativity”

Lee Strobel, New York Times bestselling author of The Case for a Creator.

 

Contibutors: Dr. Luke Barnes, Dr. David Bradstreet, Dr. Brother Guy Consolmagno, Dr. William Lane Craig, Terry Glaspey, Dr. Paul M. Gould, Dr. Guillermo Gonzales, Allen Hainline, Dr. Holly Ordway, Daniel Ray, Dr. Sarah Salviander, Wayne R. Spencer, Dr. Melissa Cain Travis, Dr. Michael Ward.

 

Every now and then, a new book comes along which captures the essence of what it is to be an intellectually fulfilled Christian. Our Creator not only brought this Universe into being without a material cause, but also designed it with exquisite precision so that living creatures such as ourselves could explore its deepest mysteries through the media of science, art, music, poetry and fantasy literature. Using wonderful prose and beautiful illustrations, The Story of the Cosmos, sets a very high bar that will delight anyone who cares to read and consider its message. The central theme of the book is derived from the famous claim made by the Biblical King David, asserting that:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Psalm 19:1

One of the most egregious claims made by modern expositors of scientific materialism(scientism) is that science and Christianity represent ‘non-overlapping magesteria,’ so that one system of knowledge cannot inform the other. Yet it is instructive to remind the Biblical ignoramus that to be a Christian is to value and seek truth. After all, did not our Lord remind us of such?

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

So, simply put, to follow the truth is to follow Christ.

The Story of the Cosmos is the brainchild of an American school teacher and amateur astronomer, Daniel Ray, who managed to canvass the opinions of a stellar line up of Christian intellectuals across a dozen disciplines, ranging from theology to high-energy astrophysics. What unites all these authors is their passion for conveying the intellectual rigour of the Christian faith and how it inspired some of the finest minds in the history of human thought,  who clearly (and correctly!) viewed the created order as a manifestation of a mind infinitely more advanced than our own.

The book is divided into three parts;

I The Exploration of the Cosmos

II Expressions of the Cosmos in Art and Literature

III Evidences Pointing to the Creation of the Cosmos

 

In Part I, the authors explore the vastness, beauty and power of the cosmos and how these attributes provide solid clues to the nature of the Personhood who created it all. After a great opening chapter by Daniel Ray, laying the foundations of the themes to be developed in the book, Christian apologist and biologist, Dr. Melissa Cain Travis, makes a very powerful case for believing that the universe in which we find ourselves in is rational because its Creator(the God of the Bible) is also rational. Exploring ideas by Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Thomas Nagel and Alvin Plantinga, Travis, shows that naturalistic explanations of the origin and the Universe and life are almost certainly false. This is followed by a curious essay by planetary scientist and Catholic padre, Dr. Brother Guy Consolmagno, who reveals that science in general, and his study of meteorites in particular, is a way of “growing closer to the Creator.” Consolmagno’s work is a labour of love, he explains, where he is piecing together the exquisite machinery by which God created the worlds.

Studying the minutae of creation brings one closer to God, says Guy Consolmagno.

Part I continues with a highly entertaining essay by the professional astronomer, Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, co-author (with Dr. Jay Richards) of the highly acclaimed book, Privileged Planet, demonstrating how our world shows the undeniable hallmarks of design but also goes further to show that where humanity finds itself on the outskirts of a vast spiral galaxy like the Milky Way, cannot be the product of idle serendipity, but rather must reflect the Creator’s desire for us to explore His creation using the methods of science and the high technologies we derive from it.

Following on from this, another professional astronomer, Dr. David Bradstreet, explores the majesty of the stellar Universe in all its diversity, focusing our attention on the light curves of a variety of eclipsing binary stars and how these allow him to get up close and personal with God’s illustrious creation. Bradstreet shows us clearly how stars evolve through time because there is a robust physical theory underpinning those claims, in contrast to Darwinian evolution, which is not entertained in this book (I’m guessing that all of the authors are now sceptical of those claims!)

Studying the light curves of eclipsing variable stars reveals the machinery of creation, according to David Bradfield.

Chapter 5 of Part I, written by astrophysicist, Dr. Sarah Salviander, presents a fascinating look at how the history of astrophysics and cosmology and their progress to becoming robust modern sciences, were often hampered by influential intellects who turned away from properly reasoned deductions just because it clashed with their world view. Salviander showcases the disputes that arose between Sir Arthur Eddington and his brilliant Indian graduate student, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (Chandra). Although Eddington admired Chandra’s theoretical achievements, he refused to accept where his 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. Humans try to observe the Universe from the confines of the surface of Earth, which I can tell you from first-hand experience is always difficult. People find some ideas comforting and others disturbing, and those emotions often get in the way of the search for truth. 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.

pp 94-95.

 

Salviander also highlights the antics of the nuclear physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, who also went down the same road Eddington did.

“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.

Salviander concludes that for many people, the Biblical God is “far greater, far more mysterious and uncomfortable even than black holes. We can’t see or touch God, but as with black holes, we have reason to believe something or someone immensely powerful is there. But for many people the notion of God is even more unsettling than black holes because anything with the power to create the universe has to be vast and powerful beyond our ability to imagine.” pp 105

In the final chapter of section I, physicist Wayne R Spencer, provides a historically accurate overview of the life and work of Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe, both devout Christians, whose talents and shortcomings as human beings often complemented each other. Far from “the boot camp mentality” of Protestant theology deliberately distorted by materialists like Carl Sagan in his best-selling book, Cosmos, Spencer clearly shows that these men considered astronomical discovery to be a powerful mechanism for better understanding the character of the Creator, who established all of the physical laws of the universe at the beginning of time.

Part II of the book kicks off with a wonderful essay by the American theologian, Terry Glaspey, who explores the relationship of art with the starry cosmos. As a scientist, I personally found this chapter to be fascinating and deeply enriching, as much of the content was previously unknown to me. Glaspey writes:

If the out-of-doors is a grand natural cathedral, then the artist can invite people who stand before their work to enter that cathedral, their brush-strokes pointing like fingers toward the glory of God to be found there.” pp 133.

Glaspey explains that while early Christian art concentrated on themes derived from the gospels, during the Romantic period(roughly the first half of the 19th century), “nature was widely embraced as the language of God.” pp 135

“Wanderer Above the Sea Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich(1818).

Glaspey proceeds to highlight some of the artistic works of various artists including Caspar David Friedrich(1774-1840), Thomas Cole(1808-1848), Fred Edwin Church(1826-1900), George Watts(1817-1904) and Vincent van Gogh(1853-1890).  According to Glaspey:

“...science and art are telling the same story about the mysterious glory of the cosmos……just two different ways of seeing the same wondrous things.” pp 147

Michael Ward, a professor of apologetics and Senior Research Fellow at Oxford, presents the next chapter of the book, which takes an in-depth look at arguably one of the greatest apologists for the Christian faith in the 20th century; C. S. Lewis, whose works of fiction and non-fiction address the Christian world view in all its richness.Ward explores Lewis’ circumspect interest in the development of science but who utterly rejected the notion that science was the only system of knowledge that can convey deep truths. In other words, Lewis was an admirer of science but strongly rejected scientism.

The next and final chapter of Part II, written by Dr. Holly Ordway, a professor of English, describes some of the work of another literary giant of the 20th century, J.R.R. Tolkien, whose many works of fiction also have a strong underlying Christian theme. But in this work, Dr. Ordway places a special emphasis on Tolkien’s lesser known work, The Silmarrion, and how its language and imagery is strikingly similar to themes developed in the Bible. As Ordway claims, “The Silmarrion is in many ways very much like the Old Testament. It is written in a formal, “high” register that evokes the language of the Bible….Linguistically, then, he provides us with the familiar made strange so that the strange has the potential to become familiar.” pp 179

The final part of the book looks at scientific evidences for God’s existence. The opening chapter, written by internationlly respected apologist, Dr. William Lane Craig, takes a close look at the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo and its centrality to the Christian faith. Although Craig is not a scientist, he nonetheless shows an excellent grasp of the conceptual ideas  developed by cosmologists over the years. Prior to the discovery of the expansion of the universe, many atheist scientists considered the universe to be eternal, with no beginning and no end, but after astronomers discovered several lines of evidence supporting hot Big Bang cosmology(red shifts of the galaxies, the cosmic microwave background radiation and the ratio of hydrogen to helium abundances that emerge naturally from hot Big Bang models), they were faced with the uncomfortable prospect(philosophically repugnant?) that the universe had a finite age, exactly as the opening line of the Book of Genesis claimed all along:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1

Lane Craig explains that attempts by atheist cosmologists like Lawrence Krauss to explain away the beginning, has been summarily rejected on both scientific and philosophic grounds. In his provocatively titled book, A Universe from Nothing, Krauss has a very odd idea of what ‘nothing’ entails, such that it is easy to see that the ‘nothing’ Krauss tries to pull over his readers’ eyes is actually something, whether it be a quantum field or some such. Indeed, Dr. Lane Craig, in perusing the many reviews of Krauss’ book, quotes the opinion of the distinguished philosopher of quantum physics, David Albert, who had the following to say regarding Krauss’ nothingness:

“….vacuum states are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff…the fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings….amount to anything in the neighborhood of creation from nothing…” pp 197

Indeed Albert concludes that “Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophic critics are absolutely right.”

So much for a universe made out of nothing!

The next chapter, wriiten by physicists Dr. Luke Barnes and Allen Hainline, is particularly embarrassing for the High Priest of Darwinian pseudoscience, Richard Dawkins, who famously quipped:

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.

Barnes and Hainline walk us through the overwhelming evidence for fine-tuning evident at every scale from the sub-atomic world right up to the realm of the galaxies. Showcasing the various values assigned to the physical constants of physics, they show that only a very narrow range of those values are compatabile with life as we understand it. And those who wish to embrace the highly speculative ‘multiverse,’ must also concede that it too cannot avoid the issue of fine tuning.  Eventhough the authors do not bring God into the picture, their assessment of Dawkin’s bold assertion is clearly stated in their conclusion:

“This claim is false. A universe with, at bottom, no design and no purpose would be dead. Almost certainly. No structure, no useful energy, no galaxies, no stars, no planets, no chemistry, no complexity. Instead, as we look around us, we find a universe with something good at bottom: the capacity for life.” pp 219

 

The last chapter of the this section, composed by philosopher and Christian apologist, Paul M. Gould, describes the cumulative crisis in atheist material thinking as a kind of intellectual poverty that is dead to all that is beautiful, meaningful and awe-inspiring. In discussing what it means to be a being made in the image and likeness of its Creator, there are very strong motivations, Gould argues, to return to the “older, God-bathed and God-infused way of looking at the world.” More specifically, he argues that in order to be see the world accurately, we need to see it as it’s Creator(Jesus Christ) did.

“How does Jesus see reality? ” he asks, “As sacred. As a gift. As enchanted,” he asserts.

In perusing the writings of the other contributors to this book, Gould makes a persuasive case for believing that the physical attributes of this vast universe are such that they allow not only for human existence, but also for the flourishing of our kind as well as the other life-forms that inhabit our planet. He writes:

“A flourishing life is one in which the full assortment of natural capacities are activated, employed, and perfected. Plants have nutritive and growth capacities and a flourishing plant actualizes these capacities to realize its own good…..When it comes to humans we find a full panoply of capacities (in addition to growth and sensing) for reasoning, imagining, relating, acting, creating, moralizing, judging and more.Many of our capacities are not needed, at least not obviously, to the extent(in range and depth) for mere survival. yet we find those capacities present in us along with the general possibility of their actualization.” pp 230

Gould uses this line of reasoning as a platform to reject methodological naturalism in favour of theism. He continues:

“The following argument from fittingness helps us see the rational preferability  of theism to naturalism;

1. The fact that the universe is finely-tuned for the existence and flourishing of humans is not surprising given theism.

2. The fact that the universe is finely-tuned for the existence and flourishing of humans is surprising given naturalism.

3. Therefore, it is probable that theism is true.”

pp 232

In contrast, Gould considers evolutionary explanations for human flourishing as shallow at best and ill-thought through at worst. What is more, Gould asks a pertinent question:

“How can we recapture the Platonic-Aristotelian-Christian way of looking at things?”  pp232

Gould finds his answer in the revolutionary writings of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians:

“Paul helps us imaginatively understand the meaning of the universe. The hope of eternal life is pictured for us every day and night as we look around and see the immensity , beauty, diversity, and fittingness of creation. Just as the earthly and heavenly bodies each have their own splendor, so too(by analogy) will our imperishable bodies. Importantly, notice that the heavenly bodies – the Moon, the planets, the stars -perform for us a sacred duty, helping us to imagine a deep mystery, the mystery of our future ressurection in Christ.” pp 233.

Gould urges the reader to see the universe as God intended us to see it. All of reality is part of what Gould calls “God’s unfolding drama…. a drama in which everything fits together in order to display the manifold wisdom, goodness, and power of God, who is, “all in all“. pp 233.

The Story of the Cosmos ends with an afterword by Daniel Ray. The full glory of the night sky is the last great frontier which has been drowned out by light pollution from human designed cities. As a result the majority of people alive today never really see the full majesty of the stellar universe like our ancestors did. Ray suggests that we need to re-connect with this great wilderness in the sky in order to begin a journey back to our rightful place as the stewards of God’s creation. Watching the stars does not necessarily mean buying a telescope or any other optical device; we can use the eyes God gave us to watch the stars as they wheel across the vault of heaven. Like our forebears, we can study the stars to mark the progress of time and the march of the seasons, just as our Creator intended us to do.

The Scriptures quoted in the main text.

It was a great pleasure to read this beautifully composed work of Christian literature. It is thought-provoking, reverent and inspiring, with great apologetic appeal. In an insane world, where everything we once considered good and noble is being overturned by narcissistic, immoral, godless and aggressive secularists pulling the strings of government and poisoning the minds of our young people, The Story of the Cosmos is a refreshing oasis for the human soul, waiting patiently for the return of our Lord & Saviour, Jesus Christ.

 

Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy.

 

 

De Fideli.

 

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