Sorry for the hiatus in posting… I’m still recovering from turning 38 at the weekend. 😉
This post is therefore a little out of date now, but when you’re talking about the Universe and Deep Time who’s counting a few days? (Or even 38 years for that matter.)
Wonders versus Secrets
So while I’m still kind of on the subject of recent BBC factual series that have sadly expired on iPlayer, what did anyone else make of Prof. Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe? I only managed to catch the last episode, ‘Destiny’, before the whole series was whisked away into cyber-oblivion.
It seemed to me that Wonders of the Universe was a bit of a Yin to the Yang of Bible’s Buried Secrets. Where I suspect BBS had men with little interest in the Bible tuning in to appreciate Francesca, WOTU probably had a similar effect on those of the opposite gender with only a passing interest in the laws of thermodynamics. BBS delved into the obscure secrets of biblical archaeology and textual criticism, while WOTU uncovered the secrets of cosmology and the laws of nature. BBS attempted to subject some of religion’s big ideas to scientific-style analysis, thus often reducing them to merely interesting discussion points; WOTU dealt with the big questions of existence, also from a strictly scientific point of view, but with a reverence bordering on the religious. Both, however, had little or no room in the picture for an actual God.
I only managed to catch a single full episode of each, but I found Wonders of the Universe far more interesting – and also strangely far more challenging to my faith – than Bible’s Buried Secrets. Sorry Francesca.
The End of Everything: Entropy Wins
I felt strangely depressed after watching WOTU #4: ‘Destiny’, and not only because of Mr ex-D:Reem’s enviably youthful charm and intelligence. The overall message of the programme was that Entropy Wins, or as novelist Chinua Achebe puts it ‘Things Fall Apart’. In the end, in trillions upon trillions of years time, and in an ironic reversal of Genesis 1, the universe will be utter darkness, formless chaos and barren, empty void into which no light will ever shine again and no life be born. Time itself will end because there will be no more change, no more march of events. This is the Utter End. Forever and ever, amen. Revelation 21-22 it ain’t.
In the face of this apparently bleak (if unimaginably distant) future, Brian Cox’s small message of cheer was that Now, though just a millisecond in Deep Time, is an amazing time to live. We humans are privileged above all for we are the self-consciousness of the Universe, the only means by which the Universe can know and study and understand itself.
I suppose there is some sense of significance and comfort in this, but it’s not exactly a long-term hope; and for me the cheer is massively dwarfed and overshadowed by the unimaginable endless aeons of utter blackness and chaos that surround the infinitesimal eyeblink of human history.
It reminds me a little of Philip Pullman’s secular picture of the afterlife in The Amber Spyglass, where we don’t live on spiritually but our component molecules disperse to become part of the wider universe, shining in rainbows and sparkling in dewdrops. All very nice, but he omits to mention that some of our molecules will doubtless end up in less poetic locations – perhaps turds or cancer cells – and that in any case in his vision we’ll have absolutely no consciousness of what happens to our bits anyway.
But Love trumps entropy
Of course, to an extent Cox is right. In the physical realm, left to itself, entropy does win. Things do fall apart and tend towards disorder. Dust returns to dust, darkness to darkness, chaos to chaos. Nothing composed solely of matter and energy will last forever. The flesh, the physical nature, cannot of itself inherit eternal life.
Does that mean then that Rob Bell is wrong to say that ‘Love wins’? I believe not, for Love is not merely a phenomenon or arrangement of physical matter and energy. As I suggested in my theism post, the universe has reality, meaning and significance that are deeper than, more than, the configuration of its physical components and which outlive the collapse into chaos of those components. We have reality, meaning and significance that outlive our physical decay. Love – or Christ who is Love – is more real than material reality. Love trumps Entropy.
The old Narnia and the new
In C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle, the children watch with sorrow as the old, beloved Narnia dies; stars fall from the sky, a giant hand squeezes out the sun; utter darkness falls, and with it utter cold.
But then Aslan opens a door into the new Narnia, the eternal and renewed Narnia, of which the old Narnia was only the shadowlands, the preparation, the chrysalis.
It’s easy to see this as false hope, as cheap delusional comfort in the face of the terrible endless darkness of entropy’s triumph. But it’s the hope of the Resurrection, the hope of Revelation 21, the hope of the coming Kingdom; the hope of the Love and Life that conquer death and destruction. It’s my hope.
- Bible’s buried secrets?
- Rob Bell – Love Wins
- Atheism/agnosticism 3: Theism best of all (part ii)
- Atheism/agnosticism 3: Theism best of all (part i)