DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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Questions

Two contributors present brief essays in response to some perennial questions. Each writes independently of the other. One comes from a person closely linked to a Christian denomination. The other comes from a person at the fringes of the traditional Church.

5. Did God create the universe?
T
his is one of the great questions of life - though it must be said that most people today probably leave out the "God" part. They ask instead something like, "Is there ultimate meaning to the universe?" or "Is the universe purposeful?"

We may enquire about the origin of everything in an abstract way, but what we're really wondering is whether our lives are significant. We are each but one of billions of souls. In terms of the vast stretches of time since the universe began, and of the apparently endless ages still to come, our years occupy the briefest of moments. Our planet is but a tiny speck of dust in dark reaches of space. Are we of any importance in the greater scheme of things?

And so we turn to examine the universe. Evidence indicates overwhelmingly that it began with an event we call the Big Bang. There is no point in asking "What came before that?" because the event brought the space/time dimension into being. That is, no "before" could precede the Big Bang. and there is no "outside" to the universe. The universe is time and space.

A person or force preceding the universe can only be spoken about by analogy. Some say that what came "before" the Big Bang from "outside" the universe is a person-like being who intended us to evolve as we have. We are, therefore we must have been caused.

But we don't and can't know what "caused" the universe because the very notion of cause and effect belongs to the way we perceive things. It's not a property of the universe but construction which helps us understand the universe as a coherent system. For example, we can no more say that a combination of hydrogen and oxygen atoms causes water. It just is that way.

Moreover, that I "cause" water to boil is a way of connecting steam with the act of turning the kettle on. What caused the kettle to boil? My finger on the switch? Or generators at a power station? Or trees which became coal? And ultimately a creator God who caused the universe?  

Similarly, the universe just is. Yes, we can know something about why we are alive. But we can't find a first cause for that, except that such things happen when this particular universe exists. We can tell that this comes before that in a chain of cause and effect. But the complete system of cause and effect is beyond our grasp and will always be - for it is too complex to be described.

Be that as it may, I suggest that although it is possible to construct a concept of "before" and an "outside" in relation to the universe, that sort of abstraction is useless. If so, it follows that ultimate meaning (that which fills the otherwise empty word "God") is to be discovered in life, not in any answer to the question posed about how the universe began.

Logical argument about the creation of the universe demonstrates only  that we are finite, unable to know anything greater than ourselves or anything other than this universe and the world of which we are part.
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We live in a world of cause and effect. Every phenomenon in the material universe can be disassembled and attributed to some antecedent event. The Big Bang is thought to have caused the creation of galaxies composed of materials from nuclear reactions. From these came organic compounds that led to animate life evolving to Homo Sapiens. There is a continuous stream of cause and effect.

All disease can be attributed to some cause or an inherited predisposition. Some may not be currently known but scientists operate by investigating patterns of cause and effect under the assurance that with time all diseases will be understood.

Thus, the idea of cause and effect is pervasive in human thinking. In fact it is heretical in the scientific world not to invoke cause and effect in research.

If we use the Big Bang theory as the model for the creation of all reality in time and space it seems not unreasonable to ask, "Who or what caused the Big Bang?" It is at this fleeting starting point most scientists plead complete ignorance and suspend their previous reliance on the principle of cause and effect. In other words, at the instant of the primordial explosion, reason was created. Nothing went before it. There was an uncaused cause.

It seems to me that God-believers and scientists have a common meeting ground in the uncaused cause. It is simply logical to recognize it as such. Most scientists reject the idea that the uncaused cause has a special relationship to individual humans. If they believe in the uncaused cause at all, most would say it has neither special relevance to individual human beings nor any conscious concern for the universe that was caused. Or some would say there is no uncaused cause.

According to the scientist, cause and effect began at the instant of the Big Bang but there was no antecedent cause; it was purely a random event. But suddenly, a nanosecond or less after the Bang, cause and effect began.

Maybe this is a tortuous and impossible semantic argument. Nonetheless, it can be argued that at the instant of the Big Bang the basis of reason was established. A nanosecond or less before that, the basis of faith was created in the form of the uncaused cause. It is the uncaused cause that believers in a non-material reality consider to be God.

At the fleeting instant of the Big Bang a point of choice occurs. Many things may influence a person�s choice to adhere to either a purely materialist view of reality or to a coexistent non-material world. There is no way to settle the question to the satisfaction of all. How one chooses either world view is one of the enduring mysteries of life. As for me, God is the uncaused cause and, therefore, he created the universe.

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