This series on Sunday evenings has been based on the premise that, if it wasn’t God who produced life, what did? And how did the forms in which we now encounter life come about?
And an amazing programme it is too. I didn’t see yesterday’s but he first two were extraordinary. Simply the variety of life forms let alone the exquisite beauty of most. Even the supposedly ugly ones – like the giant catfish we saw being cuddled (!) last week – take on a unique splendour when we recognise why they are as they are.
So – brilliant, amazing, breath-taking: all the far-out adjectives apply. And Professor Cox, although a professional student of physics, recognises how all the other paths of scientific knowledge work together. So we get a rich and satisfying picture of the universe we occupy.
All good then?
Pretty much. I find the constant emphasis on evolution a little unnecessary. Evolution is a good working theory but I’m not sure that you can deduce that – because one species shares a high or even middling percentage of the DNA of another species – one has therefore developed from the other.
Unless, of course, you dismiss any other source of life than that of physical and chemical laws working with inexorable logic. It seems to me that you have to start with the premise that God does not or cannot exist. Then you say ‘That being so, what else would explain the evidence we have?’ Then you get evolution or extra-terrestrials or more bizarre alternatives.
Leaving that controversy aside, what does this programme – this scientific approach – not tell about the creation of which we are such a key part?
It doesn’t tell me how to live in it. It doesn’t tell me how to relate. With wonder, yes. With a thrill, with a sense of awe – quite probably. But that’s only when I’m looking at the colour-changes of an octopus or understanding how a fish ‘sees’ all around it in the dark (by taste, apparently). How does it help the way I react to the dulling pressure of unemployment? Or news that I may have a life-threatening illness? How does any of this God-less view of life help me – as a man – to understand, appreciate and, probably, marvel at that phenomenon called woman? I’m told that, as a human being, I too am a ‘wonder of life’. But I don’t live my life as successfully as even a may-fly or a mantis shrimp. Why not? If I’ve evolved from or alongside all these other life-forms, why is it that I don’t seem to be able to live right?
God actually give us some direct help from nature. In one psalm (19), the writer says that by studying nature we get an idea of how God designs things – so that they work perfectly. The wonders that we study don’t have an audible voice but their ‘message’ – about the relationship between energy and design, for example, about how they exist in dynamic harmony – is there for us to read and to learn from. But then the writer says ‘And the really amazing thing is that God has written down everything that we need for living right. We just have to follow His instructions.’
The writer knows that humans do mess up. That we don’t live right in this world. That we damage these ‘wonders of life’ including each other. So he finishes by saying to God, ‘Deliberate wrong-doing is bad enough but cleanse me from my hidden faults, that I don’t even know about let alone want. Don’t let them control me.’
Seeing someone, after a life of fear, living at peace, free from their demons – that’s amazing. That’s a wonder.
Jesus comes to do just that.
By Nigel O’Dwyer, who leads Goring New Life Church, and lives and works in Worthing.