2nd Sunday before Lent, 3rd February, St Mary’s, Evening

Sermon on Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 & Matthew 6:25 to the end

There’s an old hypothetical experiment that you sometimes hear about. Take a chimpanzee and take a typewriter. Typewriters are a bit old-fashioned these days but never mind. Sit the chimpanzee in front of the typewriter. Imagine that the chimpanzee starts to bash the keys on the typewriter.

Let’s assume that the chimpanzee hits a key cleanly every second. That would never happen in reality but we make the assumption. How long would it take for the chimpanzee to type something intelligible in English – say to be or not to be, that is the question. That’s 40 characters including spaces and punctuation.

By such random processes I’ve heard it said that it would take the current age of the universe – about 14 billion years – for the chimpanzee to produce that quote from Hamlet. So how long would it take for him – or her – to type the whole play? One answer is: an awfully long time. I’m no statistician but I suspect that the chimp would never produce Hamlet, however many billions of years were available.

To produce Hamlet you need to have a mind. Certainly, if you read Hamlet and had never heard of Shakespeare, the most reasonable assumption would be that a mind produced it and not a chimpanzee with a typewriter. Of course the chimpanzee has a mind but not one competent to that particular task. The chimp in this mental exercise is just a symbol for the forces of blind chance.

Hamlet is a product of great complexity. How much more so is a universe! Indeed, Hamlet is a tiny fraction of the universe. You can no doubt see where I’m going with this. Just as for Hamlet, the most reasonable explanation for the mind-boggling yet ordered complexity of the universe is that it is the creation of a mind. And not the product of chance. That mind, of course, we call God.

As far as I can see, apart from absolute blind chance God is the only show in town.

And don’t forget this also. Before the universe is created there is no typewriter and no chimpanzee – no subatomic particles, no laws of nature, no space, no time. There’s nothing – not even chance itself. Only complete non-being.

Atheism seems to be gaining ground inexorably in our culture. No doubt people have reasons – sometimes, at least – for being atheists. It’s not as if the arguments are all on one side but in my view the atheist has to answer several fundamental questions. Take, for example, these four:

First, the old one, why is there something rather than nothing. To quote another Shakespeare play, King Lear says to Cordelia, when she doesn’t express her love for him as fulsomely as he would like: ‘Nothing shall come of nothing’. Nothing doesn’t, can’t create anything.

You do sometimes hear physicists talk about things being created out of nothing but, typically, they mean out of a vacuum. But a vacuum isn’t nothing. It exists in space and time and is seething with energies and fields.

Secondly, why is the universe ordered. As far as we can tell, the laws of nature (if we want to call them laws) hold good everywhere in the universe. They are also susceptible to rational investigation. That’s what makes science possible. I find it difficult to see how the forces of blind and absolute chance could be responsible for such order – especially given the complexity of the physical world. Like the chimpanzee chance could only produce chaos – or very small pockets of apparent order, as in the quote from Hamlet.

Thirdly, the world is beautiful. Look at the night sky on a clear night somewhere well away from any source of light pollution. There are any number of beautiful things in the world. I believe there is such a thing as objective beauty. Take music, for instance. How could chance endow matter with that particular ability?

But not only that, scientists say that the equations that describe what goes on in nature are elegant and aesthetically satisfying. It’s hard to see how the forces of blind chance could have produced those or, rather, the reality that they reflect.

And fourthly, why has the universe turned out to be so fertile, ultimately being able to produce life-forms such as ourselves and the millions of other species on our planet? In the first moments after the big bang there weren’t even any atoms in existence. If you’d been around at the time, you could never for one moment have predicted what the universe would prove itself capable of.

Well, those are just some of the factors that lead me for one to believe that the God hypothesis is not unreasonable – that it is indeed highly compelling.

But the universe isn’t just a physical phenomenon. It’s a moral phenomenon as well. That’s why God looks at his creation and sees that it is very good – not just ordered or beautiful or fertile or exactly what he wanted to create but good with all that word’s connotations – ultimately an arena where the force of love, not the force of chance, is able to play the decisive role.

Matter is more than just matter. And we see that in our second reading. It’s not that matter is unimportant, that the material side of our lives is trivial. Food, drink, clothing etc, Jesus says they matter a great deal, and that God knows that they matter.

It’s not that we shouldn’t spend time earning a living, or growing food, or darning our socks, but they’re not the be all and end all of our living. Above all we are to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Everything else is subservient to that primary task.

The kingdom of God and God’s righteousness is to love God and to love our neighbour. And that’s why the universe is ultimately a moral universe. It’s the arena that God has created in which we are able to learn how to love.

 

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