Cosmology and creation
THE Universe owes its origin and continued existence to the will of God. This is fundamental to biblical theology.
Stating this, astrophysicist David Wilkinson added that the God revealed in Jesus is the creator and sustainer of heaven and earth.
For contemporary theology this raises a number of questions for an understanding of the nature of creation, the dialogue between science and theology, and the content and practice of apologetics.
Dr Wilkinson, Fellow in Christian Apologetics and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, as well as a Methodist minister, was speaking at The Third Place, Hope Centre, in Outram Road, on Jan 30. More than 100 people were treated to an engaging talk on “Science and the Christian faith” and a lively Question-and-Answer session. The talk was organised by Trinity Annual Conference of The Methodist Church in Singapore.
As a theologian and scientist, Dr Wilkinson brought a refreshing perspective to questions that addressed tensions between religion and scientific inquiries.
He said that within the scientific community, it was generally agreed that the origin of the Universe was well described by the model of the hot Big Bang, with the Universe expanding from a singularity some 15 billion years ago.
But no scientific model is without its problems, and the Big Bang leaves certain questions unanswered — questions such as the age of the Universe and the nature of the dark matter which is necessary for galaxy formation are at present unresolved.
However, the model of the Big Bang has led to various theological responses. They represent various ways of understanding the creation, and in particular, understanding the Creator.
Dr Wilkinson, who peppered the serious topic with wit and humour, illustrated the talk early on with a visual presentation to show the supremacy of God and the smallness of man and his Earth. “There are billions of stars out there, but there is only one God, one Creator,” he said.
Noting that “God is bigger than time and space as we can understand it”, he said “God’s purpose goes beyond this universe”.
A number of important themes could be gleaned from the Bible, he said. “First, the Bible is rarely interested in cosmology for its own sake. The biblical teaching about creation is located in passages which are concerned with other issues such as worship, Christology and salvation. In Colossians Paul is concerned to communicate the supremacy of Jesus.
“Second, the creator God is revealed in Jesus who is the image of the invisible God. There may be some knowledge of God from the order or beauty of the Universe itself but if we want to know the Creator we need Jesus.
“Third, at the heart of creation is Jesus Christ.
“Finally, Jesus has no competitors in creation.” Paul made a point of listing all the power structures of the Universe.
Dr Wilkinson pointed out that although “all Christians agree that God is the source and sustainer of the whole Universe, there is disagreement on how he does it”.
Within the Christian community itself there is a significant opinion that an acceptance of the Big Bang immediately denies the existence of a creator God. From this position various scientific and theological arguments are put up against the Big Bang. These include pointing out scientific gaps in the Big Bang model; arguments for an age of the Universe in thousands rather than billions of years; the authority of Scripture means that we have to accept that the Big Bang is wrong; and God is more likely to create in seven days rather than over billions of years.
The evangelical community, Dr Wilkinson said, needed to acknowledge diversity on this issue, with believers equally committed to the authority of the Bible both agreeing and disagreeing with the Big Bang. “The scientific model is to be held together with the theological truth that the whole creation owes its existence to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Both are needed to fully understand the origin of the universe.”
Dr Wilkinson also touched on a new aspect of the cosmology debate which has developed following the popularity of Professor Stephen Hawking’s book, “A Brief History of Time”. It generated some discussion, especially among the young people in the audience.
Not only did the audience had a field day, but staff of the Methodist Book Room, including its General Manager, Mr Andrew Tan, also had a good evening with all of Dr Wilkinson’s books snapped up in no time. After his talk, Dr Wilkinson found himself surrounded by autograph hunters, and he readily signed on their prized books.
Dr Wilkinson was the keynote speaker at the 18th World Methodist Conference held in Brighton, England, from July 25 to 31 last year.