God or nothing

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) The Mystical Nativity (c.1500-1501)

Christmas is wonderful because it confirms a childlike cosmology.

By Gary Scarrabelotti

Christmas is about God or nothing.

The phrase “God or nothing” hit me as I visited a vast shopping mall the other day in search of a mobile phone repairer.

The mall is the cathedral of our times. The antithesis of a cathedral built to the honour and glory of God, the shopping mall has no architectural centre.

(Or could it be the food court?)

The place roared and blazed and teemed.

“Oblivion,” the thought checked in at front of mind.

Business done after an hour or so, I felt giddy. I had to leave, and fast.

“Sound and fury, signifying nothing,” occurred to me as I descended the escalator to the carpark.

Sniffing the air  

Well, why not nothing? Seems like an option.

Then, in one of those unaccountable juxtapositions, as I paid the car park fee, “Big bang cosmology” jumped to the head of the thought queue.

Well, yes, if you believe that.  Existence, in that case, is an inexplicable fact – a monumental accident: remarkable; against all probability; therefore incomprehensible and meaningless. Opiates may help.

I first heard of the Belgian Catholic priest, Mons. George Lemaître, the father of big bang theory, during the last two years of high school.

Despite the fact that I did well in my final physics exam – not to be repeated thereafter – I did not understand the course I had sat through and I did not believe the theories of Lemaître, Hubble, and Einstein to which, among others, our teacher had introduced us.

I don’t say that I rejected Lemaître, Hubble and Einstein on hard scientific grounds. I couldn’t have done that.  I didn’t have “the science”. Rather, I suspended judgement, permanently. It was no more than animal instinct: the “smell test”; the whiff of danger on the wind.  Normally it’s a test applied by “the mob” to politicians come spruiking remedies to the human condition. But I reckoned it worked with scientist spruikers just as well.

Give you an example:  I remember how, back in those far off schoolroom days, something really set the beastly olfactories on edge, and that was Einstein’s claim that mass increased as speed increased. 

Sniff, snort, growl!

Non-starter Beginning

Anyhow, Lemaître, also failed to come up roses.  He held that there had been a “cosmic egg” – which may have been of God’s making, though I’ve never been sure on that point – and it exploded. 

Voilà!

Lemaitre was trying to reconcile the Bible with the “discovery” by Edwin Hubble of an expanding universe: red shift and all that.

To my mind, far from squaring Genesis with Hubble, Lemaitre actually blew it apart.  Subsequently his “cosmic egg” disappeared from big bang theory and its later adherents adopted a strict materialist dogma: It happened; nothing more to add.

Well, that just didn’t pass muster.

A very strange explosion, this big bang: all craft, all fecundity, all wonderful.

Explosions blow out and up and, by their nature tear things apart.  Then they collapse back in on themselves leaving ruin behind.  The Universe, however, looked to me as if it was neither being torn apart nor collapsing back in upon itself. Of course, I was no Edwin Hubble and lacked his telescope, but when I looked up into the sky, I saw no signs of an explosion but everything spoke of stately order and beauty. A very strange explosion, this big bang: all craft, all fecundity, all wonderful.

In any case, I reasoned, things don’t begin from nothing.  If the beginning was an explosion, then it needed matter and a set of conditions conducive to that explosion.  Without the matter, without the conditions, no big bang: a school boy could see that.

So the matter and the requisite conditions must have existed ‘before’ the explosion.  A big bang, therefore, could not have been the Beginning. There was something else, in the chain of causality, prior to the explosion. And how did that something else arise?  By popping into existence?  Does something come from nothing after all?  Great astronomers and physicists, possibly even churchmen, may believe so; but not this school kid.  Big bang theory explained the Beginning by coming up with a non-starter.  I went on to university and failed first year applied physics.  I was never going to make a career in the sciences.  It was a sobering experience. I closed the science books but preserved the front line intellectual defences supplied by a nose.

Some will scoff. But I feel grateful to the proboscis. It has preserved me in a more childlike Theory of Things than that of the Father Lemaîtres of this world.

Christmas by Design

“OK, so are you going to get to Christmas?” the impatient reader asks.

Well, the Argument from Design has always seemed to me the most compelling argument for the existence of God.  That is to say, the evidence in things of having been made to a plan argues for a Planner.  And, by extension, the most compelling argument for St John’s assertion that “God is Love” (1 John 4:8) arises from the astonishing beauty everywhere to be found in nature.  The palpable presence of this beauty, manifest at every turn in the grand Design, argues for a Creator who loved his conception of things into being. Only Love could have done this.

This is why Christmas is so wonderful: because the Creator Lover entered into his World at a precise time and place and He did so in order to repair his handy work fallen into terrible disrepair thanks to you and me and our ancestors – dangerous creatures because our disordered powers echo those of the perfectly serene Creator God.

That’s why you find these things in every image of the Nativity: Love, joy in its presence among us, and jubilation at a rescue begun.

Glória in excélsis Deo: et in terra pax homínibus bonæ voluntátis!

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