astronomy Belief in God Biblical morality Cosmology Creation/evolution Meaning of life Physics Science

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself? Part 1

Part 1 of my review of the book: “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself,” by Sean M. Carroll a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, and an outspoken atheist (not to be confused with Sean B. Carroll, an evolutionary biologist). The book was the winner of the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.

Front cover of book. Published by Oneworld Publications, London, 2016, 470 pages.

On the inside book cover these questions are written:

Where are we? Who are we? Do our beliefs, hopes and dreams mean anything out there in the void? Can human purpose and meaning ever fit into a scientific worldview?

Carroll’s message in this book is that there is no ultimate purpose, we are only the product of matter and material forces, there is no meaning to life, there is no afterlife and meaning and purpose do not fit into any scientific worldview. But the author tries to dress it up saying that it’s what you put into your life that counts. Beauty is found in the observer. But he cannot escape his own bondage because his worldview ultimately does not allow for intrinsic meaning or purpose. He is just dead in the end.

There is nothing new in this book but a lot of atheistic philosophy stemming from Enlightenment philosopher David Hume. The author uses circular reasoning and begging the question. By assuming there is no Creator because He is not needed in the universe, to cause it or operate within it, and by assuming everything in the past evolution of the universe and life in it is explained by man’s current knowledge (Darwinian evolution by mutation and natural selection) then everything can be explained how it came to be. The Universe needs no reason to exist. It simply is. Life needs no reason, it simply is. There was nothing before time began in the big bang so no question can be asked what was before? There is no First Cause because either the universe came into the existence with the beginning of time itself, or, time is fundamental and always existed so from it and the laws of physics the universe spontaneously arose from some quantum fluctuation. Now that we are smarter we have come to understand this true fact.

He talks of methodological empiricism as the correct way to learn the truth about the universe but he offers no direct empirical evidence for the origin of the universe in a big bang, or for the initial alleged low entropy state it started in, or for the spontaneous origin of life by random chance, or for the alleged Darwinian evolution of living organisms by natural selection over eons of history. We are essentially asked to just believe these as given facts as much as the author seems to. Only he offers up stories to justify his beliefs. As a book alleged to give the Big Picture of the Universe and all life in it, it fails on the very premise the author sets out to use—direct observation of the world to discover the truth.

To the best I my knowledge, and I have read every word, nowhere in this book is Jesus Christ mentioned. God is mentioned but never the name of Jesus. In terms of being an influential thinker, Jesus Christ is probably the single most influential. Considering that, then in a book ostensibly on the meaning of life and the universe, you would think He would merit a mention.

In the last chapter the author describes his own Christian experience of attending an Episcopal church—a “brand of Episcopalianism … as mellow as churchgoing gets.” There he describes his transformation from being a ‘casual believer’ to naturalism. He writes of two incidents that converted him.

One was his realisation that the liturgy of his church was not decided by God when it was rearranged so that there was less standing and kneeling. Yet he says at that point he was still a believer.

Then he attended a Catholic University as an undergraduate astronomy major. From that education he understood how the universe worked, presumably being taught from a big bang evolution worldview and not from a biblical creation perspective. The Catholic education is atheistic at its core. The only difference is they teach Roman Catholic theology and ethics.

But from his own writings, it is clear that Carroll never knew Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. He never understood what Christ had done on the cross nor its links to the events of the historical creation account in the Garden of Eden. He was a professing believer in name only who gave up that label after he heard a song with an atheist message “Don’t need the word/Now that you’ve heard/Don’t be afraid/Man is man-made.” From that time on he realised it was ok to be a non-believer.

The irony is two-fold. One, he never believed as a real Christian–a transformed life in Christ. Maybe he believed on the level of believing some story as history. (I even know an atheist who calls himself a Christian—culturally he sees himself that way.) Secondly, Carroll now thinks he is a non-believer, but actually he just shifted his faith over to another belief system.  And that belief system is squarely where Satan would have the whole world. If he can get you to believe that the universe created itself he can get you to deny Christ and the One who died for the sins of the world.

But this story highlights the importance of teaching our children and students the whole truth about big bang cosmic evolution, abiogenesis (naturalistic origin of life from chemicals) and Darwinian evolution, the goo-to-you type that allegedly built microbiologists out of microbes over 4 billion years.

Click here for Part 2 of this review.

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By John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.