The first episode of the much-heralded ‘Blue Planet II’ was broadcast on Sunday night. With stunning photography and David Attenborough’s seductive commentary it makes for compelling viewing.
On Sunday last we learned about the intelligent dolphins, surfing together simply for the joy of doing so; of a fish capable of using tools, by smashing clams repeatedly against a rock to release the meat inside the stubborn shell; of female walruses protecting their offspring from predatory polar bears, and searching for a safe resting place on the diminishing ice-floes.
Modern scientists, discovering the untold secrets of the deep, or the immensities of space, never seem publicly to ask themselves the question which perplexed the Hebrew Psalmist.
Almost three thousand years ago, he surveyed the night sky, and wondered what place man had in God’s plan. He wrote, ‘When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him/(Psalm 8;3,4). He then went on to answer his own question, by stating that man has been made ‘just a little lower than the angels.’(vs 5); but first there was the haunting feeling that humankind was insignificant in the great scheme of things.
The wonder of the universe provokes another question. How did all this come into being? The Bible never grappled with that question, but most scientists, it appears, seem to go along with some formulation of a ‘big bang’ theory. The Bible does give an answer to the question, ‘Who brought his world into being?’ The opening words of Genesis goes straight to the point; ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ After all, there had to be someone to light the blue touch paper for the ‘Big bang!’
We humans long for order and purpose and understanding. To say, as some do, that human life is merely the coming together of a random collocation of atoms, is like saying that the English Oxford dictionary came about through an explosion in a printing works. The heart rebels against the idea of such a meaningless and fortuitous existence.
The American preacher Harry Fosdick once told of a friend of his who confessed that the most moving religious experience he ever had was not in a church---which he rarely attended---but in a planetarium, where before his eyes was unrolled the spectacle of the universe in its unity, order, simplicity and intelligibility. ‘Man’ he said to Fosdick, ‘the word ‘chance’ doesn’t fit in. There is a mind in that.’