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Are we all alone in the universe? That’s the enduring question at the heart of Carl Sagan’s “Contact”. It’s one of my favourite films and tells the story of the young scientist Ellie Arroway. While growing up, she and her father built a radio set and played a game to see how far they could send and receive messages. In a moving scene, after the sudden death of her father and his funeral, young Ellie turns on the radio set and starts sending messages: “Dad can you hear me?” But no message comes. Years later, Dr Arroway is still listening to radio transmissions, but this time from distant space as part of the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project. Although she is a sceptic about the existence of the supernatural (God) she is open to the existence of the extra-terrestrial (aliens). The rest of the story explores how her life is turned upside down when she meets a man of faith who believes in God, and receives a message that potentially comes from another planet.
There are a lot of Dr Arroways in our world today, who believe that we live in a self-existing, self-contained, closed universe of eternal matter and energy. However, sometimes they can’t help but feel something is missing – as Sagan wrote: “The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, it seems like an awful waste of space”.
However, what if the wonders and vastness of the universe point beyond themselves to something –Someone – else? That’s why a Hebrew poet once wrote: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1).
It was reported that when the first Russian cosmonaut returned to earth he testified that atheism was confirmed, because he had not found God in space. In response, the Christian intellectual C.S. Lewis wrote a letter that argued the universe isn’t a house where God lives in the attic and we have to climb upstairs to find him. Instead, the universe is more like a play – and its characters can only know about details about the playwright to the extent he writes them into the play itself. Therefore, the reason we can know God exists is because God has written himself into the drama of human history. The Creator has made Himself known within His creation. All of history was split into two by His coming into the world: BC and AD. We don’t have to look and listen to the stars, because we have already been contacted on this planet!
There are three main periods of history when the supernatural has broken into this world in miracles which demonstrated and corroborated God’s messages: the time of Moses, the time of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, and the time of Jesus. You may object: that was a long time ago – people back then were superstitious and didn’t have the benefits of scientific understanding, so may have misinterpreted natural occurrences as supernatural ones. However, they also weren’t stupid! They sat up and paid attention when they saw the miraculous, because they knew that such things did not happen ordinarily! Today, following in the footsteps of the sceptic philosopher David Hume, many would say that miracles are unlikely because they break the laws of nature. There are three responses to that.
Firstly, the very existence of natural laws should make us consider the existence of a supernatural law-giver. Secondly, the law of gravity means that if I drop an apple for a height then it will fall to the ground. But if I reach out my hand to catch the apple, then I have not broken the natural law, rather I have intervened. Thirdly, if you believe in a closed universe governed by natural laws, then miracles will seem implausible and impossible because you have already assumed that there is nothing and no-one beyond the universe who can intervene. However, that belief is not based on objective science but personal faith. If we are truly open minded, then we must be willing to subject that belief to scrutiny in the light of other historical evidence, and follow that evidence wherever it leads. You cannot put those historical events into a test-tube or conduct repeated experiments on it for peer review – but you can listen to the eyewitness testimony of those who knew Jesus Christ.
John was one of the eyewitnesses to the historical life and work of Jesus Christ. John goes on to record seven pieces of evidence, seven demonstrations of Jesus’ power that show that He is God. These miracles – healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, multiplying food, walking on water – defied natural laws. John also records how Jesus was put to death but was raised again to life three days later. As astonishing as this might sound, other contemporary secular historians agree that this claim about the resurrection of Jesus been believed by Christians since the earliest times. John finishes his account telling us: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31)
David lives in Edinburgh, where he is a pastor of a city centre church and engaged in apologetics and public theology ministry. He is married to Kirsty, a doctor, and they have two little boys: Joel and Daniel (who ask the hardest questions ever!)
Lee Strobel: The Case For Christ (Introductory)
C.S. Lewis: Miracles (Specialist)
Craig Keener’s article “Miracles?” here on the Solas website looks at the philosophical objections to miracles – and why they are unsatisfactory. https://wp.me/s9HhRI-miracles