You may be surprised to learn that this brief contribution is about something that happened 19 years ago. So, you may also be asking why would this be of interest to anyone after all this time? For me, the events that occurred in November 2001 were the first tremors which heralded the personal revelation that there was more to the world than the bits described by the physicists. The shockwaves that subsequently radiated from those tremors were to profoundly change my life. It was then, at age 51, that God chose to reveal Himself to me, and I have no idea why He chose that time in my life, or why He decided to do it at all.
Perhaps a bit of back story would be helpful here. I was raised in a loving family that had no explicit faith in God, and consequently church attendance, or any other manifestation of religion, played no part in my up bringing. From a very early age I was captivated by science, which steered my education to culminate in a doctorate in mathematical physics in 1975. Subsequently, I spent a very fulfilling career in space science and engineering, both in industry and academia, before retirement in 2010. However, it was during busy years at Southampton University that I became a Christian. How this came to be was very much related to the issue of ‘science and faith’, and I wish to say something briefly about this transformation in this account. Prior to this extraordinary event, I would have described myself as a tolerant agnostic, firmly entrenched in the notion that science had explained everything to the extent that any form of god was entirely irrelevant.
My story starts in the unusual setting of a family holiday in Guernsey in the summer of 2001. Time by the pool gave me plenty of opportunity for reading and thinking, and I experienced a rare, startling insight about the nature of the Universe! This was along the lines of the universe is defined by our existence within it. This is something that these days we call cosmic fine-tuning. The argument goes that the fundamental constants of the laws of nature have to take very precise values in order that life of any form can exist in the Universe. This kind of notion has been with us for some time in the form of something called the anthropic principle, that can be expressed as – the laws of nature must be constrained to allow human existence. So why the big deal? The startling character of the insight arose because of the degree to which the fundamental constants have to be finely tuned. Most scientists are hard headed about this, and agree that if it wasn’t so we wouldn’t be here to think about it. And they are quite right. But for me, by the poolside, it was the precision of the fine-tuning that was startling. You could say that the Universe is an extremely unlikely place. Put another way, if you saw a well-shuffled pack of cards being dealt in perfect suit and numerical order, you might wonder how this could happen. Was it by chance (odds of 1 in 10^68) or was there more to it? Something behind it?
Cutting a long story short, I pondered the options, and after many weeks of reflection I had arrived at a place in which I was comfortable with the notion that there may be such a thing as a Creator God. Given my background, this was not an easy journey but it did put me in a position where I could consider attending an Alpha course at the local church in the Autumn of 2001, and the rest is history as they say. An encounter with the numinous occurred and finally convinced me that there was such a thing as the ‘spiritual realm’.
One thing I have learned from all this, and in particular in the context of courses such as Alpha, is that people are convinced not by endless academic discussion of the issues, but rather by the simple means of personal experience of God transforming power in their own lives, and in the lives of others.
Read my story in more detail in ‘From the Big Bang to Biology: Where is God?’ by Graham Swinerd and John Bryant (Nov 2020). This blog post is adapted from a contribution to the blog section of the Faraday Churches website. See the original here.
John Bryant and Graham Swinerd comment on biology, physics and faith.