The Flaw in The Universe: Natural Disaster and Human Sin

Hough, Adrian
O-Books (2010)
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Robin Gill's gentle, very little book on suffering is part of the SPCK Little Books of Guidance series, Like the others, this one trots round the theological track, bringing us to an uncertain rest. The arguments about human suffering and the existence of God are briefly and faithfully rehearsed but the conclusion that Christ suffered for us in solidarity (my word) with our suffering is left to speak for itself. It will help some people to resolve their problems but for those interested in the subject, or who are deeply worried by it, this is simply an introduction.

But if you want the real thing, Adrian Hough is the person for you. As soon as I read the first sentence I knew I was going to be gripped, as I was through my first speed-reading before re-reading at a slower pace to allow the arguments to sink in.

Hough sets out to show parallels between, and generate a dialogue between, theologians and scientists in respect of the presence of earthly imperfection.

The phenomena at the centre of this immensely powerful and coherent book are the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the concept of Original Sin. In its classical form the Second Law says that heat cannot pass from a colder to a warmer object but it is best understood as a statement of the inevitability of increasing disorder in the universe: the bounce of an unattended ball slowly decreases; a bag of sugar that is opened and emptied disperses from its compact shape; a book falls off a shelf. And all these three processes are irreversible without the expenditure of re-ordering energy which must be taken from somewhere else. The idea is summed up in the concept of entropy which represents the steady energy loss accompanying the increasing disorder, until everything comes to an end.

Hough is careful at the outset to distinguish between the concept of Original sin and the moral sins of individuals, drawing the contrast most clearly in citing the English translation of the Agnus Dei in which the proper translation is in the singular and refers to the basic flaw to which we were subjected and from which we are saved, and individual sins.

The parallels between the physics of entropy and the nature of sin are striking and explored by Hough with energy and with judicious repetition which does not dull the impact. Entropy and Original Sin are, he says, necessary respectively for the universe we live in to exist and the free will we exercise which defines us as what we are. Hough then goes on to show in what respect we are saved by Jesus' breaking into history. The crucified Christ is resurrected with the promise of creating a new world free of the physical flaws of the universe and of our own fatal flaw which in turn was the cause of death from which we are liberated.

It would be wrong to say that this is an easy book, although many of us are unduly frightened of scientific concepts, but it repays careful reading. As I said, I read it a first time very quickly to grasp the bones of the argument and then read more slowly to understand the workings of the arguments.

Dealing with such broad theoretical concepts, Hough not unnaturally settles on the notion that all humanity will be saved because all humanity shares the initial Original Sin, the original flaw, leaving the unanswered question of what the Christian Church is for.