The
Inspiration
Project

WITH BRENDAN CORR

GUEST Luke Barnes

Episode 17

Dr Luke Barnes: Episode Summary

On this episode of ‘The Inspiration Project’, Brendan Corr talks to Dr Luke Barnes about cosmology, astrophysics and his Christian faith.

Among other things Luke shares:

  • The difference between astronomy and cosmology.
  • How his attention turned from surveying landscapes to surveying the cosmos.
  • Why a formed opinion is always 5 books away.
  • How he responded to people telling him how to do his job.
  • Why he uses supercomputers to model galaxy formations.
  • Why ‘significance’ is not a scientific category.
  • About co-authoring books with an atheist.
  • Existing inside earth’s ‘lovely little bubble’.

Dr Luke Barnes: Episode Transcript

Sponsor Announcement
This podcast is sponsored by Australian Christian College. A network of schools committed to student wellbeing, character development, and academic improvement.

Introduction
Welcome to The Inspiration Project where well-known Christians share their stories to inspire young people in their faith and life. Here’s your host, Brendan Corr.

Brendan Corr
Hi there. Welcome to another episode of The Inspiration Project podcast. We are absolutely delighted to welcome our guest for today Dr Luke Barnes. Dr Luke Barnes is a postdoctoral researcher at the Western Sydney University in the area of astronomy and cosmology. Dr Barnes, welcome to the podcast.

Dr Luke Barnes
Thanks for having me.

Brendan Corr
Delightful. Can I ask by starting what is cosmology?

Dr Luke Barnes
Cosmology is just the study of the universe as a whole, as an entire thing. So in astronomy, which is sort of the more general field, you might say, we study everything out there in the universe, but you might study how stars work or how galaxies form and rotate, whereas cosmology, we’re interested in questions like ‘what’s the overall structure of the universe?’, ‘what’s it doing’? We know, for example, us expanding that’s something, the whole universe is doing that sort of the biggest scales of things that we can see.

Brendan Corr
So am I understanding that astronomy is a subsection of cosmology or is it the other way around?

Dr Luke Barnes
It depends who you ask, the way it’s usually divided up is if somebody calls us up, astronomy is basically the study of the universe. Cosmology might then be a subset of astronomy, but in practice, you know, astronomy usually looks at individual objects and it’s more observationally driven, cosmology. I mean, there’s obviously observations there as well, but it’s asking the bigger questions of what the universe is doing as a whole. So a cosmologist wouldn’t ask something like, ‘what’s the nuclear reactions inside of stars that might be relevant’. But that’s something an astronomer would look at or an astrophysicist.

Brendan Corr
So one of the questions I was going to ask is, do you spend your nights peering through telescopes, but obviously that’s not what you do.

Dr Luke Barnes
No. So in particular, within astronomy and cosmology, there’s the division between, the instrumentalists, the people who actually make the instruments that sort of engineering thing. And then there’s the observers who actually go out and look at you know you look through the biggest telescopes that we have. And then there’s the theorist, which is what I am basically, which, sort of, you know, astrophysicists. And so my job is the equations and computers, trying to model things, trying to understand what the data means in particular. A certain pattern of light coming from the sky, what might be the stuff out there that’s producing this light. That sort of my job to make up a model and see if it works to try and understand what’s out there.

Brendan Corr
So let me take you back, where did this interest of yours start, where you’re a little fellow, just looking up at the stars and captivated, or was it another moment in life where you realised this is what I want to commit myself to?

Dr Luke Barnes
Well, it’s a bit more of a dinosaur nerd growing up to be perfectly honest. ‘ve always had a sort of natural affinity for mathematics and then through high school discovered that you can actually work out things about the real world using maps. And so that was a sort of major moment for me. I always studied, I say the first year out of high school into university, I studied surveying, cause I didn’t quite know what I wanted. I got offered a scholarship in that, but as part of that, I did first year physics and then realised actually not what I wanted to do so I did a physics degree. And then in the whole world of physics, I discovered that, you know astrophysics and astronomy and cosmology, the stuff that really interested me the most.

Brendan Corr
It sparked your fire huh?

Dr Luke Barnes
Yeah.

Brendan Corr
So you started off by sort of surveying landscapes and now you’re surveying the cosmos.

Dr Luke Barnes
Haha, yea too small.

Brendan Corr
It’s bigger horizon, push it back?

Dr Luke Barnes
Back in the day, you know, there was the great British survey of India in the 1800s. And it was just, out there in the wild frontier, you just had a theodolite, which just measures angles and, you do it, you’re doing a whole lot of hard work and tricky stuff. And these days it’s even more the case now, but back then, the instruments they used are so clever and intelligent, you just sort of set it up and point it around and it does all the hard work for you. That’s kind of the thing that turned me off surveying. It seemed like a field which was kind of solved. It’s all darkness. There’s no great adventures to be had.

Brendan Corr
So is that part of, what’s motivating you in, in your current work that it’s a sense of adventure?

Dr Luke Barnes
Yeah, definitely. yeah. There’s something that drives a lot of scientists, which is this thought that you could be the first person to know something, there’s a great enjoyment in understanding something about the way the world works that you get from studying physics. That suddenly, studying anything really, but physics especially the way the world is sort of put together and why it looks the way it does. The thought of being the first one to understand something, that moment of “I get it” and I get to tell everyone something about the world, it’s a real driving factor for a lot of scientists.

Brendan Corr
Is that the sort of thing that you had the achievement with your doctoral studies that you are doing something original and adding to the knowledge base?

Dr Luke Barnes
Yeah, so I did my PhD as everyone does, It’s sort of your apprenticeship to become a scientist. So I went to Cambridge to do that; the whole point of a PhD is to sort of push through that collective mass of what we’ve discovered so far about one field of study and to learn where we are and the sort of push through to the sort of frontier to press it forward a bit. So there’s catching up with what we know already, but then the whole point of your apprenticeship, your PhD, is to then discover something new, to go and push the frontiers of knowledge forward in an area that no one’s done before.

Brendan Corr
So can I ask, not that myself or any of our listeners might begin to understand, but what are you working on at the moment?

Dr Luke Barnes
What am I working on at the moment? Well, so my main sort of start at the moment is what’s called galaxy formation. So we want to know, so as we look out in the universe and we know that there are stars, but as we look on larger scales, the universe is not just stars randomly scattered around for reasons that we are trying to understand, we have a pretty reasonable handle on, I think, the stars are collected into groups of 10 million to a trillion, 10 billion to a trillion stars are in galaxies, roughly two types of galaxies and why the universe arranged that way. And part of my research is looking at the computer simulations to start with the way we think the universe started off, roughly smooth with some lumps and bumps, and then gravity pulls things in as the universe expands and structure starts to form. And we can see that process happening in our computers, and we look at the end product and see if it looks like something that is out there in the universe,

Brendan Corr
Again, a very novice question, but how can you be sure that what’s going on in your computer matches what actually went on in real life?

Dr Luke Barnes
So for anything to be a scientific theory, it has to be able to answer questions like, if your idea was correct, what would I expect to observe? If you think the sun runs on certain nuclear reactions and has a certain structure, that’s all great and wonderful. All you’re doing is just having some fun with some equations until you start to answer a question like, okay, what would I expect the colour of the sun to be? What would I expect the brightness of the to be? What would I expect any variations in the sun over a certain time? So for any idea, scientific idea, what makes it a scientific idea is that at some point you can say, okay, this idea was correct. What I would expect to see is something along the lines of “dot dot dot”. So when we do this for the simulation, at the end of it, we have a representation of what we think the structure of the universe might be. And so we can ask, If I took a telescope and I actually looked out into the sky of “my pretend universe”, what would it look like? And then I compare that to what I see in the real universe. And if they’re the same, then that’s good. It doesn’t mean my model is totally correct, but it means it’s sort of passed the test. If they are definitely not the same, then we can throw that away, we’ve gotta start again. In this way we sort of build our way up to what we think is a reasonable picture of the universe.

Brendan Corr
So you’re looking for a correlation between what you, what your models are predicting, and what is actually your observation. And that is essentially a scientific method isn’t it? Hypothesis, prediction, observation, line it up against hypothesis. Does it work?

Dr Luke Barnes
Yeah. So, I’m a theorist, right? The idea of a scientific theory is you build your own universe, I think the universe is really likeness and there’s always more details in the theory than you can possibly test in observation, but you then go looking for the things that I can actually see. I can actually look at, how would the galaxies be arranged in the universe if this idea were true, how would they be rotating relative to how big they are? All these sorts of ideas.

Brendan Corr
So your professional work is all based around trying to find truth, find what is real, finding evidence for that. But I also know that you’re a person of faith. How do you reconcile those things? Which many people would put in completely different camps of, legitimacy or of or ways of knowing?

Dr Luke Barnes
Yeah. So I find that there’s this idea going around that, you know, faith is a way of knowing something, you know, how do I know the sky is blue? Well, I looked at the sky I’ve ever seen, you know, how do we know that World War II happened? Well we’ve got the historical evidence? And how do I know something or other in Christianity yea well I just have faith and that’s a way of knowing. That definition of faith is not what the New Testament is talking about. It is the way we use the word in English today and actually remarkably recently. That’s not what I think the New Testament is talking about. Faith is not a way of knowing it’s a question of, trust. Two people could say, you know, I have faith that if I sat in that chair, it would not collapse, but if one of them will sit in the chair and one of them, they say they will have faith, but they still won’t sit in the chair then that suggests that actually they don’t have faith in the chair. Faith I think is the question of what you do with the beliefs that you have, how you get those beliefs is another question entirely, that should be something rational, something on the basis of evidence, including, not just scientific evidence, but any form of evidence.

Brendan Corr
So let’s pursue that, you’re a person that holds a Christian faith, and you’re talking about the way in which you trust that and form beliefs that you can trust. How did it come that you formed Christian beliefs that you can trust that are consonant with your scientific practise?

Dr Luke Barnes
Right. So, there’s kind of two questions there, “why do you believe this”, is the sort of story of your life, about how things led this to this point? And then there’s another question: “what reasons do you have to believe?”

Brendan Corr
That’s a good analysis. Yeah.

Dr Luke Barnes
So, it’s worth pressing this point a little bit. If you ask someone why they believe, Pythagoras theorem is correct? - because my math teacher told me in year 5. And then there’s actually being able to produce a mathematical proof of Pythagoras theorem, which I think a lot of people wouldn’t actually be able to do. So the first question, that historical thing I grew up in a Christian household, I know I grew up in that sort of environment and, gradually the process is a whole lot of ideas I’m being presented with, and these ideas gradually became my own faith, rather than the faith that I learn from my parents over time. In terms of then looking deeper into that. I mean, obviously I hope if you’re getting involved in science, a whole bunch of questions come up about Christianity and not just in science, but from history and all that sort of stuff as well. One of the things that actually help out from a purely, maybe just a psychological point of view was, I had this idea that, I sort of understood early on that if you want to understand some other viewpoint, you should go and read something by someone who actually has that viewpoint. If you will learn about something at random, Mormonism go read something that an actual Mormon wrote, rather than just hearing what other people say about Mormonism. So I got a book called, I think it’s behind me somewhere, “The Ways of an Atheist”. I read this at some point in my late teenage years and it was quite helpful that the first thing I read was critical of Christianity was just terrible. It’s one of the worst critiques of Christianity I think I’ve read yet.

Brendan Corr
A badly written book? Is that what you’re saying?

Dr Luke Barnes
Yeah, not just bad writing, bad arguments, just non sequiturs left, right and centre. You know “the way the architecture of a church has laid out is suggestive of this, that and the other”. And now what relevance is that, someone built the church a certain shape, who cares. So the point being that it wasn’t like I was in this little Christian bubble. And as soon as I stepped outside of the bubble, I realised, “Oh, all the smart people are out there”, but I can tell though, some people inside the Christian bubble who hadn’t thought of things as hard as I had, even at age 17. But it’s not like everyone outside just had all these pins that could just pop all my beliefs immediately. There was a whole lot of criticism of Christianity that was just worthless. So you know, that led me to actually dig deeper on both sides. If I’m going to learn about Christianity from people who have thought about it harder than I have and atheism from people who have thought about it a bit harder than that guy. That kind of helped. Never believe anything on the basis of one book. I liked the model, I’m five books away from an opinion on any particular topic.

Brendan Corr
I like that. So it’s interesting that you explored that, you went into a field as you rightly described, that was at least sceptical, if not hostile to a vision of faith and many would claim has been instrumental in declaring the death of religion or the death of faith or the death of God. Somebody like Richard Dawkins, a famous scientist is the herald of those sorts of things. Were you subject to that sort of pressure as an individual Christian entering a scientific field?

Dr Luke Barnes
Well, one of the things I found out pretty early was actually some of the major, like, you know, there are some major astronomers during the 20th century, those sort of heroes in the field who were atheist but there are a whole bunch of equally important ones who were Christians, or at least believers in God in some way or another. So Fred Hoyle was one of the most famous atheists in the 20th century. I just had a chat with one of my colleagues, Geraint Lewis, who I’ve written two books with. And he had a shirt on, which has a picture of Fred Hoyle on the front of it. He had it made up for himself because he’s a fan, and so am I. He’s a great astrophysicist and he was a famous atheist, but then also, Allan Sandage the Christian, Arthur Eddington the Quaker. One of the first books I read on cosmology, one of the ones that really got me into it, was by a guy called Edward Harrison. And he, I think at least believed in God, in some sort of sense, this hostility was kind of just on the surface. When you look behind the scenes at child level, a whole lot of names coming out of people who you admire in the field who then you realise, Oh, actually behind the scenes that aren’t these rabbid atheists they actually believe in at least some form of theism or at least are open to it. It’s not, they’re not totally hostile.

Brendan Corr
They recognise the limits of science to delve into those areas of, uh, of experience and truth. Reality. So is it just Dawkins and Carl Sagan and these guys are the ones that the media promotes and they get allowed voices. Is that part of the issue?

Dr Luke Barnes
Yeah, I think that’s a lot of it. I mean, it’s really, I guess there’s a few other names. Some of the loudest names are either atheist, or agnostic. In my field, I’m thinking of, you know, Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the sort of the best known, probably names out there in that field, uh, you know, the loudest ones with the biggest public, platform, persona, public image. The loudest kind of atheist, but there’s an awful lot who aren’t that loud, but just as well respected within the field as a public profile.

Brendan Corr
So if we’ve dealt with the issue of there isn’t conflict between your faith and your scientific paradigm, is there anything that enriches each of those things, are they mutually nurturing in the way you view the world or understand God?

Dr Luke Barnes
Yeah, absolutely. So one of the main things is just realising that one of the things that started the scientific revolution in the first place, was that people thought there would be a rational order I could find in nature because there was a rational mind behind nature. That was, that was there in the first place. So, you know, it takes an awful lot of effort to go out there and think that by looking at the world, you can work out a way underneath it. One of the pioneers of science as a method rather than science actually discovering things was a Francis Bacon. The way that he actually died was he was, he was stuffing a dead chicken full of snow to work out, whether it would preserve it better. And he got pneumonia and passed away. I tell that because if you don’t in the early days of science, there’s no real knowing what kind of experiments you should be performing. It takes a couple of hundred years of people trying to do a lot of different experiments to try and put all this information together to actually work out what’s going on in science. So stuffing a Chicken full of snow, seems like it might be a reasonable idea, but the thing that drove them on to try and look deeper, to find a rationale in the universe, because they thought it had a creator. And so the fact that the last 400 years of science proper, I mean there was a lot going on before 15 hundreds and 16 hundreds, but we can start there just kind of arbitrarily. But the fact we made so much progress is just testament to the fact that there is a rationality behind the universe.

Brendan Corr
That’s a very different view to the commonly used phrase, “the God of the gaps” that science is advancing explanations. And the things that it can’t explain are attributed to God. You’re describing an appreciation of the fact that science is in enlightening areas in which God remains and retains his Lordship, his authority, his validity.

Dr Luke Barnes
Yeah. So the way I like to imagine the following conversation. I think Atheists get this wrong and some Christians have not helped this conversation either. Imagine there’s two people looking at the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and one of them says, “this is amazing. It was done by Michelangelo”. It’s just, you know, an amazing artwork. And the other one says, “Oh no, if you look closely, you can see that there are brush strokes. So actually the paint wasn’t applied by Michelangelo’s finger, it was applied by a paintbrush”. Uh, and the first one says, “Oh no, if I want to save this for Michelangelo, I have to prove that no paintbrush was involved”. And the second one says, “Oh, you look really close there’s a paintbrush. So I don’t need your Michelangelo hypothesis. All I need is paint and a paintbrush”. “It’s really interesting, maybe Michael Angelo had really hairy fingers”. Both sides of that conversation are wrong. THE Christian, who says, “if there’s any way that science could have done it then that shows that God can’t have been involved at all”. And then on the other side they’ll say, “if I can provide a scientific explanation, I’ve worked God out of the picture”. Both of those are wrong. The whole point is that this is God’s world. And so there’s an internal logic to it. We will be able to discover that hopefully, if we work hard enough, or we are careful enough. But that doesn’t in any way mean that you don’t need an explanation beyond the world that there’s no reason for the rationality behind.

Brendan Corr
That’s a good point, maybe to focus a little bit more on some of the specifics of your historical work, you wrote a book called “A fortunate universe life in a finely tuned cosmos”, which was about the anthropomorphic principle, I guess. Tell me a bit about what you were exploring in that book and what propositions you placed in it.

Dr Luke Barnes
So I wrote it with Geraint Lewis, who I mentioned before with the shirt. He’s an atheist,

Brendan Corr
Interesting

Dr Luke Barnes
He doesn’t believe in God. So we wrote the book together. He’s a colleague of mine. Um, most of the book is just about science. And we agree on you know, the first seven chapters out of eight chapters of the book. And so just looking at the following scientific realisation, which we have come to over the last forty years, which is as follows. If there are certain facts about the universe, which are sort of fundamental facts, things that are sort of at the bottom of our chain, our explanations about how things happen. Basic properties of the universe. Like, you know, there is a fundamental particle called the electron that we can observe. As best we know it’s not made as anything else. And it has a property of, how much does it weigh, it’s mass? So there’s some number, it’s a very small number in kilograms, which is, how much of the way the fundamental property of the universe has a whole bunch of these properties and about 30 of these numbers and for some of them, not all of them, but some of them, if you, if we start to think about, “what if they’d been different?”, Um, we can sort of explore other ways the universe could have been. And that’s a useful thing we might want to think about. And what we discovered is that actually a lot of the other ways the universe could have been can’t sustain the sort of complexity that life needs. So we can predict what will go on in that universe and we discovered that, mathematically, everything’s fine, physically, everything’s fine, but you can’t make anything complicated, like a large molecule, even let alone the collection of large molecules we need for life. So we discussed that idea. There’s a whole bunch of entertaining ways the universe ends up kind of ruined. In these other universes and ways it could have been ruined for life? And so we explained the physics of that. And then the last chapter takes the form of a conversation between us about what all of this means? And so I talk about God and Geraint talks about what he thinks it means and we just sort of want to leave that conversation. It’s not like either of us convinces the other one, we sort of leave it as a conversation and leave people to make up their own mind.

Brendan Corr
So from your side of the conversation, the finely tuned nature of the universe, leading to the fact that if there were minor variations in X number of those fundamental factors, humanity, intelligence, rationality couldn’t exist. And for you that’s an argument in support of an intelligence behind the universe. Is that the state?

Dr Luke Barnes
Yeah, I think it is. Put yourself in the shoes of a certain world view. If I put myself in my ‘Christian worldview shoes’ and I look at the fine tuning of the universe, that’s totally fine. That all makes perfect sense. There’s other ways the universe could have been but the way the universe is, is just because it was chosen to be that way by an intelligent Creator. And one of the reasons the universe is this way, rather than some other way, is so that it can sustain physical life form like us. You can make agents like us who can have a morally significant life. We can do things. All of that fits together nicely. Okay. Now let’s put ourselves in the atheist shoes and in particular, what’s called ‘naturalism’. The idea that the physical universe is all there is but that’s all there is. So it’s no God, but there’s nothing else at all, no spiritual element. And now think about the fine tuning, now things seem to get a little bit worrisome because Dawkins has said things like, you know, the universe no bottom has no design, no purpose, no meaning or anything like that. It better be the case when we look at the bottom level of the universe, which is what he’s talking about, right. It’s physics not biology, but he’d better be asking us. We look at that bottom level, there better not be anything that looks designed or anything that looks special or anything that separates this universe off as something remarkable compared to what other ways the universe could have been because of naturalism, there’s no reason why it’s this way rather than some other way. It just is some way and that’s all there is to it. Fine tuning it’s totally comfortable in your Christian shoes. And if you’re a naturalist then it’s pretty uncomfortable, some of your assumptions about the universe aren’t panning out.

Brendan Corr
So let me ask you this. People would have heard of the notion of a multiverse that we just, one of millions of possible universes. Is that a concept that flows legitimately out of mathematics, or is that an attempt to satisfy this idea of, well, we happen to be a design or a universe that has the appearance of design, but it’s just because it’s in a multitude of possible variations.

Dr Luke Barnes
So this is actually the option that Geraint goes for in the book. We have a long discussion at this point. I think in the end, I don’t much care where the idea comes from. I mean, where a scientific idea comes from in the first place is pretty weird. You know, they come from all over the place. There’s some chemist in the 18 hundreds who had the original idea that the compound Benzene might actually be a ring of carbon atoms. And he had that idea from having a dream about a snake that was eating its own tail. At that point, you don’t go “that idea can’t be right, it came from a dream”. What we do say is like, “I don’t care where you go your idea from”, what we say is “can we work out whether you are correct or not?” If the idea of the multiverse was made up just to avoid this fine tuning problem, that’s reason to be suspicious. We should be suspicious of that idea anyway, like there’s a general scepticism that we apply to most ideas. The thing that I have been thinking about recently for the multiverse is if we’re trying to think about other ways the universe would have been. The reason why this fine tuning idea is useful is it’s a systematic way of going and looking at other ways the universe could have been. Let’s just take all the bottom level of physics, like the mass, the electron, and let’s just bury those numbers and systematically look around at other ways the universe could have been. If you’ve got an idea, if you’ve got a theory of the multiverse, okay, that’s the way the universe could have been. Can we sort of systematically look around at all the way the multiverse could have been? The answer at the moment is it’s not really. We have some toy models, we have some rough ideas. We have some proof of concepts sketches of what a multiverse theory might look like, but we don’t really have the kind of solid basis in which we can systematically look through the ways it could have been. We can’t answer a question like “what would a typical multiverse be?” And so at the moment, it’s a possibility, but it’s kind of appealing, you know, The multiverse responses is appealing to a theory we don’t have yet.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, good. Let me ask you something else about how science and faith and the work of God sits together. People would also have heard about the watchmaker view that, okay, God set things going, but as it’s actually not involved in our life now. As a practising scientist, Where do you sit in relation to God’s agency in the world today?

Dr Luke Barnes
I’m a little bit stuck with this one. Actually, I may need to go and talk to the philosophers. I struggled to see what the difference is supposed to be. God sustains the universe. I know, I think he does that in a way that is so rational and reliable and logical that’s when we go and study the way God sustains the universe, we discover that there are simple laws that are undergirded. And so when I say that there is such a thing as the law of gravity, for example, the idea that that’s painting God out of the picture just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. There’s a way that God runs the universe, it’s so logical and rational and understandable that, you know, when we go and describe it, we end up using the precise and mathematical and beautiful and elegant scientific laws to do that. And so this idea of God making a universe and then leaving it up to its own, the difference between that and God made the universe in which he’s put such rational rules into its constituents, that it runs exactly according to the way he wanted it to run in the first place. Versus he sustains it so precisely mathematically, that runs according to these rules anway. I think there’s a possibility that there’s a distinction without a difference. That’s two ways of talking about the same thing.

Brendan Corr
Let me make it a bit more personal than Dr. Barnes, where do you experience the agency of God?

Dr Luke Barnes
So I think the interesting line here is the line between miracles. The way I experience the agency of God, there’s an old distinction between primary and secondary causation. That’s secondary causation is God sustaining the universe in a way that I see the agency of God in the way a tree grows and the way the solar system works. And then all of that. The other side is primary causation, which would be miracles where something happens in the universe, which would not have happened if it would just be left to the usual rules by which it runs. I see that those almost point to each other. There’s a wonderful section in the book, miracles by CS Lewis. No, sorry. It’s not a miracle, It’s in his essay, The Grand Miracle, where he says, there’s a top of miracle in the New Testament. The miracles of Jesus either point forward to the new creation or sort of remind us of something about the old creation. He talks about turning water into wine, and he points out that God made the earth, the soil, the of made the grape, God sends the rain. God makes the laws that make all of that happen. You know, all of this is according to those laws, it is not outside of science, science is discovering what God has done in the universe and God sustains the process of fermentation. And so from, you know, as long as there has been wine, God has been turning water into wine. He has always been turning water, Every time you’ve had wine God has turned water into wine. One time at a wedding in Cana, he did it a bit quicker and on a smaller scale, just amongst other things to sort of tell us who this person was and to remind us that all Wine is God turning water into wine. And so I do see, you know the resurrection is obviously the big one. That’s something that wouldn’t happen if God hadn’t been there. But again some of the miracles, they point to a God. Lewis puts it better than any reconstruction, but he says something like, “for those who have forgotten to see the bigger miracle of the whole of nature, he did a smaller miracle to remind us.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. That’s very good. So he’s always been creating healthy bodies. He’s always been creating sound minds. He’s always been doing that and is continuing to do that today.

Dr Luke Barnes
There was a meme I saw put up on some atheist site on the internet and it basically just said, you know, healing is conceived as, and it was a scorecard and it said, fine, 250 versus religion. And you just think, you know. Most modern medicine doesn’t really cure anything. It just removes an obstacle so the body can cure itself. Like a bandaid doesn’t actually cure a cut. It just protects the cut so the body can cure itself. If it is the creator of your body and its immune system then the score is fine, but every second of every day, every everybody is fighting off infection. And the story is billions, billions and trillions to one.

Brendan Corr
That’s a great perspective. It actually leads into my last question for you, Dr. Barnes, you spend your work life dealing with things that are so massively big, that they’d almost be on conception that the numbers and the distances and the time scales that you’re dealing with is enormous. When you spend your thought life in that space, does it change the way you think about your morning coffee and time with your family and sitting in the traffic lights, every day?

Dr Luke Barnes
Yeah, I think it does. I mean, it should be more than it does, but certainly it does remind you to look up every now and then if you’re outside at night and just sort of remember where you are. There’s a wonderful little clip from a comedian called Pete Holmes. He said, when you get in a plane, you think you’re flying, but you’ve always been flying. you’re on earth flying through outer-space, when you get on a plane, you’ll double flying. So I think in particular, just sort of seeing how odd it is to be when, you know, when you take a breath in, every time you’re taking a breath you’re taking it for granted. Except for maybe the 5 breaths that you’ve thought about. That’s because you’ll just be sitting here under a sort of air ocean that goes up like a hundred kilometres, which compared to space is nothing. But there is, we are in this lovely little bubble and every time you open your mouth and breathe in oxygen comes in, almost every time. So, you know, once you have that cosmic perspective and you zoom back on earth and there is that tiny layer or air around and that is the whole of where you have been your whole life. But that has provided the backdrop of all of this, where all the good and bad has happened here, then that’s some interesting perspective on life.

Brendan Corr
So it’s interesting that you feel that way because the alternative would be to be so insignificant in the cosmos that it’s meaningless, that, you hold up the other view that it’s special and precious.

Dr Luke Barnes
Yeah. It really annoys me when someone like Neil deGrasse Tyson or someone like that will say that science has discovered that we’re insignificant. Well, significance is not a scientific category at all, you can’t possibly discover that. There’s no filter you put on a telescope to go and measure significance. That’s their atheism looking at the universe. But you know put on the Christian shoes and look at the universe, it’s an amazing place. The best handle we have on the infinity of the creator is the world we see around us, go and stare into space for a while.

Brendan Corr
Amen. Dr. Barnes it has been a delight to have this conversation with you. I, I envy you a little because you have a better chance than most to really comprehend what the Bible says, that the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament is his goodness. And, I hope that that is something that you continue to experience as you do your work. That you see the hand and the heart of God in what you do. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. And I hope that our listeners will find some great benefit in that story. Anything last that you might want to send us off on our way with, a reflection of thought and encouragement?

Dr Luke Barnes
Oh, I have to do some shameless, self promotion. Our latest book is out as of a couple of weeks ago, it’s called The Cosmic Revolutionary’s Handbook and just a very quick blurb for it. We get emails from people telling us how to do our job right. They have an idea about how the universe as a whole works, and we don’t want to shut them down, the whole point of this book is we will teach you how to do that, how to actually sort of overthrow throw all the ideas about the universe. If you’ve got one of those ideas, but actually most of the book’s about “let’s just take a tour to what science is and what it does. And in particular, why it’s come to believe some seemingly weird things about the universe around us, like it’s expanding and all that sort of stuff, so. That’s The Cosmic Revolutionary’s Handbook.

Brendan Corr
The Cosmic Revolutionary’s Handbook. Make sure you go out and get a copy of that. We really appreciate your time and we’ll be praying for your work. Thank you. God. Bless.

Dr Luke Barnes
Thank you

About Luke Barnes

Dr Luke Barnes is a John Templeton Fellow at Western Sydney University. With a PhD in astronomy from the University of Cambridge, he has published papers in the fields of galaxy formation, the fine-tuning of the Universe for life and the philosophy of science. Luke is the co-author of 'A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos' and the recently released 'The Cosmic Revolutionary's Handbook'. Luke is an accomplished public speaker and also a committed Christian who believes that the fine-tuning in our universe points to a Creator God.

Photo of Brendan Corr

About Brendan Corr

Originally a Secondary Science Teacher, Brendan is a graduate of UTS, Deakin and Regent College, Canada. While Deputy Principal at Pacific Hills for 12 years, Brendan also led the NSW Christian Schools Australia registration system. Brendan’s faith is grounded in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a deep knowledge of God’s Word. Married for over 30 years, Brendan and Kim have 4 adult children. On the weekends, Brendan enjoys cycling (but he enjoys coffee with his mates afterwards slightly more).