Programme 1: The Cosmos

The Big Question Is: Does the Cosmos Leave Space for God?

On the street there’s a mixture of confusion and assumption. Out there, it is mostly assumed that with every scientific breakthrough, God is more and more redundant. Yet instinctively, the vast majority of people in the world feel “there must be something”. Well, is there? What’s the evidence? That’s the territory of The God Question series. Atheists – and especially the group now called the New Atheists – are naturally certain about God. In this programme, Richard Dawkins claims that science has replaced religion as a way of answering the deep questions of life. Oxford University chemistry professor Peter Atkins puts it more directly: “God is a lie.” Fighting for God, Oxford professor of mathematics and philosopher of science John Lennox argues that “‘God or science’ is a false alternative.”

Viewers will be fascinated by the gladiatorial punch and counter punch in the programme but what is the real evidence and where does it point? God’s existence can never be proved but, on the other hand, can we draw a conclusion from the balance of probability? We begin to test this possibility with a journey into the Cosmos, where we ask ‘does it leave space for God’? According to Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg, science is “as certain as anything” that the universe began with the phenomenon nicknamed “The Big Bang”. BUT:

  • Where did it come from and how could order emerge from the chaos of an explosion?
  • How did the elements crucial for life form in the first three minutes and why was that precise timing so very important for us?
  • How did stars and planets form from gas and dust left over from the big bang?
  • Why is the universe governed by laws that are so predictable and consistent that they can be described by mathematics?
  • What is meant by fine tuning and why is it so crucial for life on earth?

It’s hard to see more than two interpretations of the facts. Either there is a mind behind the universe or its – and our - existence is the result of cosmic good fortune. But which one is true? In an open-ended way, that’s what The Cosmos and The God Question will help you explore.

Programme Contributors

Team Member

Prof Alexander Vilenkin

Theoretical physicist who has been working in the field of...read more

Prof Alexander Vilenkin

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Alexander Vilenkin on the journey from cosmic explosion to a universe that works.

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Theoretical physicist who has been working in the field of cosmology for 25 years. His research is investigating the scientific validity of the universe having emerged from “absolutely nothing”.

Team Member

Dr Belinda Wilkes

Senior astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Observatory and...read more

Dr Belinda Wilkes

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Belinda Wilkes on how the laws of physics govern everything that happens in the universe.

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Senior astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Observatory and Assistant Director for the Chandra X-Ray Center, she specialises in the study of supermassive black holes in the centre of galaxies.

Team Member

Christopher Hitchens

The late journalist, public speaker and Author of God Is...read more

Christopher Hitchens

The Atheist Perspective

On what the New Atheists find most challenging about theism.

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The late journalist, public speaker and Author of God Is Not Great. A key spokesperson for ‘New Atheism’, Hitchens’ confrontational style of debate made him both a lauded and controversial figure.

Team Member

Colin Tudge

A British scientist and journalist. He has written books on...read more

Colin Tudge

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Colin Tudge on being wary of science appearing to be the ‘royal road to truth’.

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A British scientist and journalist. He has written books on food, agriculture, genetics and species diversity. He has special interest in philosophy and the relationship between science and religion.

Team Member

Rev Prof David Wilkinson

Astrophysicist and theologian, he is author of several...read more

Rev Prof David Wilkinson

The Theistic Perspective

David Wilkinson on whether Genesis opposes contemporary cosmology.

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Astrophysicist and theologian, he is author of several books on the relationship between science and religion. He is principal of St John’s College, Durham.

Team Member

Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks

One of the most respected figures of the British...read more

Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks

The Theistic Perspective

Former Chief Rabbi on the challenge of getting to know God.

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One of the most respected figures of the British establishment, Lord Sacks is a key contributor to public debates on ethics, religion and science.

Team Member

Prof John Lennox

Oxford Professor of Mathematics and Philosopher of Science,...read more

Prof John Lennox

The Theistic Perspective

John Lennox on why ‘fine tuning’ discoveries have been putting God back on the agenda.

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Oxford Professor of Mathematics and Philosopher of Science, he is author of several books on science and religion including "God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?" and "Gunning For God: Why The New Atheists Are Missing The Target." He has participated internationally in several high profile debates defending the Christian faith.

Team Member

Rev Dr John Polkinghorne

Writer, Anglican Priest, former Professor of Mathematical...read more

Rev Dr John Polkinghorne

The Theistic Perspective

John Polkinghorne on the view that the coherence of the universe reflects the intelligence of one creator God.

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Writer, Anglican Priest, former Professor of Mathematical Physics at University of Cambridge, he is author of 26 books on the relationship between science and religion.

Team Member

Dr Kimberly Weaver

Astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. An...read more

Dr Kimberly Weaver

More about the Science

Providing a beginner’s guide to the cosmos.

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Astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. An expert in X-ray astronomy, she has demonstrable talent in the communication of complex scientific ideas in ways that most can readily understand.

Team Member

Dr Mario Livio

Senior Astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science...read more

Dr Mario Livio

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Mario Livio on how telescopes are time machines that take us to the distant past.

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Senior Astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute. In the book "Is God a Mathematician?" he discusses the uncanny ability of mathematics to describe and predict accurately the physical world.

Team Member

Dr Michael Shermer

Founding Publisher and Executive Director of the Skeptics...read more

Dr Michael Shermer

The Atheist Perspective

Michael Shermer on the legitimacy of the question ‘who made God?’

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Founding Publisher and Executive Director of the Skeptics Society. Once a “believer” himself, he now advocates scepticism as a commendable means of establishing reality. The scientific method is key to that process.

Team Member

Dr Paul Davies

Paul Davies is a cosmologist, writer and broadcaster as...read more

Dr Paul Davies

More about the Science

Paul Davies on why our universe is special.

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Paul Davies is a cosmologist, writer and broadcaster as well as Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University. His research interests focus on the 'big questions' of existence, ranging from the origin of the universe to the origin of life, and include the nature of time, the search for life in the universe and foundational questions in quantum mechanics. Professor Davies’ popular science books expertly communicate scientific information and the underlying issues to the general public. One of his most popular books ,“The Goldilocks Enigma” explores how and why the universe is ‘just right’ for life.

Team Member

Prof Peter Atkins

Former Professor of Chemistry, University of Oxford. An...read more

Prof Peter Atkins

The Atheist Perspective

Peter Atkins on natural selection.

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Former Professor of Chemistry, University of Oxford. An outspoken critic of any attempt to argue that science and religion are compatible. Professes total incredulity that respected scientists can believe in a God.

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Prof Richard Dawkins

The world’s most famous contemporary atheist, he is the...read more

Prof Richard Dawkins

The Atheist Perspective

Richard Dawkins on his view that religious explanations have been replaced by scientific ones.

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The world’s most famous contemporary atheist, he is the author of the best-selling book "The God Delusion" and a regular presenter of television programmes which scorn religious beliefs.

Team Member

Sam Harris

Well known author and contemporary critic of religion and...read more

Sam Harris

The Atheist Perspective

Sam Harris on attaching no more credulity to God than the primitive ‘deities’ of ancient Greece.

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Well known author and contemporary critic of religion and proponent of scientific scepticism and the “New Atheism”. He claims religion as especially rife with bad ideas and one of the most perverse misuses of intelligence we have ever devised. For him, science and belief in God are “on a collision course.”

Team Member

Prof Steven Weinberg

American theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate in...read more

Prof Steven Weinberg

The Atheist Perspective

Steven Weinberg on finding a meaning in life when theistic explanations seem implausible.

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American theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate in Physics. Author of The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe. He argues that our existence within a universe of order is a consequence of us being “winners in a cosmic lottery”.

Team Member

Dr Usama Hasan

A controversial scientist within the Muslim community, he...read more

Dr Usama Hasan

The Theistic Perspective

Usama Hasan on why earth has special significance in the universe.

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A controversial scientist within the Muslim community, he is Founding Advisor at the Quilliam Foundation. The Foundation raises awareness and support for theological reform issues within the British Muslim community and in Pakistan.

Team Member

Prof William Lane Craig

Professor William Lane Craig is an American Christian...read more

Prof William Lane Craig

The Theistic Perspective

William Lane Craig on how science has no credible answer to the question ‘Why is the universe so finely tuned?'

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Professor William Lane Craig is an American Christian apologist, theologian, and analytic philosopher. Currently a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, USA, Professor Craig has been participating in debates on the existence of God for over 20 years, some of which have been subsequently published as books. He frequently engages in public debates with high profile atheists. Professor Craig has also debated Muslims on the concept of God. He maintains an Atlanta-based ministry called Reasonable Faith. Its website of the same name offers resources in the field of Christian apologetics, including articles, newsletters, and transcripts of debates.

To help viewers determine a contributor's stance on the topics discussed within The God Question, we have introduced a series-wide colour coding scheme; Theists, Atheists and Neutral Contributors.