Science in Christian Perspective
God and the Universe
GLEN D. TURNER
Summer Institute of Linguistics
Casilla 1007 Quito, Ecuador, S.A.
From: JASA 23 (March 1971): 17-20.
The proposition I propose for consideration is quite simple: God sustains all of nature not only by guaranteeing its existence but by maintaining the very characteristics, functions, and interrelationships of its parts. Or, to quote John Calvin,
Even inanimate things, whatever natural properties they may possess, are merely instruments, the efficacy of which is maintained by God and used by Him to fulfill the purpose of His own will . . . . He so rules all things that nothing happens but according to His counsel.1
Perhaps I am outCalvining Calvin. I wouldn't even have said,
properties they may possess." My contention is that salt is salty, sugar
is sweet, lemons are acid, and gall is bitter because God continually maintains
each characteristic in relation to whatever chemical make-up He
should be salt or sweet or acid or bitter. A ship floats, not because
it has displaced
water equal to its own weight, but because God sustains it at that point.
God is the Only True Cause
Some philosophers of science still insist that 'cause and effect' is an unacceptable, metaphysical concept. Certain sequences of events tend to cluster in a predictable order. The clustering is significant; the description, however, must be in terms of sequences of events without presuming a metaphysical relationship. Yet even those who hold that view recognize that there is a difference between the sequence leg movement-ball contact-hall movement and day-night. The first is a direct sequence; the second is the consequent of prior sequences which converge. My thesis here is that all sequences are consequent sequences or, in other terms, God is the only true cause.
Even with a one cylinder engine we are incapable of directing manually the spark at the proper time, so we build into the machine the means of providing it automatically. God is not so limited. He provides the appropriate spark at the right time to all the cylinders of all the engines, including those of the thunderstorms. He is the only true cause when an engine runs (or doesn't). "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it." (Psa. 127:1)
[I must interrupt at this point to make an explanation in order to avoid immediate rejection of the thesis. The above paragraph in no sense implies that the only proper means of making a balky engine start is to blame God and attempt to persuade Him to straighten things out.
There is hidden within it, however, the implication that simply to dismantle, check, correct, and reassemble the
engine is to miss an important part of reality, even if the engine then runs like a top. The implications are even more urgent (because more immediate and personal) when caught in rapids in a swollen river and the motor misses. (Never before, nor after, in four days travel did that decrepit outboard miss and keep going.) At that moment I felt prayer was not simply making the best of a desperate situation but a real appeal to the Cause to so order natural sequences (not simply to intervene in those sequences) that a given useful result could be brought about.
The concept of God as immediate cause in no sense eliminates nor prejudices (for me at least) the multitude of equations which science has found useful in describing and predicting physical reality. These equations or 'laws' simply demonstrate that Cud is neither changeable nor arbitrary. He maintains nature consistently.2 It also demonstrates that God has established internal consistency within the natural universe.]
It must be pointed out that I find it easier to state and discuss the
that God maintains both the existence and functions of nature if the cosmos is
approached from a purely mechanistic viewpoint. But it is no less
true, and perhaps
less difficult to imagine, that the proposition applies equally well within the
principle of indeterminacy, particularly at the boundaries of the macrocosmic
and the sub-microscopic. It is God's immediate support of nature that makes and
keeps it what it is and how it functions. Probabilities are definable because
God sustains the phenomena upon which the probabilities are based. This should
be kept in mind even though not specifically referred to in the
remainder of the
Evolution and Genesis
About the time this concept was beginning to form for me I was asked to address a Bible Class for university students on the topic 0f evolution. The essence of the address was: Genesis 1 seemed to me to imply rather inequivocally that God was instrumental not only in the original creation of matter but in its further refinement and subsequent appearance of specific phenomena. Granted the apparent validity of the evolutionary apparatus, there were two crucial problems which made me continue to suspend judgment concerning it in the light of my understanding of Genesis 1. (1) I was completely unsatisfied with any theory of a sufficient dynamic to account for the present resultants of the initial protozoa. Natural selection can only destroy, never create. Mutations are predictably detrimental. (2) Completely apart from any 'missing link', I was impressed by crucial gaps in reconstructions. Until these two could be resolved I felt the burden of proof still lay with the evolutionists, again in the light of my understanding of Genesis 1.
[I interrupt again to admit I am a bit nonplussed at Dr. van de Fliert's implication (to me, at least) that our understanding of Scripture should have no bearing on our view of science (Journal ASA 21, 69 (1969)). The infinitesimal knowledge I have of the subject of geology fits Dr. van do Fliert's contentions rather than those of Morris and Whitcomb, Jr.; nevertheless I hesitate to find fault with the idea of the latter attempting to make one's 'science' agree with one's understanding of Scripture. I think it most healthy that such attempts be made and if they don't hold water that they be debunked. At the same time I agree with van de Fliert that if we are more convinced of the reliability of God's Word when we manage an agreement between 'science' and 'Scripture', then our faith is misplaced.3 The purpose for which attempts at agreement are undertaken is crucial. If it is to 'prove' the validity of Scripture, then one is attempting to build his house on sand; this I presume is Dr. van de Fliert"s contention. However, if one has assumed that the scriptural (eternal) and natural (temporal) universes are interlocking then the points of interaction are valid subjects for study. This is what I understand Morris and Whitcomb, Jr. attempted to do, and failed in their explanation. It is what I am attempting to do here, and would like to know if I also have failed.]
A Satisfactory Dynamic
One of the by-products of reckoning God as actively maintaining nature not only in existence but in its characteristics, functions, and inter-relationships, is that I find a satisfactory dynamic for both the myriad deadend or truncated developments in the evolutionary scheme, as well as the trunk-line or central ones. God willed and directed each to its predetermined end. The gaps also may or may not eventually be filled in. They need not be if God's hand (through whatever natural or supernatural means He may have chosen) has been responsible for some de novo development. The self-consistent nature of the physical universe implies that eventually some scientist will discover some apparent 'cause' which adequately cares for the apparent evolutionary sequences. What is accomplished here is to give an adequate rationale for Genesis 1.
I speak of the above as a "by-product" only that the original proposition may not appear (as in fact it was not) a theory whittled out to explain Genesis 1 and evolution. On the contrary, its implications are presented exclusively as one point at which the usefulness of the concept seems to be borne out.
The implications of this concept with regard to prayer have been touched on earlier. The implications in relation to faith, daily walk, the study of science, etc. can only be appreciated as experienced. For me it has injected a vital ingredient into my relationship with God.
One of the first objections I had to this idea was that it was so Unnecessary, with a capital U. A mechanistic theory of nature is sufficient in and of itself. To infer something beyond it can be like taking a heading from the north role: all routes point south. One unnecessary theory is as likely or unlikely as another. They all, being equally unnecessary, point south, away from the Necessary. I believe the above is fallacious, however, and that the illustration should rather be that of actuality and reflection. And I would venture that a purely mechanistic theory of nature assumes that what the scientist studies is the actuality and that to speak of a reflection is superfluous, unnecessary. I believe nature is rather all reflection and to assume it is not is to misunderstand God (the eternal reality) and the essential nature of the natural, as a reflection. "The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork," (Psa. 19:1) not only in original creation but in constant sustaining and maintaining activity.
God Himself is the great Unnecessary in a completely mechanistic universe. Nowhere does God force man to accept His existence or intervention, though neither can atheist nor agnostic please Him: "he that cometh to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." (Heb. 11:6)
A ship floats, not because it has displaced water equal to its own weight, but because God sustains it at that point.
Unnecessary vs. Prevaricating
I also initially rejected this concept because of its similarity to an untenable (to me) theory. When I was presented with the possibility that God had created the earth with ready-made fossils, geological strata, etc. I rejected it outright. That God should deliberately create a prevarication, i.e., an apparent but untrue historical depth, with the intent of leading mankind away from the truth, is to me completely contrary to all that the Scriptures tell us of the character of God. On the other hand, as I continued to observe the implications of the present thesis both in Scripture and in nature I began to see an important difference between the Unnecessary and the Prevaricating. The former is typical of all that requires faith, the latter is contrary to all that faith stands for.
Perhaps I have, through years of probing the possibilities of this idea, allowed my concept of God, nature, and Scriptures to he swayed by it. The end result is a greater satisfaction in the intertwining of the implications of our Christian faith and the hard facts of day-today living. One of these subtle shifts in focus or viewpoint is that I see nothing blasphemous or belittling to the glory of God to conceive of Jesus having done His miracles through means which were perfectly 'natural' though perhaps not understood by us. Not that fiat miracles are out of the question, but that they would be no greater acts of God than those He continually does in the functional maintenance of nature.
Neither do I find the possibility of man's 'creating' life to be such a hair-raising thought.4 I see so many other phenomena which God brings into being and maintains in function through apparently natural means that I find it almost the expectable thing that life itself (mortal life, that is) is a derived characteristic mechanistically formulatable in nature, but reflecting God's maintenance of life-giving characteristics in those chemical combinations.
Is God to Blame?
Another problem in the present thesis is that the logical corollary of such a supra-mechanistic thesis is that God ends up to blame for all of earth's evils, not only acts of God (sic) but the very chemical activities involved in our sins. I cannot say at the present moment that I have any really cogent answer to this problem.5 The deeper I go into the problem of sin the more anomalous it becomes. It cannot be reasoned or explained. It simply is. The existence of other beings made in the image of God, with His power of independent action, I am sure is the basic fact. But why anyone should, in a state of innocence, choose to abuse that power is inexplicable. The dicta of anthropology and hamartiology (as sections of doctrinal study) have left me as yet unsatisfied on this point. Neither am I impressed by Aquinas's relieving God of responsibility through a sequence of secondary, tertiary, quaternary, etc. intermediate cause and effect steps separating God from the final act and thus allowing for slippage in the process. It was God's original and highest creation that first sinned (whether you wish to refer to Lucifer or Adam). Furthermore, a perfect first cause does not permit anything but a perfect second, third, fourth, etc. sequeneial causes, unless some 'grammar' of error is built in purposely.6 I have no complete answer as yet. Maybe some reader does.
An illustration may suffice by way of summary. Our proposition is that reality is like a picture puzzle. The natural corresponds to the shape of the pieces, the supernatural (God's activity in nature) to the picture. Scientists who are unwilling to grant the supernatural go to great pains to show that the puzzle can and must be put together on the basis of shape alone and that often the color can lead you to try to put pieces together which don't fit. Those who know God personally recognize that the picture is the important part of the puzzle and that the shape of the pieces is subservient to the design. Two pieces of identical shape, one grass,
That God should deliberately create a prevarication, i.e., an apparent but untrue historical depth, is to me completely contrary to all that the Scriptures tell us of the character of God.
the other sky, are interchangeable in terms of shape alone but in terms of design there is only one possible way in which the pieces could go. Unfortunately Christians have all too often assumed we knew mequivocally what the design was and therefore forced certain pieces in order to make the picture turn out as we envisioned it. There are times when we must put the most unlikely colors together because the pieces fit only that way. I am convinced that the picture will make sense, though maybe not the sense we now envision. In the meantime, we cannot assume that simply putting pieces together without reference to the design is the 'whole picture.' That God works in nature all Christians are aware. That He actively is the total cause of all that happens in nature has been implied, skirted around, wondered at, but to my knowledge never explicitly expressed in this manner before, unless this is what Paul was referring to when he told the Athenians that "in Him we live, and move, and have our being." (Acts 17:28)
1John Calvin, "On the Creation of Man" in David Otis Fuller, editor, Valiant for the Truth, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York, 1961. Page 191.
2An apparent implication of this, though not a necessary one, is that the physical universe is as it is because, given God's character and his design for man, it could only be as it is; it is not arbitrary in its mode and functioning.
3I cannot for myself completely compartmentalize science and Scripture. When the inevitable showdown takes place one extreme "demythologizes" the Scripture (by which they mean "make it all myth") and the other extreme simply redefines "true science" as that which is compatible with their understanding of Scripture. The rest of science is hated and feared. Furthermore, life is inescapably lived within the milieu of nature. Cloistered attempts at finding God partake of all the drawbacks, and certain of the advantages, of any high degree of specialization: a useful revealing of a part and corresponding distortion of the whole, like looking through a magnifying glass. Life lived in the world must take into account the impact of Scripture on our understanding of nature if we are to properly orient ourselves both to God and to nature without distorting our understanding of either.
4What is to me truly hair-raising is the concept of man developing absolute control of another's mental faculties, whether through transplantation or through servo-electronic control. The only explanation I have that God should permit man this capacity which He Himself will not accept is that there is a similar (nut identical) relationship between a man's spiritual being (what is him after death) and his body as between God and nature: man uses his body to express that true (though separate) inner self, even as God expresses certain facets of Himself through nature. We who are so used to receiving our impulses from our physical, including mental, stimuli, yet thinking "This is me reacting," would probably find it quite impossible at first to distinguish the electronically induced stimuli from self-induced stimuli. I have been attempting during the past few years to observe and distinguish the various sources of inner and outer stimuli for my daily actions. What is of God's Spirit, what is of my spirit, what is purely biologically determined, what are externally coercive stimuli; through what channels do the externally coercive stimuli enter to the will and go out again to the motor reflexes? Some of it is, I am sure, simple mental reflex since the will is trained toward such a reflex, like becoming angry when your face is slapped. This "research" hasn't lessened the horror of such direct external control as made possible by the development of modern science, but it has given insight into some far-out possible uses of such a catastrophe in the life of a practiced, Spirit-controlled inner man. The end result, as I imagine it, of a Spirit-controlled inner man having his nervous system (and through it his body) electronically controlled by some outside influence is that he would eventually learn to detach his inner self from his mental apparatus in a kind of living death. All speculation, of course.
5C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain explains the necessity of nature to be as it is, allowing for pain and evil. The necessity alone, however, does not disengage God from being implicated in pain and evil. "For it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" (Matt. 18:7) That He uses pain and evil for good in the lives of those who will it to be so is much closer to the answer for me.
61 have explored this possibility of a grammar of error more fully in an essay published in a limited, multilithed, edition: Multivac I. It, along with other essays, is available on request.
Further problems faced in the application of this supra-mechanistic concept of nature but not treatable in full here include the following.
A corollary to the problem of God's being implicated in
Our proposition is that reality is like a picture puzzle. The natural corresponds to the shape of the pieces, the supernatural to the picture.
the evils in nature is that it appears to relieve us of responsibility for our actions. This is only slightly easier to answer. At the very least we share the responsibility. And I am sure the righteous judge will accuse only to the extent of responsibility. We are therefore to be cautious about irresponsible actions. But this does not explain the problem of having a judge who is also co-defendant. This part of the problem is the stickler in the above paragraph. It does not get us off the hook, however. We are responsible and must answer for sin either directly or through Christ's sacrifice.
A further corollary to the proposition as a whole deals with the age old problem of free will versus God's sovereignty. The present supra-mechanistic theory of God in nature has forced me into a rather considerable rethinking of this problem. It would take another full length article to treat clearly but I think now the answer lies in a concept of eternity, not as endless continuation of space-time, but as a different mode of existence in which all events are in some sense continuously Present, so that Christ is truly slain (in the eternal mode) before the foundation of the world (in the temporal mode). This is coupled with a definition of free will as "the ability to interact in the eternal mode in such a manner as to leave a unique impression upon it." Without what we in time call free will, we would be incapable of making our unique impression on eternal reality. This does not nullify God's sovereignty. He simply orders eternal reality in such a way that it takes all of our impressions upon eternal reality and weaves them into the accomplishment of His eternal purposes. This is true whether we be led of the spirit or spirits.