Science in Christian Perspective
A True Creation
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From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 51.4 (December 1999):258 -259.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and, in his likeness, we too create. Is it possible that by considering our own inventions, we can gain insight into the way in which God has structured his creation? To show that the answer to this question is affirmative, we will investigate a simple, but significant product of human ingenuity and then compare it with an important aspect of Godís universe.
Let us look at the Grandfather Clock. Where do we find its heart? It is the pendulum, composed of a weight and a freely swinging arm, that is the essential (time marking) part of the clock. (The earth, which provides the necessary gravitational force for the pendulumís operation is, of course, also a "part.") The rest of the clock primarily serves to make the device more user-friendly by keeping the clock running, summing increments of time, and displaying them for us. The grandfather clock has a mechanism that keeps the swinging motion from rapidly diminishing as it normally would; and the time it takes the weight at the end of the pendulum to complete a swing and reverse direction forms the basis for counting time.
We can make a pendulum of very simple materials, such as a rock and string. First we tie one end of the string to a hook overhead. Then we tie a rock to the other end of the string. If the rock is grasped and pulled up and outward with the string kept taut (like a tire swing on a rope), and then let go, gravity will cause it to swing back and forth. This simple pendulum illustrates how one level of created reality depends upon, but transcends, another lower level.
Consider the above description. The pendulum is constructed of (and depends upon the properties of) a rock and a string combined in a certain way and positioned in a particular relationship to the earth. It is not difficult to see that the description of the whole demands a larger vocabulary than a description of the parts. Time and motion enter a discussion of the whole pendulum, or clock, but are irrelevant to a discussion of rock or string (or of earth as a gravity establishing mass). This quality is key in deciding if a construction is truly a new "creation." New creations have new objective properties that require new descriptive terms.
Let us compare the example of a homemade pendulum to the God-made structure of an atom. The simplest atom is the hydrogen atom. Its "parts" are an electron and a proton. It is clear that a vocabulary adequate for the parts is not sufficient for the whole atom. Atoms have chemical properties, for example, that electrons and protons do not share. Atoms are true creations exhibiting properties unknown to electrons and protons. This fact of distinction in the descriptive vocabularies sharply divides one level from another. A pendulum is not merely a rock plus a string (and the earth), and a hydrogen atom is not merely an electron plus a proton.
In the homemade pendulum and the God-made atom, the parts are put together in a definite way. In each, the relationship between the parts is dynamic. A dynamic relationship involves energy. A clock with a still pendulum is "dead." Atoms that have no energy associated with their configuration are simply impossible. To be dynamic, or to have energy, implies that there are rules governing permissible deformations of configuration. In other words, the assembly of the parts is governed by laws and by the strictures of natural constants. The laws that apply to the pendulum are known as Newtonís Laws; and the laws that apply to an atom are often called Wave Mechanics. These laws that govern the configuration are an essential component of every level of creation. The effect of the laws and constants propagates up through the levels. Different laws and/or natural constants would lead to different creations, or to no creations at all.
The fact that higher levels of creation are created using parts from a lower level does not necessarily mean that the objective properties of the lower level may be described by using a truncated vocabulary drawn from the higher level. For example, in going from the realm of atoms to the level of sub-atomic particles, we find that the notion of particle becomes blurred, and the ideas of "place," "velocity," and "time" cannot be said to have the same meaning as in our everyday world. But since we only have objective experience in our everyday world, we must invent ways of dealing with the objective reality of the micro-world. One such invention is "complementarity" where we acknowledge that the electron, for example, may exhibit itself to us as a particle or as a wave. We have no everyday-world description as to what the electron actually is.
Even with the occasional addition of a term, the vocabulary becomes more and more reduced as we progress downward to lower levels of creation. At the sub-atomic level, terms such as "charge," "plus, minus, or neutral," "spin," "mass," "matter," and "anti-matter" are useful. For the lowest level imaginable, with the most limited vocabulary, we have only "exists" and "does not exist." The laws that would govern such an entity, or entities, would be awesome in that they would naturally lead to the universe as we see it.
In summary, different levels of creation are distinct and give little, or no, hint of their dependence on the laws governing their parts, yet their dependence on such laws is fundamental. Not giving sufficient weight to both of these aspects of creations may have led to disagreement over the value to society of fundamental research.1
A person of faith, like the nuclear scientist, deals with a reality that underlies our everyday physical world. It is not surprising that the difficulties in describing the most basic aspects of the created universe are mirrored in the struggles of theology. For example, how can we describe God? Must we resort to complementary terms such as "Trinity"? How are we to regard the human being? Does the crucial fact concern the result but not how the result was orchestrated? Should not our discussion of the nature of what was created when God said, "Let us make man in our image" be informed by a consideration of creations in general?
A spiritual application that can be made concerns the fundamental difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. When a person puts his or her trust in the grace of God as expressed through the life of Jesus Christ, he or she becomes a new person, a "new creation."2 Jesus told Nicodemus that the person is "born again."3 If this is so, then there should be a distinction between the vocabulary required to describe a person not yet born again and the one born again. Faith, hope, and love should have a quality in the new creation that is not found in the "old."4
The laws of the spirit that form the possibility of the new creation are dynamic, and can be found in the guidelines for living laid down in the Scriptures. One such law is the law of giving thanks.5 The thankful heart has a faith, which like Jobís is able to withstand tragedy, and yet when elevated is humbled by the knowledge that all one has is a gift from God. The thankful heart has a joy that rises above the very real sorrow that is a part of any honest life. The thankful heart leaves no room for despair or depression. The thankful heart has a love that is universally wide and gladly sacrifices self for the sake of the loved.
Thus the Christian is a true creation. He or she has new objective properties not found in the non-Christian, and has a new dynamic relationship with the Creator.
1J. D. Bernal, The Social Function of Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1939), 9. This is a reference to Ernest Rutherfordís statement that elevates physics as the only real science. R. N. Cahn, Rev. Mod. Physics 68 (1996): 951 as cited by P. Jensen, "Particle Physics and Our Everyday World," Physics Today 51 (July 1998): 58; and R. N. Cahn, "ëParticle Physics and Our Everyday Worldí: A Reply," Physics Today 51 (November 1998): 57. See also the Letters column, Physics Today 51 (November 1998): 15.
22 Cor. 5:17.
41 Cor. 13.
51 Thess. 5:17, Rom. 1:21.