This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/where-is-god-in-nature
God's use of natural laws & the Western scientific tradition
My thanks to Gary for letting us have this very thoughtful piece. Gary (@GaryFugle) is happy to converse with his readers; comments are invited.
Thank you Dr. Fugle for your reflections.
Your provoked some thoughts for me regarding our common usage of words like “evidence” or “evident” in faith / science discussions.
You share at one point that “God is wonderfully evident to me throughout his natural creation”, and later on you note that “…God interacts with his natural creation in such a way that he is not directly evident.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to cause problems by highlighting apparent contradictions here (as some might see them); in fact I agree with both of those sentiments in the whole context of your essay --so I’m just seeing if this “tension” could lead to any productive insights or discussion.
In a science forum, words like “evidence” are often taken to mean information that helps favor one type of theory over another. This obviously isn’t quite what is captured in the more casual derivative word: “evident” in the context of seeing God’s hand in everything. If I understood your essay correctly, I think you claim to see God’s work after already having accepted that conclusion on other evidentiary/faith grounds apart from science. But then you “look back” at science with those eyes and see things fitting quite well. Is that a fair assessment?
It seems to me that science could be likened to a useful cart that fits quite well behind different horses, be they theistic or atheistic; but that in no case does the cart ever push, or get in front of either of these horses to pull it along.
Thanks again for your work, and congratulations on the new grand-nephew!
Over several years as a creation-care advocate and as a nature writer with RBC Ministries (Our Daily Bread), I’ve pondered the same question. So I began considering what one might observe in the creation that reveals God’s eternal power and divine nature (what compels us to awe). Here’s the list I’ve accumulated:
- Mysterious light and matter (which still defy human definition and understanding)
- Seemingly endless time (no clearly apparent beginning or end)
- Seemingly endless space (eternality seen in the microcosm and macrocosm)
- Preservation of energy (the inexplicable laws of thermodynamics)
- Astronomical extravagance and magnitude (“Billions and billions” -Sagan)
- Wonderful life (inexplicable in its essence and origin—and known on earth alone)
- Fearsome, but essential, death (which is marvelously linked to life)
- Profound mystery (beyond human understanding)
- Abiding orderliness (out of seeming chaos)
- Mathematical precision (to the point of beauty and elegance)
- Unfailing regularity (making the creation mostly predictable)
- Sabbath peace (the balance of rest with activity)
- Inexplicable Love (warming the human soul)
- Revitalizing stillness (quieting the human soul)
- Remarkable harmony (comforting the human soul)
- Unfathomable complexity (defying human simplification)
- Awesome power (far exceeding our own)
- Incredibly informed design (absolutely beyond human duplication)
- Virtually endless variety (unbelievable biodiversity)
- Amazing adaptability (evolutionary change)
- Overwhelming beauty (thrilling the heart and soul)
- Extravagant fruitfulness (offering people more than enough)
- Sacrificial nurture (animal parents risking life to care for their young)
- Limitless sensory stimulation (providing “candy” for the senses)
- Complex interrelationships (life that is dependent upon community)
- Abundant joy (“even the worm can feel contentment” –Schiller)
- Models for human work and leisure (structures fundamental to human creativity)
- Animal fear of people (grieving the human soul)
- Creation in agony—groaning (awaiting the end of the curse and the rule of loving children of God)
- The image of God: mankind (An unbridgeable gap between people and the other living creatures—people alone having the capacity for creative thinking, abstract reasoning, and symbolic language—and having innate morality and the instinct to worship)
The key point of course was the wave/particle duality comparison. I believe points to the true solution to the question that Scientism poses to Christianity. It is possible to view the universe in totally mechanistic terms. Unfortunately this leads to a pointless nihilistic universe It is also possible to view the universe solely from a religious point of view, but this leads to a rigid universe with no space for progress. In order to fully partake of our inheritance, we must embrace both the Ying and yang of reason and wonder, that is truly worshipping and honouring God.
I have a good friend who for many years was an Atheist because, as he described it,
he had NO LOGICAL REASON to surmise the existence of God. But he also suffered
from quite a bit of depression. Life was meaningless. An endless parade of disappointing
days without value.
So I one day, over the phone, I asked him a few questions and offered a viewpoint
from another angle. I asked him why it was so important to him to ONLY believe in
what was LOGICAL to believe in? Didn’t he put any value in hunches? Didn’t he think
that sometimes the value of an idea is much more important than the pure logic of it?
I asked him what he would think of the man who decided to look for treasure buried
in his backyard - - simply because he heard a story from a neighbor of a neighbor that
one of the owners of the home used to bury his money there.
Let’s suppose thousands of people in similar situations decided to all start searching
the grounds of their property. Probably most of them will come up empty handed.
But at least a few will actually find something. Amazing, right?
I asked him: “So why should you be making yourself miserable by adherence to
perfect logic, when you could go with a hunch that God is somewhere here?”
The next day, on Facebook, I read that he had gone out and taken a part time
job at a church in the neighborhood.
Hope and Faith – they are part of the human genome just as much as Lysine amino chains are.
Ian, you wrote:
It is possible to view the universe in totally mechanistic terms. Unfortunately this leads to a pointless nihilistic universe It is also possible to view the universe solely from a religious point of view, but this leads to a rigid universe with no space for progress.
I don’t dispute your former point, although atheists here might dispute it. But I would dispute your latter point, given that western science as we know it was birthed in a period of ultra-religious incubation. So I don’t see how overtly adhering to some religious point of view necessarily leads to seeing the universe as rigid or being anti-progressive.
I really appreciate your comments and thank you for your kind words. It’s inherently challenging to find clear and precise wording in this context of divine action and scientific study. You correctly point out what may seem to be a contradiction, but then your clarification is very good. I love your word picture of “looking back” at science with the eyes of faith.
The key theme of my essay is that all Christians see God in nature ultimately because of a heart-faith decision apart from science. We can talk about the details of photosynthesis for weeks and all agree that there are wonderfully intricate mechanisms in nature. But whether one sees or senses God within photosynthesis is not in those details alone (my atheist colleagues are correct when they say God isn’t demonstrated there). I think it’s helpful for Christians to remember that it is something spiritual/supernatural that makes believers and nonbelievers see things differently.
For what it’s worth, I’ve talked the logic of God with many atheist scientists. I find it intriguing that they generally stop to ponder (and are even disarmed) when I interject into the analytical logic of our discussion, “Yeah, but what does your heart tell you?”
What a fascinating list! Like my sensations of awe, beauty and inspiration in nature, your observations are things you sense are beyond the descriptions or logic of science.
I was of course referring to the Copernicus/Galileo type events that saw scientific advances hushed up for generations due to a too controlling religious hierarchy.
That makes sense. I’ve been fascinated over the last years with emerging historical scholarship that gives some balance to the “Copernican Cliche” that has for so long been a center-piece for the reigning Promethean myth of recently secularized science. It isn’t that the church never stifled emerging progress --it did on occasion to be sure. But after reading books like James Hannam’s “God’s Philosophers” and similar essays, I feel like I have a much more historically realistic grasp of how the middle ages and beyond related to new knowledge. And most of my needed adjustment was that the church was considerably less adversarial with all the emerging natural philosophers than what modern secularists would have us believe. And that even (and especially) includes the Galileo affair itself! I’m sure the Biologos site has had essays over this, though I’ve got to run at the moment and don’t have time to dig up the links.
Actually there were no efforts at all to “hush up” Copernicus, at least not during his lifetime and not until more than 70 years after his death. Quite the opposite. Roman Catholic officials actually invited Copernicus to participate in astronomical conferences related to the calendar and, on multiple occasions, his views were made known to high officials (including one Pope) and received very favorable receptions.
Ok, the truth is more subtle (and interesting) than the cliche. Nevertheless the knowledge revolution has gone hand in hand with an increasing acceptance , even encouragement of, iconoclasm and rebellion.
Thank you for this elegant and inspiring post. I think it is unfortunate that Biology has become (or maybe always has been) the most materialistic of the sciences. In fact the analogy you had to refer to (as Ian points out) comes from physics. Biologists (of which I admit I am one) tend to try to cling to a materialistic, mechanistic description of their work, and rarely dare to go further, as you have done so well here.
Although I have no actual evidence (yet), I like to think that this too will pass. Some of the new ideas in evolutionary biology as well as most of cellular and molecular biology are pointing, in my opinion, to the sort of complexity (where contradictions and illogical pathways are actually part of reality) that was discovered by physicists in the 1920s. You and I are not ready to call this science, but we can feel it, and we correctly attribute this to God;s role in creation. God willing, we may go further some day, and find even stronger pointers to His hand in life’s marvels.
It seems to me that you and others are referring to the tendency in Western culture called Western dualism which is certainly a source of the science v. faith debate. It is the tendency to see things as opposites when they really are not, such as body and mind.
While the body and mind are different they are not opposites. While faith and science are different, they are not opposites. However we think that if they are not one or the same, they must be opposites. If something is not perfectly right, it must be wrong. Dualism.
The opposite of dualism is monism, but reality is not monistic either. Atheists believe that matter is real, so the spiritual and the rational is not. They are mistaken, but their reasoning is logical. Their assumptions are faulty.
The only way to truly break out of Western dualistic box, that most people, believers and non-believers, do not realize that they are in, is to develop a better alternative. Even though it has problems, it still has served us better than monism over the years. However Christianity does provide a better alternative, which is the triune world view.
To respond to the question Where is God in Nature?
God the Father/Creator is the Source of Nature, its power and grandeur.
God the Son/Logos (John 1:1) is the rational form of Nature, its beauty and goodness.
God the Holy Spirit/Love is the Meaning and Purpose of Nature as the power and form come together to provide a magnificent and excellent Habitant for humanity and the rest of flora and fauna.
God is not only Power, but God is Powerful. God is not only Knowledge, but God is Wise. God is not only Love, but God is Good. God is One and Three. Humans are Body, Mind, and Spirit, so we are one and three. The universe as its name suggests is one and many, so it is not two or dualistic, but one and three.
Hi Dr. Fugle,
You claim evolutionary theory explains …“the tiniest cell structures”…
Although I’m no biologist, from everything I’ve read, I’m under the impression that modern evolutionary biology has no answer whatsoever regarding the evolution of the cell structure itself. Where did cells come from? This leads me to question if your statement is rather over-reaching and whether your theory explains “the tiniest cell structures” at all.
Thank you for so much for your comments, because they bring up two issues I’d like to address.
First, the question of the origin of life (i.e., the first cell) is incredibly important, but it is fundamentally different in critical respects compared to explanations of evolution. Biological evolution is the idea that the form of organisms can be altered over successive generation, and it is based on already existing life with the characteristics of metabolism and reproduction. The origin of life issue certainly needs to be addressed but I believe it is helpful to consider it separately from discussions of evolution. I’ve seen that if the distinction isn’t recognized, skeptics of evolution point to difficulties with origin of life explanations and then throw out all of evolutionary theory. This is not productive.
Second, the short paragraph you are referring to is meant to express the enormous breadth and depth of evolutionary theory (something that is so often misunderstood by many Christians). But it is always important to acknowledge there is much we don’t currently understand and can’t explain. It is unfortunate if I implied that we know everything. Still, I think it is critical to clarify that currently unexplained things in science do not imply weakness or deficiency in evolutionary theory.
You might note that the sentence you refer to reads, “…evolutionary theory explains innumerable aspect of biology, from the tiniest cell structures to intertwined interactions within ecosystems.” In other words, it explains a lot. But I don’t mean it has explained every cell structure.
Some components of cells are very well explained by evolution. In particular, the origin of chloroplasts and mitochondria in eukaryote cells. These cell structures show a bunch of revealing characteristics that confirm that they came from small bacteria that took up residence inside larger host cells. This includes the fact that chloroplasts and mitochondria contain their own DNA and ribosomes, and construct some of their own proteins required for their functioning. The DNA and ribosomes are clearly bacterial in many characteristics (and unlike the host cell’s nuclear DNA and ribosomes). In fact, by comparing ribosome structure, we can point to the likely strains of photosynthetic bacteria that gave rise to chloroplasts, and to the ATP-producing bacteria that gave rise to mitochondria. The phenomena of small cells living inside larger host cells, called endosymbiosis, is widespread in nature (e.g., single-celled photosynthetic algae inside the cells of coral animals). There is way more information to support this model for the origin of some cell organelles, but I’ll leave it as this.
The history behind this idea of the endosymbiotic origin of cell organelles is both fascinating and instructive. When it was first promoted some 50 years ago (around the time I was an undergraduate), many treated it as a crazy idea (some conservative creationists still do). But the evidence for it has mounted steadily to the point that it is now honored as a major breakthrough for helping to explain what was an ongoing question among biologists: the evolution of cells from prokaryote structure to eukaryote structure. It is an example of an unexplained phenomenon in nature that skeptics used to point at to dismiss evolution. The lesson, of course, is that unexplained things are not a blow to evolutionary thinking. As I indicated, I have witnessed one thing after another more fully explained about evolution in my forty years of study. It has been a wonderful ride, both as a scientist and one who celebrates the Creator-God of the Bible.
Thanks again for your comments.
Hi Dr. Fugle,
Thanks for your time in providing such a thoughtful and extensive response.
It seems you misread my comments in that I didn’t mention the question of the origin of life at all. My question is rather, where did cells come from? That is, how did cell walls, their complex inner structures and machinary evolve and from what? From what simpler structures did the unbelievably complex, factories we call cells evolve from?
In your response you speak of small bacteria inside larger host cells containing their own chloroplasts, mitochondria, ribosomes and DNA. Aren’t all those things mind-bogglingly complex? From a Darwinian viewpoint, those things didn’t “poof” out of nothing. They had to evolve, right? So, that’s not a question of the origin of life at all.
Can you describe the process which produced the photosynthetic bacteria and the ATP producing bacteria? Isn’t the production of ATP an enormously complex process rather than a humble/simple beginning from which to build eukaryote cells.
It seems as though you point to incredibly complex structures to explain larger complex structures. Given that, I have to assume that you understand next to nothing of the evolution of the smallest cell structures.
God-Led Evolution of the various parts of the first cellular life forms
is a perfectly good explanation for those who favor Theistic Evolution.
It’s only the Atheist Evolutionist that has to figure out how randomness
can lead to the construction of the first cellular life forms…
I like your post. Just because something in nature is unexplained doesn’t mean it will always be unexplained. These unexplained things are part of active, ongoing research.