the Divine in Nature
The very nature of the Earth,
of the heavens, and of life
point us to recognition of God.
By Fr. James Thornton
A PASSAGE IN THE BOOK OF PSALMS reads, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handywork.” To most men living in the time before the rise of modern science, to look up into the sky was to see irrefutable evidence of God's glory and of His boundless power. The daytime dominated by the majestic fiery orb of the sun, with its life-bestowing warmth and light, and the black dome of the night, with its mysterious moon and its millions of bright stars and many planets, could be logically explained in no other way. Wise men reasoned that these things could not generate themselves, that a Being of fearsome, infinite capabilities — God Himself in other words — created them. But not everyone is moved by such logic. Despite evidence everywhere, some men deny the reality of a supernatural Creator.
From the beginnings of recorded history, there have been men who believe that all comes from God, and men who reject that truth. At various times and in various places, there have been larger or smaller numbers of theistic believers, but always there have been some who wished to spurn the idea of God and of His involvement in that which He created, to reject God as the First Cause of time, space, matter, and life.
Seventeen hundred years ago, for example, St. Basil the Great admonished his listeners as follows: “Do not say that anything automatically came into being by itself. Nothing springs out of disorder, out of infinity, just by chance. Nothing moves about the universe accidentally, or because of luck.... Such are but the conjectures of uncultured peoples. Nothing is without Providence; nothing is neglected by God.”
Another giant of that era, St. John Chrysostom, observed that, “To say that creation sprang from pre-existent matter, and not to acknowledge the Creator who created everything out of nothing — this is a mark of the lowest form of stupidity.” From these quotations we see that the notion that the universe came into existence through some process of self-generation,without the conscious act of an intelligent Creator, required refutation even then, in what we now regard as an Age of Faith, though in those centuries, and for many thereafter, non-believers made up an insignificant minority.
Russian Orthodox philosopher Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn warns that the source of Western man's present difficulties is that he has forgotten God. That way of thinking gathered strength during the Renaissance, he points out, when educated people began to magnify man and his accomplishments, making them the focal point and center of a new worldview, and to diminish the importance of, or completely to exclude, God. Man became the measure of all things. Solzhenitsyn believes that this was a turning point for our civilization, and quite obviously he is correct. He writes that, “The humanistic way of thinking, which had proclaimed itself our guide, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man, nor did it see any task higher than the attainment of happiness on earth. It started modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend of worshipping man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and the accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any higher meaning.” This seed of evil, planted so long ago, did not sprout, grow, mature, and flower all at once or even quickly. Rather, the process was exceedingly slow, almost invisible, creeping forward, snaillike, for a very long time. Yet, even from the start of this trend, certain men at least, some very bright and persuasive, had commenced to forget God and, what is worse, to disseminate their errors widely.
University of Chicago philosopher, the late Richard M. Weaver, pointed out in his brilliant work, Ideas Have Consequences, that one of the features that distinguished the Middle Ages from the new age that rose up with the Renaissance was that the greatest minds of the Medieval world were focused on the larger questions of God, of the nature of the world, and of the relationship between God and mankind. These minds tried to conceptualize their ideas in the very broadest and deepest terms, to capture a vast “general synthesis” that would at the same time express eternal truth and assure the overall good estate of the Christian community. Thus the ideal of that age was the philosophic doctor, the master of fundamental principles, whose “knowledge of ultimate matters conferred a right to decide ultimate questions.” But, with the worldview of the Renaissance, centered as it was on man, the best minds began to eschew the concept of a “general synthesis” and to focus exclusively on fragmentary knowledge, that is, on extreme specialization.
Weaver notes that specialization develops only part of a man, and a man partly developed is, in a philosophical sense, deformed. Thus, one who is philosophically deformed is the last person to whom one should look for knowledge of basic principles, or for enlightenment about solving the problems of human societies. Similarly, José Ortega y Gasset remarks in The Revolt of the Masses, published more than sixty years ago, that beginning with the Renaissance, “...in each generation the scientist, through having to reduce the sphere of his labor, was progressively losing contact with other branches of science, with that integral interpretation of the universe which is the only thing deserving the names of science, culture, civilization.”
The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed the rise of the positive sciences and with this an intensification in skepticism about God and the claims of traditional religion, especially among the educated classes. This inclination became most marked after the publication of The Origin of the Species and The Descent of Man, by the naturalist Charles Darwin. Darwin ascribed man's immediate ancestry to the anthropoids, supposedly through a process of gradual evolution. Man was no longer a creature made in the image of God, but merely a natural extension of certain lower forms of life, a refined Gorilla, as it were. It was these circumstances, and this intellectual milieu, that led philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to declare that “God is dead” and to predict the rise of new and terrible manifestations of barbarism in the century that was to come. As he put it, “For...we shall have upheavals, a convulsion of earthquakes, a moving of mountains and valleys, the like of which has never been dreamed of... there will be wars the like of which have never yet been seen on earth.” The non-believer Nietzsche would agree wholly with the Christian believer Dostoyevsky about one thing, and that was that without faith in God, all horrors, all of man's worst nightmares, would become possible. And so they did. What men believe matters.
SCIENCE CONTINUED its victorious march, with all of its attendant ramifications and end products and side effects, throughout our own twentieth century, and religious apathy and materialism has spread from the educated classes to all categories of people. This is especially true in Europe, where the percent of those who attend church has dropped into the single digits, and it is true to a somewhat less spectacular degree in the United States, where the percentage attending church regularly has declined to below one half of the total population. Yet, despite the fact that the current has long run against traditional beliefs and traditional believers, and despite the ongoing ascendancy of science and of its immense prestige and philosophical dominance within our culture, a unexpected thing is happening. The very nature of new scientific discoveries is forcing honest scientists back towards that broader, deeper view of things and back to a serious reconsideration of the Christian believer's view of life and view of the world around us. This is true at the level of the macrocosmic, revealed to us through telescopes and the instruments of astronomy, and at the level of the microcosmic, shown to us by researchers using the most sophisticated electron microscopes.
So remarkable and vigorous is this new trend that physicist Frank J. Tippler, while by no means himself an orthodox believer, nonetheless has proclaimed publicly that “theology is a branch of physics” and that “physicists can infer by calculation the existence of God....” Paradoxically, new evidences of God are emerging from the investigations of modern science. As Dr. Hugh Ross, who holds advanced degrees in both physics and astronomy, writes, “Often ... the stated basis for rejection of the God of the Bible is a lack of absolute proof of his existence. But we humans are limited to the space-time dimensions of the universe, and we lack the means to explore everything within those space-time dimensions. Therefore we are incapable of absolute proof for anything. Nevertheless, that does not mean we cannot draw secure conclusions. For example, we lack absolute proof that the earth is spherical rather than flat. Nevertheless, we accept the sphericity of the earth because the evidences for it have accumulated to such an abundance as to remove reasonable doubt. And as time and research progress, those evidences only increase. A similar state of affairs has developed and is continuing to develop for the existence of the God of the Bible.”
Since, in the Medieval world, philosophy and the methods of philosophy held sway, men of that time preferred to point to philosophical proofs of God's existence. Those methods continue to appear in many modern volumes of Christian apologetics. Characteristic of such works is I.M. Andreyev's Orthodox Apologetic Theology which sets down cosmological, teleological, ontological, and ethical proofs for God's existence. Such collections of evidence were very appealing and satisfying to the cultivated minds of the Middle Ages, and they remain so to minds steeped in philosophical or theological reasoning. They are, generally speaking, less convincing to more typical moderns, whose outlooks are permeated to a greater or lesser extent by the methods of empirical science. Our ancestors preferred abstract logic and reason, which corresponded to the Medieval Zeitgeist, but most modern men like what they consider hard, solid proof that they can see, or can at least know experimentally.
SCIENCE, IT APPEARS, can now deliver impressive new information about cosmogony, the study of the origin of the universe, and what it tells us is that our world and our universe are not products of some random, aimless, accidental process, but, on the contrary, exhibit abundant evidence that they exist as they do at the direction of a higher, Supernatural Intelligence, Who has so ordered the enormously complex things He has created, including the enormously complex laws that govern the operation of physical creation — from the motion of the heavenly bodies that make up our galaxy to the precise forms of the atoms that make up all matter — that they are congenial to life here on earth. Let us first contemplate some of the evidence on the “macro” scale, on the scale of the galaxies, stars, and planets.
Our own planet, earth, is unique among all of the heavenly bodies known to man. Science tells us that the earth is precisely positioned so as to make possible an abundance of life. Were it as much as two percent closer to, or farther away from, the Sun, life would disappear. The precise tilt of the earth in relation to the plane of its orbit around the Sun is also essential to life, since it further stabilizes temperature and prevents extremes. An earth that rotated even slightly more slowly would produce differences in day and night temperatures that would make life difficult or impossible. A rotation more rapid would cause catastrophic wind storms that would sweep away everything in their paths. The speed of rotation is precisely what is needed for human life.
Volcanic activity and plate tectonics continually act to expand the area of dry land. This activity is offset, almost exactly, by the processes of erosion, making the landmass area more or less constant. Since huge masses of water tend to hold warmth, the precise ratio of land masses to oceans also tends to stabilize the earth's temperature. Furthermore, tectonic activity in ocean beds tends to stir up and re-circulate nutrients washed into the oceans by erosion.
Carnegie Institution scientist George Wetherell recently determined that the arrangement of the planets in our solar system is propitious for life on earth. He believes that the giant planet Jupiter, bigger by two and a half times than all the other planets combined and with a colossal gravitational pull, tends to protect the inner planets from impacts from comets. In his judgement, the earth would be struck a thousand times more frequently were Jupiter not exactly where it is. Moreover, according to Jacques Laskar, a French astrophysicist, the highly regular orbits of Jupiter, Saturn, and the other outer planets act to stabilize the orbits of the inner planets, including that of the earth. Were that not the case, drastic changes in orbit would make our climate inhospitable for life. Dr. Hugh Ross points out that were the earth's mean temperature to cool by just a few degrees, the planet would experience a runaway freeze-up. Conversely, were the mean temperature to increase a few degrees, conditions would be generated that would cause a steady, ever-continuing rise in surface temperature. But none of these things happen; earth's temperature remains constant.
Ross points out a truly amazing case of planning by an Intelligent Creator: “The sun's luminosity ... has increased by more than 35% since life was first introduced on earth. Such a change is more than enough to exterminate life. But life survived on earth because the increase in solar luminosity was exactly cancelled out each step of the way by a decrease in the efficiency of the greenhouse effect in earth's atmosphere. The decrease in greenhouse efficiency arose through the careful introduction of just the right species of life in just the right quantities at just the right times.” How, he goes on to say, could a strictly natural Darwinian process anticipate the physics of solar burning?
Water is one of the essentials for life. Most of the H2O in the universe is either in the form of ice or vapor. Free-flowing water, so common on our planet that we do not even think about it, is apparently uncommon elsewhere and requires a rather narrow range of temperature to continue to exist in that state. On earth, water moves about in a continuous cycle, being drawn up in the form of water vapor, and then falling back to earth as rain or snow, flowing down rivers eventually to return to the sea, where it begins the cycle over again. This water cycle too is crucial to the existence of higher forms of life, and probably to life per se.
Every schoolchild knows that matter contracts when it is cooled and expands when it is warmed. Yet there is an exception to this general principle when the temperature of water drops to the freezing point. At that point, the ice that is formed slightly expands, allowing the ice to float on the top of a body of water instead of sinking to the bottom. If this were not the case, all of the water in lakes and rivers would freeze during the winter season, killing all the fish and other life therein. How else to explain this extraordinary exception allowing continuation of this life but through the handiwork of the Creator?
In his book The Creator and the Cosmos, and in a separate article, “Astronomical Evidences for a Personal, Transcendent God,” appearing in the collection The Creation Hypothesis, Dr. Ross presents impressive lists of further proofs, drawn from nature, supporting the idea of an All-Wise Creator. Among these are the following:
Our moon is larger in relation to its planet than any other in our solar system. This allows it to wield sufficient gravitational force to affect tides, thereby cleansing coastal waters and keeping nutrients replenished. Yet, it is not so great as to cause too severe a tidal effect on oceans and the atmosphere. The thickness of the crust of the earth is precisely right. Were it much thicker, too much oxygen would be transferred from the atmosphere to the crust, and if it were thinner volcanic and tectonic activity would be too frequent and violent. The oxygen to nitrogen ratio is such that advanced life functions proceed neither too quickly nor too slowly. The amount of reflected light in relation to the total amount falling on the surface of the planet is just right. Were it greater, glaciation would cover much of the earth. Were it lesser, a runaway greenhouse effect would develop.
ROSS ATTACKS AN INTRIGUING QUESTION that sometimes places those who believe in a personal Creator on the defensive. If the whole object of creation was our tiny planet, the earth, and the human beings living on this tiny planet, why did God create so vast a universe? The author supplies a highly credible response: “...the mass density of the universe, as huge as it is, focuses on the needs of humans. How? The mass density determines how efficiently nuclear fusion operates in the cosmos. The mass density we measure translates into about a hundred-billion-trillion stars...” If the mass density is too great, he explains, too much deuterium is made which would have caused the stars to burn too quickly. However, if the mass density is too small, so little deuterium and helium are produced that the heavier elements requisite for life would not have formed. “What that means,” he comments, “is that the approximately hundred-billion-trillion stars we observe in the universe — no more and no less — are needed for life to be possible in the universe. God invested heavily in living creatures. He constructed all these stars and carefully crafted them throughout the age of the universe so that ... humans could exist and have a pleasant place to live.”
Ross calculates, in one of the many tables in his book, within forty-one different “design parameters,” the probabilities for attaining the necessary conditions to support life, from such things as the size and nature of our galaxy and the global distribution of continents, down to soil mineralization and seismic activity. The probability, he writes, that even one such planet would occur accidentally anywhere in the universe, is much less than one chance in one million trillion.
Ross concludes with these words: “...the characteristics of the universe, of our galaxy, and of the solar system are so finely tuned to support life that the only reasonable explanation for this is the forethought of a personal, intelligent Creator whose involvement explains the degree of fine-tunedness. It requires power and purpose.”
NO LESS PURPOSEFUL, and no less indicative of God's power, is the nature of life itself, as revealed to us by researchers into life at the microcosmic level.
A.E. Wilder-Smith holds three doctoral degrees and is counted one of Europe's great scientists. Wilder-Smith writes of a startling paradox in the thinking of those who believe that the universe, and life on earth, are naturalistic phenomena.
According to naturalistic thinkers, life sprang forth spontaneously from non-living matter here on earth, and eventually evolved through various stages to become man. Now, inasmuch as there are billions of stars, it is mathematically probable that there will be countless planets as well, and by laws of probability there will be other planets like earth, where conditions will be harmonious for life. (This theory is false, of course, as we have already seen from Dr. Hugh Ross' research, but it is still promoted by some). Given long enough periods of time, and favorable conditions like those of earth, life, according to naturalistic thinkers, will automatically and inevitably spring up and evolve upward from the less to the more complex. Human or humanoid creatures are inevitable too, according to this model, and science and technology are inevitable. That means that, according to their ideology, human creatures rather like ourselves must be out there, and some of them must have, by now, developed similarly to ourselves and must therefore be capable of sending radio signals into space, since they too will have come to the realization that they are not alone.
Now an interesting question arises. How do we tell the difference between signals from some extra-terrestrial intelligent life forms, and the sorts of radio emissions produced by stars, pulsars, radiation, and so forth? The answer is that signals from an intelligent life form must be “a non-random series of impulses.” As Wilder-Smith observes, “If any source of emission betrays non-random impulses or sequences which can be reduced to a code or a language, then that source betrays intelligent properties of some sort.” All scientists would agree that non-random radio impulses cannot originate in natural law, and so, “when radio astronomers or other scientists pick up any emission or emissions showing non-random sequences they will be hot on the track of ETI [extra-terrestrial intelligence].”
Random impulses contain no messages, but non-random impulses do, according to some particular language convention. As the author puts it, “Sometimes a great deal of erudition is needed to derive from non-random sequences the language convention bearing the message. This high art is regularly practiced in deciphering ancient documents written in unknown languages, for the frequency of certain letters and their sequences in a document sometimes betrays the language convention, which information then yields the meaning or intelligent message hidden in the composition.” Should our searches of the universe with radio telescopes pick up the right sorts of signals, then scientists can claim to have evidence for extra-terrestrial intelligent life. Despite ongoing attempts for almost forty years, and vast sums of taxpayer money expended, no signals from outer space have ever been detected. However, it seems that scientists have been looking in the wrong place.
The base sequences of the genetic code, that is the order in which adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine appear in succession to one another, is certainly by no means random,” states Dr. Wilder-Smith. “...The sequencing of the whole long biologically active DNA macromolecule is certainly and totally non-random in nature. ... But over and above the non-randomness of the DNA sequencing hard work on the part of Crick and Watson and many others following them revealed that this non-randomness of the sequencing is contingent upon a language convention.... ... What other conclusion is possible from these facts but that behind such non-random genetic sequences governed by a language convention, intelligence or at least an intelligent source must with certainty lie?”
Wilder-Smith suggests that ETI scientists step away from their radio telescope searches for non-random sequencing and instead take a close look into an electron microscope at some suitably prepared genetic code sequences, where they will see exactly that for which they have been looking. “In many cases,” he says, “the non-random sequencing may be directly perceived!” In so looking, if they grasp what they are looking at, and if they are truly honest and not wholly self-serving, they will be forced to admit that “an intelligent source must be the initiator of this fact of nature” and that “information and intelligence are behind all biology and the genetic code...” True science, in the hands of honest and true scientists, supports the assumption that God exists and is the Intelligence, the Master Planner, the Designer responsible for all creation and for life.
Drs. Walter L. Bradley and Charles B. Thaxton jointly authored a paper called “Information and the Origin of Life,” which appears in The Creation Hypothesis. Their conclusions are similar to those of Wilder-Smith. They write, “Since DNA is an essential molecular component of every form of life we know, we likewise conclude that life on earth had an intelligent cause. The discovery that DNA conveys a genetic message gives the argument from design a new twist. Since life is at its core a chemical message system, the origin of life is the origin of information… We cannot identify that source any further from a scientific analysis alone… All we can say is that given the information in a DNA molecule, it is certainly reasonable to posit that an intelligent agent made it. Life came from a ‘who’ instead of a ‘what’.”
Science indeed is discovering God and revealing the wonder of His creation. At the levels of the unimaginably vast cosmos, and at the level of the microscopic, evidence is accumulating that favors belief in God. Scientists, previously committed to a naturalistic, materialistic, atheistic worldview are admitting that there is much more to the universe, the world, and life than they previously suspected.
Astrophysicist Paul Davies writes that the laws of physics, “seem themselves to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design,” and says further that there now exists, “powerful evidence that there is ‘something going on’ behind it all.” Davies also states that, “The impression of design [in the universe] is overwhelming.” Another scientist, George Greenstein, was even more pointed in his remarks: “As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency — or, rather, Agency — must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence if a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?” American astronaut Gordon Cooper expressed his conviction that the subtle workings of the vast universe around us were themselves evidence of God: “The more one learns about scientific endeavors, the more one is convinced of the wonders of God's creation. The more one contemplates the complex workings of millions of planetary bodies, and the unknown immensity of space, the more one realizes what a fantastic miracle it all is.” We are reminded that even Albert Einstein, though he steadfastly rejected the notion of a personal God, still came to the conclusion later in his life that the universe had a beginning, and that “a superior reasoning power” had to be responsible for this beginning.
When we look closely at the universe, we see the hand of God. Likewise, when we view the fantastically complex underlying structure and chemistry of life, indications of God's work are unmistakable. Scientists, only a few decades ago, were confident that they would soon crack the mystery of life, and would very likely be able to “create” life in test tubes, using only raw chemicals. But the mechanics of life soon proved beyond the most clever of scientists. Sir Francis Crick has noted that the “origin of life seems almost to be a miracle, so many are the difficulties in its occurring.” Another scholar, Klaus Dose, says that the solutions to the difficulties in origin-of-life research are in fact, “beyond our imagination.”
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handywork.” Indeed, the majesty, the power, and the glory of God, on the one hand, and the intense love and care for mankind by our Father, Creator, and Benefactor, on the other, is amply manifested by the design of our universe, of our solar system, and of our planet, and it is manifested equally clearly by the infinitesimal architecture of all life itself. Men are not sophisticated beasts by nature, they are not elaborated kinds of apes. They are children of God, unique among all creation, fashioned in His image. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore, with lovingkindness have I drawn thee,” (31:3) and, “He hath made the earth by His power, He hath established the world by His wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by His understanding” (51:15).
Missionary Leaflet # E12c
Copyright © 1998 and Published by
Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church
2049 Argyle Ave. Los Angeles, California 90068
Editor: Archimandrite Alexander (Mileant)