A college physics course experiment was an eye-opener. The purpose of the experiment was to measure the earth’s gravitational acceleration from an object in free fall. (See PDF below for an example). But that day in the physics lab the experiment took on greater significance. I found out that God has two books – scripture and science – and the books go hand in hand.
As I see it, scripture provides the origin and context for all understanding. From the ancient cosmology starting point In the beginning God created the heavens and earth to John the Elder introducing us to the incarnation of that cosmology – Jesus, the way, the truth and life.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1–3)
Science can explain the material world, the mechanisms of creation and the forces (gravity, tension, spring, etc.) at work on earth in sublime mathematical terms. In fact, four fundamental forces make it possible for humans (and scripture) to exist in the habitable zone called earth.
I grew up in a Sola Scriptura universe. I attended Baptist and Bible churches for the first half of my life. I attended Moody Bible Institute after high school. These institutions posited the trinity of scripture, right living, and evangelism. These mattered most in that constrained cosmology. The material world seemed immaterial to those who preached and taught, except for tithing and the payment of room and board.
In that context, gospel songs seemed to promote a disdain for the physical world:
This World is Not My Home
This world is not my home,
I’m just a-passing through
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me
From heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home
In this world anymore . . .
This world is not my home? Hmmm. Why did God create the material heavens and earth? And why did God bother giving material creation order and function to fashion a temple where He could dwell with man, as described in Genesis 1 and 2? Why bother setting up a temple garden? Are we meant to look down on creation from some heavenly perch?
During those times of sermons and studies, I heard nothing about the material nature of things or of science. By its avoidance it implied, for me at least, that the material world was linked with “the natural man” and the world, the flesh, and the devil. As such, the material world needed to be done away with the parts of me that were sinful (Col. 3:5). There was also the highly popular but errant end-time teaching and best-selling books describing a rapture that would whisk believers away from corrupted earth.
But that day in the lab as I calculated the acceleration due to gravity, I understood that a force acted to keep me on the earth. I also realized that I had come across a companion book to scripture. Scripture says Jesus holds all things together (Col. 1:17). Science says that gravity is the force the holds everything in the universe together. That day I realized that the Lord was increasing the magnitude of my cosmology with a down-to-earth experiment.
Science offered me new insight into God the Creator. Matter matters to God. Holding things together matters to God. Jesus offering his body and blood as true food and drink in the material elements of bread and wine took on new meaning.
Why study the mechanical nature of things? Why study science? For several reasons: Everything in the natural world is a sign, a trace, an echo, an image and a sacrament of the triune God. The goodness of God is diffused into His good creation. As such, everything in creation has been given a profound relationality with a space to be and a sense of particularity so that it is encountered and not just used.
Why study the science of things? Because God made them to be studied. God made the unpredictability of quantum physics for us to puzzle over, to reflect on and then to uncover its mysteries, e.g., light as both particle and wave. The contemplative exercise is necessary for science. And, it what’s required for our theology of the mysterious three-in-one Trinity.
Why study the science of things? Because nothing is stamped on the bottom, “made by God.” That’s for us to find out. We were created to look into mysteries and to be scientists.
Of course, there are people who are terrified of looking at information that doesn’t align with what they have been told for so many years. When I told my mother that I accepted the thinking that the universe came into existence with the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago and the theory of evolutionary creationism, she told me “That’s heresy! I have no doubt that she prayed for my soul after that call. Mom is now with the Lord. Her concerns have been allayed.
I have read and been wowed by many science texts including books about genomics, quantum physics, astrophysics, and the periodic table. I’ve learned that God creates in particular and yet everything created is related. Electrons are relational to protons and neutrons. The periodic table reveals that relationality.
As I recorded data that remarkable day in the physics lab, I said “This is soooooo cool!” I felt an incredible sense of awe and wonder. I had found the relationality of scripture and science.
And he is ahead, prior to all else,
And in him all things hold together
–The Letter of Paul to the Colossians 1: 17
An approaching moving day and what it involves is what prompted this post. As with every previous move, I need to sort through things to see what stays behind and what goes forward. The same process of sorting out what makes sense to keep applies to one’s reasoning and faith, to one’s understanding of science and scripture, and to achieving maturity.
Denis Alexander of the Faraday Institute