Science, general revelation, and common grace
He has made the earth by His power,
He has established the world by His wisdom,
And has stretched out the heavens at His discretion. (Jer 10:12)
They continue this day according to Your ordinances,
For all are Your servants. (Psalm 119:91)
When I took a course on Advanced Engineering Mathematics last semester, I was surprised to find the following words in the opening chapter of my textbook, since it is quite seldom to see this kind of inquiry in an engineering textbook: “The great success of science became possible, because of its active use of mathematics. But why does mathematics work? Why is it possible to express physical phenomena by means of formulae? The answer to these and many similar questions lies in the fact that nature is organized in such a way that all natural phenomena can happen only in accord with some fundamental principles or laws. These laws cannot be violated and determine all observable phenomena. Such laws, or principles, are called fundamental, because they cannot be established theoretically, but follow from human experience. If there were no such fundamental principles in nature, mathematics–as well as other natural sciences–would be completely useless” (V. V. Kulish, Partial Differential Equation, p. 3).
The Bible states that God “established the world by His wisdom.” The world and all its processes are upheld by His wisdom. We perceive this upholding of God as the laws of nature–the fundamental laws mentioned above. Without these laws, there would be no order; in fact there would be no creation. It is the creative word of God that has upheld and will continue to uphold everything that exists. The functioning of the universe “continues this day according to [His] ordinances.” This is then what makes science possible: that the fundamental order presents in nature is taken as its presupposition–its starting point. This is also the reason why, as Nancy Pearcey writes, “…most of the early modern scientists were Christians. They believed that matter was not preexisting but had come from the hand of God. Thus it had no power to resist His will but would “obey” the rules He had laid down–with mathematical precision” (Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, p. 43). R. G. Collingwood also made similar observation, “The possibility of an applied mathematics is an expression, in terms of natural science, of the Christian belief that nature is the creation of an omnipotent God” (cited in Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, p. 43). “…matter which God has created from nothing may well strictly follow the rules which its Creator has laid down for it. In this sense I called modern science a legacy, I might even have said a child, of Christianity” (Carl von Weizsacker, as cited in Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, p. 399).
Now why is it that these fundamental laws “cannot be established theoretically”? As I pondered on this I came accross that indeed these fundamental laws are necessarily inexplicable. It is not our theory that establishes them, but God’s wisdom. Therefore these fundamental laws will remain inexplicable, for His thoughts are far higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). And as I read from Romans 1:19-20, it was only by grace that we could discover many things in nature. The creation of the universe itself is a means of God to reveal Himself to men. Our discoveries and pursuit of natural knowledge–our understanding of what has been made–should lead us to see God’s invisible qualities–His eternal power and divine nature. But how could it be possible if God had not created the universe? What to discover if nature itself does not exist? Nevertheless, by His grace He has made plain His invisible qualities through His creation–the things that have been made. What is invisible has been made clearly visible. This is what we call general revelation. This in itself is a revelation. He has revealed what He wants us to know, even if there still remains laws which cannot be established theoretically.
When we observe nature, then, it should point us to acknowledge our Creator, the God who made it and continues to uphold it. To function as a scientist one must necessarily take the fundamental laws as his/her starting point. To reverse the question put forth by one of my lecturer, then, it is more reasonable to ask, “I wonder why are there scientists who at the same time [do not] believe in God?”
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- November 17, 2005 / 16:29