The Heavens DeclareJune 13th, 2012 by Anthony Bosman
I was recently speaking with a friend who knows that I am a Christian studying math at a well-known research university. In our conversation, he asked if my Christian faith ever conflicts with my studies.
I understand his question. Much has been said about how the sciences appear to contradict the Biblical worldview: we can’t multiply bread in a lab and haven’t found the skeletons of our first parents. But I would like to suggest that at the heart of science is very compelling evidence to believe in the Creator God.1 Let me explain.
Much of what we recognize as modern science stems from the work of a few familiar names, such as Newton. Yet did you know Newton spent just as much time studying scripture as he did studying science? This is no coincidence. To us it seems natural that there is some equation to describe gravity and the other physical phenomena, but a priori there is little reason why this should be true. Why should the universe be ordered by “natural laws”? And moreover, why should we be able to understand and describe these laws? It isn’t clear. But Newton, and other men of faith, were convinced that there is a Creator who has ordered the universe. Moreover, they suspected He had made us so that we might study His works, so they set out to discover God’s fingerprints of order. And discover they did.
However, we might wonder if this order is self-imposed. Are we just forcing descriptions of order on things that are really quite messy and chaotic?
A bit of history helps to answer this question. Beginning in the 19th century math became abstract. Up until this point math was largely inspired by real world problems (counting sheep and building buildings). But in the 19th century, mathematicians started working with mathematical ideas that seemed to have no connections with the world.2 Now this may seem silly–why do math if it isn’t useful–but the mathematicians were fascinated by the order of the ideas that they were studying and somebody was foolish enough to keep paying them to do it.
The result was that a lot of books about interesting, albeit seemingly useless, math were written. But here’s the punchline: it wasn’t actually useless. In the 20th century, when physicists started studying things like relativity and quantum mechanics, they discovered that all this useless math that was lying around was perfect for explaining the phenomena that they were studying. At first they were suspicious because the math predicted really counter-intuitive things about the universe, but when they ran the experiments, the predictions were spot-on. They discovered that fundamentally, the universe is mathematically ordered.
Without a belief in the Creator God this doesn’t make sense. Nobel winning physicists E. Wigner explains it well, “The enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it.” He continues, “It is difficult to avoid the impression that a miracle confronts us here.”3
Creation still testifies of the Creator.
1Let me be cautious to clarify that not every accepted scientific theory is in harmony with scripture. And when there is a clear conflict, we shouldn’t try to force a harmony. The Christian scientist subjects the opinions of even the smartest men to the test of scripture. Yet while she may reject certain scientific claims, she is very comfortable in the domain of science. After all, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1).
2For instance, non-Euclidean geometry and abstract algebra were developed.
3See E. Wigner’s article, The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences (1960).