Opening the Book of Nature

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows forth his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge… Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

— King David of Israel

The whole frame of the world is the Theatre, and every creature the stage, the medium, the glass in which we may see God.

— John Donne

Th’unwearied sun, from day to day,

Does his creator’s power display,

And publishes to every land

The work of an almighty hand.

— Joseph Addison

We feel it deeply, almost beyond words… beauty points to Beauty, which points to something, or rather perhaps someone, more or “higher.”[1] Indeed, when we view the Medici Venus or the Death of Adonis by Sebastiano del Piambo, or read the Sonnets of Shakespeare or the ingenious works of Leo Tolstoy, or gaze upon a clear and serene blue sky or the grandeur of Mt. Everest or the Amazon River, or listen to the symphonies of Mozart, or visit the Pyramids of Egypt or the Taj Mahal; there is something mysterious that stirs our hearts, our souls, and seems to promise to somehow ultimately satisfy our deepest yearning for meaning, which will then surely lead to purpose and self-actualization.[2] Won’t it? Or “does this represent anything greater than … the mysterious force which chases the moth into the flame?”[3]

Yet, is life truly and totally meaningless? No, and this we sense very deeply. However, we might suppose, if we only knew our existence is meaningless, then we would at least have meaningful knowledge, and surely this would count for something. A creature, who possesses no innate knowledge at all would not be aware of its own lack of meaning. In fact, a universe of turbulence, chaos, blind and meaningless forces arising from cold and totally impersonal, chance evolution, with no vitality, could not contain beings aware of this tragic fact.[4] But beyond our innate and very deep appreciation for beauty, and so much more, we know intuitively that there is more than meaninglessness, and this mere observation turns back round to confirm itself.

As astronomer Hugh Ross opines:

… if the universe is created, then there must be reality beyond the universe. The Creator is that ultimate reality and wields authority over all else. The Creator is the source of life and establishes its meaning and purpose. The Creator’s nature defines personality. The Creator’s character defines morality. Thus, to study the origin and development of the universe is, in a sense, to investigate the basis for any meaning and purpose to life. Cosmology has deep theological and philosophical ramifications.[5]

More than this, perhaps, as contemporary Anglican theologian and biochemist, Arthur Peacocke, so rightly observed: “The most striking feature of the universe is one that is so obvious that we often overlook it — namely the fact that we are here to ask questions about it,” as well as ourselves, and to investigate, analyze and draw conclusions. This includes the “capacity for abstract thought (that) appears to be distinctively human,” as well as “the acquisition of language…”[6] And from this unique foundation, we are able to think creatively, create from creative thought, and communicate both verbally and non-verbally with one another.[7]

So then, the human may only be a “thinking reed,” as Pascal said, but this fact alone is significant. For “by his rational consciousness he rises above the entire world, for he surveys it. Born for a brief instant, powerlessly carried along by the rapid flow of time and condemned by” the same to certain death, humanity nevertheless possesses eternity in its heart.[8] From where does this arise? We intuitively know we are unique and uniquely valuable from intricate, intimate observation of the world around us and the realization of our observations, that is, the awareness that we are making rational observations, asking questions, drawing conclusions, one of which seems to be that the world has been especially fitted for us, and that this world has far more to tell us than so much about ourselves and other forms of life and insentient objects. Ah, there is more… There is something or, perhaps better yet, Someone more.

Philosopher and scientist Robert Boyle said, “And when with excellent microscopes I discern in otherwise invisible objects the inimitable subtlety of Nature’s curious workmanship; and when, in a word, by the help of anatomical knives, and the light of chemical furnaces, I study the Book of Nature … I find myself oftentimes reduced to exclaim with the Psalmist, “How manifold are thy works, O Lord? In wisdom hast thou made them all.”[9] Indeed, the Book of Nature opens wide to reveal its Author.


[1] Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just, 47

[2] Allen and Springsted, Philosophy for Understanding Theology, 21 – 24 passim

[3] S. L. Frank, The Meaning of Life, 2

[4] S. L. Frank, The Meaning of Life, 51: Note: if it were the case that the universe and all therein were merely the product of blind and totally impersonal chance, somehow arising into an order from within chaos, then the situation would not really be tragic because no conscious being would be present to perceive, and to apprehend, this great tragedy.

[5] Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Latest Scientific Discoveries Reveal God, 16

[6] Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age, 72 – 73

[7] Ibid, 53

[8] Ibid

[9] Robert Boyle, Some Motives and Incentives to the Love of God, 56 – 57


References

Allen, Diogenes, and Eric O. Springsted. Philosophy for Understanding Theology. Second. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.

Boyle, Robert. Some Motives and Incentives to the Love of God. Hard Press Publishing, 2020 (Reprint).

Frank, Semen L. The Meaning of Life. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Peacocke, Arthur. Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming – Natural, Divine, and Human. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Ross, Hugh. The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Latest Scientific Discoveries Reveal God. Fourth Edition. Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe Press, 1993, 2018.

Scarry, Elaine. “On Beauty and Being Just.” Princeton: Princetone University Press, 1999.

4 thoughts on “Opening the Book of Nature

    1. Oh yes, thankfully we have remained Covid-free, although the numbers of cases here keep rising! How have you and your family been? Especially with Covid? All is well, I hope and pray!

      1. Good t hear. We’re okay also. We’re very careful. So far, we only had a couple coming for dinner in the backyard once. We haven’t eaten out since March. We went to Portland, OR twice to visit the granddaughters but practice social distancing!

        1. Oh, I’m so glad to hear you all are doing well, and also that at least you’ve been able to visit family in Portland. I know that’s really important and a tremendous blessing. It’s frightening and sad that the COVID numbers are increasing again and doing so rather quickly from what I understand. It really is wise for ALL of us to wear masks publicly, practice social distancing, use hand sanitizer, etc. We need to exercise a great deal of caution and common sense safe-health precautions. God bless!

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