How physics fits within Christianity (part 2)

My previous post in this series examined what physics says about God. This post is about what God says about physics in particular, and science in general. There will be many parallels with the previous post, since natural revelation and special revelation must be in agreement, and we're just looking at one relationship from those two perspectives. But certain things will be clearer in one perspective than the other.

So, what does God say about physics, or about science in general?

We start with Genesis 1:1. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." This tells us that the universe is God's creation. Contrast that with some early heresies, which said the physical universe was created by Satan or other lesser beings, and atheism, which says that the universe doesn't have a Creator. Believing either of those falsehoods would have implications about how we study the universe, or whether it's possible or advisable at all. But the book of Genesis says that the universe is a good thing (although it's been marred by the fall) - the work of a good Creator, who declared it to be good.

When we examine the universe, we agree with Genesis 1 and find it to be good, a fitting product for the work of the Almighty. We also agree with king David, who in Psalms 19:1 says "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands". In this passage we are also partly informed of the purpose of the universe. The universe is not just good, but also glorious, because it was made to declare the glory of God himself. The universe was meant to show us what God is like. It shows us that he is good and glorious.

The universe reveals God to us, not only by its outward appearances (such as the heavens in Psalms 19), but also in its inner workings. Proverbs 3:19-20 and Jeremiah 10:12 says that God used knowledge, wisdom and understanding in addition to his power to make the universe. The universe is not made haphazardly. It is also not made from a simple, raw act of God's power over existence, which would then contain no trace of his wisdom and understanding. Instead it's built with patterns, rules, beauty, and truth - in short, wisdom and understanding - in every slice of its construction. This is where physics takes place. The reason for all this is still the same: so that the universe can reveal what God is like to us. Therefore by looking at the universe - at both the existing matter and its inner workings - we can see that God is good and glorious, full of knowledge and wisdom.

All this means that science is actually possible. We can examine, study, and understand the universe for ourselves to learn more about God, because that very activity is one of God's goals in making the universe. The Bible encourages us to do exactly that: Psalms 111:2 says "Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them." That is a succinct description of natural philosophy, a precursor to science. Proverbs 25:2 says "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings", thereby elevating science - the pursuit of God's secrets - to the kingly glory of playing hide and seek with God.

Now, when God is revealed in science, he does not merely inform us about himself - he changes us. Psalms 8:3-8 describes the proper response to God's revelation in nature. "When I consider... the work of your fingers... What is mankind that you are mindful of him?" This is the sense of awe and humility reported by many scientists. It is likely what Einstein called "the sense of the mysterious", and what Newton has described as being like a small child playing on the beach to a vast ocean of truth. We cannot help but feel small and humble when compared to the splendor and vastness of God's creation. And yet, the passage in Psalms 8 continues and says "You have... crowned [humans] with glory and honor. You have made them rulers over the works of your hands", showing us that somehow (that is, through Christ), we small humans are actually the pinnacles of God's creation and rulers over nature. So studying science is both a humbling and uplifting process, as described by Psalms 8.

Does this all mean that science is the chief end of man, the purpose for which he was created? No. Apostle Paul uses God's revelation in nature as a way to convict us of sin in Romans 1:19-20, leading up to his presentation of the Gospel. Indeed, the proper understanding of nature as a whole (including disciplines like evolutionary biology and psychology) shows us how much we are unlike God, how far we are from his perfection, and how much we need him. Science, like all other gifts that God has given us, serves only as a pointer to Christ, in whom we do find the ultimate purpose for our creation.

Paul summarizes this in 1 Corinthians 13. One day - one dreadful, fine, perfect day - all science, all knowledge, even if it is wondrous, heavenly knowledge such as the understanding of tongues of angels or prophecies or mysteries, will pass away. There will only be Love himself, in whom we will have everything else. Because when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. We are now children, and our knowledge, science, thoughts, and reasoning are still childish and will eventually be put away. We see through science a picture of God, as in an imperfect, fallen mirror. But one day, we shall be fully grown. Then we shall see face to face. Then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known.

Meanwhile, we are to do the best we can with what we have. Because our current science is imperfect, we are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to test everything, and hold on to the good. That is the essence of the scientific method, which is the best we can do in a fallen world. But we keep going, because science is still a noble pursuit, and even imperfect knowledge gives us glimpses of what God is like. As Deuteronomy 29:29 says: "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever".


You may next want to read:
Science as evidence for Christianity (Summary and Conclusion)
The Gospel: the central message of Christianity (part 1)
Another post, from the table of contents

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