HOW TIMES CHANGE. To state the obvious, before Lyell and Darwin turned European thought upside down, all Christians gave God the credit for the marvels and mysteries of nature. Since Darwin's zealous disciples have gone into all the world and incessantly preached his gospel of descent by modification to all creatures, Christendom, fallen victim to evolution's implacable evangelism, has generally replaced the sublime truth that “without [Jesus] was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3) with the elegy “all things bright and beautiful, natural selection made them all”. In the late 1990s, Pope John Paul II accepted evolution as the divine method of "creation".
Perhaps I am a man born behind my time, but I would dearly love to see a return to nobler, more inspiring times when folks were convicted of the truth of Scripture, believed that the Almighty made all things, and accepted the powerful — but often pooh-poohed — logic of Thomas Aquinas, who saw nature as the “fifth way” of proving God's existence, and of William Paley, who daringly suggested that the craftsmanship of watches testified to the existence of a watchmaker. (In spite of numerous attacks, his argument retains its power.) Why can't we learn from Pope Urban VIII, who delighted in reading Galileo's parable about the song of the cicada, which upheld God's boundless creativity shown in nature? Why don't we find time to read the nineteenth-century Bridgewater Treatises, commissioned “so that eminent scientists and philosophers would expand on the marvels of the natural world and thereby set forth ‘the Power, wisdom, and goodness of God as manifested in the Creation'”?
Don't misunderstand. Who would want to see the bathwater returned with the baby? Christendom of old misunderstood biblical teaching on creation, albeit in all good faith. When those errors were exposed in recent centuries, guilt by association led to the rejection of Scripture itself — the baby — instead of rejection of certain erroneous church teaching — the bathwater.
In those good old days, people took the scriptural admonition to investigate God's handicrafts seriously (Ps. 111:2). Humanists today don't want us to remember that the lion's share of scientific advances in the natural sciences was made in the past by people studying God's many signatures. They don't want us to know some of history's nuclear-powered minds, such as Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton, believed they were on God's trail in their explorations. Newton was convinced that his own studies into a mathematical basis for gravity amounted to a study of God's supreme intelligence. Well-known evolutionist, Stephen Jay Gould, bravely exposes suppression of such facts.
The Newton of our Pantheon is a sanitized and modernized version of the man himself… Newton's thinking combined… interests in physics and prophecy, although an almost conspiratorial silence among scholars has… foreclosed discussion of Newton's voluminous religious writings, most of which remain unpublished (1987, p. 27).
Extolling God's wisdom by admiring His handiworks, once de rigueur for any aspiring churchman and consuming delight for scientists, has now fallen from grace. What a tragedy!
Galileo delighted in seeing God's handiwork. In 1609 he set up a telescope in his backyard and became probably the first person ever to resolve the Milky Way's haze into numberless packages of stardom and to spy the moon's mountains and valleys; he discovered Jupiter's four moons, too. His response says it all:
I render infinite thanks to God for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries (Sobel 1999, p. 6).
In his day, educated people were fascinated by natural wonders. This interest is evidenced by Galileo's writing of a book entitled Discourse on Bodies That Stay Atop Water or Move Within It. Though he should be given a failing grade for the title, the book's existence testifies to the interest people had in God's works. Received wisdom held that ice was heavier than water, but that it floated because of its shape. Its broad, flat-bottomed structure prevented it from penetrating the top layers of water. Galileo knew this notion to be utter blather, and proved it by the simple experiment of pushing ice down into water only to see it pop back up to the surface.
Bring back the spirit of Galileo! Bring back peoples' interest in God's creation. The loss of interest in such matters explodes the myth of inevitable social progress. To be sure, millions tune in to David Attenborough's series on nature; however, very few make the connection between what they are seeing and the glory of God and Jesus Christ. Oh that this attitude would change.
William Bartram represents the old society of God-fired scientists well. His portrait holds centre stage in a Philadelphia gallery stocked with the likenesses of early America's political and intellectual elite, such as George Washington, John Paul Jones, and Lewis and Clark. In 1773, at the age of 34, he set out on a wide-ranging, daring escapade in America's south, without the aid of modern transport, collecting, sketching, and cataloguing its floral and faunal treasures. He returned four years later, “saddlebags full of plants heretofore known only to Indians and his sketchbooks bulging with vivid depictions of exotic animals” (National Geographic, March, 2001, p. 106).
He wrote a book, laced with his own illustrative sketches, about his pioneering travels titled, appropriately, “Travels”. To this day it is considered a classic in the literature of exploration. Were he alive today, Bartram would undoubtedly stand in the vanguard of preservers of the wilderness, and may well have preempted David Attenborough in using modern methods to sing nature's praises. One major difference would separate him from Attenborough — Bartram would give the credit to supreme deity rather than to lady luck. Let Glenn Oeland, author of the National Geographic article, explain:
Who really is closer to the truth? David Attenborough, with his never-ending tributes to the wonders of evolution, or William Bartram and his songs of glory to the Highest. We are led to believe only the ill-informed or fanatical would want to turn back the clock. Am I ill-informed, fanatical, or both? I hope you are, too.
The themes covered in this article are greatly expanded in the coming Dawn to Dusk book How Great Thou Art
Don't miss the blog, "The glory of God: a never-ending feast"
If you enjoyed this article, you will probably also appreciate "Mark Twain's America" and "Ode to the mulberry tree". Also, for a compilation of what authors, poets, and scientists have said about the wonders of creation, see "Seeing God in creation".
Gould, S. J. September 1987, The Godfather of Disaster, Natural History
Sobel, Dava 1999, Galileo's Daughter, Fourth Estate, London
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