Why the sky is blue: marvels and mysteries of creation

The works of the Lord are great, studied by all who
have pleasure in them (Ps. 111:2)


BELIEVERS HAVE MADE SOME MISTAKES over the years that others have been quick to jump on. One well-known error has been to ascribe the daily operation of nature's most baffling mysteries to continuous divine intervention. Before the mechanical principle of momentum was understood and Isaac Newton recognized and quantified the existence of the natural force we call gravity, most educated people in Christian Europe saw the orbital movements of the planets and of the moon as evidence of ongoing divine intervention involved in pushing them round in circles. Such an idea fit well with Aristotle's notion that 47 or 55 "pushers" were responsible for the motions of planets - and medieval Christian Europe was held in thrall to Aristotle's ideas almost as much as it was to biblical teachings.

With good reason, skeptics derided this approach and dubbed it "the God of the gaps". To the embarrassment of those believers who operated on this principle, more and more gaps were plugged up by the scientific method, and more and more of the mysteries were explained by natural means. With considerably less good reason, some skeptics contend that as the gaps are plugged up, God is pushed further and further from the picture. Some believe that science is rendering God quite unnecessary. No more mysterious gaps, no more need for God! Atheists such as Richard Dawkins preach that if you can "unweave the rainbow", that is, explain how it works, then obviously it wasn't created!

In the article, "What Was God Thinking: Science Can't Tell?", Eric Cornell boils the whole question of who should get the credit for the blueness of the sky down to a simple pair of alternatives:

Let me pose you a question. "Why is the sky blue?" I offer two answers: 1) The sky is blue because of the wavelength dependence of Rayleigh scattering; 2) The sky is blue because blue is the color God wants it to be (Time, Nov. 6th , 2005).

He then goes on to provide an excellent harmonization of the two answers, one that believers in the divine origin of all things can accept quite happily:

Before we understood Rayleigh scattering, there was no scientifically satisfactory explanation for the sky's blueness. The idea that the sky is blue because God wants it to be blue existed before scientists came to understand Rayleigh scattering, and it continues to exist today, not in the least undermined by our advance in scientific understanding. The religious explanation has been supplemented - but not supplanted - by advances in scientific knowledge. We now may, if we care to, think of Rayleigh scattering as the method God has chosen to implement his color scheme. The microscope and the telescope are no longer merely scientific instruments; they are windows into the mind of God.

This answer provides a totally different approach to the God-isn't-needed-any-more view of atheists; God gets the credit not only for the mysteries of creation, but also for the mysteries-no-longer — the marvels. Mysteries that persist should increase our sense of awe that even now, after so much attention has been paid to them, they continue to defy explanation. What sort of genius does it take to invent such amazing phenomena that even the combined efforts of the best minds cannot crack them? And then when the natural hieroglyphics are eventually deciphered and the mysteries are turned into "mere marvels", we can thank those who have nutted them out for opening up yet another window into the endless labyrinth of the mind of God and Jesus Christ.

To suggest that because science can explain the workings of many natural phenomena God is no longer needed is illogical. Scientific explanations do not explain away natural phenomena, or abolish the need for a creator, they only describe the way things work. (See Monkey business in the Garden of Eden for a parody along these lines.) If an alien reconnaissance spacecraft landed on a deserted dump site, quickly picked up a TV set, old wrist watch, and a refrigerator then returned home swiftly with the spoils, what should they conclude? If they figured out how the TV, the watch and the refrigerator worked, would that justify the conclusion that nobody had engineered them? Of course not. That would be silly. May we not commit the same blunder. Noted New Testament scholar, Donald Guthrie, put it well when he said,

The more science discovers about the universe, the more marvellous is the thought that Christ is the agent through whom it was made. Rationalists may contend that scientific discovery makes the New Testament view of the world untenable, but the Christian claims the opposite. The greater man's understanding of the marvels of the universe, the greater the need for an adequate understanding of its origin. The belief in a personal creator is not less credible as man's penetration into space grows (Tyndale NT Commentaries: Hebrews, p. 65).

How sad we should feel for those who thrill to unravel nature's secrets only to lose their sense of awe once the secret has been unlocked. One science writer describes this amazing quirk of human thinking this way:

Biologists' pursuit of complete and explicit understanding [of the genetic code] has begun to list the exact molecular sequences that encode the hereditary message, instruction by instruction. it has accustomed men to speak apparently without wonder of the structural transformations by which a single protein molecule, an enzyme, will break or build other proteins, or by which, for example, a molecule of hemoglobin will flex its broad shoulders and bend its knees to pick up oxygen (Horace Judson, The Eighth Day of Creation, p. 21).

What a tragedy that such knowledge robs some folk of a sense of wonder! How could anybody not thrill to peek over the wall into God's workshop? The ingenious solutions He has devised for solving seemingly insoluble problems fair take your breath away. Those who fulfil the Psalmist's injunction to study nature's miracles are treated to a perpetual banquet of delicious, faith-building dishes. They cannot help but drop joyously onto their knees with spontaneous cries of "How great Thou art".

Thankfully, many scientists have retained their sense of awe at the works of God's hands. Some even recognize the majestic truth that no amount of knowledge can dispel the "mystery side" of creation. A writer on the fabulous miracle of breathing in a newborn infant says this:

Investigations… have added a great deal to our understanding of a newborn baby's first drawing of breath. But no matter how thoroughly the event is studied, some element of mystery remains. We are left with the feeling that was described by Robert Frost in his account of another familiar phenomenon of nature, the suddent thawing of snow on a sunny hillside:

As often as I've seen it done before,
I can't pretend to tell the way it's done.1

Those who believe have more reason to get into a lather of excitement about the marvels and mysteries of nature than non-believing scientists do. Marvels or mysteries, believers love them all because they all sing the praises of the One who made science what it is. He is the only true God - the Father of Jesus Christ, the Creator of heaven and earth, the God of all mankind, and the Holy One of Israel.

1 Clement Smith, The First Breath, Scientific American, October 1963

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Enjoy this article? Then why not also read "The good old days"

For a tongue-in-cheek critique of the naturalistic view of nature, see "Monkey business in the Garden of Eden"

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