By Stephen Terry
Commentary for the February 23, 2013 Sabbath School Lesson
“…He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45b, NIV
Half a millennium ago, mankind was still describing nature in terms of the four elemental forces: earth, water, air, and fire. He knew that earth, water and air were necessary to grow the tree that he would cut down and chop up for the fire on his hearth. He did not have knowledge of the intricacies of photosynthesis. As far as he was concerned, the power of God made the tree grow. The same was true for his crops. The seed was planted in the ground, watered by the rain, and warmed by the sun and God made it grow. In some ways, even though we have more understanding about the complex chemical processes, what actually causes one seed to germinate and another to fail remains beyond our understanding. We are often content to ascribe this to some spark of life infused into the seed from a divine source causing it to sprout. We overlook how capricious this makes that deity appear as He germinates some seeds and leaves others to rot in the earth.
We find that those who raise livestock are not immune from this view. While they know that feeding and watering the flock or herd produces growth as well as stronger and healthier animals, they cannot explain some of the mysteries concerning reproduction of those animals. We understand the Krebs Cycle which our medieval forebears had no clue of. We understand the amino acid building blocks of DNA and have even mapped the human genome, but we cannot say why a sperm penetrating an egg sparks mitosis and cytokinesis which repeated over and over eventually results in a new creature. Some would ascribe this also to divine intervention in the process, somehow providing that “spark of life” that eludes the scientist’s detection. One again, though, this promotes a capricious deity as some are born deformed while others are stillborn. It is hard to understand if a perfect God is directly active in these processes, why would He produce a less than perfect product?
Perhaps this argues more for a Creator who is less minutely involved in His creation. One might see how such a God could establish a universe based on complex interactions at every level, operating according to processes intended for the sustenance and self-replication of the creatures within that universe. After all, when a carpenter builds a house, he does not build it in such a way that he must remain there holding the walls up lest the building collapse. Why would we expect that God would create a universe that He must constantly be expending energy upon to keep it from falling into one extremely dense singularity?
We do not know what exists outside the universe or even if there is an outside. We don’t even have a complete and comprehensive knowledge of what is within it. But we do have an appreciation of the incredible balance that exists between planets, systems, and galaxies, and in that mechanistic intricacy, some find evidence of intelligent design. While some may want to restrict that Designer to the framework of a chronology that limits the age of the Earth to a few thousand years, others feel that by definition, God is not limited by either space or time and could easily have steered creative processes that took eons but were stylistically portrayed in the poetry of Genesis. They are not troubled by the evidence for evolution or long geologic periods. They see manifold possibilities emanating from a God of infinite possibilities.
Of course, given enough time and the possibilities of probability theory, all possible options may be accounted for. How much time? The computational power required to determine that would be staggering, but in the case of the Earth, some currently advance a timeline of some 4.3 billion years. However, no one has advanced a sufficiently detailed model of exact genetic changes that would illustrate the viability of life proceeding from molecular organics to a modern human. Such a model would give us a peg to hang our hat on.
When we consider that we have gone from using shared “party line” telephones that were anything but portable with sometimes questionable sound quality to smart phones that we carry with us everywhere and that can instantly access much of the knowledge of in less than half a century, it is conceivable that given enough time we may be able to reconstruct such a genetic genealogy. But should we do so, we are still of course speaking of a possibility. We cannot account for environmental factors that might have produced either genetic dead ends as entire gene pools were eliminated or might even have accelerated the process by making a genetic variation more favorable than it might ordinarily have been. Given these uncertainties, the probability of ever being certain about every step of the process may be impossible.
Lest creationists gloat over this, their model is somewhat uncertain as well, for the very same reasons mentioned earlier. When one takes into account the fossil record and the geologic evidence for vast epochs, God again begins to appear capricious. While some creationists would like us to believe that all the dinosaur fossils are the results of a Noachian flood. Most find little evidence in the fossil record to support that assertion. Besides, would it not seem strange that such a massive die off of so many species would not be mentioned in a Biblical account that places so much emphasis on saving every animal on the Ark?[i] Of course, creationists counter that if evolution is an ongoing process, why can they not identify any transitional forms?
From a “short earth chronology” perspective, this makes sense. One would expect to see transition happening continually. However, when we consider the vast eons needed for probability theory to function, it becomes apparent why we do not see transitions happening in our lifetimes. For example, if we were watching a tortoise that moved one centimeter every two hundred years, we would probably not feel there was any movement at all during our life time. If we have the billions of years that the geologists are maintaining that the geology of the earth supports, then it is conceivable that easily seen transitions are so slowly developing that they may be beyond normal perception. However, we do see transitions every day at the molecular level. Changes in DNA are easily documented from parent to offspring. While this is like observing the centimeter movement of the tortoise it is still transition and should not be discounted as such.
To return to the issue of how God sustains His creation, there is perhaps more support for a God who established the processes by which we and the entire universe function and who intended them to be self-sustaining. This could explain the apparent capriciousness as those processes were influenced by random events or even our own lifestyle choices. Some find reasons for that capriciousness in the first few chapter of Genesis. They see a God who created a world with order where everything was “good.” But mankind rejected that order and chose to go his own way. There is overwhelming evidence for this idea of human irresponsibility to be seen today in the world around us. We see the collapse of many species. We also see man himself succumbing to disease and disaster as the cumulative effects of disregarding the ecological requirements of living sustainably take their toll.
Sadly we live in a world where men find it more important to argue over the age of the Earth than how to take care of it. Some decry the extensive use of abortion to terminate pregnancies, yet we are too often not even willing to accept the responsibility to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare for the many that are already here. We argue against the evolution that the biologists promote as they seek ever greater understanding of the world, but when we reject those biologists, we also tend to overlook the understanding of the interdependency of species and the intricacy of the web of sustenance that ties all those species together. Much of that understanding is linked to the very theories that creationists reject.
Some would have us believe that God is so intimately involved in our lives that every fraction of a second, He decides, “Oh, I guess I need to make Stephen’s heart beat again!” This makes it seem as though God is enslaved to our needs. Would it not be enough that God gave us a planet in a solar system uniquely capable of supporting our various species? Sometimes, it seems we callously toss that idea aside, preferring instead to ignore the preservation of what He has provided and praying that somehow He will deliver us from our indifference for yet a little longer, at least until the Parousia. Then He will restore again what He gave us in the first place, and we neglected. Some like to blame the Devil in the Garden of Eden for derailing the processes that God set in motion. We may be able to trace our penchant for ignoring our own self-preservation to that primal moment, but it is not an excuse for inaction. We can blame the Devil all we want for the present state of affairs, but we are the ones walking about with dirty diapers, wondering why no one cares to change them. Perhaps we should do something about it.
[i] Genesis 6:20