Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's ONLY Natural?

I admit it. I can be pretty nerdy when it comes to watching TV. While I occasionally enjoy a show whose plot is merely entertaining, most of the time I like to watch things that challenge me intellectually. Such was recently the case when I watched a very interesting program on the Discovery Channel.

The program was an attempt to give a naturalistic explanation for several of the miracles cited in the book of Exodus, mainly the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-5), the plagues (Exodus 7:14 - 11:10), and the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-31).

The Nile river turning to blood, for example, could have been an algal bloom (of red algae). This would have killed all the fish, but, according to the scientists' theories, created an environment ideal for the proliferation of frogs in plague #2. The flies in plague #4, they believe to have been biting flies whose bites left open sores, which, when infected by a bacteria which had been carried by the gnats from plague #3, could have killed livestock in plague #5 and caused the boils in plague #6.

Personally, while there were several holes in some of their theories, I found this all quite fascinating. There's no reason God couldn't have done things the way these theories suggested. We do, after all, have to remember that these events took place a few thousand years ago when people didn't know the things we now know about algae, bacteria, epidemiology, and so on. They had to record and describe things in the best way they knew how.

We also have to remember that whether, to take one example, the Nile turned to literal blood or was overtaken by algae, the end result was the same: all the fish died and the water was undrinkable.

At one point, the narrator interjected a comment which has been rolling around in my mind ever since. He said that many atheists don't like to find physical evidence that supports Biblical accounts because this evidence shows that there is a God. Conversely, many Jews and Christians don't like to hear theories of naturalistic explanations of how miracles could have occurred because they are afraid this takes God out of the equation.

While the former is undoubtedly true, I firmly believe that Christians and Jews have nothing to fear from naturalistic theories which attempt to explain the way God may have acted in certain circumstances. Certainly, some scientists have tried to explain everything naturally in order to remove the need for God, but at some point there is a hole in each one of those theories which only God can fill, precisely because

...all things have been created through Him and for Him.
is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Colossians 1:16-17

If we think about it, could not God's working through the natural order of things which He had already set up show Him to be even more powerful and knowledgeable? Is it possible He set up the laws of biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, etc., in certain ways as He was creating the universe because He foreknew every single circumstance that would ever happen on earth and the way in which He would work through those laws rather than around them in order to bring about His desired result? Is not the logic and order we see in His creation evidence that He might work in a logical and orderly way within the framework that He Himself had already set up? Couldn't God's working through natural law be eve further evidence that nothing is a surprise to God? That nothing backs Him into a corner in such a way that He has no choice but to perform a "magic trick" in order to direct things? Certainly, in some circumstances God does suspend the laws of nature for His own purposes, but He doesn't have to. He's God. He can do whatever He wants in whatever way He wants.

It's within the realm of possibility that there will someday be plausible scientific theories (which don't conflict with Biblical principles or what we know to be true of God's character) for every single miracle and mystery in the Bible. If that happens, will God cease to be God?

Hundreds of years ago, it was believed that the earth was the center of the universe. When Copernicus, and later Galileo, began to circulate their research on heliocentrism (that the sun was the center of our solar system and the earth revolved around it), the church branded them as heretics. Who turned out to be wrong? The church.

Did God cease to be God when it was discovered that the earth was not the center of the universe? Of course not. In our modern world, we would be wise to take a lesson that the church in the 16th and 17th centuries should have learned: God is God. He does as He pleases for His own glory and not to fit into the box our finite minds have created for Him. He has ways of doing things that we have never even dreamed of.

At the same time, the scientific community would be wise to catch up to the faith community and surrender to the fact that no matter how the world came into being, how all the miracles in the Bible happened, or what scientific explanation might be behind any phenomenon in the universe, when you distill everything down as far as you can go, you're going to run into the least common denominator of every particle of matter or unit of energy in existence: God.

To go back to the plagues for a moment, even if there is a reasonable scientific explanation for each and every one of them, that only explains the how, not the why. Why is it that each plague started when Pharoah refused to let the Israealites leave? Why did the plague of frogs stop on the specific day Pharoah requested (Exodus 8:9-13)? Why did the plague of hail start at the precise time Moses stretched out his arms toward the sky (Exodus 9:23)? And finally, why did the plagues stop as soon as Pharoah let the Israelites go? To believe that any of the dozens of "why" questions that could be asked about the plagues alone (never mind all the zillions of other things God has done throughout history) could be answered by the comically flimsy explanation of "coincidence" would require infinitely more faith than believing the simple fact that God's hand was behind it all.

Science and faith do not need to be at odds with each other. In fact, many of the earliest scientists began their studies as a way to bring glory to God by discovering more about His creation. This paradigm continues today in the studies of scientists who are Christians, as well as in the many scientists who have come to know Christ as a result of their studies.

Whether God chooses to work within the confines of natural law or to supersede it, His goal for us is the same as it was for Pharoah:

"...that {we} may know that there is no one like the Lord our God."
(Exodus 8:10b)

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