Hidden in Plain Sight

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February 14, 2010 Tags: Worship & Arts

Today's entry was written by Charley Gordon. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Hidden in Plain Sight

In the heart of Manhattan , a small statue that once stood in the center of an atrium fountain inside a stately Fifth Avenue mansion has become the center of an international mystery. The home was built in the 1920s for a private family and was sold to the French Embassy in the 1950s. Along with the house came this quaint, but neglected marble carving of a young boy carrying a quiver of arrows. For years, it was ignored by thousands of visitors and dignitaries alike, all headed somewhere else in their busy lives. Then, one fateful evening in 1997, Dr. Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt, a New York University art professor, was invited to a social event there. She was instantly captivated by the statue. As she looked closer, she saw what others had not recognized for almost a century: its composition bore the mark of genius. She suspected this piece was from the hand of a young Michelangelo.

Naturally, the professor did not announce the statue was the authentic early work of Michelangelo without doing some homework. She discovered it had been listed for sale by auction as an original Michelangelo just after the turn of the 20th century. However, it did not sell and was later bought by the architect of the home, who purchased it from a European dealer as an “artifact of antiquity.” The professor then brought to bear her considerable expertise in the art world and, in looking at the work itself, pronounced its authenticity.

When Dr. Weil-Garris Brandt shared her findings regarding the statue now called “Young Archer,” her conclusion was initially met with disbelief. Could it be? This fountain centerpiece turned priceless masterpiece had suffered decades of neglect. More experts were called in, most of whom concurred that the work was, indeed, likely the result of the master’s hand. It is currently on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the only known Michelangelo sculpture in America.

There All Along

What intrigues me about this story is that the masterpiece was there all along—hidden in plain sight less than a block away from the Met. What it took to draw it out of hiding was the trained eye of a student of the arts. At our home, we love I Spy books and Where’s Waldo?, but it makes us crazy once we realize what we were looking for had been there all along, staring us in the face! (I do this with my keys, by the way—hide them where one would least expect to find them, like on the mantle or in a drawer.)

My question is this—what else are we missing? As a medical student learning about how the body works, I thought it fascinating to understand how we fight off disease, how the brain responds to stress and how we reproduce, how we perceive vision and memory—the list goes on and on. These, too, are miracles in plain sight. Regardless of how you believe these everyday miracles came about, they speak to an underlying order and bedrock physical principles that we can only contribute to an eloquent genius. Without the predictable, physical laws that order our universe, none of these miracles could happen. In fact, we would not happen. But how soon we forget the mystery of beauty and the joy of being able to breathe and to think! Like the thousands of people hustling by the “Young Archer” for decades, we scurry past God’s most wondrous creations on display every day. And in doing so, all too often we miss the miracle hidden in plain sight.

God, the Artist

In Romans 1:20, we are told, “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal purpose and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse.” In other words, God’s invisible qualities show up in the visible universe. This is really amazing when you think about it. We can learn about God by studying nature? Yes, it is true and biblical. The more we learn about our universe, the more examples we find of physical laws that mirror spiritual laws. There are these consistent physical laws and principles that allow us to exist, all of which are orderly and consistent. The Bible teaches us that the spiritual world and the natural world are inter-related, and as we learn more about the natural world, we better understand its Creator.

My belief is that this Creator, like Michelangelo and all artists, has a distinctive style—and it shows up in the most unexpected places. I first noticed this while studying the brain cells responsible for coordination, the Purkinje cells. I’ll never forget the night I realized how much they resembled oak trees. See for yourself in the accompanying photographs. Then I started seeing these “design copycats” everywhere, in places one would least expect them. Next, a sunflower that looks like a silicone crystal. And the branching of a bronchial tree that reminds me of a river flowing into the sea. Really, if you look, you can find thousands of examples every day. In fact, they are so common that we often fail to notice them. For example, take the endless variety of spirals: from roses, to seashells, to your inner ear. These patterns are at once mysterious and beautiful. Much has been studied about this pattern, termed the “Golden Ratio,” but no one understands why we are drawn to it.

I think I have a clue. God is an artist, and we are endowed with His sense of appreciation for beauty. These repetitive themes represent God’s signature on His work, His calling card, if you will. These themes show up in what’s been referred to as the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” and are often strikingly beautiful. They are scattered throughout creation for our pleasure, yet are often so commonplace that we often overlook them. I invite you to reawaken your sense of wonder, and I guarantee if you look, you will find evidence of the Author of Beauty in your everyday world.


Dr. Charley Gordon is committed to seeing God’s handiwork in daily life. As a neurosurgeon and scientist in Tyler, Texas, he brings a unique perspective to his pursuit of cataloging evidence of God’s signature throughout creation. His observations can be found in a recently published book called, In Plain Sight: Seeing God's Signature throughout Creation available at amazon.com. See more of his work at www.DesignedOnPurpose.com.

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Stuart - #4469

February 14th 2010

Lovely piece, thank you.


Gregory Arago - #4471

February 14th 2010

Well written!

Is God also a scientist, in addition to being an artist?

It seems to me that you are elevating God’s creation to being more than just a single concept of ‘design,’ though that concept fits in some cases of describing nature, like natural theology does.

“physical laws that mirror spiritual laws.” - Dr. Charley Gordon

I’d like to hear more about this.

It seems that the concept of ‘BioLogos’ supports the notion of a Divine Pattern, that we can sometimes recognize or discover.

I am involved in a project that studies ‘Golden Ratio’ with respect to human society. But this is much more difficult (cf. complex) to recognize.

Are you promoting the idea of helping scientists and others to see purpose or pattern in nature?


Charlie - #4588

February 16th 2010

Dr. Charley Gordon,

You state: “Regardless of how you believe these everyday miracles came about, they speak to an underlying order and bedrock physical principles that we can only contribute to an eloquent genius. Without the predictable, physical laws that order our universe, none of these miracles could happen. In fact, we would not happen.”

A couple of questions.  Does biological complexity (what you are defining as a miracle) lead to your conclusion that an eloquent genius is responsible for it?  I don’t really see how you jump to this conclusion.  Also, if the physical laws were different, we would definitely not exist but do you think you can make the conclusion that some form of life would not exist?  Just looking at evolution, is it not that difficult to acknowledge that we arose the way we are based off of the physical laws?


John VanZwieten - #4591

February 16th 2010

Hmmm, the pictures aren’t showing for me.


Charley Gordon - #4600

February 16th 2010

thanks for your insight Gregory.  I do believe we see physical laws that pattern spiritual laws if we look.  Consider the cell membrane and the importance of “sentry” proteins that determine what gets in and stays out.  Reminds me a lot of “taking every thought captive” as described in 2 Corinthians 10:4,5.  There are more but to me there is no question that the existence of beauty is some of the best evidence that God exists and is indeed an artist


Charley Gordon - #4602

February 16th 2010

Thanks for your thought provoking comment, Charlie.  I can tell by your name that you are a very thoughtful reasoned individual!  Though we understand the mechanism for the creation of biological complexity better than ever, I think the underlying principals that lead to it are stunningly eloquent and strongly suggest what Sir Fredrick Hoyle termed a “super intelligence that has moneyed with the laws of physics.”  So I agree- we arose the way we are based on the existing physical laws.  The point that is so often overlooked in my mind- is the amazing regularity of those very laws…and how they give rise to beauty and support our existence.


Charlie - #4619

February 16th 2010

Why are they eloquent?  If a constant were different, who’s to say life would not arise?  The changed constant could be eloquent to that different form of life.  How does regularity support the existance of a higher being?  This simplistic physical world as evidence for a creator is a correlation that cannot be supported scientifically and therefore, is merely an untested (untestable) hypothesis.  It’s like saying the pen you hold is a tiger repellant because there are no tigers around you.  Yes there are physical constants, but tell me how this supports a creator?


Charlie - #4622

February 16th 2010

Also, I’m assuming you believe in mutations/adaptation/evolution.  Look at the lungs and the oak tree.  How do they become more efficient at exchanging gasses/absorbing light?  Increase the surface area.  Don’t you think it’s pretty clear how these two examples, and other examples, naturally evolved a similar structure independently to maximize exchange efficiency?  It’s just like the bat wing and the bird wing.


charley gordon - #4623

February 16th 2010

Well Charlie, you are right in that these constants don’t prove the existence of a creator- his existence is outside of the scope of experimental proof-, but don’t you find the “unreasonably effectiveness of mathematics” really intriguing?  We have no idea if the constants were changed what would happen, but it begs the question:  who could change them?  What we do know is that predictable laws govern nature and that they are based on bedrock forces that are measurable.  These forces can be described mathematically.  (The gravitational constant is often cited- why does it need to be based on an inverse square?)  It’s hard for me to believe that the universe just created itself and in so doing an orderly system that eventually supported our questions came to be.  So your first question cuts right to the heart of the matter: why indeed are these constants eloquent?


Charlie - #4626

February 16th 2010

You said “It’s hard for me to believe that the universe just created itself and in so doing an orderly system that eventually supported our questions came to be.”

Do you agree that this is just a guess then; a conclusion unsupported by evidence?  Don’t you think guessing is something scientists and doctors should try to avoid within their profession?  I know I would want a treatment strategy from my doc that is based on evidence, if even a little evidence.


Charlie - #4627

February 16th 2010

Also, I was actually asking you why constants are elegant to you.  Simply becasue they are constants found in nature?


Gregory Arago - #4635

February 16th 2010

Charlie, you ask many questions. It would be good for the sake of ‘dialogue’ if you would answer some of those questions put to you.

Dr. Gordon has asked you:
“don’t you find the “unreasonably effectiveness of mathematics” really intriguing?”

How do you answer him?

I find your approach unreasonably reductionistic. How do you answer to the charge of ‘reductionism’ without resorting to a ‘science is about facts’ and other knowledges are *not really* knowledges type of mentality?

What does ‘transcendent’ mean to you, Charlie?


Charlie - #4731

February 17th 2010

Unreasonably effective is all subjective.  Nature does not follow “perfect” mathmatics.  Look at the spiral in a shell.  We have a mathmatical ratio to describe it’s pattern but I guarentee that there are variations when comparing shells.  It’s the same reason we don’t see a “perfect” circle in nature.

That being said, I do find it interesting that we find such patterns in nature and I think humans find these patterns asthetically pleasing; however this cannot be considered evidence for a higher being unless you consider the basic sciences like simple chemistry evidence as well.  We know of specific chemical reactions that create patterns such as crystal formation and can understand that formation purely on chemistry.  You can claim a higher being is responsible for chemistry, physics, etc but that claim is impossible to validate.  I’m not saying everyone should not believe in a higher being, I’m just saying there is no evidence to support one existing.


Charlie - #4734

February 17th 2010

Gregory Arago,

Believe what you want, I’m just stating what can and cannot be considered evidence in the eyes of science.  Theories that aren’t supported by evidence are not necessarily wrong, but they’re not necessarily right too.  This is what science is, conclusions based on evidence and it sounds like you’re not a fan of the approach.  Feel free to believe in something that is not supported by evidence, but just understand that this is where faith and the scientific method differ.


Charlie - #4735

February 17th 2010

Correction:

I mean’t to say theories that do not have evidence to support or refute their validity are not necessarily wrong, but they’re not necessarily right too.


Gregory Arago - #4765

February 17th 2010

Charlie, I’m not going to bite on your baits anymore. You continue to refuse to learn, so I am at wits end with you. There is no single scientific method! If you can’t wrap your mind and/or heart around this, that’s fine. You’ll stay stuck in 20th century understandings of ‘science’ and refuse to move foward to the present era.

You answer none of my questions, so I don’t consider us to be in dialogue. Why not respond to my questions from 4635, or Dr. Gordon’s from earlier?

Your claim of ‘in the eyes of science’ is about as ‘wide shut’ in terms of understanding as one can be.

What have you learned in your 25 years that qualifies you to be an apostle of ‘Scientism’? Are you a natural scientist, Charlie? Surely there is much philosophy and perhaps even some theology remaining for you to learn, wouldn’t you agree? Why not open your eyes to them?


Charlie - #4800

February 18th 2010

Please tell me what other scientific methods there are.  I can’t find any other definition than the one I gave you.


Charlie - #4802

February 18th 2010

Gregory Arago,

I answered Charley Gordon’s question in #4731.

You said “I find your approach unreasonably reductionistic. How do you answer to the charge of ‘reductionism’ without resorting to a ‘science is about facts’ and other knowledges are *not really* knowledges type of mentality?”

I don’t really know what you want me to say because I don’t know of any other way to seek the truth than science.  Please give me one simple alternative example to science that has led to a universally accepted truth.


charley gordon - #5130

February 23rd 2010

Thanks to both Gregory and Charlie for your thoughts.  Charlie, I think that it is fair to say that scientific pursuits will never provide proof of God’s existence, and I trust we are in agreement on this.  But I want to suggest that you do know other truths in your life outside of the scientific method.  We are moved by the beauty of nature, the love of family, or we are angered at injustice.  All of these “knowings” are beyond scientific comment, yet cannot be denied. The existence of these spiritual truths suggests to me that there is more to our existence than can be explained by a purely naturalistic viewpoint.  This is all I’m trying to say.


Charlie - #5334

February 25th 2010

Charlie Gordon,

How can you claim that there are not scientific explanations for beauty, love etc and we just don’t know them?  There are evolutionary advantages to love and other theories revolve around these sort of things, but I’m not going to get into detail about them.  The truth is there are things we know and things we don’t know.  For the things we don’t know, we cannot make any conclusions about them (like saying science cannot explain them).  It’s like saying science cannot find the cure for cancer.  Just because science hasn’t found it, doesn’t mean a scientific explanation doesn’t exist.


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