Meditation on Light

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August 8, 2010 Tags: Science as Christian Calling

Today's entry was written by Catherine Crouch. 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.

Today's entry expands on the ideas about the connection between science and worship Catherine Crouch offers in the video below, excerpted from the Q Society Room DVD, “The Spirituality of Science”. (The full DVD includes presentations by Francis Collins, Alister McGrath, and Louis Giglio as well as Crouch.)

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Praise the Lord!

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.

Full of honor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.

He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.

Psalm 111:1-4

I became a scientist because over and over, when I was a child, a teenager, and a college student, I experienced the sheer delight that comes with understanding the amazing physical mechanisms that are at work in our universe. For me, this delight came because the universe is not only understandable, but elegant, with just a few physical principles giving rise to the behavior of atoms, galaxies, and everything in between.

I still remember the culminating moment of my first college physics course in electricity and magnetism. We had started out studying electricity, the prosaic workhorse that powers our lives, and then moved to Einstein’s wonderful discovery that magnetism is simply electricity combined with special relativity. Refrigerator magnets, migrating birds guided by Earth’s magnetic field, lightning, and balloons sticking to the wall with static after rubbing them on my hair — all came from the same underlying principle. I thought it couldn’t get any better.

Then we arrived at Maxwell’s equations. James Clerk Maxwell, a nineteenth-century British physicist, was among the most prominent scientists of his day. Bringing together the work of many others, but adding extraordinary creative insight, he formulated just four mathematical equations representing the physical laws governing electric and magnetic fields. He also realized that these equations indicated the existence of waves made up of these fields. Out of the equations came a value for the speed of these waves, based on numbers that could be measured from electric circuits. Amazingly enough, this value matched the speed of light that had been measured just five years earlier. Light was no more and no less than a pattern of electric and magnetic fields traveling through space.

The exquisite simplicity of the physical laws of the universe was never so evident to me as at that moment. Simple, and yet incredibly fertile — the travel of light through space and matter, governed by these few principles, nonetheless manifests itself in a stunning variety of ways. Light from the sun brings us the warmth and energy needed to sustain life on our planet; we perceive the world around us primarily through images formed by our eyes from the light that reaches us; and we use what we’ve learned about light, both through recent science and through the experimentation of untold generations, to improve our vision, to heal, to communicate, to probe the structure of the molecules and organisms that make up the world around us — and to make beautiful things. And the world around us is filled with beauty that comes from light refracting through drops of water and scattering from grains of dust.

In the years that followed, I learned to draw upon this delight to turn my heart to worship, and to deepen my grasp of God’s greatness. The orderly intelligibility of the Creation points us toward the power and trustworthiness of God. The rich fertility of the Creation points us toward the abundant love and generosity of God. The more we understand, the more we marvel not only at the Creator’s handiwork, but at the one who spoke it into being:

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”
Genesis 1:3-4

As a Ph.D. student, I learned that Maxwell himself was a dedicated Christian. During his time as director of the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University in England, he arranged for Psalm 111:2 to be carved over the doors of the laboratory (in Latin): Magna opera Domini exquisita in omnes voluntates ejus (“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”).

What Maxwell learned, and what I learn as I teach his findings and use them in my scientific work, expands my knowledge of our Father’s greatness. The richness of “Let there be light” keeps growing for me, year after year, every time I labor over the details of how light is emitted in my research. It grows every time I take another group of physics majors through Maxwell’s journey, every time I teach premedical students and biology majors the workings of human vision. ”Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”


Catherine Crouch is associate professor of physics at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and lives in Swarthmore with her husband Andy and their children Timothy and Amy.


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conrad finklestein - #25133

August 9th 2010

And that light,......[Of “let there be light” fame,..]
 
.......Was detected by Penzias and Wilson in 1967,..... in a project that won them the Noble prize and was termed by Hawkings,....“The greatest discovery in the history of mankind.”


Charlie - #25144

August 9th 2010

This story of Maxwell is a great example of a fantastic scientific discovery, but how does this have anything to do with Christianity?  Are you implying that the simplicity of the physical laws points to God?  Or that light is needed to sustain life and therefore has something to do with a higher being?  Are these scientific conclusions or just simple guesses?

P.S. I can think of many species that do not need light for survival.  Just look at the ecosystems undersea at the hydrothermal vents.


merv - #25150

August 9th 2010

Charlie, I didn’t hear anything in Dr. Crouch’s meditation that would begin to suggest that any of it was meant to be some sort of apologetic evidence or logical compulsion for unbelievers.  I saw in it the beautiful expression of an already grounded faith that isn’t seeking some sort of ‘new grounding’ in science.  God as a good creator was already assumed, and with that in place, all things—- light, magnetism, volcanoes, humming birds, whatever ... become new venues of beauty for which we praise God.  To determined unbelieving eyes, all those things can remain nothing more than their physical and measurable manifestations.  The unbeliever is under no compulsion from anything in science to see otherwise (though the ID community will differ on this and respectful disagreement will probably continue.) 

If you were looking for some scientific compulsion then I believe you missed the entire point of Dr. Crouch’s meditation.  Either that or else I misunderstood her—I’m sure she can jump in and speak for herself if correction is needed.

—Merv


merv - #25151

August 9th 2010

... additional thought .... okay, so maybe ‘beauty’ isn’t the best word to describe an active volcano, unless you and everybody else are all looking at it from a long distance away!  But Psalmists praise God, not just for beauty—but for awesome displays of power as well—power often fraught with danger and appropriate fear.  And what the macroscopic world dazzles us with is now paired with the microscope’s revelations allowing us to look the other way along the logarithmic scale at amazing intricacies, and deadly dangers there too.

That can all be part of the glorious mix of what it means to worship God.  When you or any loved ones are taken away—whether by volcano, malaria, or the inertia of a speeding cement truck, praise will be much harder; fear, anger, & grief will have their season too.  Job shows us how all of that mix can eventually come back to praise.

—Merv (I guess you inspired me to attempt my own meditation here; thanks, Dr. Crouch.)


CM - #25157

August 9th 2010

Charlie - it doesn’t sound to me at all as if Crouch is offering her knowledge of physical laws and principles as *evidence* of Christianity. She doesn’t seem to be advocating for anything; just reflecting on two central truths in her own life and experience (the reality of the Christian God and reality of the nature of the physical universe), and how she sees connections between them. Whether or not her readers share her conviction (though, obviously, I’m guessing most would accept what she says about physics without any question) seems to be open to the reader. It reads to me like a person story of personal truth. Don’t be so quick to assume people are trying to sell Christianity to you at every turn. That said, I understand your skepticism and scrutiny, and encourage you to critically evaluate these messages. There’s a lot that’s said about religion all around and it can’t all be right.


Robert Byers - #25178

August 10th 2010

I suspect the author here believes in evolution and Darwin as having right ideas.
Is Ms Crouch aware Darwin insisted in his book “The descent of man” that women were biologically intellectually inferior to men?
Was he wrong? Yes he was says i and biblical creationists.
Could this belief of Darwin be challenged without charges of opposing science or pushing religion or not minding our business etc???
If Darwin was wrong about women then is is not a option he could be wrong about other ideas he had?
The lack of competence in one is a reflection on the rest.
Anyways its just a hunch the author is a evolutionist.


Jon Garvey - #25198

August 10th 2010

@Robert Byers - #25178

I’m afraid ad hominem arguments mean very little: because Luther advocated suppression of the peasants in their protest doesn’t make him wrong about justification by faith.

Actually you test his ideas against Scripture and keep what’s true. So scientists test Darwin’s ideas against evidence and keep what fits.

I certainly sense the author is a Christian, which is what should matter most to Christians.


Christopher Svanefalk - #25199

August 10th 2010

Robert,

“The lack of competence in one is a reflection of the rest”

This is a grave injustice, so because I am incompetent in one area of mathematics, am I therefore incompetent in the entire discipline? Or, if a given scientific theory does not provide a satisfactory explanation for a given phenomena, does that mean that any and all other explanations it provides for other, should thus be discarded in the same swoop?

Of course not.

I am not an evolutionist myself. I believe in the GOD of Abraham, that He is the Creator of all things visible and invisible, and that He has given us Scriptural revelation both of Himself, His ways and His works. However, just because I am not an evolutionist, and believe Darwins theory had its errors, this does not mean I believe EVERY aspect of his theory are wrong.


Charlie - #25209

August 10th 2010

Merv and CM,

Here’s what she wrote:

“The orderly intelligibility of the Creation points us toward the power and trustworthiness of God. The rich fertility of the Creation points us toward the abundant love and generosity of God.”


gingoro - #25221

August 10th 2010

Jon Garvey@25198

“I’m afraid ad hominem arguments mean very little”

I think that one has to be very careful with the charge of an ad hominem argument.  I happen to be of the reformed persuasion but to use words used earlier on this blog I am not totally reformed or in other words I am not into the hyper reformed position.  I can think of a well known author L, who appears to me to be in the hyper reformed camp.  After reading a couple of his books I simply refuse to waste my money and more important my time on any more of his theology.  Some would accuse me of ad hominem arguments but I beg to differ as I refuse to pay attention to any of L’s written material for good and sufficient reasons IMO.  Sure he may have some nuggets of worthwhile thought but there are so many books and ministries to pay attention to that I simply run out of time.  If someone that I respect digs something out of his theology then I will listen but not if he says it is authoritative because it was written by L. 
to be continued


Jon Garvey - #25234

August 10th 2010

“If someone that I respect digs something out of his theology then I will listen but not if he says it is authoritative because it was written by L.”

My point entirely - what Darwin said only matters (scientifically) if it leads scientists in general to confirm his theory. Nobody believes evolution happened because Darwin said so, but because of 150 years of science since then. It really doesn’t matter if you reject author L, so long as you’ve done the work on refuting his erroneous views.

If someone tells you, though, that L’s description of God’s glory is the best exposition of Scripture they’ve ever heard, it would be foolish to say the description must be wrong because of his Hypercalvinist views.


Merv - #25261

August 10th 2010

Charlie, believers see “pointers” in creation.  In fact nearly everything would point to God in the eyes of faith.  To a nonbeliever, pointers mean nothing.  I don’t see that Dr. Crouch was using those examples as evidence that would force unbelievers into acceptance.  At least not if they don’t already have another prior faith basis to work with.

—Merv


gingoro - #25384

August 11th 2010

Jon Garvey@25234

“If someone tells you, though, that L’s description of God’s glory is the best exposition of Scripture they’ve ever heard, it would be foolish to say the description must be wrong because of his Hypercalvinist views.”

Depending upon the person.  If a well respected, longtime friend of mine who is ordained in the Anglican church and teaches at an RC seminary says it is worthwhile then of course I would listen.  However, if one of L’s followers/groupies says the same thing then I likely would smile politely and simply ignore them, just like I do when people tell me that anything chemical is bad/evil, and thus to be avoided.
Dave W


Jon Garvey - #25395

August 11th 2010

@gingoro - #25384

But it would have to be a *Reformed* RC seminary, I guess?


gingoro - #25405

August 11th 2010

Jon Garvey@25395

“But it would have to be a *Reformed* RC seminary, I guess?”

(I assume you mean *reformed* in the same sense that there are particular (reformed) Baptists and free will (arminian) Baptists and not the counter reformation.)

Absolutely NOT I learn from Christians of a wide variety of evangelical backgrounds not just those that are reformed.  IMO no single system of theological thought captures all of scripture. For example Clark Pinnock (openness theology) and J I Packer spoke at different times at our former church in a different city whereas almost none of the tele-evangelists were invited to speak with the exception of Joel Neederhood.  Other than very occasional gliberal high muckity mucks from the denomination I approved of the church inviting speakers from a wide spectrum of the Christian world.
Dave W


Charlie - #25433

August 11th 2010

Merv,

I infer pointing to God as the same as evidence for God.  What does pointing to God mean to you?


Merv - #25439

August 11th 2010

@ Charlie;

As a Christian, my better moments are spent in gratitude and praise to God.  So the simplest things (starry morning as I rode my bike into work today before dawn, intricacy in a snowflake, rainstorm giving relief to a hot day, cool air breezing over my bald head, etc…)  all become occasions for me to praise God—so I’m thinking of a pointer as a reminder to me; something to be grateful for.  All of these are useless as apologetic devices levied against those who have rejected God.  Nor are they needed for that since my faith isn’t supposed to be grounded in science.  It’s grounded in God.  From there on out, the world becomes pregnant with pointers.  It can be considered an evidence of sorts as long as we remember that very few people in history have ever been compelled against their will to believe in God.  The ‘Damascus road experience’ is the exception that helps prove the rule. 

—Merv


Robert Byers - #25505

August 13th 2010

Christopher Svanefolk
its not an injustice if its true. It is a fair comment that a great error in one area reflects on his general ability. It doesn’t mean he’s all wrong but there is a reflection on his ideas and research and so error is a likely result in all his stuff. His ideas on female inferiority were lock, stock, and barrel about selection and evolution.
The women thing just became unacceptable. Yet it fits firmly in evolutionary biology by the writings of Darwin.
He said a lot of stuff like that.
The Descent of man is good summer reading.,


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