Creation: the Signature of God

“I make peace and create calamity” (Isaiah 45:7, NKJV)

By Neil Earle

The universe reflects both order and surprise, according to theologian Tom Torrance.

“The Universe reflects the rationality of its Creator but still has surprise factors built into it.”

Such thoughtful themes animated the observations of Rev. Thomas Torrance, an Edinburgh theologian who was mightily interested in applying the insights of scientific discovery to what he knew about the God of the Bible.

Across a distinguished academic career Torrance advanced the themes of the openness of the created order to newness and new creations. By some estimates 10,000,000 new suns have been created since homo sapiens emerged, in the conventional phraseology.

Christians have long advocated that the sciences and human knowledge itself depends upon a structured rationality reflecting the order originally built into the universe (Isaiah 40:26). Sir Isaac Newton’s generation had set forth a picture of the Universe based on cause and effect. Newton’s big word was gravity, gravity had compressed the clouds and dust and gas of primeval matter into galaxies, sun systems and planets. It had thus produced much of what we see about us. This Newton saw as reason for a Creator God since neither gravity nor the Cosmos could be explained out of itself. As a dedicated Bible student Newton knew Hebrews 11:4 which says “the things which are seen were not made out of things which are visible.”

Beyond the Clockwork Universe

Newton’s impact helped create the 1700s notion of the Clockwork Universe. This was the analogy from the functioning parts of Nature itself whereby things could be predicted, charted and measured in advance. This fruitful idea greatly accelerated the scientific process in the Western world. Newtonian science rested very much on the visible world, the world of matter all around us.

Niels Bohr (1885-1962) was a physicist best known for his substantial contributions to quantum theory and his Nobel Prize-winning research on the structure of atoms.

Then things began to change.

Researcher John Dalton focused attention on atoms. Michael Faraday was drawn to the invisible lines of force emanating from a magnet, things that had been the stuff of carnival sideshows before. In the late 1800s investigators with new tools of inquiry such as J.J. Thomson discovered the electron inside the particles and James Clark Maxwell came up with a theory blending magnetism, light and the atoms into the potent new notion of the electromagnetic field. The Invisible was coming into its own.

As the 1900s dawned Max Planck discovered small bits of energy emanating from the electron inside the atom. These “quanta” led to Bohr’s mysterious “quantum leaps” which really stood the seemingly solid world of Newtonian mechanics on its head. Einstein published his famous papers in 1905 showing that things were more complicated than simple cause and effect and that the universe often acted in ways no one could predict.

Torrance studied this “New Physics” and drew deeper theological principles from it. While order and rationality is a hallmark of the universe, Torrance argued, there is also the fact that the cosmos is capable of surprise and innovation. Rather than the long dreary process of evolutionary selection working itself out across eons of time, Torrance saw the evidence in the New Physics for an ongoing creative process at work. There was a variational process ceaselessly churning out new aspects of matter both under our feet and in the nuclear blast furnaces of the stars where new entities are constantly emerging.

The Spontaneous Universe

This Torrance saw as the Signature of the Creator: a rational and reliable universe yet mysterious in its surprising spontaneity, its ability to generate newness as part of the cosmos’s freedom. This freedom to develop had been conferred upon it by God himself. Torrance knew that theologians had called this surprising openness “contingency.” The inherent powers and forces built into what we call Nature could work for a creative development or a plunge into destruction. Torrance could see this implied in some elementary texts in the Bible:

“Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, and it was so” (Genesis 1:11).

“The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground and should sleep by night and rise by day and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how” (Mark 4:27).

The process is truly dynamic, but, as Torrance interpreter John McKenna stated, “it could go either way.” He was one of those who saw Torrance’s Scientific Theology as more accurately accounting for the wider Reality all around us, the matter both under our feet and in the stars.

In Torrance’s teaching, the created order is alive with spontaneity, pregnant with possibility, an open system yet possessing an inherent unifying order. Chaos can occur (“I make peace and create calamity” – Isaiah 45:7) yet chaos never has the last word. Science, argued Torrance, often surprises itself when discovering what is really built into the system: quarks, leptons, antimatter, dark matter and all the giddy discoveries of our age. Yet puzzles and paradoxes get solved when higher knowledge from another field is supplied. Can 60,000 tons of steel float? Yes, when higher knowledge is applied.

We see a 13.5 billion year old universe with a double nature, i.e. it has the potential to be independent or to seek out its Creator. This baffling mysterious nature of the cosmos cries out for a guiding and controlling (as well as originating) Reason. So we read: “All things were made by Him (God) and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). Or as in Colossians 1:17 describing the Godhead as being the One “in whom all things hold together.” Yes, there are countless examples of the dynamic forces built into the created order whether exploded star systems, wrecked jagged asteroids the Bible calls “wandering stars.” It takes watchful management to keep things from reverting back to what both scientists and science fiction writers call “primal chaos.”

Nature’s Double Nature

In 1938 Swedish researcher Lisa Mitner bombarded U238 atoms which had the biggest nucleus. She split the atom. After the split the nucleus was lighter. Where, she wondered, had the energy gone? Now we know. The matter had been transformed into energy. Four years later the Manhattan Project was started. The greatest forces truly are invisible.

A supernova, or exploding star (NASA photo)

Applying knowledge from a higher source gave us atomic energy. As a devout Christian Torrance concluded that in a universe oriented to order and innovation with a strong subtheme of surprise and predictability, into such an open system virgin births and resurrections are not to be ruled out as impossible.

Surprise along with Rationality testified to the Invisible nature of God, “the God who hides” (Isaiah 45:15; Psalm 104:29).

Thus Torrance’s theology of science offers an alternative to the controversial, speculative, endless, long dawn out processes of organic evolution. By building surprise and order into the universe God still gave it an overall direction and guidance to keep moving and transforming. “I will do a new thing…New things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 43:19; 42:9). Behind it all, the universe is “upheld by his powerful word” and needs him for its very orderly functioning.

There you have it. A superior alternative, a new way of looking at the creation around us. Surprises within order. Considering the scale at which this one principle works “out there” in the universe, where cosmic explosions produce baby stars with regularity, it is not abnormal to conclude that a powerful invisible hand is behind it all. He is the one who initially set all its dynamic forces and stimuli in motion and (no less a feat) keeps it from collapsing upon itself. He is the One whom many people call, the Creator.