Thursday, September 08, 2011

Seeing Nature as Creation

I'm working on a chapter from a proposed new book, Worshipping God in an Age of Science, and I'm compelled by two different quotes, with two antithetical views of nature--one as simply a physical system and the other as God's creation.

First from Harvard astronomer Margaret Geller, who believes that it is pointless to mention purpose in nature, which is another way of describing that there was a Creator who created this world for a reason:
Why should [the universe] have a point? What point? It’s just a physical system, what point is there?
(Certainly, not all scientists express similar nihilism about creation. I remember a graduate seminar on genetics and ethics with the Berkeley biochemist David Cole. He showed us pictures of polymers and exclaimed—“Aren’t these beautiful! Look at the wonder of God’s creation!” I had never thought of polymers that way... I actually had really ever paid much attention to them at all.)

Second, William Shakespeare who, during the great flowering of modern science in the seventeenth century, found insights from the Book of Nature. It evokes, pays homage to, its Creator.
And this our life,
           Exempt from public hands, 
Finds tongues in trees,
            Books in the running brook,
Sermons in stones,
            And good in everything.
Science, as the study of the interworkings of the natural world, will never carry us directly to seeing nature as creation. But it doesn't necessary draw us away either. What do you think makes the difference? 


John said...

I don't agree that something has to be teleological to be beautiful or be appreciated.

GCootsona said...

I think I understand your assertion that appreciation of beauty is not directly related to teleology, but I need to hear more of how that relates to grasping nature as creation. Let me know what I haven't understood...

John said...

ok. and i am NOT talking about design, or design inferences. and maybe it depends on your definition of teleology.

you could say: "water evaporates and forms clouds ~so that~ it can become rain, and hydrate the earth."

or, you could say: "water evaporates, forms clouds, and then it rains again. the earth gets hydrated."

is the latter system less amazing? to me, the creator aspect is based in the awe and wonder that the process happens. i am not divine enough to always know the teleology.

i think it also depends on how you see agency. we are wired to perceive agency, even when there is none.

i think there are a lot of people who need to infer or identify supernatural biological events to validate agency. i would suppose you would say that creationists believe god CAN'T (or at least didn't) create without supernatural or transmaterial processes.

also for me, it's the consistency of the natural processes that inspire me to see createdness. when i see a "transitional fossil," (technically, all fossils are "transitional") it all starts to make more sense for me not less.

M Fitzpatrick said...

Greg, I think these two quotes show very well why beauty, that which turns nature into creation, is not some property we can find in creation "in itself" (whatever that means), but rather is the description of the relationship we have with creation pointing to the relationship God has with creation. The first quote shows that when you bifurcate the natural world from God and other minds, all you're left with is a thing that "just is." The meaning of a thing, whether that meaning be purpose or beauty or other values, derives always from the relationship between an author and an object, or an author and a reader through an object. We have to end this nonsense about the "objective world" being totally independent of Creator and creature, or we'll never be able to achieve what Owen Barfield calls "final participation," which is where we recognize that it is by virtue of the relationships between things that things have any meaning at all.

GCootsona said...

I'm pondering whether reality and beauty are always in the relationship between/among objects, that beauty isn't something that therefore inheres in the object in abstracto. Thus to deny beauty is simply to deny that reality in some ways is relational. I'll think a little more on that one... And as for teleology and beauty (as far as I understand John), I think God can work through natural processes and that very working is beautiful. Or perhaps I've misunderstood?