Saturday, May 30, 2009

Scriptural Prescience

Theologian, author, and publisher Kenneth N. Taylor is well known for producing The Living Bible, a paraphrase/translation. The first installment, Living Letters, appeared in 1962. While comparing different translations of Hebrews 11:3, I referred to Ken Taylor’s translation of that verse: “By faith – by believing God – we know that the world and the stars – in fact, all things – were made at God’s command; and that they were all made from things that can’t be seen.” Taylor’s footnote for that verse says, “Perhaps the reference is to atoms, electrons, etc.” This footnote was really an eye-catcher for me. Did the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews possess scientific insights to match his inspired theological truth? Perhaps he did. If so, he wrote without benefit of any scientific knowledge of atoms, atom structure, or characteristics of atomic particles. Those discoveries would wait seventeen centuries.

We’ve stated that “physical constants” in the created world of matter are analogous to operational rules of athletic games, for example. We might also cite adherence to the rules of music, architecture, language, and a host of other human activities, as necessary for successful, pleasing outcomes. Knowledge of most of the physical constants is beyond the comprehension or interest of the non-scientist. Let’s reference just three familiar fundamental physical constants we may recall from high school chemistry: The masses of the electron, proton, and neutron have been determined with incredible precision and with a negligible error bar. Each of these masses is a fundamental physical constant, one of dozens of physical constants. Our very existence depends on their precision. But unlike athletics, music, or language, where sloppy adherence to the rules would merely result in a poorly played game or an inferior product, different values for the physical constants would result in no game or product at all. In other words, our universe as we know it would not even exist.

Masses of the proton and neutron, components of the atom’s nucleus, are almost identical. The proton has 99.87% of the neutron’s mass, but this small difference is extremely significant. If the neutron were slightly heavier or lighter, our cosmos would be chaotic and life would not exist. The proton is 1836 times more massive than the electron. If this mass ratio were minutely higher or lower, insufficient chemical bonding would preclude the possibility of the array of molecules and compounds necessary for an orderly cosmos or the existence of life.

Physicist Max Planck (1858-1947), originator of quantum theory, was a believer in God, although perhaps not a personal God. His brilliance and familiarity with the many physical constants far more esoteric than those discussed above enabled him to propose new groundbreaking theories. Planck’s musings in a 1937 speech come from a scientist daily immersed in the coherent world of nature: “According to everything taught by the exact sciences about the immense realm of nature in which our tiny planet plays an insignificant role, a certain order prevails – one independent of the human mind. Yet, in so far as we are able to ascertain through our senses, this order can be formulated in terms of purposeful activity. There is evidence of an intelligent order of the universe.” This is a noteworthy observation from a scientist of Planck's stature.