Saturday, March 28, 2015

Matter's Sustaining Power

We have written about physical characteristics of atoms, the smallest units of matter. All matter is composed of the roughly 100 elements present on Earth. Atoms possess smaller constituent parts. Among the constituent parts are electrons and protons with negative and positive electrical charges possessing electric and magnetic fields. Tiny electrons swarm around much larger, dense atomic nuclei consisting of composites of protons and non-charged neutrons at the center of the atom. Physical science students master basic facts of atomic architecture without much difficulty.

Beyond the basic facts reviewed above, the story of matter’s sustaining power becomes more interesting and complex. This results from the fact, among others, that all matter is electrical in nature. Negative and positive electrical charges abound in the matter of every atom in our universe. Matter coheres as a result of its abundant electrical charges. Electromagnetic force, one of the four basic universal forces, keeps the electron swarm confined near the nucleus of the atom like a swarm of bees around their hive. In addition to the electromagnetic force causing electrons to adhere to their own atom, the strong force, another of the four basic forces, holds the protons and neutrons together in their dense nuclear bundle notwithstanding the tendency of like-charged protons to fly apart. A third basic force of nature, gravity, enables attraction of objects over long distances, such as planets held in place around the sun.

A New Testament passage written to the Colossians by the Apostle Paul is framed in the concept of creation: For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17 NIV). 19th century theologian Albert Barnes commented on possible interpretations of this passage. It could refer to the moral creation. Alternately, Barnes writes, “The meaning is, that they are kept in their present state; their existence, order, and arrangement are continued by his power. If unsupported by him they would fall back into disorder, or sink back into nothing. If this be the proper interpretation, then it is the ascription to Christ of infinite power - for nothing less could be sufficient to uphold the universe; and of infinite wisdom - for this is needed to preserve the harmonious actions of the suns and systems of which it is composed.” Barnes was prescient in his scientific perception. In the early 19th century scientists were not aware of subatomic particles or details about electromagnetism and the four basic universal forces.

As we contemplate the universe and its design we acquire a deep sense of worship of the supernatural Designer. Agnostics and atheists experience different emotions. Is the design of the universe intrinsically the consequence of a miracle? The remarkable coherence of subatomic particles—is it merely an accidental outcome of naturalism? Opinions vary concerning the remarkable properties of ordinary matter and the characteristics of atoms from which matter is composed. When we consider the generation of hundreds of various types of electromagnetic radiation and the benefit our society derives by motions of atomic particles with their electric charges, what do we conclude? Are these remarkable manifestations miracles? Or are they an accident of chance?

If these characteristics of matter are miracles, we must ask what sort of miracle is demonstrated. Transcendent miracles are works of God which are not subject to previously existing physical laws. We posit that in the beginning, creation of matter, energy, space, and time were the consequence of a transcendent miracle. Since the time of that creation event there have been other transcendent miracles which involve suspension of physical laws. At the Passion season we focus on another event of transcendent, divine significance—the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Other transcendent events of sudden appearances of novel species on earth or divine physical bodily healing not otherwise explained serve as examples.

Miracles are phenomena about which many theologians have commented. Discussions concerning which events are miracles and which type of miracles they are have engendered diverse opinion. A category of miracle about which there is little disagreement is termed the sustaining miracle. Theologians agree that God sustains the universe by his will and power. Our recent posts have called attention to familiar environmental factors sustained by electromagnetism and other fundamental forces. We close with the proposition that these phenomena are examples of sustaining miracles initiated by the Creator.