“The world is filled with the grandeur of God,” wrote Gerard Stanley Hopkins. “It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; / It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. / Why do men then now not reck his rod?” That theme pervades Ann Gauger’s edited collection, God’s Grandeur: The Catholic Case for Intelligent Design (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press; Kindle Edition, c. 2023). Admittedly, declaring the grandeur of God as evident in creation runs counter to the current academy’s climate of opinion, which reduces reality to particles of some sort randomly moving about in space. “Sweet is sweet,” said Democritus long before Christ: “bitter is bitter, hot is hot, cold is cold, color is color; but in truth, there is nothing in Nature but atoms and the void.” So too a contemporary physicist, David Greene, declares in The End of Time, that “you and I are nothing but constellations of particles whose behavior is fully governed by physical laws.” All that happens anywhere at anytime is merely particles moving about. Following the Big Bang that spewed particles into space, everything in “cosmic history has been dictated by the nonnegotiable and insensate laws of physics, which determine the structure and function of everything that exists. . . . We are no more than playthings knocked to and fro by the dispassionate rules of the cosmos” (p. 147). “Atomists such as Democritus thought “Ultimate reality isn’t intelligent. What fundamentally exists are atoms and empty space in which the atoms collide.” For them, highly organized beings like ourselves self-organize by accident” (p. 221)
Thus Logan Paul Gage notes that two narratives have joisted for thousands of years. The world and its grandeur result from either “accidental events or intelligent foresight.” Differing from materialistic monists such as Democratus, Socrates thought Ultimate Reality is more mind than matter and set forth “an explicit design argument” subject to divine providence. Entering into this ancient debate, today’s exponents of “intelligent design” are embracing Socrates and refuting Democritus. They do so, Brian Miller says, because 20th century scientists came to believe the universe began in a moment—a Big Bang—which reaffirms the claim of Genesis that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Amazingly, evidence began piling up suggesting the universe seems “fine tuned” for human life on planet earth. It looked as if only a Divine Mind could have miraculously created our wonderful world.
Micheal Behe, a microbiologist who’s written Darwin’s Black Box and other significant works, notes that: “For all of recorded history until modern times, practically everyone — educated or not, devout or not — attributed the elegance of the world in general and life in particular to a designing mind, which many identified as God” (p. 63). Then in 1859 came Darwin’s magnum opus, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, “which sought to explain how the elegance and functionality of life might arise from a mindless process” (p. 64). But we now know far more about cells and bacteria than Darwin did, and modern biology, Behe believes, shows “that at the foundational molecular level of life, Darwin’s mechanism of random mutation and natural selection works chiefly by squandering genetic information for short-term gain.” What’s needed, he thinks, is a recovery of “the same reasoning as Anaxagoras and Galen did in ancient times, and as the English clergyman William Paley used right before Darwin’s age,” attributing the intricate designs everywhere evident to an omniscient Designer.
A distinguished paleontologist, Günter Bechly, chairs the Center for Biocomplexity and Natural Teleology in Austria, has written over 160 scientific publications and discovered 180 new species. His essay, “The Fossil Record,” asserts that: “In His providential wisdom God allowed for the process of fossilization to give us a window into the past and let us reconstruct all its wonders” (p. 91). Unexpectedly, within a brief time: “Complex cellular life popped into existence right when conditions first allowed for life, as if it was planted there by a Creator” (p. 95). Suddenly “unique life forms appeared out of nowhere, without any intermediate precursors in the preceding geological layers,” and “20 of the 33 known animal phyla appear suddenly, without any precursors in the fossil record” (p. 96). Equally impressive, there occurred what “mainstream paleoanthropologists” call “the big bang of the genus Homo.” Abruptly, about 40,000 years ago, there appeared beings with a “globular braincase and a chin. Might this event correlate with the origin of real humans as the image-bearers of God? It certainly looks like a possibility” (p. 100).
In one of the essays written by philosophers, Benjamin Wicker finds “The Intelligibility of Nature as Proof for God’s Existence,” suggesting the simple existence of oxygen points to a Creator. For millions of years plants and animals survived because of oxygen, but “no one prior to Lavoisier knew that oxygen existed, let alone that its existence could be demonstrated” (p. 185). It was there but no one knew it! We had to learn, through exhaustive research and thought, that it was and what it was. Most importantly: “The more we know about oxygen, and everything else, the more intelligible nature becomes to us. Since the advancement of science exists, then we can rule out both chance as the cause of nature and a God who did not condescend to make nature intelligible to us. Therefore, there is an intelligent cause of nature’s order, and this cause, for whatever reason, created nature to be known by us. The intelligibility of nature therefore proves God’s existence, and this is seen, in the very clearest way, in the demonstration that oxygen exists” (p. 191).
Another fine philosopher, J. Budziszewski, in “The Natural Moral Law,” says that even as we feel without thinking the power of gravity we also “have a dim awareness of the natural law even if we know nothing about the philosophy of natural law.” He believes “the reality of the natural law gives good reason to believe in the reality of God — even apart from revelation, which imparts additional data, such as the plan of salvation” (p. 228). Citing the “law of gravity,” scientists “describe how things actually do happen in the world. Ethicists, citing precepts “such as the Golden Rule — describe how things ought to happen in the world, and serve as standards for the conduct of beings capable of grasping them. But how things ought to happen is just as truly a structure of reality as how they do happen, and just as truly knowable by the use of our natural intellect” (p. 232). We cannot help knowing it’s right to treat others rightly! Our conscience demands it. We have “an interior witness to a standard that we do not make up, which directs us and by which we are judged, and which we cannot change to suit ourselves” (p. 233).
A corps of theologians add their insights to God’s Grandeur. John Bergsma contends that: “The consistent teaching of Scripture is that God created the world intelligently (in “wisdom,”(Heb ḥokhmāh, Gk. sophia, Ps. 104:24), that the design in nature is obvious to human observation (Rom. 1:18–21), and that said design constitutes evidence for God’s existence, attributes, and activity (Rom. 1:20; Ps. 19:1–4) (p. 262). God spoke into being all that is. Speech conveys “necessarily information, and in presenting the Creation of the cosmos by acts of divine speech, the ancient author communicates that the physical world was created by being ‘in-formed’ by information whose source was God” (p. 263). He gave form to the cosmos and filled it with wondrous beings. As is evident in Psalm 104: “The grass is for the livestock, the plants are for man to cultivate; likewise, the wine, oil, and bread are to ‘gladden the heart,’ ‘make [the] face shine,’ and ‘strengthen [the] heart.’ The Psalmist is approaching a “Privileged Planet” or “Rare Earth” perspective by recognizing that the terrestrial habitat is remarkably suited to supply the needs of a wide diversity of life forms, but especially to nourish and delight man (v. 15)” (p. 272).
In the book’s conclusion, Anthony Esolen celebrates “A Living and Symphonic Order,” seeing the universe not as “a machine but a symphony; not a formula but an epic poem; not a goose-step of determinism, chaotic in its unmeaning, but the play of a dance, cosmic in its measures of indeterminacy and in the glorious liberty of its sign-bearer and sign-maker, man.” A machine combines lifeless things but: “A living thing is a whole in which the whole is present in every part, as every part makes sense as a part only in intimate relation to the whole” (p. 387). Reductionistic materialists see the cosmos as “a bundle of equations and some primal particles,” but in so doing they “murder to dissect” and fail to behold the grandeur of it all. Reading these essays helps us rejoice in its reality.
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The great Latin poet Vergil once declared: “The moon’s bright globe, the sun and stars are nurtured / By a spirit in them. Mind infuses each part / And animates the universe’s whole mass.” Thinkers ancient and modern have rejoiced at the grandeur of God, as Melissa Cain Travis shows in Science and the Mind of the Maker: What the Conversation Between Faith and Science Reveals about God (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, c. 2018; Kindle Edition). She endeavors to build a case “for the Maker Thesis in three ways: (1) by using modern scientific evidence to support philosophical arguments for the existence of a Maker, (2) by explaining some of the many features of our universe and planetary home that had to converge for the investigation of nature to be possible, and (3) by demonstrating the necessity of a rational Mind and ensouled creatures to account for the effective practice of the natural sciences” (#299).
Travis begins by noting that Pythagoras, 500 years before Christ, sensed in mathematics overtures of an immaterial, orderly world. He influenced Plato, who “agreed that number is related to the organization of the visible cosmos” but developed a theory of visible “forms” imperfectly copying eternal, immaterial, transcendent “Forms” (#391). His views, eloquently set forth in the Timaeus, deeply shaped centuries of subsequent thinkers who believed “that the beauty, regularities, and intelligibility of nature are explained by a benevolent craftsman who brought order out of formlessness and purposively framed the universe according to the eternal, mathematical Forms.” In “Timaeus, Plato draws a connection between the rationality of nature and the powers of the human mind” (#398), and from Plato and Aristotle, through Athanasius and Augustine and Aquinas, the best ancient and medieval thinkers crafted a natural philosophy celebrating God as the Creator of all that is, visible and invisible.
This natural philosophy gained scientific precision and detail in the hands of thinkers such as Nicholas Copernicus and Johannes Kepler, whose laws of planetary motion “transformed the field of astronomy into a sophisticated theoretical science. He was convinced that the universe operated according to laws put in place by its Maker, much like a clock is subject to a clockmaker” (#1001). He believed God created in a rational, mathematical way, and that man has been given a mind akin to God’s enabling him to understand it. He famously said: “‘To God there are, in the whole material world, material laws, figures and relations of special excellency and of the most appropriate order . . . Those laws are within the grasp of the human mind; God wanted us to recognize them by creating us after his own image so that we could share in his own thoughts’” (#1024). Indeed, he “called the universe ‘our bright Temple of God’ and described astronomers as ‘priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature’” (# 1043).
Subsequent centuries featured scientific masters such as Sir Isaac Newton, who “believed that one of the important goals of natural philosophy was to formulate convincing arguments for the existence of God” (#1121), and Sir Robert Boyle, who “was a man of passionate Christian faith, and his desire to further illuminate the mechanical philosophy of nature was partly due to his deep conviction that the regularities and harmony of the material world reflected the omniscience and foresight of the Creator, who had made an orderly world intelligible to mankind. Like Kepler, Boyle saw his work as a theological vocation and described natural philosophers as priests who deciphered truths about the natural world—the temple of God. He wrote that “if the world be a temple, man sure must be the priest, ordained (by being qualified) to celebrate divine service not only in it, but for it” (#1152).
In the 19th century this deeply religious perspective was challenged by Charles Darwin and his supporters, who said a mindless cosmos forever evolves through chance and necessity. But today that purely materialistic view appears less and less persuasive, and eminent physicists and cosmologists are increasingly open to the “God Hypothesis.” A century ago Max Planck showed that “classical physics” fail to explain how sub-atomic particles behave. “As a result, the field of quantum mechanics was born. Planck regarded science and faith as compatible and complementary enterprises. He was particularly fascinated by the congruence between the mathematical, law-governed structure of the material world and human rationality; he saw this correspondence as indicative of a designing Mind” (#2251). Convinced there was no necessary conflict between science and religion, he ultimately declared “On to God!” Yes indeed! “On to God!”
Working out the implications of quantum mechanics has occupied some of the finest minds of the past century—Einstein, Eddington, Heisenberg, et al. They work within a truly strange world, filled with unexpected and highly mathematical realities. Many of them now espouse varieties of “substance dualism,” believing that along with the material world there is an equally real mental (or spiritual) world. There is a non-material mind as well as a biological brain; there is a non-material Mind as well as a physical world. Some scientists sound much like St Athanasius who, in the fourth century, declared: “Like a musician who has tuned his lyre, and by the artistic blending of low and high and medium tones produces a single melody, so the Wisdom of God, holding the universe like a lyre, adapting things heavenly to things earthly, and earthly things to heavenly, harmonizes them all, and leading them by His will, makes one world and one world order in beauty and harmony” (#3214).
Melissa Travis has written a readable, coherent account supporting her “Maker Thesis,” finding in Kepler the notion that the cosmos is orderly, following laws that are understandable to us inasmuch as we are rational beings capable of actually thinking God’s thoughts. Kepler’s “unapologetically Christian philosophy of nature—that it is rationally ordered in a manner compatible with the mind of man, a creature made in God’s image—harmonized exceptionally well with both early Christian teaching on natural revelation and Pythagorean-Platonic thought about the intelligible structure of the cosmos” (#1033). To recover the robust faith of Kepler and do so in the light of contemporary science is Travis’s laudable goal.
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For several decades Hugh Ross has led an apologetics ministry—“Reasons to Believe”—and published a number of fine treatises proclaiming the compatibility of contemporary science and biblical thought. In Designed to the Core (Covine, CA: Reasons To Believe Press, c. 2022; Kindle Edition), Ross details evidence from astronomy showing how a “fine-tuned” universe makes life on earth possible. As Michael Strauss, a professor physics at the University of Oklahoma says, Ross takes us “on an unprecedented journey to explore the necessary requirements for a planet to support complex life. His truly comprehensive approach to the subject examines every aspect of Earth’s life-friendly environment, from the cosmic supercluster that we inhabit to our location in the Milky Way to our unusual solar system and even deep inside Earth’s core. The sheer number and scope of the needed parameters is mind-boggling and unambiguously answers the question of whether Earth is unique in its capability of supporting complex life. The only question left for the reader to ponder is how such a fortunate planet could have come into existence at all. Many of us who have pondered that question will agree with Dr. Ross, that such exquisite design requires an intelligent and powerful Designer” (pp. 3-4).
Successive chapters in the book move from the vastest dimensions of the universe to planet earth—all showing how improbable it all is. No random concoctions of matter-in-motion could possibly have arranged the cosmos! “An abundance of evidence now indicates that if the cosmic mass, size, age, inflation, elements, and ratio of elemental abundances weren’t structured exactly as they are, no one would be here to learn of them or to ponder how they came to be” (p. 20). In fact: “No planet like Earth and no physical life would be possible if the universe were not precisely as massive as it is” (p. 22). The increasingly evident “fine-tuning is multifaceted and every facet crucial to the outcome, then the fine-tuning source must be more than a mindless, impersonal force or process” (p. 16). Determined to present the best current conclusions of astronomers, Ross goes into deep detail, presenting data (and mathematical equations) much beyond my pay grade! All I can say is that if one knows a great deal about physics and astronomy he will be able to truly digest the book’s contents.
For me, breezing through many pages filled with complexities I could not fathom, it was rewarding simply to know that a man such as Ross really understands the subject and makes his conclusions clear in summary sections. “Those who pay attention to the scientific literature,” he says, “can attest to the progress of research. Daily, new data accumulates, more than any one researcher in the investigative quest can keep track of or digest. The challenge I faced in writing this book was determining which of the compelling anthropocentric design evidences to include and which to let go, for brevity’s sake. Design, to use the word so commonly seen in the literature, increasingly appears ubiquitous. There appears to be no end to the evidence of fine-tuning and design coming from scientific discovery. Yet, design was evident even a few thousand years ago, as recorded in ancient writings about a man named Job, who commented on the long list of evidences drawn from observation of nature’s realm. . . . Job rightly discerned a Designer behind all the evidence in the natural realm. Considering all the scientific exploration humans have done over the past four thousand years, we’ve gained deeper glimpses of the Fine Tuner’s works, though only glimpses, with infinitely more to see and understand” (p. 283). Better still, “the One whose planning, power, and fine-tuned precision made our human existence possible” has also provided a Way for us to know him in Christ.
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While he was serving as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger gave six lectures in a German monastery, translated into English as The Divine Project: Reflections on Creation and the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, c. 2022; Kindle Edition). They give us important insight into the future Pope Benedict XVI’s wide-ranging theological interests, especially regarding creation. He began by noting the importance of rightly interpreting Scripture. Throughout the ancient and medieval eras it was assumed “that the only way for someone to understand each individual text of Scripture is always to understand it as part of Scripture in its totality; and not like the totality of a textbook, either, but as a dynamic totality” (p. 21). As the Hebrew Scriptures were written, God came to be understood as a unique, “only one” God “who had all lands and all peoples at his command. This was because he himself had created the heavens and the earth, because they were his own” (p. 24). Jews came to believe “that God alone, the eternal Reason who is eternal Love, created the world, and that it rests in his hands” (p. 26). Ultimately there developed in Israel what’s called “wisdom literature,” which is, Ratzinger says, “the final bridge on a long road, one that leads to the message of Jesus Christ, to the New Covenant. And only there do we find the ultimate, definitive creation account in Scripture, the one that provides Christians with the standard for interpreting every other creation text. This ultimate and definitive biblical creation account opens with the key verses: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made’ (Jn 1:1, 3).” The Logos, Reason, the Divine Mind indwelling creation enables us to say what Aristotle said 400 years before Christ, “against those who claimed that everything came into being by chance,” that a Divine Mind designed all that is in wisdom-wrought ways.