Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nature: God's Gift

For an explanation of this short film, please visit:  

From this short film, we can see the complexity and beauty inherent in nature. Nature in Greek is physis but I believe more (historically and theologically) correctly ktisis i.e. creation. Physis in Greek almost two millennia ago was used generally to describe of what something is, not to refer to the natural world, e.g. the two natures of Christ.

The word ktisis (creation) implies a creator.

Essentially, whether we like the terminology or not, all Christians who believe in the doctrine of creation ex nihilo are creationists. In this way we believe in the literalist interpretation of the Bible, which does not in any way indicate fundamentalism. This does not mean we are opposed to science, it simply means that we believe that God did create the universe (which He called ‘good’) and He is still active in His creation.

To say that certain scientific theories are wrong (e.g. natural selection) because the Bible says so is completely false on so many levels. The Bible is not a Koran. It did not fall from heaven nor was it directly dictated from God or an angel. The Bible is a collection of books, as Fr Thomas Hopko stated in his ongoing series on Darwin and Christianity, containing books of history (Kings), law (Deuteronomy), wisdom and philosophy (Solomon; Sirach; Ecclesiastes; Proverbs), songs (Songs of Solomon, the Psalms), prophecy (Isaiah; Ezekiel; Jonah; Jeremiah), personal narratives (Job) etc. It is not the purpose of the Bible to give us answers to scientific questions. The Bible is about our personal relationship with God and how we can bridge the ontological gap between the Creator and the created (us and God), which every human being attempts in their own way. As Orthodox Christians we can bridge this gap through prayer and partaking in the mystery of Holy Communion. We mustn’t fall into the trap of many so-called ‘religious’ people who deny facts which no reasonable human being would deny. How does one expect to be treated seriously of one opposes a scientific theory based on religious beliefs, or because the Bible said so, when centuries of science has indicated it is so?

A question that people ask me many times is, ‘So do you believe in natural selection? Do you think that humans came from apes?’

I’ve never been asked if I believe in quantum electrodynamics or the laws of thermodynamics.

Never mind the distorted questions, never mind if natural selection is right or not, the question that remains, or the crux of the problem, is: Does any scientific theory undermine your faith? If your answer is yes then I suggest that you didn’t have any faith in the first place.

Nevertheless some people argue that natural selection is not scientific. Others are proponents of Intelligent Design, which is certainly not scientific. A theory is scientific, according to philosopher of science Karl Popper, if it can be falsified i.e. proven false. It must be tested continuously, with modifications made when errors are uncovered in a mathematical or conceptual model and hence a scientific theory can never be ‘proved’.

Intelligent Design is based on pseudo-science and religious fundamentalism. It is an attempt at a compromise and in the process violates all scientific knowledge. One can ‘preach’ Intelligent Design, but don’t classify it as science. Enough of this for now.

But what of the natural world?

Created, blessed and called ‘good’ by God Himself it too suffered when humanity fell. It still suffers and humanity continues to abuse it. The state that nature is in, which we have created ourselves, has taken the form of sinful humanity. What is significant is that humanity is made in the image and according to the likeness of God but is also, as the Ancient Greek philosophers believed, a microcosm of the whole of creation. The great physicist Richard Feynmann said (when he spoke about the destruction caused by the atom bomb), 'Nature cannot be fooled'. We cannot expect nature to completely tolerate all the abuse it suffers, it will react as it aways has since the fall and have a limit.

What does the Scripture tell us of nature? It tells us that nature incessantly praises God, its Creator, in His glory (Psalm 148):
1 Praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD from the heavens,
praise him in the heights above.
2 Praise him, all his angels,
praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
3 Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars.
4 Praise him, you highest heavens
and you waters above the skies.
5 Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for he commanded and they were created.
6 He set them in place for ever and ever;
he gave a decree that will never pass away.
7 Praise the LORD from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
8 lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding,
9 you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle,
small creatures and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,
12 young men and maidens,
old men and children.
13 Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
14 He has raised up for his people a horn,
the praise of all his saints,
of Israel, the people close to his heart.
Praise the LORD.

When Christ came through the Virgin, He not only renewed and restored man but He did the same to all of creation. The Theotokos was the best part of creation that it could offer of itself. We see this in the Megalinarion in the Liturgy of St Basil:

In you, O full of grace, all creation rejoices, the ranks of Angels and the human race: hallowed temple and spiritual Paradise, pride of virgins, from whom God was made flesh; and he, who is our God before the ages, became a little Child; for he made your womb a throne; and made it wider than the heavens. In you, O full of grace, all creation rejoices. Glory to you!

Yet from the very beginning, nature foreshadowed the self-sacrifice of Christ through its workings. We see every day in the natural world all sorts of animals hunted and cruelly killed and eaten be predators. There even exists an insect which eats other insects from the inside-out.

How can a loving God allow for such suffering and pain?

In the same way that these creatures suffer and sacrifice themselves, so too Christ, the Lamb of God, sacrificed himself. In this way we see that nature is an open Bible, but only for those who wish to see it that way. There is the classic story of St Herman of Alaska meeting a bear hunter in the forests of Alaska one day. The hunter told the saint, ‘Father, I have been here for three months and have not seen one Christian’. The saint replied, ‘My son I have been in Alaska for twenty years and have never seen a bear’. The simple message of this story is that one sees what one wants to see. It is the same with nature. One can either see God in nature, or see the absence of God. It is foolish to try to prove the existence of God with science, because even science has its limitations in the natural world. To say that science attempts to describe the essence of nature is as foolish as saying that Theology attempts to describe the essence of God.

For me, apart from my personal experiences and faith, I can say with all confidence:

Beauty in nature exists therefore God exists.


Rosaline said...

Thanks for this post! I found it very useful and a refreshing change to a lot of other info on the same subject :)

FOCUS UNSW said...

Thanks for your feedback Rosaline.

I honestly don't know how everyone else is going to respond:)

It's a bit of a touchy subject, but I feel very strongly about this. I may be wrong though.


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