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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Keeping It In Proportion

The late Richard Feynman was known for his theoretical work in quantum electrodynamics and particle physics. For a scientist, Feynman had an uncharacteristically folksy way of presenting the rationale for his atheistic worldview:

“I can’t believe the special stories that have been made up about our relationship to the universe at large because they seem to be too local, too provincial.

The earth. He came to the earth. One of the aspects of God came to the earth, mind you! And look at what’s out there. It isn’t ... in proportion.”

But the celebrated physicist and reputed genius is far from the first intelligent person to address the pressing issue of disproportionality in the universe.

Size and Consequence

King David noted essentially the same thing as Richard Feynman about three thousand years before it ever occurred to the good professor. But the difference between the colossal size and unimaginable complexity of the universe and the relative insignificance of humanity led David to marvel rather than to doubt:
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
     the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
     what is man that you are mindful of him,
     and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
     and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
     you have put all things under his feet.”
Yes, says David, the universe is astounding. Mankind, by comparison, is microscopic, hardly notable in any respect. And yet look at how God has honoured mankind in creation.

Beautiful as David’s poetry may be, there is a suggestion of a larger thought here. Jewish exegetes call it a remez, a hint of something more spiritually significant.

The Real Issue

Hebrews makes the hint explicit, recognizing that this spectacular discontinuity between man and his universe is only reconciled in the person of Jesus Christ enthroned. Or, as Richard Feynman dismissively refers to him, “One of the aspects of God”.

Oh, but what an Aspect. Man is manifestly not in charge of his world (let alone his universe) at the present time. The writer to the Hebrews says, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him”.

Then we get this statement:
“But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor.”
Where ought God to be enthroned? Anywhere he chooses, I suspect. Is there perhaps something more fitting for him out there in the far reaches of space? Who can say. We do not know what in all creation might be most appropriate to the display of the glory of God, but we have been told that it is our unbearable privilege to have “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” shining forth in the comparative shadow of the human heart.

Moral Glory

The thought processes of some believers might have seemed terribly “local” and “provincial” to Richard Feynman, but there is no getting away from the fact that our planet has an inordinate status in the universe. This is not because of the two-legged creatures that scramble across its crust but as a direct consequence of those few historic moments in which the eternal Son of God was made “for a little while” lower than the angels in order that he might rise and take all of mankind with him.

The universe is magnificent. The heavens indeed declare the glory of God. But there is a sort of glory they cannot show. That glory is moral. It is a glory not of light and splendour, but of grace and truth. It was displayed most clearly on the cross and can only be seen today in those who bear theirs, following in the path of their Lord and Saviour.

Proportionate? Perhaps not.

Marvellous beyond words? Absolutely.


  1. I have long ago concluded that logic alone is no help in leading a person to God. There has to be a need as well, which can be multifaceted. Academics and scientists in particular (but not exclusively) frequently seem to have deliberate blinders on, which are part of what I call the inconvenient God syndrome. For example, there is zero proof that God does not exist but there is at least some probabiliy that he could exist based on biblical, miraculous, and personal testimonials. In addition, there is a clear road to conducting the Proof of God experiment. The experimental procedure is simple and is unambiguously provided in God's test and field manual (the Bible) providing detailed experimental steps and procedures to obtain results and arrive at conclusions. The field manual experimentation is designed with the individual in mind, involves a one on one relationship with a very personal God and obviously demands a different type of experimental approach towards your test subjects (the individual and God).

    Clearly, the smart scientist realizes that this type of experiment, which would be mostly centered on the experimenter building up a personal relationship with an entity that he considers to be a figment of imagination may be far more demanding and involved on a personal level then he/she would be willing to get involved with compared to what he is doing currently, namely, scribbling some theories at the desk, handing on instructions to lab assistants, and analysing results for which he thinks he knows the answers beforehand anyway.

    In addition it should be obvious that God, based on humanities experience so far, will obviously not let himself be used as part of a physical science experiment (i.e. he won't play ball with regard to that). And clearly, based on free will, and therefore the need to have the spiritual and physical be separate, there should be no physical verifiability as we like to define it. Furthermore, it is also clear that if physical verifiability would be possible it would be totally disastrous to humanity (think about it). Nevertheless God CLEARLY states in the Bible that he can be reached by anyone with the right attitude and predisposition. And I don't think he would give a hoot about who you currently are as long as you are willing to pick up the phone and start talking to him. He will then respond and engage with you on a personal level.

    It is therefore disingenuous to argue that God is not provable if you simply insist that the proof must exclusively be given on your own terms. I also suggest that God to many people would simply represent an inconvenience that they don't want to have to contend with. For that reason, the idea of God and the idea to reach out to him simply gets brushed off even if it means to simply try and engage in an objective experiment. Undoubtedly, this is because of the potentially inconvenient consequences for one's own lifestyle, preconceived notions, and behavior, if it should turn out that he was found to be real. Therefore, unless you are objectively willing to conduct such an experiment on God's terms using the provided field guide you don't have the right to complain about anything concerning the lack of evidence for God in your life or in the world. I suggest 6 to 12 month of engagement at minimum but for some it may turn into a lifetime. Absolutely, as with any experiment there is not a 100% probability for success. But that may depend more on your attitude than anything else.

    1. I also suggest that God to many people would simply represent an inconvenience that they don't want to have to contend with.

      That may be the whole problem right there in a nutshell ...