On August 24, 2006, I sat in a lecture hall at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, listening to a lecture by one of the researchers at that famous facility. It was an unusual time for us to be there, because that morning the papers had announced that the International Astronomical Union (IAU) had voted to disqualify Pluto as a true planet the day before. The observatory we were visiting, and the telescope we were able to observe was the one that Clyde Tombaugh used when he discovered Pluto in 1930. It also was the telescope used by Percy Lowell to observe Mars and to make the maps of what he thought were canals on Mars. The lecturer made a few humorous remarks about the change in Pluto's classification from a planet to a dwarf planet, he concluded that part of his talk by saying that the astronomers could classify it any way they wanted, but the researchers at Lowell knew it was a very interesting and different object with a message to be understood and applied to our knowledge of the cosmos.
Our visit to Lowell observatory was a part of our 2006 Canyonlands Summer Seminar Tour. The tour was designed to instruct and to motivate participants to get actively involved in apologetics and in counteracting explanations of natural phenomena which denigrate God and/or which promote a religious agenda hostile to the Bible and to the concepts of Christianity. We visited the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Glen Canyon, Lake Powell, Meteor Crater, Petrified Forest, and Lowell Observatory. It was encouraging to me to hear a researcher minimize the current media attention to human attempts to compartmentalize objects, and to focus on what the real importance is of discoveries like Pluto.
Many religious people feel that "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" dictates not only the existence of what is described, but the method as well. Statements like "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3) are viewed as methods statements. The picture one gets is that the old man with the white hair and gray beard spoke those words, and by no process of any kind, light appeared. In such a view, the cosmos is viewed as an unchanging finished entity where everything today is what it was when God let the last sound come out of His mouth.
There are many problems with such an approach. The first is that Genesis is Hebrew poetry, and much of the structure linguistically is to fit the poetic nature of the writing. Of more practical interest is the fact that simple observations of the cosmos tells us that it is not a finished unchanging system. Astronomers watching supernova 1987A, a star which exploded some 20 years ago and now contains elements it did not possess prior to its explosive change, have seen new elements come into existence. Helium continues to increase in its abundance on the Sun as we watch the fusion process take place. Everywhere we look we see change taking place. The cosmos is not a dead or dying place, but a place of rapid growth and change.
Not only do we see this process operationally working today, but we also see evidence that this is how God worked with the cosmos in the past. The Hebrew word for create (bara) used only in reference to a process that only God can do, is used sparingly in describing the creation of the cosmos in Genesis 1 (verses 1 and 21). The rest of the time the word used is the word referring to a process that involves shaping or molding what has already been created (asah or yatsar in Hebrew.) Both bara and yatsar are used in reference to man with bara being used in reference to man's soul, and yatsar being used in reference to man's body. It is interesting that our bodies do change in many ways, but our likeness in the image of God does not. The Genesis account concludes with God telling us that both processes were involved in the production of the cosmos and all that is within it: "And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created (bara) and made (asah)" (Genesis 2:3).
One of the frequently asked questions we get from children is why is Pluto there? If God wanted an Earth for man to live on, why not just create the Earth and be done with it. Why have a moon, all of the other planets, and now the dwarf planets and Kuiper Belt objects including comets and other icy bodies. In the 40 years that we have been involved in this educational program we call Does God Exist?, a great many answers have been discovered by science. We now know that the moon is what keeps the tilt of the earth at a workable angle to mix the atmosphere and distribute the heat that we get from the Sun. We understand that the major planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) are vital to our survival on Earth because they protect us from objects coming into the Sun from outer space along the ecliptic. One can postulate that God knew what these things required, and spoke them into existence to ensure our survival.
This does not explain thousands of objects outside Neptune's orbit that appear to be leftovers from the process that produced the solar system. We also have now seen over 100 planets that orbit other stars, and we can observe planetary systems in various stages of development all over the galaxy. Our present understandings do not tell us any benefit that comes to earth by an object like Pluto which has three moons of its own and orbits the Sun in a wildly eccentric orbit. That may change with better knowledge, and in fact may offer materials to mankind in the future that are critical to further exploration in space.
The lesson about God that we see here is that God usually functions by natural processes. If we believe God is all powerful, then He can create the cosmos in any way He wishes. What the creation processes tell us about God and what we see in the Bible is that God is a God who works by patient reasonable processes, not emotional cataclysmic intervention. Nearly every biblical story shows God working in a much longer time frame and by much more natural progression than mankind might like. God did not zap Noah and his family out of a sinful and dying world--He waited 100 years for natural methods and processes to allow His will to be fulfilled. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness before their promise given by God was realized. The promise given to mankind about the coming savior did not come with massive fanfare and force, but in a long process beginning with a baby in a manger. Even today, people keep inventing and promoting immediate fulfillment of God's promise about the end of time.
Pluto and its fellow Kuiper Belt objects tell us that God formed the solar system and the cosmos as a whole more by natural processes than by miraculous creation. Once time, space, and energy were created the cosmos was molded and shaped by forces and processes that God has designed to achieve His final desire--the heaven and the earth. Science can explain some of the processes that God used, and as we study dark energy, black holes, quantum mechanics, and objects like Pluto we will come to understand even more. As we understand God's methods and processes we are able to see the power and intelligence that God possesses. Our response needs to be like that stated by Henry Shaeffer who described his own research this way.
The significance and joy in my science comes in those occasional moments of discovering something new and saying to myself "So that's how God did it." My goal is to understand a little corner of God's plan (Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence? by Henry Schaefer, 2003).
Isaac Newton also stated this concept beautifully in his statement:
I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me (Isaac Newton, from Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton by David Brewster ).
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