Posted 05 February 2010


In Celebration of Psalm Nineteen:
God's handiwork in Creation


Why the Celebration of Psalm 19?

Psalm 19 celebrates the glory and handiwork of God displayed in his creation. His creation proclaims this glory and handiwork with a Silent Voice that pours out speech and reveals knowledge.

David & harp public domain

The depiction of David is from the 1890 Holman Bible.  As David composes this Psalm, he contemplates his 12-string harp and sees in its stretched and tuned strings the lines of God's Silent Voice going out through all the earth. The Silent Voice is there, latent in the tuned lines, ready to sound out and proclaim God's glory and handiwork when plucked with skill and perception. 

Exegetical Remarks on Psalm 19:1-4.

Verse 1:
The Heavenly Expanse
The Hebrew word is "raquia" = spread out.
The Greek Septuagint translation is "steroma" = something firm. The Jerome Vulgate's word "firmamentum" has the same idea. Both of these translations took place after the Greek school had become well-established, and might amount to reading back into the text something that wasn't there in the first place. This has led to an assumed "Hebrew Cosmology" of a solid dome. Personally, I think this is fanciful nonsense. The fact is that until the Greeks' fascination with geometry,  around 500 BC, there is (to date) no written evidence for a developed cosmological model of the universe recorded anywhere in the world. There are fanciful depictions in tomb paintings (such as Tiamet, the Egyptian goddess of the sky) but it is not clear that these represent any assumed reality -- they are just fanciful, that is all -- comparable perhaps to Kipling's tale of how the elephant got its trunk.

A translation such as "dome" or "firmament" injects an assumed meaning that is not warranted by the text. To the non-speculative Hebrew shepherd or farmer, the sky was simply that blue stuff up there which was the place where birds fly, where the sun, moon and stars appear, where clouds waft by and drop rain. For this reason a number of modern translations use the word "expanse" to indicate its ephemeral nature. To me, that makes sense, and any translation that smells of anything more definite is gratuitous, and projects our current-day fascination with such matters onto these ancient cultures.

In particular, the so-called "Hebrew cosmology" which is supposed to represent the view of the ancient pre-scientific Hebrew scholars is, in my view bogus. There is no archaeological warrant for thinking that the ancient Hebrews had any such construct in mind. It is a projection from the much later Greek fascination with geometrical constructions, and later Jewish scholars who (like their Christian counterparts) reflected the views of the contemporary educated classes. Expressions that occasionally appear in the Bible, such as the sky appearing as brass, God opening the windows of heaven, etc. are nothing more than picturesque language, with no intended concrete meaning -- any more than our use of "raining buckets", "raining cats and dogs" or referring to a "sunrise" intends to convey anything more than an intense figurative expression of reality.

On a similiar line, the Hebrew references to certain heavenly constellations do not mean that they credited these constellations with a god-like reality -- or even used similar names.  Job's references to "Orion" and the "Pleiades" are in Hebrew somewhat generic names "the burly one" and "cluster of stars".  The translations are logical, because these particular constellations stand out as some of the most easily identified patterns in the sky, and so it is fairly certain that these are the correct meanings, along with "bear" to refer to the big dipper.  In fact, Job's special mention of Pleiades and Orion may imply an approximate date when Job lived (see remarks on the Zodiac).

The division of the sky into images is a natural mnemonic device for pattern recognition and navigation around the starry sky, quite separate from development of a cosmological model -- also separate from attributing magical or god-like powers to these images, as astrology claims.  These images are useful to mark "signs and seasons" and "days and years" (Genesis 1:14). It is likely that this division into mnemonic images was done very early in man's existence. The recognition of these patterns does not demand that one subscribe to the mythological notions, much less astrological meanings, that have been attached to them by pagan sources.  The zodiac is the collection of constellations that follow the circuit of the Sun in the background of the fixed stars. The zodiac is an example of how the stars are used to mark the seasons, days and years.
See further remarks on Astronomy and the Zodiac.

Verse 3: Its voice is not heard. This (cf. New Revised Standard Version, New American Standard Version, New Century Version) is the direct meaning of the Hebrew. Some translations attempt to make "sense" of the verse by "correcting it", for example, by changing it to "where their voice is not heard" (King James Version) or the ambiguous "whose voice is not heard" (English Standard Version), or something similar. Some commentaries imply that willful deafness is implied. In my view,  this is incorrect, and that the psalmist intended to mean silent speech -- a non-verbal message. See remarks below on The Silent Speech.

Verse 4: Their line goes out. In Gesenius, Hebrew Lexicon The word "line" is a musical term, and that is how I see the meaning in this verse. Note that the LXX translates the word as "voice" and another meaning of the Hebrew is "measuring line" which conveys the idea of a stretched line. In my mind's eye I see David look down at the tuned strings on his harp (see the image). These stretched lines pour forth music and meaning when they are plucked by a skilful musician. In analogy, the "silent voice" proclaims the glory and handiwork of God to a skilful inquirer.

Line in Ps. 19:4

The Silent Speech

As a person who had a career in science, I praise God for the Silent Speech declared in Psalm 19. Without that silent speech proclaiming God's glory and handiwork in creation, modern science could never have developed, and my own voice would be stilled. See my essay on the Silent Voice.

I don't want to imply that the silent speech is limited to scientific investigations -- it pervades all areas of human experience. A person who marvels at the glory of the world about us, at its beauty and majesty, and at the handiwork of God displayed in the splendor of the starry heavens savors that silent speech. The drab and shabby nature of man-made atheistic societies that Communism brought upon wide swaths of the earth contrasts in my mind with the glories of God and his handiwork.

But here I want to pay special regard to the Silent Speech of nature as it concerns science.

The Miracle of the Silent Speech.
"The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible."
Albert Einstein

I believe that God loves the inquiring mind, and that with great care he carried out his creative activity in such a way that his handiwork would reveal itself to careful and persistent inquiry. This is the essence of the Silent Speech celebrated in Psalm 19 as it relates to science. As mankind develops more  understanding over time, and builds upon the records of its earlier works, the things revealed by that Silent Speech become deeper, more profound, and more glorious. The deeper scientists probe the marvels of God's creation, the more intricate and complex those revealed marvels prove to be.

I believe that God has a special interest in ministering to the modern world and that he has planned since the beginning of time to bring specific, carefully honed witness to his power and his eternal purpose to that modern world, the "modern" world of every age and time. It is this special interest that causes him to reveal his glory and handiwork through the Silent Speech -- and to self-limit his own limitless powers so that the Silent Speech is a faithful and true record of his glory and handiwork.

God did not have to do this -- a point that St. Augustine (ca. 400 AD) marvelled at1: he could have created the natural world in a way that blotted out the records of his activity. Indeed, in pre-scientific times and even in the earlier scientific times, the discovery of new details in those records often came as a complete and unexpected surprise. That is the sense of Einstein's remark.

The First and Prototype Instance of God's Silent Speech
The Stars as Timekeepers

In the Creation Account, Genesis 1:14, God Commissioned the heavens to be for Signs and Seasons, Days and Years. This is  a  prototypical example of how the Silent Speech works in practice.  See the

Surprising Instances of the Silent Speech in the Scientific Age

"Our world is complex: even at high temperatures, any formula describing it must have many terms, this being what makes possible a complex hierarchy of forces and particles when the Big Bang cools and symmetries break. Yet it is simple enough to be understood. This is necessary if consciousness is to evolve; for where would be the evolutionary advantage of being conscious of the world, without at all understanding it?"
John Leslie

"Our place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery."

Who would have thought that there is an entire microscopic world of life before the days of Leeuwenhoek2? Or that it would be possible to explore it in a systematic way?

Who would have thought that there is a vast telescopic world before the days of Galileo? And before Newton, Copernicus and Kepler,  that this vast world operates with the precision of a finely crafted clock? So precise, that important astronomical events that occurred thousands of years in the past or future can be reconstructed precisely (literally to within seconds) in time and location?3. Who would have thought before Newton that his simple insights worked out here on earth would provide the key to understanding the motions of the planets and other heavenly bodies that are unreachable by any human effort, and yet it are known as well as if we were there.

The advances of the microscope and telescope were possible in part because of the nature of physical light, created in the very first instant of time. If God had made the wavelength of visible light comparable, say, to the size of a period (.) (rather than about a micron -- 500 times smaller) then light would serve the needs of ordinary vision, but details of anything smaller than a wavelength could not be distinguished, and the microscopic world would (very likely) never have been discovered. And telescopes would never have been invented because the optical lenses would have to be impracticably large to provide useful detail in distant objects.

Resolving Power of light
• Who would have thought before Dalton4 that all of the thousands of chemical compounds discovered by the alchemists reduce to combinations of fifty or so elements?
- Or that these elements further organize into a periodic table in eight groups with similar chemical features as discovered by Mendeleev5
- Or that the myriads of chemical interactions would be dominated by just two kinds: oxidizing and reducing (acids and bases)?

• Who would have thought before Friedrich Wöhler6 that all of the complex processes of living species can be described in terms of inorganic chemistry and physics7?

• Who would have thought before William Smith8 that the entire chronological history of life on earth is systematically recorded in the rocks?
- Or that a century after his time, this history could be dated precisely using a multitude of overlapping methods from direct measurements to dating with radioactive isotopes?

• Who would have thought before Louis DeBroglie9 that it is possible to probe far below the limits of light microscopes using the wave-like nature of electrons?
- or that electrons are wave-like?
- probing even to the inner regions of the atomic nucleus? [show picture of IBM atoms???]

• Who would have thought before Watson and Crick that the genetic details of every living species is digitally recorded in dna?
- Or that there is a vastly complex process that converts the dna code into working proteins? And that this process is essentially the same for all living species from the simplest to the most complex.10

I could go on and on.  All of these discoveries are possible because God created the natural world to be accessible to scientific inquiry. He did not have to do this. These are examples of God's Silent Voice that he built into his creation. His decision to embed this Silent Voice amounts to a self-imposed limitation to his creative acts. He did not have to do this, and in fact through most of history, mankind did not expect that this voluntary self-limitation would characterize his creation.

This brings to mind another remark by Albert Einstein: The Lord God is subtle but he is not malicious. Note 14 His subtlety gives joy to the scientist as he unwraps that subtlety.  The scientist, with joy,  discovers God's creative process as it unfolds.

God's self-imposed limitations in creation.

This brings us to the question of limitations that God placed on himself in creation -- based on my own empirical observations, not based on any particular revelation of which I am aware.

I have already mentioned the Silent Speech, which limits God in that the created world has a built-in self-revelation of God's glory and handiwork. He did not have to do this: as Bertrand Russell said once, "God could have created me five minutes ago complete with the holes in my socks." [note 15] But in an act of self-limitation, God did not do that. The record of the silent speech that God has woven into creation is an accurate and truthful record. This is so that the natural world reveals how God actually worked in space and time, and that revelation is not in any way a false or deceptive record.

On the other hand, God's revelation in nature is subtle (as Einstein remarked): to search out his activity takes persistence, integrity and systematic effort. Yet it has revealed depth of insight at all times to men in all the ages of human existence.

In 1868 Albert Barnes delivered a series of Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity  in which he expressed the principle that God does not make special revelations about matters that humans can determine by themselves: "

Special Revelation Principle: "It can not be supposed that God would give by miracle a special revelation when he had already furnished, in another mode, all that is needful for man, or that there would be two methods of communicating the divine will on the same subject. God does not give special revelations on those subjects which are quite within the range of the human powers. [emphasis added - dcb]."

The principle expressed by Barnes is that God does not reveal by inspiration what humans can find out by themselves -- so that, for example, we should not look to the Bible for the revelation of scientific facts that we can learn from science -- although the Bible's mention of scientific matters, does not contradict science if both are correctly understood. This principle removes a lot of "pious speculation" about things that touch on science, a matter that St. Augustine vigorously opposed in his day (about 400 AD) as being a potential embarassment to the Church. He gave a number of examples of this unfortunate tendency of theologians, such as pronouncements about the relative size of the Sun, Moon and stars based on the scriptural remark about "greater" and "lesser" lights (Genesis 1:16)11.

I believe that an analogous principle that applies to special creation and especially to the Silent Speech:

Creation Principle:"It can not be supposed that God would perform by fiat a creative act when he had already furnished, in the natural world, all that is needful to perform that act of creation.  God does not create by fiat (special creation) those things which are within the range of natural processes."

This principle implies several things.

First, the main task of science is to discover those things that can be done by natural processes and to demonstrate the mechanisms. One might even define the practice of science in this way. As a scientist and a christian I have no conflict between science and my faith as long as science can prove that its claims can be achieved by purely natural processes. In fact, that is the purpose and goal of scientific experimentation. 

The creation of the elements is an example that is developed elsewhere on this website [**Insert Link**]. Within the past century, it has been demonstrated by detailed high-energy experiments  that all of the elements can be created naturally in the interiors of stars and in supernova explosions. The birth and death of stars and galaxies and the consequent production of the elements requires on the order of billions of years.  Sufficient time passed prior to the formation of the solar system to create these elements by natural processes, and so this principle implies that the elements were created naturally, and not by fiat.

One should note that "demonstration" and "proof" mean more than imagining a causal connection. For example, if two widely different species of animals are shown to have identical or similar genes, that fact may indicate that the species are related in some way, but it is not prima facie evidence that they are descended from a common ancestor [note 16]. Perhaps the Creator simply re-used the genetic code. To prove descent by natural processes it is necessary to exhibit the chemical or physical mechanisms by which such descent can be achieved. Absent such proof, science should remain silent on the claim, or else clearly identify the claim as metascience. Again, the example of astrophysics is instructive. It is generally acknowledged that physical processes in the very early universe (before 10
-43 seconds) cannot be addressed within the current known framework of experimental physics. Thus firm claims cannot be made about these early times, and a variety of physical theories are accepted as plausible but not authoritative statements (string theory, an infinitude of universes, etc.) of these times.

Second, God Created in time. One of the things that perplexed St. Augustine was why God created in time: he was certainly able to bring everything into existence instantaneously, by fiat. Furthermore, time is itself a created thing, so why did God subject himself to creating in time, as is implied in the creation account of Genesis 1? His answer was that God in fact created instantaneously, but described the creation as if it took place in time [MAKE FOOTNOTE]. My own view of the matter is that God limited himself to creating in time so that the record of his creation that is built into nature, and is expressed in the silent speech, would be a true and faithful account of creation. God did this so that scientists could determine the power of natural processes. He specifically did not create "with the appearance of age" because that would imply a false record.

Third,  his creative actions are not limited by time
, except that the creation of life is naturally limited by the the lifespan of its habitat. Thus, the time required to create advanced life from non-living matter must fall within the span of time that the earth remains in the solar system's habitable zone, a duration of a few billion years. Other than this general limit, the creation process may well take immense periods of time.

Fourth, God graciously designed his creative activities to leave a record that can be investigated and understood by scientists. This is the essence of the silent speech as it is directed to modern science. This fact relates to Einstein's remark cited above.

Fifth, God has self-limited his creative activities so that the silent speech gives an accurate account of his creation.  As Bertrand Russell observed "...complete with the holes in my socks" I believe that God did not create by fiat things with the appearance of age, if there was a natural way to achieve the same end.

Sixth, I as a believer in a Creator God, have complete freedom to investigate the limits of natural processes and at the same time I have the freedom to accept the possibility that certain aspects of creation required direct action by God. It is not necessary for me to spell out what those aspects are, because I have freedom to investigate everything, with the only restriction that truth claims must be backed up  by scientific demonstration that doesn't simply beg the question.

What the Silent Speech Tells Us

• The Silent Voice is a truthful record of God's creative activity. A major "glory of God" is his truthfulness -- "Thy Word is Truth." I cringe and consider it disrespectful of God's glory, when I hear some, supposedly devout worshipers of God, assert that his creation gives a false appearance of history (Russell's remark would be just an extreme example of this, if true) -- for example to insist that the light from distant stars was "created on the way" in order to avoid the difficulty that these stars are billions of light years away.  I will certainly grant that God could create in an instant a universe that is billions of light years in diameter, and instantly populate it with stars that are at various stages in their life cycles -- indeed in the cosmic inflation, God did what is essentially that very thing (just on a smaller scale). But to what end would he then create appropriately aged light along the way so that it would give an accurate record of the physics of these stars as it would have been if they had been created billions of years earlier?  Even trying to parse that last sentence wears me out.  The only purpose I can imagine is to deceive scientists who attempt to decipher the message of the heavens.  It would be better to leave the history a total blank: to make it impossible to determine anything about the physics of stellar matter (that, after all, was the situation a mere 150 years ago  -- before the discovery of spectral analysis 12).

The light of distant stars is a record of the past, because the light travelling over long distances carries a record of what the light source was like at the time that the light was first sent on its way. That light is far more than just a point of light; it carries with it a great amount of factual information about the light source. So as we develop telescopes that can see stars and galaxies that are further and further away, we are also reading ever more ancient records that speak about what the universe was like long ago. The light from these distant sources tells us about the physical conditions as they were when the light first started out. And one remarkable message that they tell is that the physical laws at those distant outposts of the universe are exactly the same as the physical laws that we can measure here on earth. That is a totally astounding and unexpected finding: the fact is that the Silent Speech of Psalm 19 tells a consistent story throughout the universe! Now there is a significance to the statement that the “line is gone throughout the earth” that you might be forgiven for overlooking! But how do we know that the laws are the same, and how surprising is it?

 It certainly is possible to mis-interpret his creation by making incorrect assumptions or drawing incorrect conclusions, and the truth-seeker must always be wary of such errors. But that is because of God's subtlety and his ineffable majesty, not because of his deceit. And science, although it can occasionally error in this way, has always proved to be self-correcting over time, precisely because the Silent Speech gives science the materials to correct its misperceptions. That correction may take long amounts of time -- indeed, thousands of years in the case of the false concepts of the Greek-inspired earth-centered cosmology.

• God's Creative Activity is not limited by time or space. In the neat world of man's imagining and in his naive self-centered theology, the created universe would be relatively small -- large compared with man, but not so large as to exceed his imaginings -- and the time required to complete the creation of living beings would also be small -- measured perhaps in thousands of years, certainly not in billions. But God exists apart from time and space. In fact, as Einstein demonstrated -- the essence of general relativity -- time and space are an integral part of creation. Before the creation of this universe some 15 billion years ago, there was no time or space as we know them.  Because of this existence apart (the theological term is that God is "transcendent"), God's creative activities are not limited by considerations of time or space.  The observation that a certain natural process may take billions of years to accomplish, or require inconceivable amounts of space, is not a limitation for God.  The fact that God's supreme creation, human life, takes place in a miniscule part of a vast universe is of no account to God - and he does not consider the rest of the vast universe to be wasted, or man, for that matter, to be inconsequential because he takes up such a minute portion of the universe.

God's Creative Activity is Purposeful. There is no wasted effort. If the universe is large it is for a reason. Humanity is not insignificant because it exists in a seemingly insignificant backwater in the universe! This is one of the astounding discoveries in the recent research into the Anthropic Principle. Natural evolution by purely random, purposeless changes, implies the expenditure of vast amounts of fruitless and pointless energy.  This is the opposite of what we observe in the natural world. Things may appear at a superficial level to be random and pointless, but that appearance disappears as one probes closer and with more wisdom and perception.  As our description of the creation process unfolds, it happens again and again that change occurs rapidly (in terms of cosmic time!). In some times, with astonishing rapidity; never does the process dawdle for no good reason.  I consider this one of the strongest arguments against purely natural evolution.

Every creative act was deliberate, purposeful, and efficient in time and effort. One of the most amazing recognitions of the modern age is something called the Anthropic Principle: that the vastness of our universe was required in order to carry out that creation of the human creature.  In my own mind I go even a bit further than the Anthropic Principle: I believe that God worked efficiently and with purpose, and that this is particularly evident in his creation of life. Every step in that creation was accomplished in an efficient and expedious manner -- given that God self-limited himself by the following final principle. For further information see the Notes on the Anthropic Principle.

• God uses Natural Processes whenever they suffice. Given the choice between fiat creation and the use of natural processes, my empirical observation is that God uses natural processes whenever they are up to the task that is in view. God used natural processes whenever they would suffice to achieve the needed results -- even if, in some instances, they take literally billions of years to complete. This is the essence of my Creation Principle.

For example, God used natural processes to create the elements, which were (and are still) prepared in the stars over the span of billions of years.  This fact in itself indicates that the universe had to be over 10 billion years old for life to exist.  God could, of course, have directly created the ordinary elements that form the earth. Unlike the starlight, these elements do not (as far as is known) embed a record of how they were created -- carbon-12 (C12) formed a year ago (by decomposition of C14, for example) is identical to C12 formed 10 billion years ago, so there is no issue of God creating the appearance of age. However that issue does arise in age of the universe and of starlight, and it is known that the age is large enought for there to be second or higher generation stars, in which abundant carbon is produced; furthermore the relative abundance of the elements is consistent with their production in the stars, so the natural conclusion is that the matter on earth was brewed in the furnace of stars.

On the other hand, there is no evidence available so far, that God used natural processes to create the first living species. Evidence for life appears at the very earliest possible time -- shortly after the earth cooled sufficiently that the crust formed and the oceans condensed out. This is about 3.9 billion years ago. The earliest fossils of cyanobacteris-like fossils appear about 3.6 billion years ago. Given the vast complexity of any living cell, there is no conceivable natural mechanism to achieve this in the short time allowed. Consequently some scientists postulate that life arrived from outer space, a conclusion that only increases the time allowed by a modest factor, and pushes back the problem to some other locale.

Natural Variation (Evolution) is one of the tools that God uses in natural creation.  The disciplines of science exclusively concern the natural processes. So, my task as a scientist is to find out through my investigations of his creation and by experimental demonstration, what is the extent of that which can be done by natural processes.  I see this as a guiding principle for my understanding of God's creation, and essential to understand the Silent Voice. It is part of God's self-imposed limitations, that the Silent Voice would say as much as possible about how he proceeded. And it would show the limits of natural processes, because (I believe) God always uses natural processes when they will suffice.Of course, some scientists assert that everything natural can be achieved by natural processes. But that is a metaphysical assumption, not a conclusion of science.

Don't get me wrong: I do not say that every activity needed to complete his creation could be done by natural processes. This is the working assumption of those who believe in purely natural evolution of the universe and of life. It is foundational to the views of atheists and naturalists. For myself, it is possible that the atheists are right -- that is, that indeed every activity in nature can be done by natural processes. But I feel free to question it until the definitive scientific arguments are in hand.

I'm skeptical though, on two counts: First, because the Biblical evidence shows that God intervened regularly in the affairs of mankind to carry out his plan of salvation. If that establishes the pattern of God's activities, then why would he be completely hands-off when it comes to the crown jewels of his creative activity: the creation of life and the natural world? I'm also skeptical on a second count: I don't think the evidence shows that this is likely: there is simply too much evidence for careful design in nature and too little evidence that the known laws of physics and chemistry are up to the task.

Furthermore, I firmly believe that my position is more scientific than the atheist position because mine includes that opinion as a possibility, but insists on rigorous proof rather than just taking it as the default view.  It is much more likely, in my view, that the demonstrable scope of natural processes will prove to be limited to something far less than purely natural evolution would require. I feel free to disbelieve in any view that cannot be backed up by objective scientific demonstration. To put it bluntly, the argument "it must be possible because here we are" -- a common response after laboriously working through the implications of the Anthropic Principle -- doesn't impress me.

Frankly, it is for theological reasons that I do not believe in a deistic God who is detached from his creation. On the contrary, I believe that the essential message of God's inspired Word which we know as the Bible, is that God did and does intervene with his creation when intervention is required. For one thing, Genesis would not be followed by Exodus without God's intervention; for another, the coming of the Messiah is the ultimate act of God's intervention so that humans could have hope and salvation. Since I believe on faith that my God is a God who does intervene in human affairs, I think that it is very likely that he also intervened in creation. It seems very unlikely to me that this God would have just let things develop by themselves: that seems to be about as unlike the nature of God as exhibited in the Bible as one could imagine. However, I am willing to accept any definitive proofs of natural development, and indeed as a scientist I consider it my task to always seek natural explanations as long as they can be backed up by objective proof.

I note in passing that "possible by natural processes" does impose some time limitations on creation. A life-supporting solar system has a useful lifespan of perhaps a few billion years. Therefore the sum of all of the natural processes that together create an earth-like environment and the full range of life on earth must be completed in these few billion years. The creation of life itself is limited by the 15 billion year span of time that the universe has existed. But other than this limitation, God is not constrained by considerations of time.

On Evolution

Does Evolution exist? Of course. The word when applied to living species means a process by which one species changes into another species that differs from the first in some important way.  For example, cold viruses are constantly changing; in fact many viruses and bacteria have built-in mechanisms that facilitate changes in their genetic make-up, to the point that some biologists regard that the concept of "species" may be inappropriate for bacteria note 10.1 The issue is not whether evolution exists, but its extent. The viewpoint of strict naturalists is that any two living species have a common ancestor: they are connected by a "hairpin" as Richard Dawkins would say. note 10.2. Despite his assertions, this is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific fact.

The question is not whether evolution exists, but what are the limits of natural variation. If, as Dawkins asserts, every two species, however widely separated, can be linked up to a common ancestor by natural processes only, then this implies that there are no limits to natural variation. But there is no proof of this: it is a metaphysical assumption.

From the viewpoint of the Bible, the corresponding question is, what are the limits of "kind." Genesis states that God created plants and animals to reproduce "according to their kind." note 10.3. In my view, this is a positive statement that means that every living species includes the ability to produce offspring that are like itself. It is a positive and remarkable feature embedded into the genetic code of every species. Many commentators take this in the negative sense that limits descendents to species that are of the same "kind." To put it another way, "kind" represents the limits of natural variation in a species and its descendents. This suggests a scientific program to determine those limits. If Dawkins is correct, there are no limits to natural variation, but in my view that is not an acceptable scientific answer unless it can be demonstrated by direct scientific investigation.

To carry this a bit further, some Bible expositors suggest that the Biblical "kind" may include may distinct species. For example, are all members of the cat family (lions, tigers, all the way to the domestic house cat) of a single "kind?" If the Biblical language is intended to include this possibility, then the definition of "kind" is broad indeed and implies that evolution can produce a wide variety of species within a given kind (the Flood narrative would seem to require this).

As a scientist, I find the exploration of the limits of natural variation to be a most informative and valuable endeavor, and in my mind should be the essential feature of scientific, laboratory- and simulation-oriented evolutionary investigation.

There are many demonstrable mechanisms for genetic change -- the mechanisms of natural evolution. A comprehensive discussion of these mechanisms is sorely needed to bring evolutionary theory up to the standards of modern science. Such a discussion would include a treatment of the different mechanisms of evolution, their implications for diversification of species, and the extent to which each mechanism is directed by environmental pressure or other forces. It would also include a discussion of the way that different species control either for or against genetic change, and how these mechanisms promote or limit speciation. To give a hint of what such a discussion might say: I can see a distinction between random changes in the genome (due perhaps to radiation damage or to transcription errors), changes due to a built-in flexibility in gene expression (the action of the development genes and gene expression or repression, for example), and de-novo changes due to the creation of entirely new genes or gene packages. The problem that arises when the different mechanisms of evolution are overlooked is specious arguments that take examples from one sort of evolution to "prove" an entirely different sort.

My own belief, based on my understanding of the silent speech of Psalm 19,  is that God uses natural processes in the creation of species, whenever natural processes will suffice. By carefully deliniating the range of known natural variation, the remainder becomes the province of God's direct creative activity. It will probably never be possible to distinguish this from natural variation that has simply not yet yielded to scientific explanation.  Thus there will always be room for the universal claims of Richard Dawkins and others.



The Silent Speech          Speech from the Heavens

The Visibility of Deep Space.  The Solar System is located off of one of the arms of the Milky Way galaxy. As a result, the night sky is dark and deep space is accessible to our telescopes. If the Solar System had been located in a more "normal" position in the galaxy, then the deep space view would be much more obstructed by neighboring stars in our own galaxy.

The Moon and Earth Shadow During an Eclipse. During a solar eclipse, the Moon's disc almost exactly covers the Sun. Because of this, the Sun's corona and solar flares are clearly visible. The spectrum of the element Helium was first discovered by P.J.C. Janssen in 1868, a French scientist, P.J.C. Janssen, during a solar eclipse. In 1919 a solar eclipse provided the first confirmation of Einstein's prediction that light bends in a strong gravitational field. Anther element first discovered in the Sun's corona during a total eclipse: Coronium (1869). This was a mystery since the element did not appear to be in the periodic table. The mystery was solved in 1927 when I.S. Bown identified it as highly ionized iron (missing 13 electrons). See here for a chronology of discoveries about the Sun from analysis of solar eclipses.

In a total lunar eclipse the moon is not completely dark because it is illuminated with light that has refracted through the Earth's atmosphere. The refracted light is toward the red side of the light spectrum, which gives the moon a reddish hue. For this reason, ancient references to a lunar eclipse often referred to it as a "moon of blood" or a "bloody moon." An example is found in the Bible at Acts 2:20 where the Apostle Peter, one of Jesus' disciples implies that there was an eclipse at the time of Jesus' crucifixion[FOOTNOTE. See Colin J. Humphreys and W. G. Waddington, The Date of the Crucifixion Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 37 (March 1985). See also the Wikipedia article, The Crucifixion of Jesus. Using Peter's reference to a blood moon in Acts 2:20, together with other statements in the Gospels, these authors conclude that the crucifixion occurred on April 3, 33 AD. On this date a lunar eclipse was visible at Jerusalem at sunset, between approximately 6:20 to 6:50 PM.].
1999 Solar Eclipse   2001 Lunar Eclipse



SS00 Such developed cosmologies are the musings of an intellectual leisure class. Except for the Hebrew religious leaders, who were strictly interested in religious matters, and the occasional Biblical references to written historical chronicles,  there is no evidence that such a class of writings existed in the ancient Hebrew culture, which was largely agrarian. Unfortunately, most of the information we have today about intellectual pursuits have filtered through the Greek culture, and are perhaps tinged by their perspective.

SS01 St. Augustine wondered why God, who exists outside of time, would have created the natural world over seven creation days, as Genesis states. God was perfectly able to create everything in an instant, so why did he constrain himself to operate in time? See St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Vol. I, tr. John Hammond Taylor, Paulist Press, 1982, esp. Book IV Ch. 33 "God Created all things simultaneously." In Ch, 35 "There is no 'before' or 'after' in God but there is in creatures" St. Augustine states "For God made the creatures that were to be in the future in such a way that without Himself being subject to time He made them subject to time. Thus time when made by Him would run its course." My own understanding of this is that God voluntarily limited him to creating in time in that he used natural processes in his creative works, whenever natural processes would achieve the necessary goal. In this way, the Silent Voice would give an accurate account of what happened. He did not, in other words, create with a false "appearance of age." On the other hand, the sudden appearance of a new innovation may indicate that the innovation cannot be obtained by purely natural means. See also note 11.

SS02 Anton van Leeuwenhoek (or Leuwenhoek) (1632-1723) was the first person to observe and describe the microscopic life in pond water using a tiny single lense microscope which he invented. Nine of his microscopes have survived, with magnifications of 60x to 266x, far higher magnification than the (about 3x)  magnifiers that were then known, or the compound microscopes of his contemporary Robert Hooke (20x to 50x).  The first description of his pond water discoveries is included in a letter to Robert Hooke of the Royal Society dated 7 September 1674 with an expanded follow-up dated 9 October 1676. He communicated his results to the British Royal Society. Over 200 such letters are known, many subsequently published in the Society's Philosophical Transactions. On his death, twenty-six of his microscopes were bequeathed to the Royal Society (they have since been lost). See Brian J. Ford, Single Lens: The Story of the Simple Microscope (Harper & Row, 1985).

SS03 For example, readily available astronomy software such as Starry Night  can show the precise positions of the heavenly bodies visible from any location on earth with an accuracy of "under 10 arcseconds" (~40 seconds of time) for "several thousand years" from the present time, according to the User's Guide (pg. 196).  A NASA table of all solar and lunar eclipses from 2000 BC to 3000 AD is available here. This table gives the length and time of the eclipses to a precision of seconds. See the Wikipedia article on the Crucifixion of Jesus which  cites a recent (1985) discovery that there was a lunar eclipse visible at Jerusalem for about 30 minutes after moonrise on Friday, April 3, 33 AD, at the start of Passover in that year, and the likely date of the Crucifixion of Jesus. The fact of this lunar eclipse had been lost to the memory of the Christian Church, even though it was mentioned indirectly in Peter's Sermon in Acts 2:20. These capabilities in astronomy depend on the clockwork precision of the starry heavens, and their ability to measure the "times and seasons" (Genesis 1:14).

SS04 John Dalton (1776-1844) formulated the atomic theory that all chemical compounds consist of integer multiples of a small number of elements (atoms) that cannot be further reduced (by chemical means). His first table of atomic weights (published 1805) had six entries: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, sulfur, and phosphorus, with hydrogen assigned weight 1.  His book,  New System of Chemical Philosophy (1808) lists 20 elements from Hydrogen (weight 1) to Mercury (weight 167) (Plate 4). Joseph-Louis Proust (1754-1826) (French chemist),somewhat earlier proposed the "Law of definite proportions" but his work was not generally recognized until after Dalton's.

Line in Ps. 19:4

Elements listed in Plate 4

Dimitri Mendeleev (1834-1907). In 1869 Mendeleev formed a periodic table of the 63 elements known at the time. The periodic table was arranged in terms of mass and similar chemical properties of the elements.  An amazing feature of this table is that it leads to the conclusion that it is complete: there can be no other form of "ordinary" matter that is not represented in this table.  The question is still unanswered today, whether other forms of "exotic" matter exists in the universe. By definition, such matter would not fit into this table of "ordinary" matter.

Mendeleev periodic table 1891

Table from Dmitrii Mendeleev's Principles of Chemistry (1891)

note: isotopes not known -- not until 19??

SS06 Friedrich Wöhler (1800-1882) was the first scientist to create an organic compound (urea) from inorganic material. Historically, organic chemicals (such as urea) are produced in living cells. This demonstrated that there is no mysterious "life force" that distinguishes organic from inorganic chemicals. All chemical processes within living species involve subtle electrical forces, applied in ingenious ways.

SS07 Even a neutral molecule can have minute variations in the electrical potential over the extent of the molecule. These are called the weak intermolecular forces, and include: the van der Waals force (London Dispersion force),

One common type of action is hydrogen bonding, in which a hydrogen atom insinuates itself into an atom of an adjacent molecule.

list of intermolecular forces in life processes.

hydrogen bonding
London dispersion forces
    instantaneous dipole

xx not useful xx Harold J. Morowitz, Beginnings of Cellular Life, Yale U. Press 1992.

SS08 William Smith (1769-1839).  The "Father of British Geology".  He was the first (in 1799) to demonstrate that geological layers (strata) are uniquely identifiable by their composition and included fossils, and that they are laid down in an orderly sequence over broad areas of the land, indeed worldwide, as was shown by the extensive geological work that followed upon his announcement. The strata make it possible to trace the development of life on earth from the earliest appearance of visible fossils in the Cambrian Era to the present time, and indeed prove that strata below the Cambrian witness to a time before visible life was present on earth. See the Golden Age of Geology website for many publications on geology from this fertile period.

SS09  Louis De Broglie in 1923 argued that electrons (as well as protons, and any other particle) has a dual existence both as a particle and as a wave (like photons), and calculated the wavelength. In 1931 the concept of a transmission  electron microscope (TEM) was patented by . The first published TEM image was of the Tobacco Mosaic Virus, in 1941 [L. Marton, The Electron Microscope, J. Bact 41 (March 1941) 397-413, fig p408], followed a few years later by an image of the influenze virus. The effective magnification of Marton's image was approximately 1,000,000x [CHECK!!!]. Marton wrote a short book in 1968 about the early electron microscope.

SS10 In 1966, Marshall Niremberg, Heinrich Mathaei, and Severo Ochoa crack the genetic code. Previously, in 1961, Francis Crick and Sidney Brenner  discovered that groups of three nucleotide bases, which make up a codon, specify amino acids. The Wikipedia article on the Genetic Code gives a very useful summary of the codon table. See also the article on Endosymbiosis which describes the special DNA carried within the mitochondria and chloroplasts of eukaryotes. John W. Kimball (retired, author of the college-level book on Biology) has an  on-line Biology textbook. The website textbook revolution lists many on-line science texts.

SS10.1. Lynn Margulis and Michael J. Chapman, Kingdoms & Domains: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth, Academic Press,  1982, pg. 49: "Because bacteria that differ in nearly every measurable trait can receive and permanently incorporate any number of genes from each other or from the environment [i.e. as food - dcb], Sorin Sonea (University of Montreal) and others have argued that bacteria form a single worldwide web of relations. Although strain names are easily applied, the concept of 'species,' applicable to named eukaryotes, seems to us inappropriate for the Prokarya [bacteria - dcb]. Because prokaryotes can change their genetic properties so quickly and easily, we agree...."

SS10.2. Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. pg. 25.

SS10.3. Genesis 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25.

SS11 St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J., 2 vols. (New York: Newman Press, 1982).
"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion." Quote from Wikipedia.

SS12 The discovery of the light spectrum. The discovery of spectral analysis of light is one of the most astounding events of the 19th century. I view this as an utterly remarkable example of the Silent Speech which God embedded into his creation.

 In 1853 the physicist Angstrom discovered that light emitted from any radiating energy source (such as a star or a light bulb) is composed of a lot of different colors that make up its light spectrum. Passing the light through a prism separates these colors. Each element emits a spectrum of lines that is unique to that element. Thus the analysis of light reveals the chemical composition of the light source. An example is the typical yellowish color of sodium street lights: the color is yellow because the element sodium emits a strong yellow light frequency. Spectral analysis of a street light would show these lines of the sodium spectrum. Mercury lights have strong frequencies more towards the blue colors.

The light spectrum of a star tells a lot about the physics of the star. Hydrogen is a common element of many stars, and shows up in the light as the hydrogen spectrum, which —because hydrogen is a relatively simple atom consisting of a single electron and a single proton — can be computed mathematically, in terms of basic physical constants. This leads a direct proof that those physical constants are the same today as they were billions of years ago, when the light from these stars was first emitted. If the speed of light changed with time, for example, then the change would show up as a change in the spectrum of hydrogen in the light from very old stars. This change is not seen, so the speed of light is constant for all observable time - some 15 billion years into the past.

The ability of starlight to tell us important things about the physics of the stars is something that was entirely unanticipated. Less than 20 years before Angstrom's discovery, the French philosopher, Auguste Comte gloomily observed that

“On the subject of stars, all investigations which are not ultimately reducible to simple visual observations are … necessarily denied to us. While we can conceive of the possibility of determining their shapes, their sizes, and their motions, we shall never be able by any means to determine their chemical composition or even their density.”
Auguste Comte, 1835

Comte really stated what seems to be intuitively obvious. How is it possible that a person could analyse the chemistry in a star that is completely beyond reach? Well... it IS possible as I have stated. Our intuition, and Comte, are exactly wrong. It is amazing and unexpected that such a powerful message from the distant past is present in nature, much less that we can read it. That is what is surprising and unexpected about the message of Psalm 19.

Line in Ps. 19:4


SS14 Albert Einstein,  Inscription over the fireplace in the Professors' Lounge at Princeton University: “Raffiniert ist Herrgott, aber boschaft er ist nicht " --  "God is subtle but he is not malicious."

SS15 Bertrand Russell, Religion and Science, (1935) p. 70. The full quote is: "We may all have come into existence five minutes ago, provided with ready-made memories, with holes in our socks and hair that needed cutting."

SS16 An extreme example is the exceedingly complex genetic package that implements the so-called Central Dogma, and is essentially the same for all living species.


[Coyne] George V. Coyne and Michael Heller, A Comprehensible Universe: The Interplay of Science and Theology, Springer, 2008. This book might have been an extended commentary on the Silent Voice.

^ John Leslie, The Prerequisites of Life in our Universe (1988) pg27.

^ Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards,
The Privileged Planet (2004)



Posted 05 February 2010