The Handiwork—What Is Behind It?
AS NOTED in earlier chapters, modern scientific discoveries offer an abundance of convincing evidence that the universe and life on earth both had a beginning. What caused their beginning?
After studying the available evidence, many have concluded that there must be a First Cause. Nonetheless, they may shy away from attaching personality to this Cause. Such reluctance to speak of a Creator mirrors the attitude of some scientists.
For instance, Albert Einstein was convinced that the universe had a beginning, and he expressed his desire “to know how God created the world.” Yet Einstein did not admit to belief in a personal God; he spoke of a cosmic “religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image.” Similarly, Nobel laureate chemist Kenichi Fukui expressed belief in a great framework in the universe. He said that “this great link and framework may be expressed in words such as ‘Absolute’ or ‘God.’” But he called it an “idiosyncrasy of nature.”
Are you aware that such belief in an impersonal cause parallels much of the Eastern religious thinking? Many Orientals believe that nature came into existence on its own. This idea is even expressed in the Chinese characters for nature, which literally mean “becomes by itself” or “self-existing.” Einstein believed that his cosmic religious feeling was well expressed in Buddhism. Buddha held that it was not important whether a Creator had a hand in bringing forth the universe and humans. Similarly, Shinto provides no explanation of how nature came to be, and Shintoists believe that the gods are spirits of the dead that may assimilate with nature.
Interestingly, such thinking is not far removed from views that were popular in ancient Greece. The philosopher Epicurus (341-270 B.C.E.) is said to have believed that ‘gods are too remote to do you any more harm than good.’ He held that man is a product of nature, probably through spontaneous generation and the natural selection of the fittest. You may sense from this that similar ideas today are by no means modern.
Alongside the Epicureans were the Greek Stoics, who gave nature the position of God. They supposed that when humans die, impersonal energy from them is reabsorbed into the ocean of energy making up God. They felt that cooperating with natural laws was the supreme good. Have you heard similar views in our day?
Contest Over a Personal God
Nevertheless, we should not dismiss all information from ancient Greece as quaint history. In the context of such beliefs, a noted teacher in the first century presented one of history’s most significant speeches. The physician and historian Luke recorded this speech, and we find it in chapter 17 of the book Acts of Apostles. It can help us to settle our view of the First Cause and to see where we fit into the picture. How, though, can a speech given 1,900 years ago affect lives today as sincere individuals search for meaning in life?
That famous teacher, Paul, was invited to a high court in Athens. He there faced Epicureans and Stoics, who did not believe in a personal God. In his opening remarks, Paul mentioned seeing in their city an altar inscribed “To an Unknown God” (Greek, A·gnoʹstoi The·oiʹ). Interestingly, some think that biologist Thomas H. Huxley (1825-95) alluded to this when he coined the term “agnostic.” Huxley applied the word to those who hold that “the ultimate cause (God) and the essential nature of things are unknown or unknowable.” But is the Creator really “unknowable” as many have held?
That, frankly, is a misapplication of Paul’s phrase; it misses Paul’s point. Rather than saying that the Creator was unknowable, Paul was simply saying that He was unknown to those Athenians. Paul did not have at hand as much scientific evidence for the existence of a Creator as we do today. Still, Paul had no doubt that there is a personal, intelligent Designer whose qualities should draw us to him. Note what Paul went on to say:
“What you are unknowingly giving godly devotion to, this I am publishing to you. The God that made the world and all the things in it, being, as this One is, Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in handmade temples, neither is he attended to by human hands as if he needed anything, because he himself gives to all persons life and breath and all things. And he made out of one man every nation of men, to dwell upon the entire surface of the earth.” (Acts 17:23-26) An interesting line of reasoning, do you not agree?
Yes, rather than suggesting that God was unknowable, Paul was emphasizing that those who made the Athenian altar, as well as many in his audience, did not yet know Him. Paul then urged them—and all who have since read his speech—to seek to know the Creator, for “he is not far off from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27) You can see that Paul tactfully introduced the fact that we can see evidence of a Creator of all things by observing his creation. By doing this, we can also discern some of his qualities.
We have examined various lines of evidence that point to a Creator. One is the vast, intelligently organized universe, which clearly had a beginning. Another is life on earth, including the design manifest in our body cells. And a third is our brain, with our associated awareness of self and our interest in the future. But let us look first at two other examples of the Creator’s handiwork that touch us daily. In doing so, ask yourself, ‘What does this show me about the personality of the One who designed and provided it?’
Learning From His Handiwork
Sheer observation of his creation tells much about the Creator. Paul, on another occasion, mentioned an example of this when he told a crowd in Asia Minor: “In the past generations [the Creator] permitted all the nations to go on in their ways, although, indeed, he did not leave himself without witness in that he did good, giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts to the full with food and good cheer.” (Acts 14:16, 17) Note the example Paul gave of how the Creator, in providing food for mankind, has borne witness to His personality.
In some lands today, people may take for granted the availability of food. Elsewhere, many struggle to get enough to eat. In either case, even the possibility of having any sustaining food depends on the wisdom and goodness of our Creator.
Food for both man and animals results from intricate cycles—including the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the phosphorus cycle, and the nitrogen cycle. It is general knowledge that in the vital process of photosynthesis, plants use carbon dioxide and water as raw materials to produce sugars, using sunlight as the energy source. Incidentally, during photosynthesis plants release oxygen. Could this be termed a “waste product”? To us this by-product is hardly waste. It is absolutely essential that we breathe in oxygen and use it to metabolize, or burn, food in our body. We exhale the resulting carbon dioxide, which plants recycle as a raw material for photosynthesis. We may have studied this process in a basic science class, but it is no less vital and marvelous. And this is just the start.
In our body cells and in those of animals, phosphorus is vital for transferring energy. From where do we get our phosphorus? Again, from plants. They absorb inorganic phosphates from the soil and convert them into organic phosphates. We consume plants containing phosphorus in these forms and use it for vital activities. Thereafter, the phosphorus returns to the soil in the form of body “wastes” that can again be absorbed by plants.
We also need nitrogen, which is part of every protein and DNA molecule in our body. How do we obtain this element that is so essential for life? Although about 78 percent of the air around us is nitrogen, neither plants nor animals can absorb it directly. So nitrogen in the air must be converted into other forms before it can be taken in by plants and later utilized by humans and animals. How does that conversion, or fixation, occur? In various ways. One way is by the action of lightning.* Nitrogen fixation is also accomplished by bacteria that live in nodules on the roots of legumes, such as peas, soybeans, and alfalfa. These bacteria convert atmospheric nitrogen into substances that plants can use. In this way, when you eat green vegetables, you take in nitrogen, which your body needs in order to produce proteins. Amazingly, we find species of legumes in tropical rain forests, deserts, and even tundras. And if an area is burned over, legumes usually are the first plants to recolonize.
What marvelous recycling systems these are! Each of them puts to good use wastes from the other cycles. The energy needed comes principally from our sun—a clean, endless, and steady source. How that contrasts with human efforts to recycle resources! Even man-made products that are called environmentally friendly may not contribute to a cleaner planet because of the complexity of human recycling systems. In this regard, U.S.News & World Report pointed out that products should be designed so that their high-value components can easily be recovered by recycling. Is that not what we observe in these natural cycles? So, what does this reveal about the Creator’s forethought and wisdom?
Impartial and Just
To help us see further some of the Creator’s qualities, let us consider one more system—the immune system in our body. It also involves bacteria.
“Although human interest in bacteria frequently focuses on their harmful effects,” observes The New Encyclopædia Britannica, “most bacteria are harmless to human beings, and many of them are actually beneficial.” Indeed, they are of life-and-death importance. Bacteria play a crucial role in the nitrogen cycle just mentioned, as well as in cycles involving carbon dioxide and some elements. And we also need bacteria in our digestive tract. We have some 400 species in our lower intestinal tract alone, and they help to synthesize vitamin K and process wastes. Of further benefit to us, bacteria help cows turn grasses into milk. Other bacteria are vital in fermentation—in our making cheese, yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi. What, though, if bacteria get where they do not belong in our body?
Then up to two trillion white blood cells in our body fight the bacteria that might harm us. Daniel E. Koshland, Jr., editor of Science magazine, explains: “The immune system is designed to recognize foreign invaders. To do so it generates on the order of 1011 [100,000,000,000] different kinds of immunological receptors so that no matter what the shape or form of the foreign invader there will be some complementary receptor to recognize it and effect its elimination.”
One type of cell that our body uses to fight invaders is the macrophage; its name means “big eater,” which is fitting because it devours foreign substances in our blood. For example, after eating an invading virus, the macrophage breaks it into small fragments. It then displays some protein from the virus. This bit of marker protein serves as a red flag to our immune system, sounding the alarm that foreign organisms are on the loose inside us. If another cell in the immune system, the helper T cell, recognizes the virus protein, it exchanges chemical signals with the macrophage. These chemicals are themselves extraordinary proteins that have a bewildering array of functions, regulating and boosting our immune system’s response to invasion. This process results in a vigorous fight against the specific type of virus. Thus, we usually manage to overcome infections.
Actually, much more is involved, but even this brief description reveals the complexity of our immune system. How did we get this intricate mechanism? It came free of charge, regardless of our family’s financial or social standing. Compare that with the inequity in health care available to most people. “For WHO [World Health Organization], growing inequity is literally a matter of life and death, since the poor pay the price of social inequality with their health,” wrote the director general of WHO, Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima. You can understand this lament made by one of São Paulo’s slum dwellers: “For us, good health care is like an item in a window display in a luxurious shopping mall. We can look at it, but it is beyond our reach.” Millions of people around the globe feel the same way.
Such inequities moved Albert Schweitzer to go to Africa to provide medical care for the less privileged, and his efforts earned him a Nobel prize. What qualities do you associate with men and women who have done similar good deeds? You probably realize that they have love for humanity and a sense of justice, believing that people in developing lands too are entitled to medical care. What, then, about the Provider of the wonderful immune system built into us regardless of financial and social standing? Does it not more significantly bespeak the Creator’s sense of love, impartiality, and justice?
Getting to Know the Creator
The above-noted systems are just basic examples of the Creator’s handiwork, but do they not reveal him to be a real and intelligent person whose qualities and ways draw us to him? Numerous other examples could be considered. We have probably found in daily life, however, that merely observing a person’s works may not really be enough for us to know him well. It would even be possible to misunderstand him if we did not gain a complete picture of him! And if that person has been misrepresented or maligned, would it not be good to meet him and hear his side? We might converse with him to find out how he reacts under different circumstances and what qualities he displays.
Of course, we cannot have a face-to-face conversation with the powerful Creator of the universe. Yet, he has revealed much about himself as a real person in a book that is available, in whole or in part, in more than 2,000 languages, including yours. That book—the Bible—invites you to get to know and cultivate a relationship with the Creator: “Draw close to God,” it says, “and he will draw close to you.” It also shows how it is possible to become his friend. (James 2:23; 4:8) Would you be interested in that?
To this end, we invite you to consider the Creator’s factual and fascinating account of his creative activities.
Lightning transforms some nitrogen into an absorbable form, which falls to earth with the rain. Plants use this as a naturally provided fertilizer. After humans and animals consume plants and use this nitrogen, it returns to the soil as ammonium compounds and some eventually converts back into nitrogen gas.
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A Reasonable Conclusion
There is wide agreement among scientists that the universe had a beginning. Most also agree that before that beginning, something real must have existed. Some scientists talk about ever-existing energy. Others postulate a primordial chaos as the preexisting condition. Whatever terms are used, most presuppose the existence of something—something without a beginning—that extended back infinitely.
So the issue comes down to whether we presuppose some thing eternal or some one eternal. After considering what science has learned about the origin and nature of the universe and life in it, which of these alternatives seems more reasonable to you?
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“Each of the elements central to life—carbon, nitrogen, sulfur—is converted by bacteria from an inorganic, gaseous compound into a form that can be used by plants and animals.”—The New Encyclopædia Britannica.
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What Is Your Conclusion?
Had No Had a
Without Cause Was Caused
By Some THING By Some ONE
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Many Orientals believe that nature came into existence by itself
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Paul made a thought-provoking speech about God while standing on this hill, with the Acropolis in the background
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God gave to each of us an immune system that surpasses anything modern medicine can provide