“If creation sings Your praises so will I” – Joel Houston on creation and evolution

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Not all, but many, even those not pertaining to an Evangelical community, will be familiar with the Hillsong band and their founder Joel T. Houston from Sydney, Australia. A song that came out in 2017, has creation, evolution, our salvation and the praise and worship to Our Lord as topic. Based on a question on twitter, Joel T. Houston posted some excellent tweets that you may want to read, even if you are not so familiar with the “twitterverse”. 

First the song:

 

God of creation
There at the start
Before the beginning of time
With no point of reference
You spoke to the dark
And fleshed out the wonder of light

And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form
If the stars were made to worship so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made
Every burning star
A signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I

God of Your promise
You don’t speak in vain
No syllable empty or void
For once You have spoken
All nature and science
Follow the sound of Your voice

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Walter Baade: God’s Labrotories in the Stars

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On 25 June 1960, Walter Baade (1893–1960) passed away at Göttingen, Germany. An astronomer at Mount Wilson Observatory from 1931 to 1958, he was known for his revolutionary research on stars in the Andromeda galaxy and his characterization of two classes of novae.

A biography notes his upbringing “in Schrottinghausen, a town in southern Germany, where his father was director of schools. There was a period in his youth when Baade seemed headed for the realm of [the] heavens, although not via the science of astronomy. The old tradition still lingered on in Europe that those born to a certain station in life had only two choices of careers open to them: the army or the church… As a result, his early education leaned toward the ecclesiastical side, with strong emphasis on Oriental languages. But his interest in science finally prevailed, and he ended school by acquiring a doctorate in astronomy in 1918 from the University of Göttingen” (R.S. Richardson, 1967). This book summarizes his career’s accomplishments as follows:

“Most of us have to be satisfied with achievements of a very modest nature in this life… When it comes to sheer magnitude of accomplishment, Walter Baade stands alone. Alexander the Great created a new empire. Columbus found a new continent. Sir William Herschel discovered a new world. But Walter Baade doubled the size of the universe. For years the distance of the Andromeda galaxy was 750,000 light-years. After Baade delivered a paper before the meeting of the International Astronomical Union in Rome in September, 1952, it was 1,500,000 light-years. (It has since been moved out to 2,200,000 light-years.) Doubling the size of the universe didn’t bother astronomers nearly so much as it did the public. People had always had the utmost faith in astronomical prediction, and now their confidence was badly shaken. Actually they should have been very happy about it. For if we make the universe bigger, we also make it older.”

Another biography, Walter Baade: A Life in Astrophysics by Donald E. Osterbrock (2001), noted:

“The Mount Wilson Observatory offices on Santa Barbara Street were less than two miles from the Caltech campus, and there were many links between the two institutions… Baade and Zwicky became friends, and frequently discussed the two types of novae; they used and thus popularized the name ‘supernovae’ for the more luminous class, a word which Lundmark had just invented. Together Baade and Zwicky wrote a series of three papers, published in 1934, summarizing the fruits of their discussions and establishing supernovae research as an important field… Baade and Zwicky noted that in a supernova explosion a large mass of gas, probably comparable to a stellar mass, was expelled with high velocity, perhaps nearly the velocity of light, and conjectured that this mass contained the incipient cosmic particles. Although their suggested mechanism differed in detail from the one Millikan favored, it agreed with his general idea that cosmic-ray particles were accelerated in ‘God’s laboratories in the stars’. Baade and Zwicky further noted that the final, stable configuration of matter would be a neutron star, and that supernovae could represent transitions of stars to this state.”

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Georges Lemaitre – the Big Bang Cosmology and its metaphysical implications (I)

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Georges Lemaitre was astrophysicist and Catholic priest; he did not find a conflict between science and faith. He carefully distinguished between „physics“ and „metaphysics“. We can learn from him to see God’s actions as those from the “Hidden God”. Modern Cosmology does not make God redundant or degrades God to „just another actor in our cosmos”.

During the 1920ies, the Belgian astrophysicist George Lemaitre developed his cosmological theory postulating an abrupt beginning of the universe from an initial, superdense concentration of nuclear matter called the “primeval atom” that expanded rapidly building stars and galaxies. He was not only an astrophysicist – he was also a Catholic priest, ordained in 1923.

The cosmological model at the time was static, and both Albert Einstein and Arthur Eddington, Lemaitre’s teacher in Cambridge, did not like Lemaitre’s dynamic model. Eddington even said that “the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant to him”, as Eddington is quoted by Lemaitre in his 1931 letter to Nature [1].

Georges Lemaitre met Albert Einstein at the Solvay Conference in 1927 and presented his hypothesis to him. Albert Einstein was not impressed, but he told Lemaitre to consult Alexander Friedmann’s paper from 1922 called „Über die Krümmung des Raums“ (On the curvature of space) where he described the possibility of an expanding universe based on General Relativity. Friedmann had been a Russian physicist and mathematician who had died in 1925. Lemaitre had similar thoughts and had even progressed further on than Alexander Friedmann.

In 1929, Edwin Hubble did demonstrate that the galaxies were moving further apart over time, but he did not yet conclude on an expanding universe.

Einstein had accepted the idea of an expanding universe but he remained reluctant to accept an initial singularity, a beginning of the universe. Therefore, Einstein famous exclamation: “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened” at Caltech, Pasadena in 1933, might have been a bit ironical.

The name “Big Bang” that we use today was coined by Fred Hoyle, and was also meant ironically: he was convinced of a static universe and did not like Lemaitre’s ideas that reminded him too much of a Creator-God.

Nonetheless, the new theory gained influence in the following years. It was not until 1964, though, that the detection of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) provided experimental proof. Lemaitre was satisfied to learn of this discovery a few months prior to his death, when he was already seriously ill.

The Big Bang theory proposes a beginning of our Universe: an idea that suits theists well, and Christians are inclined to say: “OK, this IS the moment of creation!” But is this correct?

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Karl Herzfeld: Religious Calling to Study God’s Creation

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On 03 June 1978, Karl Ferdinand Herzfeld (1892–1978) passed away in Washington, DC. He was an Austrian-American physicist known for his research in statistical mechanics, atomic theory, and acoustics.

First educated at the Benedictine Gymnasium Schottengymnasium, he went on to study under Friedrich Hasenöhrl (1874–1915), the successor of Ludwig Boltzmann (1844–1906), at the University of Vienna, where he obtained his doctorate in 1914. During his career, he taught at Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich (LMU), John Hopkins University and Catholic University in Washington, DC, where he helped found the department in 1936 and continued teaching until 1978.

A review article of his contributions to physics: Johnson, Karen E. “Bringing Statistical Mechanics into Chemistry: The Early Scientific Work of Karl F. Herzfeld.” Journal of Statistical Physics 59.5 (1990): 1547-1572.

Some accounts of his personality:

Physics for Herzfeld was not a secular, but a religious calling; it aimed, in his view, to make clear the structure and beauty of God’s creation.” — J.F. Mulligan (p.20)

“Herzfeld had two religions, Catholicism and physics. He told me once that he attended Mass every day because he promised to do so in a prayer that he offered up when his unit was surrounded and in danger of annihilation in the Alps north of Venice [in the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I].” — J.A. Wheeler (p.98)

Herzfeld also authored a number of papers on philosophy, theology and physics:

1) Herzfeld, Karl F. “The Frontiers of Modern Physics and Philosophy.” Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association. Vol. 6. 1930.
2) Herzfeld, Karl F. “The Philosophy of Emile Meyerson.” Thought 8.1 (1933): 90-106.

Referenced:
Mulligan, Joseph F. “National Academy of Science: Karl Ferdinand Herzfeld 1892-1978: A Biographical Memoir.” V. 80 (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001), 17-18.
Wheeler, John Archibald and Kenneth W. Ford. Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics. (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998), 98.

Erasmus Darwin: Science Magnifies the Creator

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On 18 April 1802, Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802) passed away in Derby, England. He was the grandfather of Charles Darwin (1809–1892) and was himself a natural philosopher, inventor, abolitionist and poet. With several contemporaries, he helped establish the Lichfield Botanical Society to translate the works of the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) from Latin into English. He was buried at All Saints Church, Breadsall, and has also been commemorated in a Sandstone/Moonstone carving outside of Birmingham, Great Britain.

In his Zoonomia (1794-1796) and the posthumous poem The Temple of Nature (1803), he had outlinedone of the first formal theories on evolution.” His writings have been noted for what has been termed “an ‘integrative’ approach: he used his observations of domesticated animals, the behaviour of wildlife, and he integrated his vast knowledge of many different fields, such as paleontology, biogeography, systematics, embryology, and comparative anatomy” (UC-Berkeley, Museum of Palentology).

The following passages from Zoonomia: The Laws of Organic Life (1794-1796) demonstrate both his scientific view of microscopic evolution as well as his theological view of creation:

This idea of the production and changes of form of microscopic animalcules is countenanced by the smaller kinds… Various new animalcules are formed from the decomposition of those which previously existed; owing in both cases to the immutable laws impressed both on inanimate and on organized matter by the great First Cause…”

“This perpetual chain of causes and effects… divides itself into innumerable diverging branches, which, like the nerves arising from the brain, permeate the most minute and most remote extremities of the system, diffusing motion and sensation to the whole. As every cause is superior in power to the effect, which it has produced, so our idea of the power of the Almighty Creator becomes more elevated and sublime, as we trace the operations of nature from cause to cause, climbing up the links of these chains of being, till we ascend to the Great Source of all things. Hence the modern discoveries in chemistry and in geology… enlarge and amplify our ideas of the power of the Great First Cause.

Late in life, his grandson Charles Darwin would recall: “I had previously read the Zoonomia of my grandfather in which similar views are maintained, but without producing any effect on me. Nevertheless, it is probable that the hearing rather early in life such views maintained and praised may have favoured my upholding them under a different form in my Origin of Species. At this time I admired greatly the Zoonomia; but on reading it a second time, after an interval of ten or fifteen years, I was much disappointed; the proportion of speculation being so large to the facts given.”

Sources– “Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802).” UC Berkeley, Museum of Paleontology.
Darwin, Erasmus. Zoonomia. (Boston, MA: Carlisle Press, 1st ed. 1794-1796), 438, 441.
Autobiography of Charles Darwin Ed. Francis Darwin. (London, GB: Murray, 1892), 166.
Images: Painting by Joseph Wright (1734–1797); https://amzn.to/2H0vDUq

John Frederic Daniell: Creator’s Forces

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On 13 March 1845, John Frederic Daniell (1790–1845) passed away. From 1831-1834, he was the first professor of chemistry at King’s College London, and in 1835, he was appointed professor of chemistry at East India Company’s Military Seminary at Addiscombe, Surrey.

He was most known for his improved invention of the Voltaic cell, which was known as the Daniell cell. His other inventions included the dew-point hygrometer (humidity meter), a register pyrometer (surface temperature meter), and a manufacturing process for turpentine and resin for street lamp illumination.

A quote from Introduction to the Study of Chemical Philosophy (1839).

“There are several varieties of force all of which may either mediately or immediately be referred to the standard of our own exertions. Some of these cause masses of matter to approach, and others to recede from each other, retaining them in their second position against an opposing force; the former are classed together under the name of attraction, the latter under that of repulsion.

“The laws of these motions, and of the equilibrium of these forces, the intellect of man has been able to develope; but the origin of the forces themselves, though clearly perceived to be various, appears to be beyond his comprehension, even when that origin is in his own will. We cannot, at least, refer them to any secondary cause, and we must be content to know that they are powers conferred upon matter by the will of the Creator, for the maintenance of the order of His Creation.” (p. 13).

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This book also includes a reference to the Jesuit scientist Fr. Roger Joseph Boscovich, SJ (1711–1787).

“With regard to its ultimate constitution, we cannot hope to attain to a clearer conception than that which presented itself to the comprehensive, but humble, mind of Newton; and that transcendent philosopher has thus embodied the result of his patient investigations: — ‘It seems probable to me that God, in the beginning, formed Matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, moveable particles, of such sizes and figures, and with such other properties, and in such proportion to space, as most conduced to the end for which He formed them; and that those primitive particles, being solids, are incomparably harder than any porous bodies compounded of them; even so very hard as never to wear or break in pieces; no ordinary power being able to divide what God himself made one in the first creation.’

“But this hypothesis, however convenient and consonant with our prejudices, is not absolutely necessary to the explanation of natural phenomena; for it may be conceived, according to the theory of Boscovich, that matter consists not of solid particles, but of mere mathematical centres of forces attractive and repulsive, whose relations to space were ordained, and whose actions are regulated and maintained by the Creator of the universe. Both hypotheses however agree in one great principle: viz., that the properties of bodies depend upon forces emanating from immovable points (whether substantial or not is of little importance) of their masses.” (p.7)

Referenced:
“John Frederic Daniell.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
—Daniell, J.F. An Introduction to the Study of Chemical Philosophy. (London, GB: John W. Parker, 1843), 13, http://goo.gl/BPDSyJ. 7, http://goo.gl/SCNEg8.
Images: SlidePlayer; Alamay Stock Photo.

Pope em. Benedict XVI on Creation

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On 06 February 2013, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated one of his last audiences to the topic of creation:

“But our question today is: in the age of science and technology, does it still make sense to speak of creation? How should we understand the Genesis narratives? The Bible is not intended as a natural science manual; its intention instead is to teach us the authentic and profound truth of things. The fundamental truth that the Genesis stories reveal to us is that the world is not a collection of contrasting forces, but has its origin and its stability in the Logos, in God’s eternal Reason, who continues to sustain the universe. There is a plan for the world that arises from this Reason, from the creating Spirit. Believing that such a reality is behind all this, illuminates every aspect of life and gives us the courage to face the adventure of life with confidence and hope.”

You can read the whole text here.