A Little Child in a Huge Library

When asked if he was a pantheist, believing that the universe and God are the same, the eminent scientist Albert Einstein demurred:

The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations.[1]

Throughout history, humans have appealed to supernatural forces in an attempt to appease the wrath of nature, seek guidance in making decisions, obtain power and wealth, survive life-threatening situations, find meaning and purpose in life, and extend life beyond death. Humans have rendered homage to a plethora of deities, including inanimate natural objects, animals, man-made objects, humans who claimed divine power, personal supreme beings, or impersonal natural forces. Despite a growing number of atheists who regard any so-called “god” as a powerless delusion of wishful thinking, there remains a strong predisposition for a belief in some sort of supernatural deity across virtually all human cultures.

Although we live in a technologically advanced era, in which much of humanity prides itself in being self-sufficient and no longer reliant on supernatural forces to provide for our needs or to extend life a few days or years, many of us still want to believe in something bigger and better than what our ordinary lives have to offer, especially in a hypothetical hereafter. It’s as though a divine entity has “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV). But given the successes of the scientific revolution providing us with a much greater understanding of how natural laws operate, is merely wanting to believe in something bigger and better a sufficient reason why humans living in technologically advanced societies should still cling to a belief in the supernatural?

One reason why many humans have not abandoned a belief in a supreme being is the inability of science to explain the origin of matter, antimatter, dark matter, energy, and dark energy in the universe. Thanks to modern science, we now know that the universe comprises billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars and countless planets, moons, comets, meteorites, and stellar dust particles, all formed from minuscule atoms and subatomic particles, and all moving away from us at a breathtaking and accelerating speed. But where did it all come from? Although science has found evidence for a beginning of the universe during an explosive Big Bang approximately 13.8 billion years ago, science cannot explain exactly how or why it happened, why no such spontaneous explosions have subsequently happened within our universe, or whether other such universes exist. Was the origin of our universe an inexplicably bizarre quirk of nature or was it the work of an intelligent designer whose existence is just as elusive to explain? Many find it easier to believe that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, NIV) than to believe it all happened spontaneously.

Similarly, the existence and persistence of life on our planet is another reason why many people still choose to believe in a supreme being. Despite thousands of experiments, scientists still cannot demonstrate or even explain how simple chemical compounds organized into intricately complex cells capable of reproducing (if you think cells are simple, try reading a college textbook on cellular and molecular biology). Neither can science demonstrate or explain exactly how such cells organized into the complex tissues and organ systems of sentient organisms, culminating in humans capable of pondering when, how, where, and why it all happened. Furthermore, science cannot explain the multitude of finely tuned physical parameters of the universe and intricately designed biogeochemical cycles resulting in a homeostasis that perpetually sustains life on our Goldilocks-like planet. Many find it easier to believe it was all part of an intelligent designer’s intention for Earth “to be inhabited” (Isaiah 45:18, NIV) than to believe it all happened by haphazard chance or by some mysterious self-organizing mechanism.

Human ingenuity has accomplished amazing feats. We have figured out how to domesticate and mass-produce plants and animals to feed billions, how to convert simple rocks, liquids, and gases into energy fueling technologically complex civilizations, how to rearrange the sequences of DNA in living things and prolong life by curing deadly diseases, how to explore the deepest depths of the oceans and send probes to the farthest planets of our solar system, and how to communicate instantly with each other across vast oceans and access enormous amounts of information with tiny hand-held devices. But what is the source of our ingenuity? Is it the consequence of billions of years of random mutations blindly guided by natural selection, or is it the outcome of being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14, NIV) by a much more ingenious designer?

If we are to render homage to anything, should it be to our own wisdom, to one of our own creations, to a natural object, or to our creator? Many believe that if any so-called “god” is worthy of homage, it should be our creator. But if so, who or what deserves credit for creating us? We are like Einstein’s metaphorical little child in a huge library: understanding where we came from is bewilderingly complex and even if we could read all the books, of which some claim to have the answer, we will never fully understand. We can throw up our hands in despair or simply take a leap of faith, choosing to believe it all began either by natural processes or by divine design.

One such book, beloved by many but belittled by others, claims to reveal just who this creator is. The Bible portrays our creator as an intelligent engineer who designed a planet teeming with living creatures, over whom we were given dominion; a benevolent ruler who allowed us to rebel against him and gave us freedom to choose whom to serve; a sympathetic friend who revealed his character to us while living among us and healing us of our infirmities; an altruistic savior who loved us so much that he paid the penalty of eternal death that we deserved by dying on a cross; and a trustworthy redeemer who promised to return, restore justice, and take his followers to a new home where there will be no more pain or death. As the long-awaited day of reckoning approaches, the Bible depicts an angel flying through the midst of heaven, delivering an invitation to those who are seeking to know the creator: “Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Revelation 14:7, NIV).

Floyd Hayes is a Professor of Biology at Pacific Union College.

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

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[1] George Sylvester Viereck, Glimpses of the Great (New York, NY: The Macauley Company, 1930), 372–373.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8786
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Marvelous essay! Thank you. I would only add that cosmological speculation does leave room for a “rational” faith which is appealing, but not dispositive. Perhaps the unique Christian contribution (notice none of this presupposes or leads to any particular religion) is to insist that we have a “historical” faith in which God. the creator, in the person of Jesus Christ, entered human history, suffered and died for the sake of humanity, was raised to give us the tools for interpreting the meaning of history by seeing the “future” in Christ. This means that we do not interpret history from past, to present to future using the “cause and effect” nexus as our guide, but go backwards as it were, seeing the past and present in light of the future coming to us.

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This has to be the best article on the existence of God - honest and intelligent. For myself, I have found more reasons to believe in a creator God from science than from sitting in a pew. The one reason to believe in a creator was hinted at, but which for me is the biggest proof of all - that we have self awareness - consciousness - the capability to even ask questions about ourselves. The goldfish swimming in the bowl never wonders about what is going on in his little universe. Science might be able to tell us how it all fits together, but it can’t explain how we are able to recognize our own face when it’s reflected back at us.

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Excellent thoughts, and equally excellent quote.

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I just shared the Einstein quote on an atheist web site.

I use 2 words to support creation…complexity & variety of the visible universe

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We are born to believe because there is no other alternative. Imagine the consequences of a newborn who did not believe he was going to get milk from the mother’s breast? Where we are afforded alternatives is the quality of relationship we choose to have with those we believe. This is how we show everyone how we developed our character.

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my thoughts to elmer-
A “newborn” mammal does not believe. It does not know anything. After birth it will get its nourishment from its mothers mammary grand after having just spent many weeks getting all its necessary nourishment through an umbilical cord; it instinctively starts breathing air and soon starts looking for something to suck on, and the mother helps it find her teats. The lungs and digestive system which were never needed before instinctively start working. From there on the baby grows, and learns by trial and error, using its mouth and nose to taste and smell, its eyes to see, its ears to hear, and its skin to feel. The brain begins assembling all this random information and soon learns that specific actions cause specific reactions. And that some actions give a pleasurable experience and some actions unpleasurable experience. By repeating the actions that give the pleasurable experiences the baby learns to roll over, to grasp objects it sees with its hands, to stick them in its mouth to suck and taste and discovers which tastes good and which do not; then to eat, to crawl, to walk, to understand different sounds, to talk, etc, etc.
To begin with it was Instinct, then trial and error learning. All animate objects go through similar instinctive and trial and error learning process. Some inanimate objects, such as crystals, can self assemble into specific forms. But how does in animate material (dust of the earth) become animate? By the power of a creator, "the breath of GOD!"
HOW, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN is LIFE? The ancients explained their best understanding of creation and life in Genesis. For some, that’s all there is to know? For others, myself included, BELIEVE is not the end of knowing, I want to learn more, by whatever means available. That;s called science. Alyce E.

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Very nice essay. Terrific metaphor.

Precisely what I said. That we are born to believe as there is no other alternative. It is part of our DNA and it significantly influences the development of the mind as we mature cognitively.

What is so pathetic is when religion actively curtails this development as for instance in women’s ordination. Girls grow up and raised by their parents to believe nothing is impossible until they join the SDA and told by our GC leaders that God has ruled them out for being ordained ministers.

How can anyone give credence to these GC leaders?

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I suspect it does know-as it floats in the amniotic eden, bungee-jumping with glee in the garden-like womb, that succor is there-contentment and peace, connection, wordless concept of “love” (in a nurturing maternal environs).

I suspect that what it knows is closer to the Truth than any of us who were untimely kicked out of Eden, gasped our desperate first breath and discovered we were no longer human-beings, but now were human-doings…
if only we could remember tiniest bit of what we knew before we thought we knew everything…

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