Last time I looked at the interesting scriptural correlation between God’s creative and transformative word of power, Christ the Logos who is said by John to be that word, and the same word of power effectually spoken by human agents (whether by Jesus himself or divinely appointed agents) in human “natural” language. Today, I want to start by grounding that correlation in biblical ontology.
When we consider God as transcendently other – which is the right way to accord him due honour and worship – we must not forget that the role of the only-begotten Son is as the mediator between the Father and creation. Col 1:13-29, 2:6-17 speaks to this supremely.
Because of this, God must never be seen as utterly incomprehensible or alien in the age of Christ’s revelation. For (1) Christ is “the exact image” of God (Heb 1:2-3) and (2) man is created “after the image and likeness”of God. These truths were first brought together by Athanasius and have been discussed both on The Hump (eg here) and in other places where the imago dei has been considered.
It is under this kind of consideration that we understand why the universe should be so mysteriously comprehensible – not merely because God is rational, nor because we are rational, but because something of the rationality of the Creator is built into his creation in general, and into the mind of man particularly. Jesus “came to his own” (Jn 1:11) not only because he created mankind, but because he created him after his own image and likeness.
The question, then, of how we could possibly recognise God or his work in nature is answered by replacing the illusory “objective view from nowhere” with the more realistic concept that we view the world as those created in the image of the true Image of God. We are not self-made creatures reaching out to an alien God, but were, in fact, created both by and for him. He is in our DNA (speaking metaphorically here, not after Francis Collins!).
This ontological correlation between Christ and man can also explain the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” in science, but not, I would suggest, because mathematics is the language of God as Galileo said – though it might indeed be his machine code.
For natural language is far richer than mathematics, and as the quote from Heisenberg in the last post suggested, it is that natural language which corresponds more closely than anything else to our reality. At least one origins thinker who posts here, Jay Johnson, has based his ideas of humanity becoming morally and spiritually accountable on its acquisition of language. Though I disagree with his scheme in detail, he is absolutely right in this: that humanity without natural language is, quite literally, unthinkable. I’ve explored that at various times, for example here.
I’m not suggesting in these posts that God converses with himself in Hebrew, or in any other human language. Rather, I’m suggesting that some peculiar things about natural human language also map to much of what we now know of both nature and Scripture in a way that mathematics does not. Since this particularly applies in the world of biology, our future science may well need to take it into account somehow. But whether it does or not, it is still relevant to our theology of nature.
Physicist Paul Davies is among those seeing the importance of information to the natural world. In his book Information and the Nature of Reality, amongst other ideas he raises the possibility of the Universe itself being a giant computer, processing information to generate reality. Within biology, the understanding of the DNA code (Francis Collins’s language of God) has traditionally been algorithmic, and that understanding of reality has been applied in AI, with a tacit assumption that human thought is also algorithmic, or as near as dammit.
The information conceived by ID theorists, and particularly Bill Dembski, takes this algorithmic concept of language as its starting point, and accordingly both ID, and others, have found it difficult or impossible to define the “meaningful information” that is so familiar to us in everyday life, not to mention being able to apply such a definition to the organised complexity of life. Why should this be?
Quite simply, it is because neither the information with which humans work, using natural language, nor the workings of living things, nor the universe considered as a whole, function algorithmically. The reason, broadly, has been identified by those like Arthur Eddington and Werner Heisenberg: mathematics is a language of abstraction and generalisation, and natural language is not only a language of particulars and contingencies, but a language which creates infinite connections between those particulars, unique both to individual situations and individual speakers and hearers. Only such language can convey meaning.
And so John Archibald Wheeler’s slogan “It from Bit”, coined to suggest the primacy of information, is right about the information if “information” means “Logos” – but makes the common mistake in equating the “language of creation” with the “bits” of Shannon information. But “Shannon Information” is about abstracting information to mathematics, in which process its meaning is as surely lost as are the contingent real entities of the universe when reduced to physical laws of nature. It is that abstraction that makes his work useful in communications technology, and that enables Shannon to equate maximum information with maximum entropy. But logos does not so reduce, and hence the impossibility of scientific definition. More exploration of that next time.
Where I want to leave things today is with this astonishing complex richness of human language. C S Lewis spelled this out, showing that human language is intrinsically both referential and figurative. From the earliest times, metaphor, imagery and variably tight or loose association of ideas has been essential for any human conversation, and the development of all human ideas – even ideas about God.
This, of course, is why scientists are suspicious of natural language – it can’t be tied down to precise definitions and relationships in the way that maths can, and so it can’t be processed by computer algorithms until some kind of mathematical abstraction is made, during which the meaning is lost, not clarified. Quantum mechanics is precisely described in mathematics – but as soon as even the best scientists try to interpret that in words, metaphors and alternative understandings proliferate. Yet paradoxically, it is only in those interpretations, as Heisenberg says, that we come close to understanding reality.
Yet in the last piece I suggested that there is an inextricable correlation between this human speech – that gives us the Copenhagen Interpretation, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, furniture assembly instructions and the Book of Revelation – and the dabar of God, which is none other than the Son, the creative Logos, himself. Somewhow, our theology of nature needs to encompass something of that – and supremely, given what Jesus has revealed of God – our theology of nature ought to include the expression of love in the creation.
Any mathematicians or programmers among you may wish to disagree, but I don’t think there is a differential equation or an algorithm for the love of God.