The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Creation as much mystery as machine

Basic physics ushers us into the elegance and intricacies of divine wisdom

The universe isn't simply a machine. Realizing that, we can begin to see that there's less tension between science and our faith than many think. But first we need to get beyond some dated physics.

In the 17th century, scientists began modern physics by discovering important laws that describe what goes on in the natural world. Isaac Newton found that if he knew the forces that acted on bodies like the moon, planets or a ball in flight, he could predict the ways they would move with a few basic mathematical laws.

Some of Newton's successors naturally began to think that the universe could be thought of as a well-regulated machine. The universe looked completely predictable. If we could know the exact positions and velocities of all bodies in the world at a given time, as well as all the forces that act on them, Newton's laws would allow the world's whole future course to be calculated. No one thought that such a prediction was possible in practice. But in principle everything that would take place in the future could be known once the mechanism was started. Everything was determined.

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