Infinity and the Incarnation: Thoughts on Science and Christianity

For years now, scientists and Christians have been suspicious of one another, to say the least. This tension is unnecessary, and it dissipates when both Christians and scientists understand the nature of God, creation and science.

Science is a function that maps nature to the rational world – i.e., laws, rules, equations. That is, science is the mode through which we understand nature in a rational way. God is not an element of nature – i.e., God is supernatural. Thus, God is not within the domain of the function of science – that is, the function of science cannot be applied to the subject of God. Therefore, science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. More generally, science cannot make any existential claims on the supernatural world (which includes God, demons, angels, spirits, etc.).

That is not to say that science cannot enter into conversation with the Bible, theology, or God. Science, being the study of creation, can shed light on who God is as Creator, just like a painting can reveal something about its artist. The fact that mathematical equations appear in nature and describe nature accurately suggests that the Creator is logical or rational, to some extent. Nature seems to be governed by or behave in accordance with certain laws. It is only because of its propensity to “follow” these equations that we can utilize them as laws. For example, if half of the time we threw watermelons off of buildings they flew up instead of falling to the ground, we would not be able to say that the force of gravity on small objects close to the surface of the Earth causes them to accelerate towards Earth at a rate of 9.8 meters per second squared. We could no longer use such a law to predict what would happen the next time we launched a watermelon from the roof of McInnis Hall. But since watermelons do not float away half of the time, and since gravity seems to behave uniformly, we can make generalizations that we call laws. We are fortunate that our God more often than not acts within these natural laws. And we are fortunate that we have been made in His image and are thus gifted with the ability to reason and understand His creation in a deeper way than any other earthly animal.

And as God continues to create and sustain, He continues to reveal Himself. Mathematics, astronomy and other sciences have revealed beautiful things to me about our Creator. Studying these sciences has NOT detracted from my faith, but strengthened it. I have a better understanding of who God is, the splendor and grandeur with which He creates and His incomprehensible love for humanity because of my studies of mathematics, astronomy and other sciences. And I want to share with you some of the things I have learned in science that have impacted my faith.

Mathematics on the Infinitude of God

Christianity says God is omniscient, eternal and omnipotent. Behind all of these important theological statements are ideas of infinity. When most people think of infinity, they think of really, really big and forever and ever. If a set of numbers is infinite, we mean that the amount of numbers in the set approaches infinity. However, we can understand something about the set’s infinitude. If we can pair up the items in a set with every number in the set of natural numbers (0, 1, 2, 3, 4…), we call the set countably infinite. This relationship makes that which goes on forever feel small. But there are some infinite sets that are not countable (cleverly called “uncountably infinite”). We understand the overarching concept here as different levels of infinity. Our God is higher than every level of infinity; He is greater than infinities both countable and uncountable. When I discovered this, my mind was blown, my understanding of infinity was drastically expanded and deepened and my awe and fear of God was intensified tremendously.

Astronomy on the Eternal Nature of Christ

Stars emit light waves by which we can measure their distance in light years (the distance that light travels in a year). So when you see a star that is one light year away, the light that you are seeing traveled one year to grace your pupils with its presence. Thus, looking deep into space is also looking back in time. The star of Bethlehem shone brightly over the stable in which Christ was born and guided the shepherds to the baby. The light that guided the shepherds to the Messiah’s birthplace must have traveled for thousands of years. While this is in no way a proof, I think this adds to the theological tenet that Christ the Son is co-eternal with God the Father and is not reactionary to the fall. The star that signaled the birth of a Savior must have existed long before the incarnation in order to be emitting the light that would twinkle in the sky that Holy Night.

Physics on “The Light of the World”

Light has been a mystery of physics for a long time. It exhibits both particle-like and wave-like behavior and thus has a dual nature. The language of dual nature is not unfamiliar to the Christian community. We describe Christ as having dual nature both as fully man and fully God. So in science, just as in the Bible, light is analogous to Christ. In Einstein’s famous equation E=mc^2, there is a direct relationship between energy and mass. Energy can be transmitted in waves and, in particular, light waves. So Einstein’s equation tells us that from light, matter can be created. This brings a whole new meaning and elegance to Genesis I when God says, “Let there be light.” Such a simple command could have initiated the unfolding of the rest of the universe. (Please note: I am not trying to read any cosmological origin of the universe into Genesis; I am just trying to show the depth that science can bring to Scripture.) If we understand this relationship between light and matter in light of (no pun intended) the analogy of Christ as light, we encounter even greater majesty. If from light we can have the creation of matter, and if Christ is light, then from Christ we have the creation of all that is. This sounds a lot like Colossians 1:16: “For by [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (ESV).

When we understand the domain in which science has authority, we find that science reveals a multitude of beauties within creation. God reveals Himself through Scripture and creation. Thus, Scripture and creation ought not conflict. Therefore, the study of Scripture and creation ought not conflict. Fears and claims that they do contradict one another stem from our inability to fully understand God. If we fail to reconcile Christianity and science, it is a fault of ours that speaks to our limited knowledge as human beings.

And so I encourage you, whichever side of the false division you fall on, to give the other side a chance. Scientists, be open to Christianity—it gives meaning to your studies and your field that scientific empiricism cannot give you. It introduces love, hope and grace in a way that an experiment, an equation or a theory can never do. Christians, be open to scientific study—it presents the world in a profoundly beautiful way that will enrich your faith and your understanding of your Creator, Sustainer and Savior. And as it is a study of the handiwork of God, it is an act of worship to the Artist, the masterful Creator, the Potter who molds the clay, the Savior hanging on the cross and the Sustainer who holds it all in His hands.

–Brandi Henry (’17) is a Templeton Honors College senior studying mathematics and astronomy. She enjoys spending time with friends and hanging out with her youth group students, and always appreciates a good caramel macchiato and cheesy math puns. After graduating, she plans to pursue her PhD in mathematics in the Philadelphia area and hopes to enter into higher education.

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