TWO GREAT SCIENTISTS – TWO DIFFERENT WORLD VIEWS
“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being … This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God.”
Following his death in April 1727, Newton lay in state in Westminster Abbey for a week. At the funeral, his pall was borne by three earls, two dukes, and the Lord Chancellor. Voltaire observed, “He was buried like a king who had done well by his subjects.” No scientist before or since has been so revered and interred with such high honor. (Isaac Newton – died April 1727)
“We are just an advanced breed of monkey on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the universe. That makes us something special. God is the name people give to the reason we are here. But I think that reason is the laws of physics rather than someone with whom one can have a personal relationship. An impersonal God.” (Stephen Hawking – died March 2018)
The ashes of Stephen Hawking will be interred next to the grave of Sir Isaac Newton at Westminster Abbey.
The last nine verses of Daniel almost seem anticlimactic. They are a postscript to the final, great vision, which is long, detailed, and comprehensive. That section traces the history of the world from the age of Daniel under the kings of Persia through the age of the Greeks up to the time of the persecutions under Antiochus Epiphanes. Then it skips ahead to the time of great persecution at the end of history and the end of that age by a general resurrection of all persons and the final judgment. By contrast, in the postscript we find Daniel seeking understanding of things that are beyond him.
It is worse than that. The section begins with a description of two angels in addition to the one who brought the revelation to Daniel. And they are confused. In 1 Peter 1:12, the apostle speaks of Old Testament teachings that were puzzles even to the angels. Here one of the angels asks, “How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?” The angel did not know the time of these events, and neither do we. In fact, even after the first angel gave the answer, “It will be for a time, times and half a time,” Daniel still did not understand, and the angel did not really enlighten him. The angel’s final words confuse the matter even further. For he ends by speaking of a period of 1,290 days and another of 1,335 days, and to my knowledge no one has ever conclusively shown what those two periods refer to.
Yet this postscript is not without value. For it gives a description of the characteristics of the last days and tells how the righteous are to live in them. We may not be living in the very last days now. The Lord may not return for centuries. But every age has characteristics of the last days, and believers are always to live as Daniel was to live, until the end comes.
In this last chapter of Daniel there is emphasis on understanding – a lack of understanding by the wicked and a desire for understanding by the righteous. But to see what is involved it is necessary to go back to the closing sentence of v.4, which says, “Many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall increase.” Going “to and fro” is a Hebrew idiom suggesting a frantic but futile pursuit of something illusive. So the idea is that in the last days people will embark on a pursuit of knowledge, thinking that it will lead to understanding, but they will not find it [e.g. Stephen Hawking].
There are few things more characteristic of our age than this. At no time in the history of the world have more things been known by more people. Education is a major industry. Yet at no time have people seemed more to lack understanding. Millions do not even know who they are, let alone why they are or what they are doing.
We have a crisis in the area of learning today, which is a failure of the two main approaches to knowledge. The first approach is to seek knowledge by reason alone. It goes back to the Greeks, who taught that knowledge is not in the mere observation of things but in perceiving their eternal and unchangeable essence. Plato expressed this as a study of forms or ideals rather than particulars. Our form of this approach is modern science, which seeks for laws or principles through what we call the scientific method.
This method is not all bad because it has given us the kind of technical progress we have known in the developed world since the Industrial Revolution. But this approach does not have all the answers either. A great weakness is the way it tends to treat all things impersonally, including people. If reality is ultimately a scientific equation, then people are basically only rather complex machines – and can be treated as such. There are some who are saying this (i.e. Stephen Hawking et.al.)
Communism reduces reality to economic forces and has no difficulty manipulating people, even killing them, for its ends. The scientific “conditioning” of people for the “good” of society is another example (B.F. Skinner).
An approach to knowledge by reason alone is not adequate for ethics. It tells what can be done, but it does not tell what ought to be done. We have seen a whole generation revolt from this approach to learning.
The other approach to understanding is by the senses or emotional experience. It says, “If you can’t get to reality by reason, try feelings. If the mind is inadequate, try the heart.” People have tried to get in touch with the universe or with themselves by sexual experimentation, drugs, encounter sessions, psychiatry, and a revival of Eastern mystical religions.
Is this valid? Up to a point the desire to discover or express one’s feelings is valid, because we are emotional beings. That is, we have hearts as well as heads. We need to feel. We need close emotional and physical relationships. But important as this is, it cannot be the basis for true understanding – it doesn’t last. Emotional “highs” are always followed by emotional “lows.” Experience fluctuates. Besides, mere emotion does not satisfy the mind.
So there really is something like a crisis in the field of learning, and many people are asking if there is not another way. The Christian replies there is another way. Reality is neither an equation nor an emotional experience. It is found in the God of the Bible who is the Author of but who transcends both emotion and reason. Therefore, to know Him is to have knowledge. Wise old Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”