Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, May 30, 2008

The God of Weights and Measures

Earlier this week, I believe on Sunday our time here on Earth, the Phoenix surveyor landed in the polar region of Mars.

The picture is its final descent to the surface taken from the MRO imaging satellite in orbit around the planet.

I tend to geek out at these sorts of things.

I saw the article about the picture at the Bad Astronomy website, maintained by Phil Plait. I have read articles where he plays being an anti-Creationist activist-watchdog. He claims to be a skeptic, though now-a-days the word "skeptic" is synonymous with "atheist."

Any how, Phil writes this gushing remark about this image at his site:

Think on this, and think on it carefully: you are seeing a manmade object falling gracefully and with intent to the surface of an alien world, as seen by another manmade object already circling that world, both of them acting robotically, and both of them hundreds of million of kilometers away.

Never, ever forget: we did this. This is what we can do. [emphasis his]

Note his emphasis, by the way: we did this. That is important to keep in mind as we place this photograph in perspective.

When I saw this picture of the Phoenix landing on Mars with even the parachute tethers visibly still attached, my mind was turned toward God's Word, specifically one of the more interesting Proverbs I love.

Honest weights and scales are the LORD's; all the weights in the bag are his work. (Prov. 16:11, NKJV)

The point of the proverb is quite simple: you are to deal honestly with your fellow man. If you happen to be a butcher and a person comes to your shop looking to purchase 2 pounds of hamburger meat, when you weigh out the meat, your scale must honestly record 2 pounds. It is not to be rigged in such a way that 1.5 pounds of meat looks to be 2 pounds and the person is thus charged to pay for 2 pounds when really all he has is 1.5 pounds.

The proverb is a summation of Leviticus 19:35,36, which reads,

You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, and honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

The command to maintain honest weights and measures in grounded in the holy character of God. The Lord always directs His commands back to Himself. We are to be honest with a fundamental interaction with our fellow man because God's character is holy and righteous.

Now, what does that have to do with the Phoenix lander on Mars?

I believe there is a secondary application of Proverbs 16:11 that tends to get over looked. That being, in order for there to be a command to be honest with our weights and measures, there must be an ultimate standard by which to determine if and when a weight or measure is dishonest. Here in the U.S. there is a department in the government for the standard of weights and measures. They have the ultimate weight that weighs one pound exactly, or one kilo, depending upon the system in use. They have the ultimate measuring stick that is one yard exactly, or one meter. All weights claiming to weigh a pound should balance with the ultimate one pound weight. The same with all meter sticks. If we lay them along side the ultimate stick they should all be a meter.

In this proverb, the writer is indirectly describing a principle of scientific knowledge to the Lord: The reason men can have a shared understanding of how to weigh and measure objects is because weight and measures are intimately connected to God's eternal, immutable nature. Thus, men can use weights and measure for more than determining the price of steak, but can utilize them to construct buildings, engineer bridges, and even send probes into space. That is because weights and measures are a development of basic, universal truths of mathematical principles.

In an important work, The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math and Meaning, a book that should be read by all Christians, John Byl writes concerning math:

The existence of eternal, abstract, mathematical thoughts seems to require the existence of something actual in which they exist. This raises the questions of where and how such mathematical entities exist.
The early theistic philosophers Philo and Augustine placed the ideal world of eternal truths in the mind of God. Augustine argued that the existence of eternal necessary truths implied the existence of an eternal, necessary, infinite mind in which all such truths exist. [pg. 136]

The fact that we can develop scientific know-how to send a probe into space, then land on another planet, and then another probe is able to take a picture of it landing is because we have fixed mathematical principles to utilize in order to accomplish such a feat. If the principles of math and physics were systems that did not exist outside ourselves as humans the ability to perform the task of landing a probe on Mars would be near impossible, if not unobtainable. We know about how a parachute impacts drag on an object, how much force gravity pulls on it, and how fast it falls, because those are certain, measurable variables that are universal.

So when Phil boasts, we did this, such is true if it were not for the fact God is concerned with just weights. In the side bar of Phil's blog, there is a picture of him with his comments, "I likes reality the way it is and I aims to keep it that way." Because a weight in the bag is God's work, Phil can keep being entertained by the reality he so enjoys.

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