Sunday, 25 February 2007

God's Flute

I wrote a while back of Darwin's letter to Asa Gray, where he said he considered the marvellous universe we live in to be the result of designed laws, with the minor details, whether good or bad, left to what we may call chance.

Darwin, as is well-known was an agnostic, but I'd like to develop these ideas a little from my point of view as a Christian.

One thing many of my Christian friends have a problem with is evolution. Much of this may be due to the increasingly hostile attitudes of prominent evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins. But I suspect also part of the problem is the idea that all this complexity can come about from random, chaotic processes.

However, this does not imply the absence of a designer, or a creative intelligence, and evidently Darwin didn't think so either. The fact is that systems that obey physical laws can often pick out what they need from random processes - and turn randomness into order. Consider what happens when you draw a bow across a violin string. The resin on the hairs of the bow is effectively randomly distributed, and therefore when you draw the bow across the string, you are applying a random stimulus. But the string itself is tuned to resonate at a particular frequency. It naturally selects, therefore, the relevant frequency components from the "white noise" applied to it, and amplifies them emitting a beautiful sound. The same happens when you blow across the mouthpiece of a flute - the right components of the white noise signal produced by your breath over the mouthpiece are selected, and the instrument resonates, producing a pure and delightful tone.

And so perhaps this is not that far from the idea that out of randomness, the finely tuned earth brings forth the most wonderful and beautiful forms. The sounds produced by a musical instrument come about by naturally selecting the right components from a random signal, and discarding the wrong ones.

These natural resonances can be even more complex than a single note. The composer Elgar said that he "heard" all his music in Nature. That he would just go out in the hills and take all he wanted. I can't say that I hear Elgar when I go out into the countryside. But I'm just tuned differently from him.

But at the end of the day, all these things I've spoken of are like resonances that occur naturally. But that doesn't mean there isn't a violin maker, or as Darwin put it, a designer of the laws of nature. Nor does it prove that there is a Designer (I'll be writing about Intelligent Design and why it ultimately doesn't convince me at a later time).

Meanwhile, I am content to look upon the universe as if it were a flute that God breathes upon, which produces the most wonderful resonances.