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Uncovering the patterns of the Designing Hand

dandelionThe distinguished Norwich-based Christian scientist, Dr Robert Selvendran reflects on the nature of scientific truth and shows how the pursuit for coherence reveals the existence of an ‘Intelligent Being’, the Creator God.

I have been engaged in plant biochemical and physiological research for thirty years.  For an even longer period I have been a practising Christian.  Throughout, I have been keen to share the excitement I find in science, which increases my awareness of the physical world about us.  I want to share also the joy and certainty of my new life in Christ Jesus, which increases my awareness of God’s purposes for humanity and the world at large.  Sharing these experiences (‘verified truths’) has led to thought-provoking discussions with fellow-scientists and with people from various walks of life in many parts of the world, where my research has taken me over the years.

As a consequence, I have reflected long and hard on scientific and Christian views of the world.  I have not found these to be mutually exclusive, but in fact complementary.  Together they give a fuller and more meaningful picture of life, of the world and indeed of the Universe.

In this article, I shall discuss briefly the ideas underlying the perception and pursuit of scientific truth(s) and where I think this quest will ultimately lead us.
Scientists make at least three basic assumptions:
  • The world is orderly rather than disorderly.  In a world where things happened haphazardly and failed to show consistency, any attempt to investigate by systematic and scientific methods would be doomed to failure from the start.
  • The natural world is intelligible.  Without this assumption, there would be no point in attempting to make sense of our observations.
  • Human reason is reliable.  That is, if we are to study the world using our minds, we must have some degree of faith in our capacity to distinguish truth from error and to make theoretical constructions which bear some measure of relationship to reality.
Science is about disclosures of the physical world, which can be unravelled by suitable methods, based on well-thought-out hypotheses.  This quest requires dynamic curiosity, mental and physical effort, scepticism and ruthless objectivity.  The overall objective is a search for some order and some constant pattern in the results of the investigations.

The scientist aims at linking diverse phenomena around a successful hypothesis.  Deduction from the hypothesis, in combination with fresh data, gives rise to verified theory (new knowledge), which is further tested as the methods of investigation improve.  The scientist is striving continually to find a pattern of relationships that will ‘make sense’, onto which new observations can be grafted.  If the ‘pattern’ (or theory) does not fit some new observations, then it is changed for a new and more comprehensive alternative.  What is important in science is that the pattern develops and grows – it is not and cannot be static.

Within the great patterns of science smaller patterns fit together.  The historical development of the Periodic Table of elements and of the structure of the atom are two examples of such disclosures of science.  Scientific truth may be said to lie in the coherence of the pattern(s) into meaningful constructs.  This is where a ‘Designing Hand’ seems to be revealed.  For me – and there are many scientists who subscribe to the same view – the evidence points to the existence of an ‘Intelligent Being’.

If we make a contribution, however small, to the vast reservoir of knowledge about the world, then we may experience the tension and enjoy the triumph of discovery.  Such experiences may create a taste for mental work and leave their imprint on mind and character for life.  Nobody can fully appreciate what science is about who has not felt the excitement of that kind of experience. To find fact after fact fitting into a pattern that ‘makes sense’, around a successful hypothesis, is deeply moving.

The coherence of the pattern(s) may be compared to a man tracing out the various threads on the underside of an embroidery.  He can tell us a great deal about the different courses, and their relationship to one another.  However, as to why just those colours should have been brought together at all – on just that piece of canvas, so that when it is turned over it displays an exquisite 'dynamic' pattern, within which lie smaller patterns – he can say very little.  The collocation of threads into that particular harmony is an inexplicable given, which the analyst cannot explain adequately, unless he invokes the artist whose creation it was in the first place.  But no work of art, by itself, can convey to the viewer exactly what the artist knew and felt and tried to express.  This disclosure can only be made by the artist himself.

Likewise, the world about us which displays orderliness, consistency, regularity and rationality, calls for a Creator (God).  The Creator, whose mind human beings can never fully fathom, inspired the writer of the first book of the Bible to begin with the words ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. In this materialistic age, which is increasingly losing all spiritual values (and that is partly due to the pseudo-scientific culture popularised by the media), we need to return to the disclosures of God – through His faithful servants and supremely through Jesus Christ.
This essay was written in mid 1995 and published entitled ‘Analyst and artist’ in Connect, Winter edition 1995/96.

Dr Robert Selvendran is a distinguished Norwich-based scientist, originally from Sri Lanka, who studied at the universities of Ceylon and Cambridge, and received his PhD and ScD degrees from the latter.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and has been awarded its Senior Medal for Food Chemistry in 1994 for his work on plant food materials. He worked at the Institute of Food Research (known as the Food Research Institute until November 1986) in Norwich for over 20 years.  Robert contends that the process of formation of the senescent dandelion head (shown above), which is a composite flower, from which the dried fruits are progressively released from the outside inwards by a beautiful parachute mechanism,is an example of 'dynamic pattern' in nature. The full paper based on this article, in a Biblical context, is in preparation for publication. 
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