Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Clay, Elementary Particles, Photons, and God

God isn't human. Well, actually the Second Person of the Trinity is human, and that's a different topic. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 232-260, 484-486, for starters)

As I said last week, I think God is a little hard to think about because the Almighty is so God-like.

"In the Beginning"

"We believe that God needs no pre-existent thing or any help in order to create, nor is creation any sort of necessary emanation from the divine substance.144 God creates freely 'out of nothing':145
"If God had drawn the world from pre-existent matter, what would be so extraordinary in that? A human artisan makes from a given material whatever he wants, while God shows his power by starting from nothing to make all he wants. 146' "
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 296)
My father told me a story to illustrate this point. It's quite fictional, but I think it's worth repeating.

God, Clay, and Some Guy: A Story

God was walking along a riverbank with some man. They were talking about how much humanity had learned recently. The man was particularly impressed with developments in molecular biology. "I can make life, just like you did in Genesis," he said.

God asked, "could you make a man?" The man thought a minute, then said, "yes."

"Okay," said the Almighty. "Let's see you do that." They had come to a spot on the riverbank where a small landslide had exposed fresh clay. The man bent down and scooped up a lump of clay.

"Wait," God said. "If you're going to do this on your own, you have to create your own clay."

It's Elementary

Clay, in this context, is:
  • Material with a particle size of less than 2 micrometers
  • One of the "clay" minerals, with
    • A great affinity for water
    • The ability to exchange ions
    • Similar chemical compositions
    • Common crystal structural characteristics
    • Particles ranging in size
      • From 10s of angstroms
      • To millimeters
    ("Clays," USGS)
My fictional man could, in principle, take Potassium (K), Silicon (Si), Aluminum (Al), Magnesium (Mg), Oxygen (O), and Hydrogen (H), and Calcium (Ca), and make an aluminous smectite (The chemical composition of a sample of that stuff ranged from K0.4(Si3.0Al1.0)4.0 to Ca0.3(Si3.0Al1.0)4.0(Al2.0Mg0.2)2.33O10(OH)2 (USGS).)

He could, again in principle, start with hydrogen and fuse those atoms into the heavier elements: or go further back and start with a selection of elementary particles.

But my fictional man would have to start with something that already exists. Even products of our imaginations are arguably not entirely our own. I've yet to imagine something that doesn't have at least a few of the characteristics of real, created, things that I've encountered.

No "Oops" With God

God didn't have to create this universe we live in. It wasn't an accident, either. He made all this because He wanted to. (Catechism, 295) That's something to think about - and yet another topic. Maybe I'll get back to that next week. Or, not.


"Infinite" can mean quite a few things:
  • Noun
    • The unlimited expanse in which everything is located
  • Adjective
    • Having no limits or boundaries in time or space or extent or magnitude
    • (of verbs) Not having tense, person, or number (as a participle or gerund or infinitive)
    • Too numerous to be counted
    • Total and all-embracing
    (Princeton's WordNet)
God is big. Infinitely so:
"God is infinitely greater than all his works: 'You have set your glory above the heavens.'156 Indeed, God's 'greatness is unsearchable.'157 But because he is the free and sovereign Creator, the first cause of all that exists, God is present to his creatures' inmost being: 'In him we live and move and have our being.'158 In the words of St. Augustine, God is 'higher than my highest and more inward than my innermost self.'159"
(Catechism, 300)
Quite a few decades back, I ran into someone who wrote that God couldn't be all-powerful, because 'Hell could literally break out' somewhere and God wouldn't know until light from the event reached Him.

It was a clever way to discuss some of what we know about the speed of photons in a vacuum: but theologically clueless.

My guess is that the fellow who wrote that may have run into the same sort of loudly-pious Luddites and ignoramuses I have from time to time: and didn't bother to learn whether or not all Christendom was like them.

We're not: and I've been over that before.

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