Atoms and Absolutes

On Faith, Science, and Looking for Truth

Several months ago I found myself locked in a conversation with two atheists about my age. One of the topics discussed was whether or not there is absolute truth regarding morality. An argument that one of the young men presented was that morality has been defined in a vast number of ways by different cultures and in different eras. Thus, it seems very unlikely that there are true, objective moral principles. The heart of his argument was that because humankind has struggled so thoroughly to define morality, objective moral principles must simply not exist. He extended the same argument to religion; because different societies have had such different ideas about religion, there must be no true religion.

I was admittedly somewhat surprised by the justification that my conversation partner was using to defend his belief that there is no absolute truth regarding moral principles and religion. The reason that his argument surprised me was that like myself, the young man was a college student studying the natural sciences. Therefore, he inevitably would have learned about the vast number of models that have been proposed throughout history to try to describe different scientific principles. For instance, in the first fifteen years of the twentieth century alone, four different models of the atom were proposed. The first model, called the cubic model, depicted the atom as a cube with electrons located at the eight corners. Next came the plum pudding model which viewed the atom as a positively-charged circle with electrons scattered throughout the circle. After this model came Rutherford’s model which described the atom as a circle with a positively charged nucleus in the center and electrons scattered around the nucleus. Finally, the Bohr model asserted that the atom is a positively-charged center surrounded by electrons which orbited the nucleus in circles. The current model of the atom, which differs from all of these models, depicts the atom as a dense, positively charged nucleus surrounded by electrons which exist primarily in regions called orbitals.

Even something as fundamental to science as the structure of the atom has been subject to a wide range of different models over time. However, it seems that very few individuals would argue that the actual structure of the atom has changed. Humankind has had a difficult time coming to understand what that true nature is. Regardless, our struggle to describe the atom does not eliminate the fact that the atom actually does have a true nature. Similarly, the fact that so many different ideas have been proposed regarding the nature of God and how we are to live in response to Him does not indicate that God does not have a true nature.

One of the questions that I have wrestled with for some time now, and have observed others wrestling with is this: how can we possibly believe that Christianity is true in a world where people believe so many different things? I hold the opinion that, like the atom, the premise that so many belief systems have been proposed does not negate the fact that one of these systems has to be true. Just as the atom has not changed even though our models for it have changed, the true nature of God has remained the same throughout time, throughout the changing of eras and cultures. The fact that so many views have existed about the true nature of God is not a defeater for a kind of objective truth.

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