Predestination In The Physical World
As far as the material universe apart from mind is concerned we have no trouble at all to believe in absolute Predestination. The course of events which would follow was, in a very strict sense, immutably predetermined when God created the world and implanted the natural laws of gravity, light, magnetism, chemical affinity, electrical phenomena, etc. Apart from the interference of mind or miracle, the course of nature is uniform and predictable. This has not only been admitted but dogmatically held and asserted by many of the greatest scientists. The atoms follow their exactly prescribed courses.The material objects we handle are governed by fixed laws. If we have accurate knowledge of all the factors involved, we can determine exactly what will be the effect of a falling stone, an explosion, or an earthquake. The telescope reveals to us millions of distant fiery suns, each of which follows an exact, predetermined course, and their positions can be predicted for thousands of years to come.
Within the solar system the planets and satellites swing perfectly in their orbits, and eclipses can be predicted with exactness. Before the eclipse of the sun in 1924 the astronomers announced the course which the shadow of the moon would take across the earth and calculated the time for certain cities down to the seconds, which calculation was later shown by the eclipse to be in error only four seconds!
Astronomers tell us that the same principles which govern in our solar system are also found in the millions of stars which are trillions of miles away. Physicists analyze the light which comes from the sun and from the stars and tell us that not only are the same elements, such as iron, carbon, oxygen, etc., which are found on the earth also found on them, but that these elements are found in practically the same proportion there as here.
From the law of gravitation we learn that every material object in the universe attracts every other material object with a force which is directly proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers. Hence every grain of sand in the desert or on the sea-shore is linked up with every sun in the universe. The sluggish earth mounts upward to meet the falling snowflake. The microscope reveals marvels just as wonderful as those revealed by the telescope. God's providence extends to the atoms as well as to the stars and each one exerts its particular influence, small but exact. Everywhere there is perfect order and God has slighted His work nowhere.
Huxley once said that if man had possessed exact knowledge of natural laws before the rise of plants and animals on the earth, he could have predicted not only the geographical contour and climate of a given region, but also the exact flora and fauna which would have been found there, — arising, as he supposed, through the spontaneous generation of life from non-living matter, — and while we do not accept his extreme statement about the origin of life, this, nevertheless, gives us some idea of the uniformity that a great scientist expects to find in the laws of nature.
The writer was once in a discussion group conducted by Dr. H. N. Russell, head of the Department of Astronomy in Princeton University, and one of the outstanding astronomers of our time, in which Dr. Russell declared that apart from the influence of mind in the world he believed in an absolute predestination made effective through the fixed laws of nature.
"The uniformity of the laws of nature," says Dr. Charles Hodge, "is a constant revelation of the immutability of God. They are now what they were at the beginning of time, and they are the same in every part of the universe. No less stable are the laws which regulate the operations of the reason and conscience." And again he says: "As in all these lower departments of His work, God acts according to a preconceived plan. It is not to be supposed that in the higher sphere of His operations, which concern the destiny of men, everything would be left to chance and allowed to take its undetermined course to an undetermined end. We accordingly find that the Scriptures distinctly assert in reference to the dispensations of grace not only that God sees the end from the beginning, but that He works all things according to the counsel of His will, or, according to His eternal purpose." 1
Dr. Abraham Kuyper, who was admittedly one of the outstanding theologians of the last century, tells us: "It is a fact that the more thorough development of science in our age has almost unanimously decided in favor of Calvinism with regard to the antithesis between the unity and stability of God's decree, which Calvinism professes, and the superficiality and looseness, which the Arminians preferred. The systems of the great philosophers are, almost to one, in favor of unity and stability." He goes on to say that these systems "clearly demonstrate that the development of science in our age presupposes a cosmos which does not fall a prey to the freaks of chance, but exists and develops from one principle, according to a firm order, aiming at one fixed plan. This is a claim which is, as it clearly appears, diametrically opposed to Arminianism, and in complete harmony with Calvinistic belief, that there is one supreme will in God, the cause of all existing things, subjecting them to ordinances and directing them towards a pre-established plan." And again, he asks, What does the doctrine of foreordination mean except that "the entire cosmos, instead of being a plaything of caprice and chance, obeys law and order, and that there exists a firm will which carries out its design both in nature and in history?" 2
The Calvinistic world- and life-view, which so emphasizes the fixity and certainty of the course of events, is thus in striking harmony with modern Science and Philosophy. How preposterous is that claim which is sometimes made, that no matter how clearly this doctrine of Predestination is taught in the Scriptures, it is disproved by established truth from other sources! That claim is made by many who wish to establish a different system of theology. But any one who is at all familiar with modern Science and Philosophy (with physiological psychology, for example), with their emphasis on universally fixed laws, knows that just the opposite is true. Witness the present day emphasis on behaviourism, determinism, and heredity. And what is Mendel's law but Predestination in the realm of Genetics? The tendency is strongly against the free and the contingent. The Universe is conceived of as one systematic whole, interrelated in all of its parts, and following a very definite, prearranged course. With a different nomenclature and a different idea of the supernatural, the foremost modern scientists and philosophers hold the Calvinistic view in regard to the world as a unit. They may deny God's freedom, or even His personality, and their necessitarian metaphysics may be radically at variance with the true doctrine of His providence and grace; they may attempt to explain the thought processes of the brain, and even life itself, by physical and chemical laws; yet their impression of the co-ordinated facts of life and nature is thoroughly Calvinistic.
Without faith in the unity, stability, and order of things such as that to which Predestination leads us, it is impossible for Science to go beyond mere conjectures. Science is based on faith in the organic inter-connection or unity of the universe, a firm conviction that our entire lives must be under the sway of laws or principles established by some extra-mundane Power or Creator. The more we learn about Science the more clearly do we see the unity which underlies it all.
And when we come to study History we find that it is a "chain of events." Just as every grain of sand is related to every sun in the universe, so every event has its exact and necessary place in the unfolding of History. All of us remember comparatively insignificant events which have changed the courses of our lives; and had one of these links been omitted the result would have been radically different. Often times a very small thing sets off a course of events which convulses the world, as was the case in 1914 when a Serbian conspirator fired a shot at the Archduke of Austria, and the World War followed. Quite naturally many people have drawn back from attributing all the free acts of men and angels, and especially their sinful acts, to the foreordination of God. Nevertheless, if God is to rule the world at all His plan and providential control must extend to all events, not only in the natural world, but also in the realm of human affairs; and the Scriptures plainly teach that the free acts of men and angels are as certainly foreordained of God as are the events in the material world.
This four-fold argument of Science, Philosophy, History, and sacred Scriptures is not to be taken lightly. In Science, Philosophy, and History the doctrine is reduced to the cold severity of impersonal force. But when the radiant light of the glorious Gospel is thrown upon this, showing that the racial choices, the personal elections, the divine calls, are made by sovereign grace and not simply by sovereign will, we see that God's eternal purposes are in favor of man and not against him; and the heart finds rest and comfort in the fact that God's love and mercy are as tender as His purposes are strong.
1. Systematic Theology, I., p. 539; II., p. 314.
2. Lectures on Calvinism, pp. 149, 150.