Our Universe — A Great Machine

By Wayne Jackson

The term “machine” can be employed in several ways. A wheel, a lever, and a screw are classified as simple machines because these devices transmit or change the application of energy. Other machines are complex. They consist of a number of integrated parts which function harmoniously, presumably for the accomplishment of some purpose.

For example, a pair of pliers is a machine consisting of four parts — the two handles — with their grippers, a bolt, and a nut. This tool was clearly designed to accomplish a variety of activities.

No sane person believes that a pair of pliers just happened as the result of a combination of “time” and “chance.” Obviously, a “machine” reflects design. And where there is design, there must be a designer.

If it is the case that something as simple as a screw, or a pair of pliers, contains the sort of intricacy that suggests design, would it not be more reasonable to conclude that an object evincing even greater complexity would also reflect design, hence suggest a designer? Of course it would.

Accordingly, if it can be shown that the universe itself is a vast “machine,” what would that indicate about its origin? Such would surely imply that the universe had a designer. And that is just the conclusion to which the honest and rational mind must come.

The Universe — A Machine

A few years ago, atheist Carl Sagan produced a PBS television series detailing the marvels of the universe. He dubbed the production, “Cosmos.” The term “cosmos” is an anglicized form of the Greek kosmos, denoting that which is characterized by “orderly arrangement.”

It is significant that Sagan did not designate his programs, “Chaos.” Such would have been entirely inappropriate, for the universe is not chaotic; rather, it is orderly. It is a great machine!

The imminent historian Charles Rollin, of the University of Paris, once commented upon why the Greek philosophers argued for a great Thinker behind the universe.

“When we consider with some attention the frame and architecture of the universe, and the just proportion of all its parts, we discover at the first glance the traces of the divinity, or, in better terms, the seal of God himself impressed upon all things called the works of nature.”

Professor Rollin cited many examples from the ancient Greeks. For instance, Balbus asked:

“Can one behold heaven, and contemplate what passes there, without discerning with all possible evidence, that it is governed by a supreme intelligence?” (Rollin, p. 580).

Common sense so dictates.

Some years back, Dr. Arthur M. Harding, Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at the University of Arkansas, authored a volume titled, Astronomy — The Splendor of the Heavens Brought Down to Earth. In describing our solar system, i.e., the sun and the nine planets revolving around it, this respected scientist stated:

“As we look at the machines in some of our factories we sometimes wonder at what the mind of man has created, overlooking the fact that we are living on a little world that is a part of a gigantic machine which is operating silently and everlastingly in the sky …. Surely here is a gigantic machine which makes us stand in awe and wonder at the power of the creator who could design such a machine and put it into operation” (67; emphasis added).

The Universe — A Thought

Sir James Jeans (1877-1946) was one of Great Britain’s prominent mathematicians. He taught at Cambridge and Princeton, and his application of mathematics to both physics and astronomy gained for him a world-wide reputation as a first-rate scientist.

One of Professor Jeans’ popular books was titled, The Universe Around Us. In this volume the professor employed another analogy to express his awe for the great stellar community of which we are citizens. He suggested that the universe is like a painting, or a:

“finite picture whose dimensions are a certain amount of space and a certain amount of time; the protons and electrons are the streaks of paint which define the picture against its space-time background. Traveling as far back in time as we can, brings us not to the creation of the picture, but to its edge; the creation of the picture lies as much outside the picture as the artist is outside his canvas. On this view, discussing the creation of the universe in terms of time and space is like trying to discover the artist and the action of painting, by going to the edge of the canvas. This brings us very near to those philosophical systems which regard the universe as a thought in the mind of its Creator, thereby reducing all discussion of material creation to futility” (317; emphasis added).

Dr. Robert Jastrow, an agnostic-astronomer, authored the book, God and the Astronomers. Therein he spoke of Albert Einstein’s belief in “God.” Jastrow wrote

“For Einstein, the existence of God was proven by the laws of nature; that is, the fact that there was order in the Universe and man could discover it. When Einstein came to New York in 1921 a rabbi sent him a telegram asking, ‘Do you believe in God?’ and Einstein replied, ‘I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists.’” (28; emphasis added).

Another scientist has noted:

“[W]e have only recently begun to glimpse a level of order in the Universe that is more profound and more beautiful in its symmetries than anything we dared imagine only a few years ago” (Kaufmann, 79).

Design in the Solar System

Scientists frequently speak of the “mathematical orthodoxy” of the universe. By this expression, they allude to the fact that there are celestial “laws” which enable astronomers to make precise calculations and predictions. One cannot but be reminded that the prophet Jeremiah, in the 7th century B.C., spoke of the “ordinances” which relate to the heavenly bodies (Jer. 31:35).

Let us reflect upon several aspects of what some scientists call the “functional harmony” of the universe (Barnett, 22). Particularly, we will focus upon our own solar system. Actually, the term “system” itself suggests design.

Movement

It is of significant interest that our solar system is in a state of constant movement. The sun is a huge ball of gases (865 thousand miles in diameter) that is spinning like a top. It takes the sun about a month to make one rotation on its axis.

Moreover, the sun, along with its planet-family, is traveling in a gigantic orbit within the Milky Way galaxy at a speed of some 600 thousand miles per hour. If an orbital trip should be completed, it would take 200 million years to achieve one revolution.

The third planet from the sun is the earth (93 million miles away). The earth is spinning on its axis at the rate of 1,000 m.p.h. (at the equator) as it moves in an elliptical orbit around the sun at an average speed of 66,600 m.p.h. It travels a distance of 595 million miles in the year it takes to make the entire journey.

Here are two intriguing questions: First, why do the heavenly bodies move in a circular configuration? “One purpose of the circular motion of all objects in space is to provide stability” (DeYoung, 93). Orbital motion keeps the planets from crashing inward into the sun.

Second, how was all this movement initiated? Modern science has no answer. Since matter does not possess the ability to move itself, one must assume that when the stars and planets were made, someone started them moving.

Sir Isaac Newton’s “first law of motion” asserts that a stationary body will remain at rest until some force generates its movement. Movement demands a Mover. It will not do to merely suggest that certain “forces” (e.g., gravity) explain the movement of the heavenly bodies. Gravity describes a current process, but the law itself does not address the what (or who) it was that caused matter to commence its well-orchestrated movement.

Balance

The balance that keeps the planets adjusted correctly in their relationship to the sun is truly astounding. Since the earth is orbiting the sun at such a phenomenal speed, why doesn’t it go flying off into space? It could, very easily, if not balanced properly. The answer is — it is held in its circuit by the mysterious force known as gravity.

What is gravity? Nobody really knows. It is the force that causes bodies of mass to be attracted to one another. It causes a ball to fall to the earth. It keeps us from floating off into space. It is the “glue” that holds the universe together. Gravity, therefore, provides the “pull” that keeps the earth in orbit. It has been estimated that it would take a steel cable at least 8,000 miles in diameter (comparable to the diameter of our earth) to equal the strength of the force which ties this planet to the sun (Stoner, p. 55). Who designed this amazing, invisible “cable”? The great Designer, God!

In the words of Samuel Rogers:

The very law which molds a tear,
And bids it trickle from its source,
That law preserves the earth a sphere,
And guides the planets in their course.

But why is not the earth pulled right into the sun and burned to a crisp? Because its orbital movement functions in harmony with another principle in nature — that of centrifugal force. Centrifugal force has to do with the tendency of a revolving body to fly outward. Attach a weight to a string and swing it above your head. Centrifugal force will push the weight outward; the string will hold it intact. Thus, centrifugal force pushing outward, and gravity pulling inward, keep the earth in perfect suspension around the sun. This amazing balance clearly reflects design.

Mathematical Orthodoxy

Another remarkable feature of this “great machine” is the precision with which its integral parts work. There are many illustrations of this concept that are worthy of consideration.

As mentioned above, the earth is moving in its 600 thousand mile orbit around the sun at the speed of more than 1,000 miles per minute. One writer notes:

“Since the earliest astronomical observations, thousands of years ago, the length of the rotation, or revolution, has not varied by the thousandth part of a second” (Price, 134).

The earth’s rotation upon its axis appears to be slowing slightly. This might well be expected in view of the effect of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which suggests that a running-down process is characteristic of the entire universe (cf. Heb. 1:10-11).

However, this decrease is so minute that the length of a day will not be altered more than a fraction of a second in centuries. Dr. Harding notes:

“[T]he human brain has not been able to devise any mechanical means for keeping time which can compete with the rotation of the earth on its axis” (p. 17).

As the earth travels in its orbit around the sun, it must make minute adjustments to conform to its elliptical “track.” Our planet digresses from a straight line one-ninth of an inch every eighteen miles. If the turn was only a tenth of an inch, our globe would be too cold for life. If the adjustment was as much as an eighth of an inch, earth’s surface would be a blazing oven (Science Digest, 124). What precision!

Consider the complexities of space travel. Success depends upon the precise movements of the heavenly bodies. When America’s astronauts traveled to the moon in July of 1969, intricate mathematical calculations had to be made in order to insure that they would arrive safely at their lunar destination. The moon is a moving target. It circles the earth at a speed of more than 2,000 miles per hour. Accordingly, from the time the Apollo spacecraft lifted off the earth, until it arrived at the moon — three days later — the lunar orb had traveled more than 165 thousand miles from where it had been on launch-day.

Space officials had to know exactly where the moon would be at a given hour. Only the amazing mechanics of the solar system could have facilitated this achievement. Somewhere in all this fanfare, God’s glory should be considered!

How is it that scientists can predict, with stunning accuracy, such events as solar and lunar eclipses? For instance, astronomers confidently affirmed that on March 9, 1997, a total solar eclipse, lasting 2 minutes and 50 seconds, would span a territory of 221 miles in Mongolia and Siberia. Such declarations are only possible in view of the fact that meticulous laws are regulating our solar system.

Consider this interesting bit of history: Prior to the year 1846, the planet Neptune was unknown to earth’s astronomers. It is too far away (some 2,800 million miles) to be seen with the naked eye.

In the early 1800’s, two scientists, John Adams in Great Britain, and Jean Leverrier in France, each working independently, had noticed strange behavior in the orbital movements of the planet Uranus. They surmised that perhaps the gravitational pull of some unknown planet was affecting Uranus.

Working strictly “on paper” with mathematical calculations, each man — unaware of the other’s labor — predicted where the mysterious planet ought to be. In 1846, Johann Galle, of the Berlin Observatory, made a search for the hidden body. He discovered it less than one degree from the predicted location! What eloquent testimony to the “mathematical orthodoxy” of the universe.

Conclusion

Almost twenty centuries ago, Paul wrote:

“For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity” (Rom. 1:20).

With the passing of time, this inspired statement is increasingly brighter.

Sources/Footnotes
  • Barnett, Lincoln (1957), The Universe and Dr. Einstein (New York, NY: Mentor Books).
  • Deyoung, Donald B. (1988), Astronomy and the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House).
  • Harding, Arthur M. (1940), Astronomy — The Splendor of the Heavens Brought Down to Earth (New York, NY: Garden City Publishing Co.).
  • Jastrow, Robert (1978), God and the Astronomers (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co.).
  • Jeans, Sir James ((1929), The Universe Around Us (Cambridge: The Macmillan Co.).
  • Kaufmann, William (1981), Science Digest (April).
  • Price, George M. (n.d.), A Textbook of General Science (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Publishing Co.).
  • Rollin, Charles (1854), Ancient History (Cincinnati, OH: Applegate & Co.), Vol. II.
  • Science Digest, January/February, 1981.
  • Stoner, Peter J. (1963), Science Speaks (Chicago: Moody Press).
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.