August 12, 2013

Faith in Æther

by Clint Archer

René Descartes (d. 1650) had some trouble trusting his senses. He coined the quintessential philosophical maxim: “I think therefore I am” because the only thing you can ever be sure even exists is yourself, since you are the one thinking that egotistical thought. Everything and everyone else in the Universe could be a figment of your imagination (or a product of the Matrix!) But that still proves that you have an imagination, and as the thinker you are thus the only one who certainly exists.

I find it both bemusing and amusing that Descartes also whole-heartedly bought into the implausible notion of luminiferous æther (or ether).space

Æther is a “substance” that was universally believed—by everyone from any literate third grader to the auspicious father of physics, Sir Isaac Newton himself—to occupy every nook and cranny of outer space. Since light behaves like a wave, it must have a substance through which to move from the stars to earth, which “proved” space was not a vacuum. Ether was described as invisible, weightless, causing no friction or any other effect that would prove its existence. Convenient.

And because the quirky quantum physicists hadn’t yet thrown their revolutionary curveball at all things Newtonian by proving light also has a particle nature, there was no way to disprove ether.

The scientific community lapped up the theory of ether like a thirsty, gullible puppy for centuries until in the 20th Century, when it was proven that ether simply did not exist. At all. Anywhere.

But long after the wonted theory had been outed as no more than a figment of the academy’s imagination, many of the cognoscenti were nonplussed that they could have been proven so horrendously wrong. A generation after incontrovertible evidence had sounded the death knell of ether, British physicist Sir JJ Thompson (d. 1940), who won the Nobel Prize for helpfully discovering the electron, still pertinaciously averred:

Ether is not a fantastic creation of the speculative philosopher, but it is as essential to us as the air we breathe.”

How flat-earthean of him.

Faith is a funny thing. All of life and living is lubricated by faith. Every time you sit on a chair, brush your teeth, drop your kid off at school, or read a blog, you are trusting someone or something with that which has varying levels of importance to you.

But what about your soul? Do you trust that your pastor is right? Do you trust what your parents taught you is accurate? Do you trust the theories you saw in a documentary, or heard from your pot-smoking college roommate’s stoned pontification? You will spend an eternity in either Heaven or Hell based on what you believe. This is a primary tenet of biblical Christianity.

The difference between biblical Christianity, and every religion, cult, or other metaphysical teaching in the world is this: Only Christianity teaches that you are not saved by what you do, but by what you believe. Or in Reformed (biblical) parlance, You are not saved by works but by faith.

Gal 3: 11  Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Eph 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

2 Tim 1: 9  [God] who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,

Titus 3: 5  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…

Righteousness is not about being good enough, it’s about being good—perfectly good. But since no one can attain that standard, our nature wants to invent a way to perform alchemy on our sin in order to convert it into some shiny, acceptable product. But not all that glitters is gold, or even iron pyrite. This is why many will say to the Lord on Judgment Day “Lord, Lord…did we not do many mighty deeds [from the good works catalogue] in your name?” (Matt 7:22).

I’m reminded of Larry King’s quip in response to the Rabbi Marvin Heir, who in an interview opined:

… when you take an exam, not everybody has to get 100. It’s preposterous to think that when you say ‘righteous conduct’ you mean perfect specimens. Human beings are not perfect specimens. In God’s world, they will be accepted to eternity or eternal heaven if they pass the exam. What’s a passing grade in heaven? I don’t know. Maybe 67 and not 65. But the fact of the matter is if you — if you live the decent life that is credible, you don’t have to be perfect.”

Larry King’s candid reply:  “I hope it’s 51.”

Amen, Larry. But praise be to Jesus that in His mercy and love, He bore all of our sin on the cross so that we can have his 100% passing grade of unblemished righteousness imputed to us, while He took the fall for our failing grade. But if you don’t trust in Jesus to save you, and rely instead on your own good works, you may as well be putting your faith in ether.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • kevin2184

    I’m sure the “scientific” community will cling to lie of Evolution with much greater tenacity and duration than they did to incorrect concept of Ether. The sinful mind has no place for God; not in the farthest reaches of the universe nor in history of earth and mankind.

    • As someone once said “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'”

  • pearlbaker

    Clint, I want to echo what you said in your last paragraph. The passing grade to enter Heaven IS 100%! But, of course, as the rabbi points out, human beings are imperfect and could never achieve, on their own, such perfection. If it were not for Christ, our propitiation, we could never stand in the presence of a Holy God. Our righteousness is as filthy rags, anyway, so even a life score of 99.99% sends us to the eternal torment of hell. No, it must be 100%, and our amazing, merciful Father, has provided a Way for us to be rescued and cleansed, made perfect in His eyes, washed in the blood of the perfect Sacrificial Lamb, Jesus Christ. Praise God for His Holiness, Praise God for His Mercy!

    • Exactly. Thanks for the gospel presentation.

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