We Believe: Part 4 “Seen and Unseen”

Mr. Bill Rector
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
As a young man who had attended church all my life, I had recited this creed, numbingly, hundreds of times.  I could speak it without thinking about it – and consequently didn’t think about it until I was in my twenties.  For me, the words “seen and unseen” meant nothing.  
 
While I would have identified myself as a Christian at the time, I was actually a modern-day Sadducee.
 
We hear about the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Bible. The Pharisees were fastidiously legalistic and the greatest enemies of Jesus. Jesus spoke more harshly to Pharisees than to demons!
 
Less is known about the Sadducees, but I wonder if they would be more like today’s average person. They appear to have been wealthier, with social status, but interestingly among “God’s chosen people” they were anti-supernatural.
 
Acts 23:8
For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.
 
Today, many are like them – they reject the unseen world.  Enlightenment thinking, and modernity would have us reason this way – with only those empirical devices that appear in the “real” world. And we must confess that this narrow application of natural philosophy toward the modern scientific method has yielded notable results.
 
If your friend performs a magic trick and you want to know how it was done – you must begin with the premise that it was a trick. You never forget that your friend does not actually have magical powers and you set your mind to figure out how the trick was done without supernatural assistance.
 
But if you approach every situation this way, ironically enough, it becomes a religion to reject the supernatural. And there was I – a creed reciting, anti-supernaturalist.
 
Fortunately, mathematics was there to set us me straight.
 
The field of mathematics has been growing and developing alongside (and within) all other human philosophy. The techniques for solving problems have changed over time and formulas and methods have grown as well.  
 
One such type of problems that required greater skill in solution were “Quadratic” equations. Quadratic from the Latin word quadratum, meaning square. Equations naturally developed from geometric problems involving squares. This is also why any number raised to the second power is said to be "squared“.
 
In AD 628, an Indian mathematician named Brahmagupta developed the first version of what we now call the “Quadratic Formula.”  It was a complicated algebraic manipulation that symbolized the technique of completing the squares.  
 
One side effect of Brahmagupta’s work was the possibility that a “real” math problem would yield answers that were the square roots of negative numbers.  Such numbers were thought not to exist and consequently any result yielding such a number was simply discarded.  Until the advent of a Swiss mathematician named Leonhard Euler (1707-1783).  Euler (pronounced “Oiler”) created an algebraic notation for numbers that were the square roots of negative numbers.  The symbol i was substituted for the square root of negative one: i=√(-1)
 
Numbers derived by Euler’s identity were called “imaginary” numbers (I’ve never liked the term “imaginary” for this type of number, I prefer “invisible.”) Euler’s number i doesn’t exist in the seen world, yet he believed it exists in an unseen world.  Euler’s notation allowed at least an algebraic representation of the solutions to certain types of equations, but, at that time, there was no application in which these “imaginary” numbers would be useful.  
 
Furthermore, Euler’s notation implied that one unseen number could interact in such a way with another unseen number as to produce a result which can be seen.  This prediction would be like suggesting that you could pick up an invisible stick, use it to strike an invisible piñata… and real, visible candy would fall to the ground!
 
Fast forward to the 1800’s and the emerging understanding of electricity and electromagnetic waves and the mathematics of imaginary numbers becomes indispensable in representing that phenomenon.
 
By the application of mathematics it was predicted that one invisible, inaudible electromagnetic wave could be “modulated“ (multiplied) with a second invisible, inaudible electromagnetic wave and the result would be an audible wave!  
 
Thanks to the work of scientists and entrepreneurs like Heinrich Hertz and Guglielmo Marconi – today we call this phenomenon radio!
 
For me, the reality of unseen numbers occurred while I was in an electronics lab at Iowa State University, circa 1984.  I was using a Simpson analog multimeter (see insert).
 
I observed first hand a device which I measured to be zero ohms (no real, measurable resistance) connected to a device which I measured to be zero volts (no real electromotive force).  I was stunned when real, measurable current flowed through the circuit.  It was my first proof of an unseen realm that was capable of interacting with the visible, measurable world.
 
The next time I heard the familiar cant: We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen I was drawn to the real, unseen Jesus.  
 
Psalm 19:1
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
 
Psalm 19 has been lived out for me as I have come to understand, through mathematics and physics, the provable reality of an unseen world.  The universe declares the true nature of God and confirms the revelation of the prophets and gospel writers.  I encourage the fearless study of the universe, convinced that it tells us about its Creator.
 
To the modern-day Sadducees that question the existence of a seen and unseen realm – my advice is paraphrased from Captain Barbosa in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean:
 
“You’d best start believing in a universe with unseen forces… you’re in one!”

Mr. Bill Rector / Dean of Schools

Explore the rest of the series:
Part One: Introducing "We Believe"
Part Two: Why the Nicene Creed?
Part Three: History of the Nicene Creed

Part Four: Seen and Unseen
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