All of the Variables

During college, I took courses in a number of different disciplines.  One nice thing about the Mechanical Engineering degree is that it touches on multiple domains, like statics and dynamics of mechanical systems, electrical circuits and control systems, heat transfer and thermodynamics, along with various other domains of physics and even some chemistry.  (I was not an expert in all of those, but I have appreciated the opportunity to study them.)

An important principle of engineering – which I consider to be one of the applied sciences – is knowing which factors to consider, and what variables can be ignored.  In our college homework, we could sometimes ignore real-world principles like friction, radiation, and even gravity!  When learning about specific principles, temporarily setting aside other factors helps students focus on new topics.  In non-academic environments, second-order factors are a lot less important to the outcome of a calculation or experiment, and in many cases, valuable investigation time doesn’t need to be wasted on solving for them.

In most engineering situations, this is an important principle.  The engineer rarely has time to consider every possible factor, if a new design is going to be safely validated and built within a reasonable amount of time.  When a new bridge must be constructed, those on one side of the river may not have time to wait for the evaluation of effects like special relativity or local gravity fluctuations.  These island-bound citizens need someone to identify what is important and what is trivial, and to ensure that the critical topics have been included in the blueprints for the bridge.  As long as the result is safe and works, the trivial impact of the moon’s tidal forces on the bridge’s deflection (for instance) is probably not a big deal.

Failing to consider key factors can be just as dangerous as spending too much time on the trivial ones, though.  Many engineering disasters came from just one thing being ignored (whether by the designer, the builder, or the user).  Sometimes, these critical factors were accidentally overlooked.  Other times, they had been deemed unimportant…at least until nature proved otherwise.

Consider the following portion of a testimony about Jesus (see Acts 2:14-40 for a more complete account), whose message was confirmed with miracles (events that superseded the normal ways that nature usually works), including His being raised from the dead after a brutal execution:

“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—
Acts 2:22 NASB

Some have decided that, since “science” (here, meaning what is repeatable with our instruments and observations) can’t replicate these events, that miracles like this simply can’t happen, – and couldn’t have happened in the past.  They may agree that God created an orderly world where cause and effect are consistently related, but don’t accept that this order can ever be (or could ever have been) disrupted.

I can appreciate the challenge behind this struggle, and don’t condemn people who are honestly trying to find the truth.  However, I personally don’t see believing in miracles as a leap of faith.  Instead, I find that a belief in miracles simply considers another source of change in our world, one that is often overlooked in everyday calculations.  Upon accepting that God is the creator and maintainer of the universe, being able to reconcile events that don’t follow the normal order of things is logical, especially when there is a clear relationship between the miraculous event and the nature or message of God.

Considering another power in the universe is no more unusual than a technician in a lab test realizing that an external factor (like a power outage during the test, or maybe a big electromagnet in the adjacent lab) impacted the results, or a physicist hypothesizing another force.  It continues to exercise the scientific method, although since we do not control the actions of God, our understanding of His special works are limited to observations of events that don’t correspond to “normal” physics (i.e., models that temporarily ignore the direct intervention of God), rather than conventional experimental repeatability.

Of course, I’m not proposing that anything we don’t understand should be immediately called a miracle of God.  We can’t just chalk up something we don’t understand “scientifically” to miracles, just because we don’t currently see the root cause.  It would be arrogant to think that we have figured out all of the subtleties of the universe that God created.  Instead, continuing to learn more about the world around us is a noble and socially-beneficial aspiration.  As an engineer, I enjoy learning more through testing, and appreciate those who share their findings for my (and everyone else’s) benefit.

So, don’t ignore God in your daily sizing up of life’s challenges and opportunities.  You probably can’t cite His miracles in a school lab report, when your measurements don’t match up with your expectations.  However, there are times when physics, statistics, and reason will come up short in explaining observed events.

Said another way, while God is a constant (and not a variable), neglecting Him in your calculations will lead to the wrong answers for the questions that really matter.


Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.

2 thoughts on “All of the Variables”

  1. I really like your concluding statement: “Said another way, while God is a constant (and not a variable), neglecting Him in your calculations will lead to the wrong answers for the questions that really matter.” There are a host of things he does and can do that are beyond our wildest imaginations. By the way, my father, if he was still alive, would appreciate your vantage point. He was a mechanical engineer and has inventions in his name. He also believed in the God of miracles, including the resurrection and his own resurrection.

    Liked by 3 people

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