The Good Word  


The Gleam in the Eye
April 2001

Beginning with manmade things, look around you and notice what's there.  Did it ever occur to you that everything you see was once a gleam in someone's eye?

For example, I see a chair nearby.  At one time, someone imagined that exact chair: it's frame, padding, upholstery, mechanics, color, size, etc., etc.  It was a gleam in their eye, only an idea.  The house I am sitting in was someone else's dream, before it became my dream.  There is a railroad-tie wall over a culvert across the creek that I obsessed over for a year, as the dream or gleam became a reality.  Speaking of gleams, the light bulbs in their fixtures were a literal gleam in the eye of Thomas Edison, as he went through 5000 trials before he made the first successful light bulb!

The community I live in (as well as yours) is a work in progress that is a reflection of the collective vision of thousands of people.  In some cases visions are shared, but in others they conflict.  Nevertheless, the end product is the outworking of dreams and gleams.

But how about you?  You, too, were once a gleam in the eyes of your parents.  We won't deny the exception, but the care and forethought of parents about their children is certain.

This personal example shows that the gleam applies to a good deal more than simply physical objects like lightbulbs and cities.  In fact, we have been looking at some simple confirmations of the truism that there is no design without a designer - all progress in complexity, whether material, social or spiritual, begins with a gleam in someone's eye.  First, someone must have the idea.

A recent book (Nature's Destiny) by the evolutionary biologist Michael Denton, suggests that the world as we know it was indeed designed, and that in the minutest detail.  It is Denton's thesis that the basic atomic structure of the universe, and every manifestation of complexity in the universe, could not have occurred by chance, but was designed.  Denton argues this point to the extreme of the Principle of Plenitude.  This principle states that the diversity and complexity of the universe is already at a maximum.  In a sense, man is the peak of the design - there is nowhere further to go.

This view is not that different from the traditional views of orthodox Christianity: that we were a gleam in the eye of God, and the universe was created as our support system.  We may disagree with Denton as to the how of this process; but we are in profound agreement on the why.

To summarize at this point: all creation (creativity) begins with an idea - the gleam.

Above I mentioned the how and why.  The means and the reason.  We now move to a consideration of the relationship between the how and the why.  Two examples will be used, one ancient and one modern.

There has been considerable speculation over the years about the building of the pyramids in Egypt.  These massive ancient construction projects required substantial mathematical, engineering, logistic, management/organizational and assembly skills.  At one time a lot of thought was given to the question of how these many sophisticated skills could have coalesced in Egypt at just the right time to make the construction of the first pyramid possible.  However, some years ago some scholars proposed that this was putting the cart before the horse.  In this more current view, it was the desire to build a pyramid that led to the development of the various arts and skills.  It wasn't until someone wanted to build a pyramid that the needed skills, etc., were developed.

This view suggests that the "why" essentially creates the "how."  In the commonplace, "Where there is a will, there is a way."  This gives preeminence to the will, which we have otherwise referred to as the why, the idea or the gleam in the eye.

The Apollo moon program is a modern example of the exercise of this principle.  In May of 1961, JFK announced that within the decade the USA would put a man on the moon.  Of course, at that time it was not technically feasible to accomplish this goal.  Between that time and July of 1969, a vast array of technology and management method came into being to support the successful moon landing.  Once again the why had led to the successful production of the how.  The decision to go to the moon preceded the means of doing so.

In both the cases of the pyramids and the American space program, the why drove the how.  In fact, someone has said that if the why is strong enough, the how won't matter.

To summarize this second point: the idea, the gleam, will provide its own means.

This does not mean that the means are insignificant, only that they are subordinate.  Unfortunately, both practically and philosophically we also act without vision - addressing the means, the how, instead of focussing on the goal, the why.  Addressing this mistaken approach, Robert Schuller says, "Never bring the problem solving phase into the decision making phase."  Make the decision (Schuller doesn't advise stupid decisions) and then address the problems.  Requiring solutions to all of the problems first will forever postpone the decision.

On the two summarized points hangs the crux of a great deal of philosophical controversy.  On the one hand we have Darwinian evolution that denies that there is any why - the universe is accidental.  The ramifications of this position are well named in B.F. Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity, wherein even the existence of freedom and dignity is denied.  There is a nihilistic attitude that denies there is any why, the only focus is on the how.  Surely we can see that Darwin's "contribution" was to identify how species became what they were, The Origin of Species.  And the goal-less, why-less (might we say God-less?) focus has come under increasing attack by competent scientists, e.g., Denton and Behe (Darwin's Black Box).  Denton, though retaining an evolutionary viewpoint, explicitly endorses a why perspective.  However, his response to Darwinism is inadequate because he fails to address any how, which is Darwin's primary effort.

On the other hand, once we have accepted that "God" designed us (the why) and all in or out of our realm, we do not have an answer to the how.  Discrediting Darwin simply leaves us where we were 140 years ago, in terms of understanding the how.  Even the "By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made" isn't really an effort to identify a how, and not many religionists would claim that Genesis is an analytical account.

It is no use arguing that God "guides" chance development.  As Einstein noted, God "does not play dice."  He also noted, "I want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details."  This second statement is very much in harmony with the thesis of this essay: the gleam (thoughts) is more important than the means (details).  Worshipping God as the Creator does not require detailed knowledge of how the world was created.  Nor does it require acceptance of primitive or juvenile views of the how.  With Einstein, we only "want to know God's thoughts."

Your friend, Herb Sorensen