Only God sees the whole elephant.
There’s a famous story that has shown up in cultures and religious traditions around the world and tells of a group of blind men who go to see an elephant to discover what it is like. One grabs the tusk and says, “This elephant is like a sword!” Another grabs the leg and says, “This elephant is like a pillar!” Another grabs the tail and says, “This elephant is like a rope!” Another grabs the trunk and says, “This elephant is like a snake!” Another runs squarely into the side of the elephant and says, “This elephant is like a wall!”. The list could and does go on, and in each retelling of the tale the examples and conclusions used by the storyteller vary. And yet, what is interesting about this story is that invariably upon observing the elephant and sharing their conclusions about it, the group of men begin to dispute the true nature of the elephant based on their individual observations in contrast with the others.
The fact is, there is conflict between the men because of their various frames of reference. Each subjective frame of reference observes the elephant in its own context and draws conclusions from its own finite and limited perspective. And yet, there is an objective reality greater than any or all of their subjective frames of reference that incorporates a whole and complete, consistent and coherent, comprehensive and accurate view of the elephant that both accounts for all of the subjective observations and supersedes them in its ability to synthesize and contextualize, analyze and comprehend the true identity, meaning, character, and purpose of the elephant from its objective point of view.
Only God sees the whole elephant.
Werner Heisenberg, one of the world’s greatest theoretical physicists who played a leading role in discovering the principles of Quantum Mechanics, once noted,
“We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”
It is the same with any matter of consideration. There is the consideration itself, and then there is the observation and understanding of the context, frame of reference, limitations, and perspective of the observer or the one considering the matter.
Take, for instance, the conflict between science and religion over the matter of evolution and ask yourself this question, what information does either side of the conversation have that actually overlaps with the other side of the debate in factual content in order to cause the conflict? What factual evidence is there actually underlying the conflict or supporting either side over the other?
I believe if you look at it you will discover that science has no ground on which to stand on its assertion that God is not necessary to the process of creation, just as believers have no ground on which to stand in asserting that God did not or could not create the reality we live in as recounted in the plain evidence of the observations taken and facts known about the history of the world and human genetics. One has the tail and the other the trunk, and the two perspectives don’t actually share common ground on which to establish a rational conflict. In fact, the book of Genesis in the Bible describes God creating the world in the exact order of operations that have been observed and described by scientists in their ontological theories of creation and evolution. It would appear, in my own analysis of the situation, that the only objective grounds for disagreement in this matter is to be found in the ad hoc or a priori assertions of the two sides of the conversation, not actually in the facts, observations, and logical conclusions drawn from them.
As is true in a broad range of circumstances, as the perspective shifts from subjective to objective, from finite in scope to infinite, and from a limited perspective of this individual or that to God’s ultimate all-encompassing understanding of the situation, the conflicts and confusion disappear and the simple answer reveals itself,
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” – Genesis 1
Creation is incontrovertible. Creation is the objective fact. There is no observation that contradicts it or disproves it. It is simply beyond the scope of the scientific method to test. And so it is in no way in conflict with any of the discoveries that science has made about the means, the mechanism, or the history of God’s work.
Given this objective perspective, then, believers should feel comfortable exploring with confidence the method, the process, and the outcomes of God’s initial and ongoing work of creation because we know that whatever we observe, it is God’s creation that we are witnessing.
Far from conflicting with faith or challenging God, science is the methodical exploration, discovery, and confirmation of God’s presence in every detail from sub-atomic particles, to single cell organisms, to the planets and the stars, and ultimately to life itself. The greatest scripture that God ever wrote was creation itself, and far from being in conflict with the written words of God in the Bible, creation is the greatest testimony and most evident witness to the presence of the creator, savior, redeemer, and God of all.
So, perhaps the most important fact to observe, hold in mind, and remember is this: Only God Sees The Whole Elephant.
No matter how sophisticated our instrumentation, how advanced our technology, how precise our measurements, or how in depth our study — every observation of reality available to science is subjective, limited, and finite and every understanding, conclusion, theology, dogma, and philosophy drawn from scripture is also subjective, limited, and finite.
There is only one reality and it is, by definition, objective in nature.
Reality itself is the only meaningful frame of reference and understanding it is the only logical purpose of any exploration either in revelation or in nature. So, given the objective fact that God created, designed, formed, empowered, crafted, and continues to participate in all of creation, perhaps it would be wise to consider that God would never be so inconsistent as to reveal an underlying truth that could not then also be confirmed through observing His living action and creative participation in the reality that surrounds us.
So, rather than continuing to object to scientific discovery or casting aspersions on scriptural revelation, perhaps the two sides of the debate should accept the more objective fact that they are both observing the same phenomena and experiencing the same objective reality and so seek to accept the synthesis of the two and so get a slightly broader understanding of the amazing context that God has provided for us all to enjoy.
In his quite famous recounting of “The Blind Men and The Elephant”, John Godfrey Saxe, ends his retelling of the tale with the following moral conclusion:
So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
God is alive.
God created and continues to create every natural phenomenon we observe and experience every day. Isn’t it time that science and religion acknowledged that they are actually both the study of the same thing — God’s objective reality? Isn’t it time they both accepted that they are both subjective, limited, and finite perspectives on a much bigger subject that neither of them fully comprehend by themselves? Isn’t it time that they both realized that even together the collective understanding of the entire human race and the assembled knowledge of all of humanity is still subjective, limited, and finite in comparison with the objective fact of God?
“‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the Lord. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.'” – Isaiah 55