My name is Joey Kim, and I am an Assistant Professor of Physical Science and Engineering at The Master’s University (TMU). In partnership with the Math3ma Institute, I led a research group of two TMU undergraduate students – Grace-Anne Jansen and Mary Vardapetyan – to study the beauty God incorporated into creation, specifically in flowers. The following is a summary of the eight-week program written by Grace-Anne. But first, by way of introduction, I’ll briefly share my background followed by a preface to the research project.
I received my Bachelor’s at University of Delaware, and Master’s and PhD at the California Institute of Technology, all in chemical engineering. I am currently attending The Master’s Seminary’s MDiv program, but plans to end with a ThM to understand how to better subject science to God’s Word.
Our summer project began with a desire to apply 1 Corinthians 10:31 (“do all to the glory of God”) to the field of science, to make known His attributes He placed into creation. With the scientific instrument at our disposal, His glory can be magnified in ways not possible during biblical times. Thus, when Jesus asked His disciples to “consider the lilies” in Luke 12, using their beauty to highlight His sovereignty, they had access to but a glimpse of what we can access today. Using microscopes and computer software, we can magnify the beauty in flowers to glory in His sovereignty all the more. So, with the scientific tools in our hands and the glory of God on our minds, let’s consider the lilies…
Considering the lilies
by Grace-Anne Jansen
Aesthetics and beauty are a topic that, for thousands of years, has puzzled the secular and Christian mind alike. Within this subject, there is a crowning and yet unanswerable question that has mystified musicians, poets, artists, and scientists for centuries; “What is beauty?”
In answer to that question our search began in a chemistry lab, with Dr. Kim, studying the beauty God ordained in flowers. The verse that defined our enquiry into the beauty of flowers was Luke 12:27: “Consider how the wildflowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” So, our purpose rooted in this theology, was to encourage the praise of Yahweh among laymen by showcasing His beauty revealed in the natural sciences. This directive—this goal—is to glorify God by enjoying Him through the lens of natural (created) revelation. What made our research unique was not necessarily our pure application of the scientific method, but rather how it was thread into a strong theology. The classical Christian humanist, Sir Francis Bacon (creator of the scientific method) would be proud.
We wanted our research to speak to the laymen. The objective was not to create another formal research paper. Vague scientific jargon that could alienate the parishioner from the “scientist” was not on our agenda. Instead, the desire was to unite believers in an awe of God’s glory, as manifested in botany. This was an aesthetic perspective specific to flowers in the garden as well as analysis under a microscope. It was intended to bring about a tangible understanding of created beauty with the end goal to heighten the laymen’s and scientists’ worship of our Creator.
We began our research with the lily and from there expanded our focus to multiple types of flowers. Scientifically, we approached flowers from various magnifications. We captured what the naked eye can observe through photography, and the features that lay beneath our sight through microscopy. Analyzing the images required taking qualitative and subjective features of beauty, such as symmetry and uniformity, and developing quantitative parameters to remove the subjectivity of the study. Through these lenses into beauty, the goal of seeing God’s glory was realized and fulfilled as the intricacy, consistency, and thus, beauty of God’s ordered creation became visible.
The intricacy and beauty of God’s biological creation was brought home by what we saw during our visits to botanical gardens in southern California. Originally my colleague, Mary Vardapetyan, did not expect to be bowled over by these visits. She changed her mind after her first visit: “I saw genera of flowers I’d never even heard of, colors across the entire spectrum, intricate patterns imprinted on such delicate flower petals…the shocking factors seemed endless. I left the garden that day in awe of all the beauty such a small, delicate piece of creation could hold”.
Likewise, Mary and I were surprised at how Dr. Kim’s refinement of our raw data from the PowerPoint pictures we presented to him put our research into focus. Mary explains, “What I heard from him that day made me reconsider the mindset I had as I was walking through that garden. It was all those comments he made about symmetry and how that reflected God’s love of order or how different color combinations and patterns were a demonstration of God’s own creativity that helped me see what I was missing…I was missing God!”
To admire the aesthetic of how the flora was organized and its pure beauty was one thing, but to understand who made this beauty and why, reinforced one’s faith as Christians. All around us we saw order, intricate detail and exquisite color and yet, interestingly, this beauty has no purpose in and of itself. This was the point of our entire summer’s research. As Mary observed, we were “to give glory to the God who clothes these flowers with beauty in order to help us understand just how much more he will provide and care for us humans created in His image!”
By our last trip to Descanso Gardens, our perspective on beauty had become more nuanced. But instead of being satisfied with only what was before our eyes and under our microscopes in the lab, our mindset had shifted to considering God, the architect behind this botanical beauty. As Mary noted, the beauty of God is magnified by His creation so that He “deemed them ‘good’ in Genesis”. Yet it was also our realization, to put it in Mary’s words, that this “God who not only cares for these flowers… also cares for me.” Is it not interesting that every time a scientist or a layman looks at a beautiful and aesthetically pleasing flower, they can be reminded, as Mary says, that if “God really put so much detail in a flower, that is here one day and not the next, then how much more does He care about me? How much more did He design me with such beauty and intricacy?”
Theology as expressed in the creation of a flower increases one’s “confidence in [God’s] sovereignty, faithfulness, beauty, and care” and therefore thanks to having spent so much time and focus on a flower, both Mary and my faith grew and deepened. For now, we began to understand and see just what Christ meant when He encouraged us to “consider the lilies.”