Truth, Understanding, Insight

The Making of the World

28th February 2013, hej


3) Why and how we make things

Unless we understand what is so important about making things I suspect we will miss entirely the most important thing about being a human, and the origins of life.

If someone was to ask you why you do something, it reveals how we use choice and our will. These same two things allow us to lesser or greater degrees to shape our world. We do most things for a reason, and sometimes that reason is because we can do them and we feel like doing it.

A designer or inventor of a new engineering project, building, a product might make a world changing thing. If they were asked how they did it, they might find it hard to tell you, except to list the steps of things they did and said.

After years of research and working with product designers, Donald Norman tries explain what they are doing in his book Emotional Design. He points out that emotion cannot be separated from cognition.[i]

Practicing designers, who regularly design complex functioning objects contribute to understanding the acts of creation, both Divine and human. Lawson after both being a design practitioner and studying design theory for four decades writes,

‘There seems to be a certain kind of knowledge and understanding that is very hard to attain in any other way than by actually designing seriously.’[ii]

Jesus (Y'shua) would have had this understanding as a carpenter. Lawson wrote that 'problems' and creative solutions,

‘do not map onto each other in any logical, predictable or generally understandable way...the problem- solution relationship in design ... is simply not there. In good design we can seldom de-compose the solution…the overall pattern and shape beautifully and simultaneously manages to solve all the problems pretty well…it is not a matter of optimizing but of ‘satisficing [sic]’, or getting everything good enough.’[iii]

Skilled architects may solve multiple utilitarian functions in a way that is akin to irreducibly complex systems in nature. But it is to be noted that even the best that humans can achieve is only solving all the perceived problems ‘pretty well’, or being ‘good enough’. Arne Jacobsen, one of Denmark’s top designers, at the peak of his career said,

‘To get a thing ..where one can say, “There, now it’s good”, that’s very difficult to achieve.’[iv]

A ‘good’ design satisfies required functions but does not perfectly meet all possible functions. This may be an object lesson as, as nature occupies the same three dimensional space as human-made objects and is made from materials that are on earth.

Good design vs Perfection in Creation

Human ideals of perfection akin to ‘infinity’ are absent from the Bible. Mature designers who are conscious their design has attained a pleasing irreducible complexity may judge their work once built as ‘good’ or ‘good enough’. An exemplar parallel with this, is that God’s creation is ‘very good’,

‘God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.’ (Genesis 1:31)

Hebrew has a word close to the English idea of perfect, in the word tâmîym. It is used of Noah (Gen 6:9). Noah’s life was complete, full and ‘perfect’, whereas creation was ‘very good’. Strongs’ scholars define the Hebrew word for ‘good’, tob, as ‘fair, joyful, sweet, pleasant, fine, gracious, precious and beautiful’. The word used for Creation described the emotion elicited, not its perfection. The idea that creation is ‘perfect’ can be traced to pagan Greek thinking and is not of Hebrew origin. The following expresses this understanding,

‘Pythagoras (-500 BC) - put forward the idea that the earth was round, but not on the basis of observation; rather he, like many ancient philosophers, believed that a sphere was the perfect shape and the gods would have therefore created the Earth in this form.’[vi]

That nature does not meet human ideals of ‘perfect’ does not indicate the absence of God. It merely proves the falseness of the pagan Pythagorean gods and ideals.

We have no way of measuring the origin of life, as it is not occurring now. Humans are making new creations in processes which scientists -researchers can observe, and these may provide a rich source of understanding of the historic creation of life, and more so to understand the ongoing day-to-day sustaining of life.

We might next look at the text about what was made and why it was made.

The Creator on His design

Incidental detail in the Bible indicates a reliable provenance for the account of Creation. According to the list of genealogies, Noah was born 112 years after Adam died. Methuselah could have known Adam, Noah and Shem. Shem was still alive during the time of Abraham, as they died approximately at the same time. According to Genesis, information was obtained from a book (Hebrew רפס sepher) or writing (Gen 5:1). If the writing quoted in Genesis dated to Abraham, the account of creation need only have been fourth hand. In any case, the account of creation in the Bible is a historical document with good credentials.

The Bible’s account of creation demonstrates a pattern found in architects’ explanation of their creation. The first statement of creation intent is,

‘And God said, “let there be light”.’ (Genesis 1:3)

The word ‘dialogue’ is used often by creators. This process has been documented by Donald Schon using case studies of designers at work. In speaking of one designer’s process Schon observes,

‘He says in effect “Let it be the case that X….” and shapes the situation so that X becomes true…it is a game with the situation in which he seeks to make the situation conform to his hypothesis but remains open to the possibility it will not.[viii]

Schon, concludes that for the expert designer the process as a ‘reflective conversation’, where after each ‘move’ the situation reveals new possibilities. Lawson confirms the role of language in design noting that experienced designers have in their mind ‘schemata to which are attached symbolic descriptions’.[ix] In the Bible’s account of creation, after the work is done it is recorded “And God saw the light as good.” God then called the light ‘day.’ Schon notes that:

‘when a [design] practitioner sees a problem, he chooses and names the things he will notice.’[x]

In Genesis each act is verbalized as a ‘move’ and then is examined after it is complete, before being pronounced good. Sometimes a ‘move’ is named before being pronounced good and sometimes it is pronounced good and then named. The reason why expert architects and designers ‘name’ the things that are to be addressed and then ‘frame’[xi] the context in which they address them is that

‘problems of real word practice do not present themselves to practitioners as well formed structures. Indeed, they tend not to present themselves as problems at all but as messy indeterminate situations.’[xii]

This was confirmed in research by Lang.[xiii] It was in just such a way that the world presented itself to the Creator. It is written that before the creating was begun that,

“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

The Hebrew word for ‘without form’ is tohu, and also means ‘confusion’. In other words the world presented as formless, messy and dark. In the same way, messy indeterminate situations are the beginning of design for a creative architect. Chapter one of Genesis is consistent as an authentic account of a truly creative design process where a ‘creative move’, or intent, is made in a formless situation, ‘named’ and reflection in action occurs, as requirements related to the intent are tested. Schon points out that routine non-creative actions are knowing-in-action and don’t involve reflection.[xiv] The simple account of creation has very few words, yet, the repetition of ‘let us’ and the observation that what was seen as ‘good’, are not mere repetitions, but the trace of a creative design process.

In the early stages of the creative process in Genesis the things noticed (or ‘framed’) and named are large scale and don’t require an explanation as to the intent of the design move. On day four there is some comment as to what is in the mind of God regarding the placement of the sun and moon

‘And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.’ (Genesis 1:18)

The word translated ‘rule’ Hebrew mashal means ‘to have power’, the design of the sun and moon satisfies a desire that God has to express an idea God has about the way things should be. God wants ‘light’, in His design, to rule over ‘darkness’. The design is not mere function. It isn’t about making light for plants to grow. God wants to convey a meaning. It is about creating an experience for intelligent life, not just about creating a mechanical solution to a functional problem.

Scientific observation of teams of designers at work creating, show that they value creating experiences, and that their design process includes anecdotes about experience.[xv] As Schon pointed out in his ground breaking research on the 1980’s, ‘technical rationality’ could not explain the experimental or creative work of an experienced architect (or any innovative professional)[xvi].

At the start of a creative design process the designer observes confusion and formlessness. In the middle there is intense and all absorbing thought and action. At the end, when a new ‘order’ is arranged in a ‘form’ that has been made from ‘mess’ or ‘formlessness’, there is an immense satisfaction, euphoria and an indefinable feeling of having nothing to do. The Bible account of creation is amazing in that it captures this experience in a few words.

‘God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made.’ (Genesis 2:3)

Other cultures wove narrative stories, and Gilgamesh comes to mind as an example. The Hebrews instead stuck with a short plain account matching a design process that features a dialogue.

It is rare as designers, while creating something new, do something similar, but don't think of it while doing it, and in fact can't do so as their faculty for reflection is fully engaged in the process of creating. In itself the account of creation is an extraordinary artefact of skilled observation, that could not have been made up except by someone who had studied a group creating such things. There is no author who can imagine something they cannot themselves know of. No author can image a more brilliant conversation than they might speak themselves, or have heard. How did a bunch of Hebrews emerging from slavery have such a brilliant, original and perceptive text?

A Meaningful and Functional Creation

There was more on God’s mind than mere function when living things were blessed to multiply, as on day six, humans were given ‘dominion’ or ‘rule’(Gen 1:28) over all living things. The set up of this design ‘frame’ is counter-intuitive in terms of pure function. If the animals are to multiply, they are going to cause problems for humans. From God’s perspective it is ‘designed in’ that humans need to put effort into controlling the multiplication of living things. The account doesn’t say why God was thinking this way, only that this was the design ‘frame’. We see in it the way we chose things based on our will. It may be thought bad design, but it is God’s architectural creation of an experience for human life. Its most powerful outcome is that it teaches us that we need to have dominion over both nature and our human nature.

God speaking about God’s creation

The Bible does not speak much of natural creation beyond the account in Genesis, focusing more on the human condition and the fate of nations. However, in the book of Job, God speaks about his creation of the natural world. Job and his friends’ dialogue was, in substance, about the reason for Job’s affliction, which they tried to understand using observation. God then answers Job and his friends and points out his sovereignty and the role of his creative will in nature. It is too lengthy to quote, but some examples are enough.

‘Who has sent out the wild ass free? or who has loosed the bands of the wild ass? Whose house I have made the wilderness, and the barren land his dwellings.’ (Job 39:5-6)

God said he made the wild ass and designed it for its habitat.

‘The goodly wings unto the peacocks? or wings and feathers unto the ostrich? Which leaves her eggs in the earth, and warms them in dust. She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers: her labour is in vain without fear; Because God has deprived her of wisdom, neither has he imparted to her understanding.’ (Job 39:13-17)
‘Does the hawk fly by your wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south? Doth the eagle mount up at your command, and make her nest on high?’ (Job 39:26-27)

In other words, the way the world exists, is due to the fact that God made design decisions. In this case, the specific decisions that the ostrich will bury their young in sand and that the hawk would nest in rocks. No further reason is given. Yet both birds in our culture are lessons: the head buried in the sand avoiding unpleasantness, and the farsightedness of the eagle. The implication is that the function of reproduction was not as important as the lesson for humans in the ‘form’ chosen for the birds.

The two animals spoken of last in Job seem the most special: Behemoth and Leviathan. Leviathan describes a dragon-dinosaur best. Ancient records in China show they found bones and knew they had existed. Job could have known of them though none were in existence in his day. This is a point regarding their destruction and that of the 'greats' or proud,

‘Deck yourself now with majesty and excellency; and array yourself with glory and beauty. Cast abroad the rage of your wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him’. (Job 40:10-11)

These mighty animals far exceed human strength and even the strong and mighty cannot tame them. We don't know when, but they are gone. In creating the majesty of their strength, God demonstrated his power by forcing humans to feel humble in the presence of the power of the beasts he had made. But the strength of their form was for glory and beauty, not merely function.

[i] Norman, Donald. A. Emotional Design. Basic Books, New York. p9-10. 2004.

[ii] Lawson, Bryan. What Designers Know. Architectural Press Elsevier. Oxford. p7.2004

[iii] Ibid p11

[iv] Jacobsen, Arne. ‘The new is always criticised’. Arne Jacobsen Architect and Designer. Dansk Design Centre København. p130. 1971


[viii] Schon, Donald A. Educating the Reflective Practitioner. Jossey-Bass Publications San Francisco. p73 1987

[ix] Lawson, Bryan. What Designers Know. Architectural Press Elsevier. Oxford. p62. 2004

[x] Ibid p 4

[xi] Schon, Donald A. The Reflective Practitioner, How professionals think in action. Basic Books. p40. 1983

[xii] Schon, Donald A. Educating the Reflective Practitioner. Jossey-Bass Publications. San Francisco. p4 1987.

[xiii] Lang, J. Creating Architectural Theory.  Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. New York. p 23. 1987

[xiv]Schon, Donald A. Educating the Reflective Practitioner. Jossey-Bass Publications. San Francisco. p28 1987.

[xv] Lawson, Bryan. What Designers Know. Architectural Press Elsevier. Oxford. P92. 2004

[xvi] Schon, Donald A. The Reflective Practitioner, How professionals think in action. Basic Books. 1983

Part of this appeared in the Journal of Creation, and has been modified and appears permission of the author.

Topics: Genesis, creation

He that calls for the waters of the sea

It has been in my heart to write about an observation regarding the movement in the heavens : weather, climate, sun and universe. It concerns me that people do not give the God of the Bible the glory for His gift of life, moment to moment, and the giving of rain and sun.

Comparison of “in the beginning” and the “a new heaven and a new earth”

Three times in the Bible we are introduced to the creation of the heavens and earth. The first instance is in Genesis, the second is by the prophet Isaiah and the third is in Revelation.

Planets: Venus, a Wandering Star

Recent findings suggest once again that science reveals how much is not known. Venus was found to have a longer day than was measured by the Magellan in the early 1990's: a noticeably and significantly longer day. The motion in the universe might be more quixotic than many had thought.