Dordt College News

Soundings: What is a "creature?"

March 14, 2014

n the fluid mechanics course, I try to get students to see that fluid mechanics—its principles, theories, and artifacts—is an integral part of God’s good creation, a response to God’s call that we care for creation, unfolding it and developing the potential that God has put within it. I argue that the products of fluid mechanics technology—products such as pumps and compressors—are “creatures,” part of God’s good creation that have arisen in history, as a result of technological activity.

So, what is a creature? 

I don’t always rely on the authority of the dictionary, because dictionary definitions arise from within a given culture and carry with them worldview baggage that is peculiar to that culture. In this case, however, I found the primary definition of the word “creature” to be quite helpful. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the word creature first as “anything created, animate, or inanimate.” 

The real authority, of course, for understanding important concepts—or anything else in creation—is the Word of God as we find it in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. You won’t find out about the nature of a pump in the Bible—at least not in terms of its technical functioning. However, in the light of God’s Word, I have come to understand that a pump is not simply a religiously neutral device dreamed up and constructed by humans. Rather, it has a relationship to God similar to that of the stars in the sky, the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air. Consider the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 119:

Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you.

Other versions of the Bible read, “For all things are your servants.” The Psalmist had no idea of what a pump might be, and there were not as many technological artifacts in his time as there are in ours. But that last line is rather all-inclusive. All things are God’s servants. In the Psalmist’s day, that would include the sun, moon, and stars, human beings, the wind and the rain, as well as the tools crafted by people to do the work they were called to do.

Or, consider these words of the Apostle Paul from his letter to the Colossians:

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Paul stresses the comprehensive character of Christ’s lordship and of his redeeming work. The phrase “all things” is repeated, and then, just in case we are a bit dense, Paul emphasizes that he really means “all things” by using the words “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” Clearly the very nature of existence is servanthood. Everything that exists—good things, bad things, natural things, technological things—exist in order to serve God. 

So why does it sound strange to refer to a pump as a “creature?” A pump is part of creation, part of “all things.” And “all things” have come into existence by the Word of God. All things exist with the mandate to serve God. To be sure, pumps were not created by God “in the beginning,” but neither was the tree in the park that gives shade in the summer. The tree came about through the natural process of biotic reproduction. And the pump came about through the natural process of technological development.

True, technological development may not be natural in exactly the same sense as biotic reproduction. But from the book of Genesis we learn that humankind was created to work the creation, to open up the possibilities that God has put in creation: what we call “technological development.”

In fact, it may be particularly important to think about technological development this way because we too often mess things up rather badly with technology. We create monsters, creatures that we can’t imagine faithfully and obediently serving the Lord. Seeing our technological artifacts as creatures helps convict us of our responsibility to design these artifacts in ways that render him obedient service and not disservice. 

We need to explore and develop our understanding of technology in the light of God’s Word. Then one day we will be perfectly comfortable in paraphrasing the psalmist in Psalm 19 and saying:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the pump proclaims the work of his hands.”

DR. CHARLES ADAMS, professor emeritus

Adams founded Dordt’s engineering program in the early 1980s. This “Plumbline” commentary aired on Dordt radio station KDCR on March 9, 2007.

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