Have you seen a rainbow this summer? Most people, unless they are oblivious to the wonders of nature, are happy to see a rainbow. What is it about the rainbow that lifts our spirits and causes us to marvel? What causes us to exclaim like a child, “Look, a rainbow!”
What causes some to even look longingly like Dorothy in Kansas toward a land of hope and promise beyond this life’s heartache and pain, when they see a rainbow?
People who have more to think about than where their next meal is coming from will even wax philosophical and ask, “What purpose does this marvelous display serve?” That’s a good question.
Sir Isaac Newton was the first to scientifically analyze the spectrum’s color constituents. Along with many of the other pioneers of modern science, Newton counted belief in a Creator as the major basis for his investigations into the mysteries of nature. He drew the conclusion that the spectrum should be defined as comprising the divine number seven, as also the musical notes and days of the week.
With the advent of modern science, and Newton’s exploration of the spectrum, many were concerned that the rainbow had lost much of its magnificence and its mystery. Has it?
Is there any utilitarian purpose to the rainbow? Is this just a fortuitous freak of nature — an aesthetic accident of physics? Why are there colors at all, let alone a wondrous multi-hued arch of them periodically on display? The answer lies in the realm of both Science and Faith.
The “anthropic principle” is a concept, observed by theist and atheist alike, stating that planet earth and its living systems have the appearance of being specifically designed. Regarding living systems, the famous atheist Richard Dawkins said, “Biology is the study of living things that have the appearance of being designed for a purpose.” His answer to this atheist’s dilemma is that natural selection “designed” life, not a Creator. What made the rainbow then, and for what purpose?
Planet earth appears to be designed for conscious life to observe, understand and even appreciate the universe in which we live. Without the earth having a transparent atmosphere, being placed in a perfect distance from the sun, in perfect distance from the orbiting moon and being perfectly placed within a certain section of the Milky Way, we would not know half of what we know about astronomy or physics.
We would most certainly not even exist at all. Besides all of this, we would not be able to appreciate the beauty of creation — something only the conscious mind can do. In other words, the earth seems designed specifically, not just to produce and sustain life, but to intellectually nurture highly advanced conscious life. Newton wrote, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being” (Principia, Book III).
Why would he be compelled to say such a thing? Not just because of the design of the universe, but because of its “beautiful” design.
Can animals appreciate a rainbow? Some animals can see colors; however, it is debatable which ones can actually perceive all of the colors that we can. A small few may actually be able to see more colors than we can. But are these creatures able to look up at a rainbow and say, “Hey, what’s that up there? Should I bark at it? Is it some other form of life? Is it something I should be concerned about?” Or more remarkably, could they actually think, “How pretty!” On very rare occasions perhaps the former, but certainly not the later.
Animals do not appear to have a well-developed sense of aesthetics. A chimpanzee might fondle a flower or an elephant spread paint on a canvas, but can either of them appreciate a rainbow? Google this concept and see what you get.
Scripture’s answer to the meaning of the rainbow is moving in its simplicity. The conscious Creator declared to conscious humanity, created in His conscious image, that He made the rainbow as a sign of His eternal covenant with the earth and all its life:
“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth’” (Genesis 9:12, 13 NIV).
Every time we see the rainbow, it is a sign to us that God cares.
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