No Upper Limit
By Philip S. Chen, Professor of Chemistry, Atlantic Union College, MA. 1942
EDITOR’S NOTE: Our faithful contributor, Sam Chen, has sent us something very different from his usual submissions. His eldest brother, a retired scientist, recently forwarded to him an article written by their father, Philip S. Chen, then chemistry professor at Atlantic Union College [my alma mater, by the way]. Dr. Chen originally presented this paper in the summer of 1942 at the Seventh-day Adventist Science and Mathematics Teachers’ Council held at Washington Missionary College (now CUC – Columbia Union College). The paper was subsequently published in the November 1943 issue of MINISTRY magazine. Sam Chen adds, “It reflects the state of art of science as of 1942, prior to my birth, yet contains some insights possibly new to some. I have taken the liberty of editing it slightly and improving annotation of references.” Sam also shortened the article.
The Law of No Upper Limit is an expression I have given to the uniform results reached after examining various important entities in God’s created universe and trying to answer the question of whether God placed any limit on them. While an omnipotent God can do anything, it was surprising to find that upon each of the various entities examined—physical, biological, mental, and spiritual—He has placed a lower limit, but no upper limit.
Let us first of all consider the physical world.
The smallest thing known in size and mass is the electron. The electron is so small, it takes 1,840 of them to make a mass equal to that of a hydrogen atom, the lightest and most abundant of all chemical elements. Hydrogen atoms are so small, it takes 602 thousand billion billion (or 6.02 x 1023 = Avogadro’s number) to weigh 1 gram, which is roughly 1/28th of an ounce.
Now let us consider the upper limit. The largest thing is the universe itself. Most people are not sure whether the universe has any limit.
There are two schools of thought on this point. Some astronomers and relativists believe that the universe is finite and have even given numerical values for it.
For example, Charlier believes the universe is one billion light-years in diameter.1 But certain other equally prominent scientists do not think the universe has any limit. Dr. F. R. Moulton, permanent secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, wrote in a letter to me, dated July 30, 1942: “No one knows the size of the universe. My own opinion is that it is infinite in mass, space occupied, and duration.”‘
And to show how the opposing view is fading, he says:
“Although I think the universe is infinite, certain scientists, basing their conclusion on certain assumptions regarding the theory of relativity, believe that the universe is finite and, in fact, that it was created a few billion years ago. I feel quite sure that this is a passing theory; in fact, there are distinct signs that it has about run its course.”2
Having considered mass, we now note several forms of energy—namely, heat, light, and the energy of motion—to see if they have upper limits.
We shall consider heat in terms of temperature. According to Charles’ law the lowest temperature possible is 273° C. below zero, known scientifically as absolute zero. Many attempts have been made in the laboratory to attain this low temperature. A temperature within two-tenths of a degree of absolute zero has actually been achieved.
Although the lower limit of temperature is known, the limit in the opposite direction of high temperature is beyond imagination. We usually think of the sun as the hottest object, its surface temperature in the neighborhood of 10,000° F.
Yet Doctor Suits, assistant director of the General Electric laboratory, experimenting with an electric arc under 2,700 atmospheres pressure, produced a temperature nearly twice that of the sun, namely 18,000° F.3
However, as we study the heavenly bodies, we find that there are many stars which are estimated to have temperatures far above the sun’s surface temperature. For instance, the surface temperature of the white stars in the Orion belt is calculated to be 23,000° C., or 40,000° F.
While the surface temperature of these stars is tremendously high, it pales in comparison to their internal temperature. The internal temperature of the sun is perhaps 40,000,000° C. (72,000,000° F.). The internal temperature of the brightest star is likely far greater.
What is true of temperature is also true of intensity of light. “Pitch dark” or “pitch black” is our common expression for total darkness, which constitutes the lower limit. To an uninitiated individual, the brightest object in the universe is the sun.
But astronomers tell us that Rigel, the brightest star in Orion, is at least 2,000 times as luminous as the sun. Canopus, in the constellation of Carina, is more than 10,000 times as luminous, and the variable star S Doradus in the Large Magellanic Cloud has a luminosity 600,000 times that of our sun.
Since the number of known stars is infinitesimally small in comparison with the number of those yet undiscovered, it would be foolish indeed to say that there are no stars in the infinite universe which have luminosity greater than that of S Doradus. [Scientists now estimate that the universe contains at least 100 billion galaxies, each galaxy comprised of at least 100 billion stars. This and all bracketed content by S M Chen]
Just as temperature and intensity of light have lower limits but no upper limits, so it is with motion. The lower limit of motion is lack of motion, which we ordinarily call “standstill.” As regards rapid motion, one invariably thinks of light and electricity.
But are light and electricity, traveling at the velocity of 186,000 miles/second, the fastest-moving things in the universe? When one realizes the tremendous distance between God’s dwelling place in the open space in Orion and Earth, and the little time it takes prayer and angels of God to traverse this great distance, one readily sees that light and electricity do not have the greatest velocity, after all.
To compare the velocity of prayer and angels’ flight on the one hand and that of light and electricity on the other, let us analyze Daniel 9:4-25. Daniel began his prayer for his people in verse 4. By the time he reached verse 21, the angel Gabriel had returned with God’s message. The fact that the angel came from God’s dwelling place is somewhat indicated by the phrase in verse 21: “being caused to fly swiftly.” Now it has been estimated that the distance of the great Orion Nebula containing the “open space” is 2,400,000,000 times the distance between the earth and the sun.4 If we allow one minute for each verse and 16 minutes for the total 16 verses of Daniel’s prayer, we may speculate that it took no more than 8 minutes for Daniel’s prayer to reach the throne of God and another 8 for Gabriel to bring back God’s message, provided Daniel’s prayer and the angel’s flight had the same velocity.
Since it takes light 8 minutes to traverse the 93 million miles between Earth and sun, and it took the same amount of time for Daniel’s prayer and also for the angel’s flight to cover a distance 2,400,000,000 times that of the sun, the velocity of Daniel’s prayer and of the angel’s flight was 2 billion 400 million times the velocity of light.5 [The mind boggles.]
As it is entirely possible for an omnipotent God to give a speedier answer to a more urgent prayer, it is beyond human comprehension what speed or velocity God might use to execute His will. [All we can say with confidence and not a little faith is that there is no limit.]
We have noted how the Law of No Upper Limit applies to the physical world, as to both mass and various forms of energy. We shall now show how this great law of God applies to the biological, mental, and spiritual realms.
We all know that life has a beginning, but whether life has an upper limit, or is eternal, depends on the individual. It is true that in the case of the wicked, as a result of sin, the Law of No Upper Limit does not apply. In the case of the righteous, God still promises everlasting life as He originally intended.
Those who have seen persons who have completely lost their minds [or who have profoundly impaired mental faculties] recognize the lower limit of human mentality, but there is no upper limit to mental development in the life hereafter.
“There, immortal minds will contemplate with never-failing delight the wonders of creative power, the mysteries of redeeming love. There will be no cruel, deceiving foe to tempt to forgetfulness of God. Every faculty will be developed, every capacity increased. The acquirement of knowledge will not weary the mind or exhaust the energies. There the grandest enterprises may be carried forward, the loftiest aspirations reached, the highest ambitions realized; and still there will arise new heights to surmount, new wonders to admire, new truths to comprehend, fresh objects to call forth the powers of mind and soul and body.”6
In the spiritual realm we have evil on one end and good on the other. Evil originated with Satan and is soon to end. But good, or God’s love, is immeasurable, inexhaustible, and incomprehensible.
This is the picture portrayed by E G White, who says: “All the paternal love which has come down from generation to generation through the channel of human hearts, all the springs of tenderness which have opened in the souls of men, are but as a tiny rill to the boundless ocean, when compared with the infinite, exhaustless love of God. Tongue cannot utter it; pen cannot portray it. You may meditate upon it every day of your life; you may search the Scriptures diligently in order to understand it; you may summon every power and capability that God has given you, in the endeavor to comprehend the love and compassion of the heavenly Father; and yet there is infinity beyond. You may study that love for ages: yet you can never fully comprehend the length and the breadth, the depth and the height, of the love of God in giving His Son to die for the world. Eternity itself can never fully reveal it.”7
Thus we see the universal application of the Law of No Upper Limit in the various realms of God’s created universe and in God’s love. When one realizes how small he is in size and mass, in this grand scheme of God’s omnipotence, how low a temperature and intensity of light he is able to produce, how slow are the fastest airplanes and rockets he is able to build, how little he is able to lengthen his span of life, how limited an improvement he is able to make in his intellectual powers, and how little good there is in him, he feels how infinitesimally insignificant he is in this infinite universe of God.
In light of all this, is there any wonder the prophet Isaiah wrote: “Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance”8; and that the psalmist David cried out, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou visitest him?”9
1 Thomas, Oswald. “Heaven and Earth.” p. 189. (Norton). 1930
2 For a discussion of Doctor Moulton’s hypothesis of an infinite universe, see his “Astronomy,” pp. 529-533 (Macmillan). 1931
3 Popular Science, December. p. 96. 1941
4 White, Ellen G. “Early Writings.” p. 41. 1882
5 Scientific Monthly, January, p. 97. 1942
6 White, E. G. “The Great Controversy,” p. 677. 1858
7 White, E. G. “Testimonies for the Church.” Vol. V. p. 740. 1889
8 Isa. 40:15.
9 Ps. 8:4.