Zero is a numerical indicator used to show the absence of any or all units under consideration. It describes something having no measurable or otherwise determinable value. Informally it represents nothing, nil, null, none. Colloquially it refers to a person or thing of no perceived value, which is to say something or someone has reached their lowest point. The dictionary also says of zero that it is a specific temperature on a thermometer. This last definition made me laugh out loud because it is merely a practical application of the definition: a quantity that registers a reading of zero on a scale (zero point). It is this last definition upon which I base my supposition that God is found in the number Zero. In this post I will merely establish the nature of zero as a point of reference.

Zero as Reference
In nearly any sort of engineering field the technical minded person knows that zero isn’t the lack of something, but rather the reference point from which something is measured. The thermometer is a perfect example. Temperature is literally a measure of a difference in heat. When we think of 72° we think of comfort. When we think of 90° we think its hot. When we think of 0° we don’t think there’s no temperature, rather we think its very cold. 0° doesn’t mean there’s no heat, rather it is a specific amount of heat we use as a point of reference. Everyone knows 0°F is where ocean salt water freezes. 32° above 0° is where fresh water freezes. About 40° degrees above this we are comfortable. We don’t say we’re comfortable at 40°, though, we say we’re comfortable at 72° (0 + 32 + 40). Zero therefore is merely a point of reference.

Valid Reference
For a point of reference to be valid, it doesn’t really need to be the lack of something. It must, however, be an absolute which is unchanging. It sets a standard from which all measurements can be reliably referenced. If we used comfort as a reference and said anything positive was hot and anything negative was cold, that would seem to make sense, but when you try to apply that standard to society it doesn’t work because some people are cold at 72° and some are hot at that temperature. In other words, if John is comfortable at 68°, his reference point would be –4° from an “average” person. Sue might be comfortable 3° above average, so her zero point would be off by 7° from John.

When we base our standard on something subjective, our measurements won’t match everyone else’s. This is true of anything, not just our thermometers. This is the foundation for the buzz-phrase “moral relativism” we hear thrown about. Morality, being a sense of right and wrong, is “relative” to something. Any measure of anything means you measure one point relative to another point. As for morals, if I base my definition of right and wrong on what I think, it won’t necessarily match what Mary or JC or Bee would think. Thus, my measurement is relative to me only. If my definition of theft is different than Mary’s definition, then I might take something from her and call it borrowing, but she might call it theft. This is why moral judgment based on human standards is so faulty. Without an absolute standard by which to measure right and wrong, we set ourselves up for chaos and fighting. For example, abortion is an explosive issue because some people think its okay and others don’t. The two groups measure the value of life from different standards, which is to say different points of reference. In the thermometer of life, is the 0° point conception, birth, or somewhere in between? Thermometers also come marked for °F or °C. By which counting system do we use? I’m not trying to start any controversy over abortion, but it is a good example of moral relativism – the condition where within society morals are relative to the individual instead of an absolute which applies to everyone.

About Lance Ponder

Christian author of "Ask James one"; public speaker; husband and father. Available to speak on Creation and the Gospel.
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