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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

God is in the Numbers

A survey a while back asked the question: "What makes an equation great?"

According to Dr. Crease, philosophy professor at State University in New York, a great equation "reshapes perception of the universe." 

I don't know Dr. Crease's worldview, but I resonate with that. Prior to the advent of science, primitive man saw himself as a victim of mysterious forces that ruled the earth and skies. For him, order and chaos, fate and fortune, or warring gods were in perpetual clash, making any detailed, systematic understanding of the world impossible. But with the Scientific Revolution, predictive laws were discovered underlying the phenomena, patterns, and beauty of the natural world, giving it the hint of purpose. Many of those laws were found to be describable by a very simple mathematical algorithm. 

For the materialist, each discovery reshapes his previous understanding of his mechanistic paradigm, while bolstering confidence in purely naturalistic answers. He dare not ask why he should expect the universe to behave thusly, unless he is ready for a collision with the question of where those laws and mechanistic principles came from. Such a thorn, that thing about origins. 

For the theist, new discoveries refine his thinking about the details of the universe; but they also affirm that because of the algorithm Builder, there are algorithms; and because this Builder is not a deceiver, those algorithms are perceivable and real, giving us confidence that, as John Polkinghorne says, "Epistemology models ontology." (What we can know, reflects what is.)


That said, what are the world's greatest equations? As reported in the New York Times (subscription required), the top ones according to readers of Physics World magazine included:


--Einstein's E=mc2 (special relativity) for mass and energy equivalence

--Einstein's equation for gravity (general relativity) describing the fabric of space-time

--Newton's F=ma (the fundamental equation of force, mass and acceleration)

--The Schrödinger wave equation (of quantum mechanics)

--Maxwell's four equations describing the working of electro-magnetism


Interestingly, six respondents listed, 1+1=2. One of those remarked, "It is the fairy tale of mathematics, the first equation I taught my son, the first expression of the miraculous power of the mind to change the real world... [it was] perhaps his first... true philosophical wonder, when he saw that the two fingers, separated by his whole body, could be joined in a single concept in his mind."


Hmm,"...the miraculous power of the mind to change the real world?" (I wonder if this one was a graduate from Ramtha's School of Enlightenment?) How about instead, the miraculous reality of a world comprehensible by the human mind and describable by simple equations?


In fact, the mathematical precision governing the universe has led even staunch atheists to God. Douglas Groothuis, in his book, Truth Decay, relays this account of one Russian physics PhD student,


"I was in Siberia and met God there while working on my equations. I suddenly realized that the beauty of these equations had to have a purpose and design behind them, and I felt deep in my spirit that God was speaking to me through these equations."


Groothuis adds that the student was subsequently converted and baptized.


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