Thanks to my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Davidoff (formerly Ms. Reitmann), I’ve been a fan of reading for a long time. Out of all of my teachers, she was the one that lit the spark for me. Somehow, after she explained things, words magically combined into sentences, meaning started being revealed, and knowledge came forth like a good friend who always had cool toys to share. May God bless her for what she passed on to me. It remains the same today, thank God. Knowledge still has toys to share; albeit, now, like most things grown-up, they tend to be more complex.
For example, I’m currently nibbling my way through John C. Lennox’s God’s Undertaker. Has Science Buried God? I’ve not finished yet, but from what I’ve read so far it’s a tremendously delightful read. Reading not only unlocks doors one never really thought of opening, but it often sheds light where we least expect. Take, for example, a passage in the section of I recently read in God’s Undertaker. Has Science Buried God? (Prepare yourself. It’s a bit lengthy but worth it 😉):
For Albert Einstein the comprehensibility of the universe was something to be wondered at: ‘You find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world (to the extent that we are authorized to speak of such a comprehensibility) as a miracle or as an eternal mystery. Well, a priori, one should expect a chaotic world order, which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way… the kind of order created by Newton’s theory of gravitation, for example, is wholly different. Even if man proposes the axioms of the theory, the success of such a project presupposes a high degree of ordering of the objective world, and this could not be expected a priori. That is the ‘miracle’ which is being constantly reinforced as our knowledge expands.’
For, as the example of Newton’s theory shows, it is not only the fact that the universe is intelligible which is amazing; it is the mathematical nature of that intelligibility which is remarkable. We tend to take the usefulness of mathematics as obvious because we are so used to it. But why? Paul Davies is among those not satisfied with the glib response of people who say that the fundamental laws of nature are mathematical simply because we define as the fundamental those laws that are mathematical. One of the main reasons for his dissatisifaction is that much of the mathematics found to be successfully applicable ‘was worked out as an abstract exercise by pure mathematicians, long before it was applied to the real world. The oiginal investigation were entirely unconnected with their eventual application.’ It is very striking that the most abstract mathematical concepts that seem to be pure inventions of the human mind can turn out to be of vital importance for branches of science, with a vast range of practical applications.
Davies here echoes a famous essay by Eugene Wigner, a Nobel Laureate in Physics, in which he wrote: ‘The enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious, and there is no rational explanation for it… it is an article of faith.’ The relationship between mathematics and physics goes very deep and it is very hard to think of it as some random accident. Professor of Mathematics Sir Roger Penrose FRS, whose understanding of that relationship is unquestioned, has this to say about it: It is hard for me to believe… that such SUPERB theories could have arisen merely by some random natural selection of ideas leaving only the good ones as survivors. The good ones are simply much too good to be the survivors of ideas that have arisen in a random way. There must be, instead, some deep underlying reason for the accord between mathematics and physics.’ Certainly science itself cannot account for this phenomenon. Why? Because, in the words of John Polkinghorne: ‘Science does not explain the mathematical intelligibility of the physical world, for it is part of science’s founding faith that this is so.’
We cannot fail to note that here we have two leading scientists, Wigner and Polkinghorne, explicitly drawing our attention to the foundational role that faith plays in science. Yes, faith. This may come as a surprise, even as a shock to many, especially if they have been exposed to the very common fallacy mentioned at the beginning of this book and spread with memetic speed by Richard Dawkins and others, that ‘faith’ means ‘blind faith’ and belongs exclusively to the domain of religion, whereas science does not involve faith at all. Dawkins is simply wrong: faith is inseparable from the scientific endeavor. Gödel’s Second Theorem gives further evidence for this: you cannot even do mathematics without faith in its consistency — and it has to be faith because the consistency of mathematics cannot be proved.
Besides this being a delightful piece of writing expanding on the paradox of man trying to use his finite mind to explain away the existence of the infinite, much less our being able to grasp, if only minutely, concepts such as eternal, perfection, omnipotent, and infinite without in any way understanding them from experience, I very much appreciate the insights of some of the brilliant minds in the world of science both honest and wise enough to make room for a Cause [big “C” my choice]. Given the way in which science is often portrayed nowadays, especially with the success of folks like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Denett, and others, one would think that science is absolutely firm in its often perceived position of all that is coming into being through natural selection. However, when one takes the time to read what some scientists are themselves saying, this, more often than one thinks, turns out not to be the case. There are nuggets to be found in science, albeit secular nuggets, and they are delightful. Nevertheless, our holy Orthodox faith does not leave us lacking for true spiritual nourishment in such matters.
Even more delightful is following up such reading with the likes of what is offered by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria in his commentary The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to John, specifically John 1:1a, “In the beginning was the word.”:
“How do you know,” one might ask, “that in the beginning means the same as ‘from the beginning’?” We know this both from the common meaning of the words and from what this same Evangelist says in one of his Epistles: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard [1 John 1:1]. Do you see how the Beloved Apostle interprets his own words? But the heretic might answer, “I understand in the beginning to signify what it did to Moses when he said, In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth [Gen. 1:1]. There, In the beginning does not mean that what God made is eternal; why, then, must it mean here that the Only-begotten is eternal?” To such quibbling we reply: O cunning sophist, why are you silent about the words that follow “In the beginning”? Moses said, In the beginning God made heaven and the earth; John says, In the beginning was the Word. Made and was mean two entirely different things. If it were written, “In the beginning God mad the Son,” I would be silenced. It says, however, In the beginning was. From this I know the Word to be eternal, and not originating at a later point in time, as you babble. Furthermore, why does the Evangelist say, In the beginning was the Word, and not, “In the beginning was the Son?” He does so out of condescension to our weakness, so that we would not hear at the very start about a “Son” and at once imagine a passionate and carnal engendering. He names the Son Word, so that you may understand, O reader, that as a word is generated by the mind without passion, so the Word was begotten of the Father without passion. He also calls Him Word, because Christ the Word proclaimed to us the things of the Father, just as every word proclaims the thoughts of the mind. Furthermore, he calls the Son Word to show that the Word is co-eternal with the Father. Just as it is impossible that a mind [nous] could ever exist without thought or word, so is it impossible that God the Father ever existed without the Son…
Again, I enjoy the occasional nugget that science provides me; however, my thirst is never quenched until I put things together by drinking from the living water (John 4:11).