Archive for the ‘science presupposes a rational universe’ Category

The whole enterprise of science rests precisely on the assumption that it is an ordered world in which pattern can be discovered and categories established

October 11, 2009

The whole enterprise of science rests precisely on the assumption that it is an ordered world in which pattern can be discovered and categories established. The ordered rationality of the created world, deriving from the transcendent rationality of the creative Word, is a basic asumption…of natural science. There would be no science at all without an ordered world.

David Atkinson, Genesis 1-11, p.19

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Why should science work at all? That it does so points strongly to a principle of rationality, to an interpretation of the cosmos on terms of mind as its most significant feature

October 11, 2009

The realisation that our minds can find the world intelligible, and the implications this has that an explanation for the world process is to be found in mental rather than purely material categories, has been for many scientists who are theists, including the present writer, an essential turning point in their thinking. Why should science work at all? That it does so points strongly to a principle of rationality, to an interpretation of the cosmos on terms of mind as its most significant feature. Any thinking which takes science seriously must…start from this…There is clearly a kinship between the mind of man and the cosmos which is real, and which any account of the cosmos cannot ignore.

Arthur Peacocke, Science and the Christian Experiment (1973)

Why Science arose in Christendom

October 11, 2009

It was not that there was no order in Nature for the Chinese, but rather that it was not an order ordained by a rational personal being, and hence there was no guarantee that other rational personal beings would be able to spell out in their own earthly languages the pre-existing divine code of laws which had been previously formulated. There was no confidence that the code of Nature’s laws could be unveiled and read, because there was no assurance that a divine being, even more rational than ourselves, had ever formulated such a code capable of being read. One feels indeed, that the Taoists, for example, would have scorned such an idea as being too naïve to be adequate to the subtlety and complexity of the universe as they intuited it.

Joseph Needham on why the society that invented printing, gunpowder, the compass etc. did not give rise to modern science. See Science and Civilization in China, CUP, 1954, vol.2, p.581, and Needham, Joseph The Grande Titration. U. of Toronto Press Toronto 1969 p. 327

there is nothing that cannot be understood, that there is nothing that cannot be explained, and that everything is extraordinarily simple

October 11, 2009

The (atheist) scientist, Peter Atkins, in his book ‘The Creation’, claims that, ‘there is nothing that cannot be understood, that there is nothing that cannot be explained, and that everything is extraordinarily simple.’

His assertion is, in reality, a faith, a belief that the simplicity we require really is in the world. Why should the world be simple? Who made that decision? Who imposed it? There is no answer, for nowhere can we find any such guarantee. The leap from effectiveness to truth is a leap of faith. The reality of Atkins’ assertion is that it is a statement of this faith. And its passion arises from the way his faith has been tested by the revelations of 20th C. science, most vividly of quantum and chaos theory. For these revelations are, at heart, revelations of complexity.

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There is more wisdom in Locke’s observation:

We cannot fathom the mystery of a single flower. Nor is it intended that we should.

John Locke

Science draws upon…the idea that we live in a world which has been ordered in a rational way, by a lawgiver, that there is a lawlike order in nature which is imposed from above

October 5, 2009

Science draws upon…the idea that we live in a world which has been ordered in a rational way, by a lawgiver, that there is a lawlike order in nature which is imposed from above.

Most cultures do not share that view…nature is a battle-ground, capricious, a tension..Galileo, like many of the early scientists was deeply religious…The motivation for doing science was this belief that there really is a scheme of things that can be discerned through experimentation. If he had not believed that, he would never have embarked upon science…It was usual to say man was created in God’s image…the human mind reflected in some diminished way God’s power, so there was an intellectual basis to nature.

Source unknown

Behind and permeating all our scientific activity, whether in critical analysis or discovery, there is an elemental, overwhelming faith in the rational constitution of things, but faith also in the possibility of grasping the real world with our concepts

October 5, 2009

Behind and permeating all our scientific activity, whether in critical analysis or discovery, there is an elemental, overwhelming faith in the rational constitution of things, but faith also in the possibility of grasping the real world with our concepts, and above all faith in the truth over which we have no control but in the service of which our rationality stands or falls. Faith and intrinsic rationality are interlocked with one another… Science does not operate from an axiomatic set of formally defined and verified propositions, as the positivists claim, but from ultimate informal assumptions which cannot be proved or refuted and which cannot be completely formalized, yet without implicit reliance on them would be no scientific knowledge at all. As examples of these ultimate assumptions we may refer to belief in truth or belief in the lawfulness of nature, neither of which we could prove for we would have to assume them in any attempted proof, but both of them are nevertheless all determining constituents in our fundamental frame of belief, affecting the entire shape and scope of our scientific activities and their results as well, Hence Polanyi insisted that the premises of science on which all its inquiry rests are the beliefs held by scientists on the intelligible nature of reality independent of themselves and its capacity to disclose itself in an indeterminate range of yet unknown and perhaps even unthinkable ways. Far from being subjective or irrational these beliefs have to do with the structural kinship between the knowing subject and the objective reality he seeks to know, and they arise in his mind as intuitive convictions which he cannot reasonably avoid for they are thrust upon him as elemental aspects of reality pressing for realization in his understanding.

Thomas F. Torrance, Christian Theology of Scientific Culture, Oxford University Press, New York, 1981, pp. 63-66

Once when I asked Professor Einstein how he had arrived at his theory of relativity, he replied that he had discovered it because he was so firmly convinced of the harmony of the universe

October 5, 2009

Hans Reichenbach, now professor of philosophy at the University of California, repeated a particularly revealing conversation he had with Einstein: “Once when I asked Professor Einstein how he had arrived at his theory of relativity, he replied that he had discovered it because he was so firmly convinced of the harmony of the universe.  This faith was and still is the very foundation of his scientific effort…”Einstein’s work contains,” added Reichenbach, however, “more implicit philosophy than do many philosophic systems.

Gradually Einstein came to realize this himself. Now he is certain of it. He has often repeated to Infeld: “I am more of a philosopher than a physicist.”

THE DRAMA OF ALBERT EINSTEIN, Antonina Vallentin

Without the belief that it is possible to grasp reality with our theoretical constructions, without the belief in the inner harmony of our world, there could be no science

October 5, 2009

Without the belief that it is possible to grasp reality with our theoretical constructions, without the belief in the inner harmony of our world, there could be no science. This belief is and always will remain the fundamental motive for all scientific creation.

Einstein, The Evolution of Physics, 1938, p.313

the existence of the God of Christian theism and the conception of his counsel as controlling all things in the universe is the only presupposition which can account for the uniformity of nature which the scientist needs

October 5, 2009

Says A. E. Taylor in discussing the question of the uniformity of nature, “The fundamental thought of modern science, at any rate until yesterday, was that there is a ‘universal reign of law’ throughout nature. Nature is rational in the sense that it has everywhere a coherent pattern which we can progressively detect by the steady application of our own intelligence to the scrutiny of natural processes. Science has been built up all along on the basis of this principle of the ‘uniformity of nature,’ and the principle is one which science itself has no means of demonstrating. No one could possibly prove its truth to an opponent who seriously disputed it. For all attempts to produce ‘evidence’ for the ‘uniformity of nature’ themselves presuppose the very principle they are intended to prove.” Our argument as over against this would be that the existence of the God of Christian theism and the conception of his counsel as controlling all things in the universe is the only presupposition which can account for the uniformity of nature which the scientist needs. But the best and only possible proof for the existence of such a God is that his existence is required for the uniformity of nature and for the coherence of all things in the world. We cannot prove the existence of beams underneath a floor if by proof we mean that they must be ascertainable in the way that we can see the chairs and tables of the room. But the very idea of a floor as the support of tables and chairs requires the idea of beams that are underneath. But there would be no floor if no beams were underneath. Thus there is absolutely certain proof for the existence of God and the truth of Christian theism. Even non-Christians presuppose its truth while they verbally reject it. They need to presuppose the truth of Christian theism in order to account for their own accomplishments.

Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 103, emphasis added.

(Science) came to full flower in its modern form in seventeenth-century Europe. Have you ever wondered why that’s so? After all the ancient Greeks were pretty clever..

October 5, 2009

(Science) came to full flower in its modern form in seventeenth-century Europe. Have you ever wondered why that’s so? After all the ancient Greeks were pretty clever and the Chinese achieved a sophisticated culture well before we Europeans did, yet they did not hit on science as we now understand it. Quite a lot of people have thought that the missing ingredient was provided by the Christian religion. Of course, it’s impossible to prove that so – we can’t rerun history without Christianity and see what happens – but there’s a respectable case worth considering. It runs like this.

The way Christians think about creation (and the same is true for Jews and Muslims) has four significant consequences. The first is that we expect the world to be orderly because its Creator is rational and consistent, yet God is also free to create a universe whichever way God chooses. Therefore, we can’t figure it out just by thinking what the order of nature ought to be; we’ll have to take a look and see. In other words, observation and experiment are indispensable. That’s the bit the Greeks missed. They thought you could do it all just by cogitating. Third, because the world is God’s creation, it’s worthy of study. That, perhaps, was a point that the Chinese missed as they concentrated their attention on the world of humanity at the expense of the world of nature. Fourth, because the creation is not itself divine, we can prod it and investigate it without impiety. Put all these features together, and you have the intellectual setting in which science can get going.

John Polkinghorne, Quarks, Chaos and Christianity, p.18

It’s certainly a historical fact that most of the pioneers of modern science were religious men. They may have had their difficulties with the Church (like Galileo) or been of an orthodox cast of mind (like Newton), but religion was important for them. They used to like to say that God had written two books for our instruction, the book of scripture and the book of nature. I think we need to try to decipher both books if we’re to understand what’s really happening.

Quarks, Chaos & Christianity, page 29-30.

John Polkinghorne (born October 16, 1930 in Weston-super-Mare, England) is a British particle physicist and theologian. He has written extensively on matters concerning science and faith, and was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2002.