Wednesday, October 10, 2012

why the universe is comprehensible

Newton’s law of gravity says that the force of attraction between two objects is proportional to the product of their masses divided by the square of the distance between them.  But these words do nothing more than describe the equation: 

F = G{m1m2}/d2 

That is, the law itself is a mathematical expression. The whole of nature appears to be built out of mathematical Legos! You may ask why my verbal statement of the law isn’t just as good as the mathematical equation. Couldn’t the maths be nothing more than shorthand — just a convenient way to write down the law? 

Actually, no. To be meaningful, the verbal statement has to include words such as ‘is’ (implying an equality), ‘proportional’, ‘product’ and ‘squared’ — mathematical language which demonstrates that the law is essentially mathematical, not verbal. 

The fact that the structure of the physical cosmos is fundamentally mathematical is really strange — because mathematics is entirely a construct of the human mind! 

When I was a child it was popular to build ‘cat’s whisker’ or crystal radio detectors — simple non-powered devices that could pick up the invisible radio waves that filled the room. Success depended on establishing a sensitive contact between a natural mineral crystal such as galena and a thin metal wire (the ‘cat’s whisker’) and was often a matter of luck. So why is the human mind able to ‘tune in’ to the cosmos in such a remarkable way by using the ‘cat’s whisker’ of mathematics? Is it, like the crystal radio signal, just a matter of luck? Or is there some reason why conscious thought connects us so perfectly with the physical structure of the universe? 

I need hardly point out that the hypothesis of God provides a ready answer. If God created the universe and the laws that govern it; and if man is made in the image of God as a rational, intelligent being; then it is clearly possible — even necessary — for man to ‘think God’s thoughts after him’ (Kepler) and ‘know the mind of God’ (Hawking). If God is a mathematician, man will also be a mathematician. 

But if there is no God, and man is an accident of evolution, there is not the slightest reason why we should be able to make sense of, or even recognize, the mathematical structure of the universe.

--Edgar Andrews, from Who Made God?  

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