Posts Tagged 'science'

The Du Sautoy Code

Professor Marcus du Sautoy

Marcus du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science (having succeeded Richard Dawkins in the Chair), is currently presenting a series of TV programmes about mathematics and nature entitled ‘The Code’. Viewers could be forgiven for believing that what he is presenting is a mainstream view of mathematics rather than peddling his own peculiar brand of atheistic metaphysics. Since no appropriate caveats have been employed by the BBC, we feel it necessary to make a few of our own.

Firstly, Du Sautoy’s view that, as the Pythagoreans expressed it, ‘Number is everything’ is of very ancient pedigree; but, nothwithstanding, it is undemonstrable (which should be anathema to a mathematician) and a faith-based religious concept. Secondly, philosophers of mathematics and informed students of mathematics know that there is, to date, no satisfactory understanding of the relationship, if any, between mathematics and reality; to suggest that there is a relationship, and what such a relationship might be, is an act of faith. And thirdly, it is very unfortunate for scientists to be working with mathematics as though mathematics itself is the original reality to which the physical world ‘must’ conform through such things as ‘laws’; science has been hideously corrupted in the last 80 years because of this.

Some Christians might be heartened to see and hear Du Sautoy suggesting that numbers are at the root of all reality, that this is in some way all grist to the mill of Intelligent Design. Not so fast: Du Sautoy is an avowed atheist (who not very wittily gives his religion as ‘Arsenal’) who by his own admission is trying a more ‘softly softly’ approach than Richard ‘The Rottweiler’ Dawkins (whom all can see is a bigoted fanatic) and is not appealing to design, or even apparent design, but to some mysterious entity he calls ‘The Code’. A code at the very least implies information content, but The Code (as a proper noun and with the definite article) suggests something unique and powerful. Thus Du Sautoy:

…underlying everything that surrounds us, from the natural world to the cities we live in, there is a hidden code that explains why things look and behave they way they do.

[This hidden code (‘The Code’)] has the power to unlock the laws that govern the universe.

The Code is the truth of the universe, and its numbers dictate the way the world must be.

So, this hidden code, this entity that Du Sautoy calls ‘The Code’, has total and complete explanatory power, is identical to Absolute Truth, can lead us into All Truth, and is completely deterministic. This is unquestionably a religious position. And it is none other than the old heresy of Pythagoras, the pagan Greek philosopher, re-worked by gnostics, Kabbalists, Freemasons, Rosicrucians, Illuminists, and now, it appears, New Atheists. What a wheeze if they can pull this one off!

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Christianity and Science

It is commonly believed that there is a war between modern science and Christianity, but such a view has long been discredited by historians and sociologists. No less a figure than Steven Shapin, Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, notes that

In the late Victorian period it was common to write about the “warfare between science and religion” and to presume that the two bodies of culture must always have been in conflict. However, it is a very long time since these attitudes have been held by historians of science.

Moreover, Gary Ferngren, a professor of history at Oregon State University, adds that

Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour.

It is certain that there is a war between Christianity and atheism, but to portray the Christian faith as being at war with science is nonsense, because the Christian faith pursues, embraces and delights in all truth, since it teaches that all truth is from God. Natural science is simply one aspect of the universe of truth: the truth about the natural world, which God created and upholds. Accordingly, there can never be any truth or fact found by natural science that is inimical to the Christian faith. Neither is there, strictly speaking, such a thing as ‘Christian science’ because such a term implies that truth can be institutionalized, whereas truth is universal, and should be universally disseminated and applied.

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Encircling Gloom around Science

Aristotle (384-322 BC) was undoubtedly a genius, but continual feeding off his ideas beyond their ‘sell-by date’ ultimately impeded the development of modern science. The problem was that his works were held in such high esteem that they became an almost unshakeable orthodoxy, defended and imposed by authority. We find that those natural philosophers who stood against authoritarianism before the Reformation were the ones most likely to be making progress in the sciences – but they had to keep their heads down (we will make mention of some of them in future posts). From the Reformation onwards, Protestantism’s rejection of the authority of the Roman church, which had espoused Aristotelianism in the natural sciences, and which, by Aquinas, had infused Aristotelianism into its theology, liberated men to follow where the evidence led them – both in the natural sciences and theology.

Today the scientific world has more or less entrenched itself back into the mode of the bad old days. Those who have the power now exert it to defend the ‘orthodoxy’, to suppress evidence that undermines the orthodoxy, and to punish ‘heretics’ who dare to question the prevailing orthodoxy. The methods used include ridicule and ostracism, of course, and extend to refusal of access to the media, dismissal from post, and denial of resources (monetary and equipment). One can pretty much marginalize a scientist out of existence by dismissing him from his job and denying him the means to function, and the opportunity to publish his results. If anyone denies this is going on, just send a comment to this post, and examples will flow by the dozen.

To exemplify how far modern science has fallen from the reason that gave birth to it and succoured it, one need only go back to before the 1930s. In the late 1920s, science took a false turn and lost its way (as will be demonstrated in future posts), from which it is now racing headlong into an abyss. But until the late 1920s the following, delivered in a public lecture in 1926, was mainstream belief by men of science:

If anyone is able to contemplate the universe in all its magnificence and interlocked beauty and variety, and come to the conclusion that nothing higher than mankind exists in it, I cannot envy him his common sense. The universe is shoutingly full of design, plan, intention, purpose, reason, and what has been called Logos. Without it was not anything made that was made. Not only the heavens, but the earth; not only the flowers, mountains, sunsets, but every pebble, every grain of dust, the beautiful structure of every atom, proclaim the glory of the Being who planned and understands it all.

So spoke the physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, FRS (1851-1940), who closed out his days at the time that science was entering a darkening gloom. Lodge was the pioneer of radio (he was the first to demonstrate sending a message by radio, at Oxford in 1894) and had been awarded the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society in 1898 (so in such illustrious company as the devout Christian physicists Faraday, Maxwell and Stokes etc). He was professor of mathematics and physics at University College, Liverpool, and first principal of the new Birmingham University.

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