C.S.Lewis on What Makes Us Human

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SC Lewis on Man

 

“Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past.”

C.S. Lewis, On the Problem of Pain

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Eugene Wigner on Complexity and Regularity

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On 17 November 1902, Eugene Paul Wigner (1902–1995) was born in Budapest, Hungary. As noted in some sources, Dr. Wigner’s secondary education was at the Lutheran Gymnasium of Budapest, where he first met John von Neumann (1903–1957).

The 1963 Nobel Prize in Physics was co-awarded to Prof. Wigner, along with Johannes Jensen (1907–1973) and Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1906–1972), “for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles.”

Quote from The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences (1960):

“It is … a miracle that in spite of the baffling complexity of the world, certain regularities in the events could be discovered … [I]t is not at all natural that ‘laws of nature’ exist, much less that man is able to discover them … The present writer had occasion … to call attention to the succession of layers of ‘laws of nature,’ each layer containing more general and more encompassing laws than the previous one and its discovery constituting a deeper penetration into the structure of the universe than the layers recognized before. However, the point which is most significant in the present context is that all these laws of nature contain, in even their remotest consequences, only a small part of our knowledge of the inanimate world. All the laws of nature are conditional statements …”

Referenced:
—Larsson, Ulf. “Cultures of Creativity: the Centennial Exhibition of the Nobel Prize.” V.2. (Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Pub./USA, 2001), 167. http://goo.gl/FC6o2j.
—Schechter, Bruce. “My Brain is Open: The Mathematical Journeys of Paul Erdos.” (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1998), 25. http://goo.gl/YPD6Pa.
—Wigner, Eugene P. “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.” New York University. 11 May 1959. Communications on Pure and Applied Mathematics 13.1 (1960): 1-14. Image: http://2016.wigner.mta.hu/en/wigner

Stromatolites, science and the Bible

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One of my friends, Peter Ross, was convinced that Science has it wrong and the Bible has it right: God created the universe and our earth 6.000 years ago. And he loved fossils: wherever he went, he collected them. And then he realized that these tiny stomatolites indicated that this earth is billions of years old:

“Thanks to study of these tiny bacterial fossils, we have ample evidence that the world has radically changed over the many billions of years, for example, recent studies in Stomatolite fossils have evidenced that the early earth contained very little to no free oxygen in the atmosphere. See a stromatolite is a living pillar of bacteria, specifically cyanobacteria (formerly called blue-green algae).

Cyanobacteria carry out photosynthesis by splitting water and release oxygen as a byproduct. Stromatolite fossils housed microbial mats safely within their rock layers. The layers formed bands that show how the sediments settled, similar to tree rings, revealing information about Earth’s past. According to the modern time scale, 3.5 billion years ago, stromatolites appeared on Earth. During times of high activity, these microbial mats produced abundant oxygen, which reacted with iron to form iron oxide that was deposited in sediments. When photosynthetic activity was low, little oxygen was produced, and we find no iron oxide formed which resulted in light colored bands of minerals deposited. After over 50 million years of this process, we see through the fossil record that all the banded iron bearing stromatolite fossils disappear, replaced by solid iron oxide layers of rock. Scientists deduce that it was at this time the stromatolites had produced enough oxygen to significantly and permanently change the atmosphere to an oxygen-containing one. This means that life, in the form of these stromatolites, existed prior to an oxygen rich atmosphere, and thanks to their life cycles, we see such a slow gradual rise of oxygen in the fossil record.”

And he understood that God’s eternal plan can cover these long time span easily.

This story was shared in the facebook group Celebrating Creating by Natural Selection. If you wish to discuss  the idea that evolutionary science and God are harmonious truths, please join us! “We are open to everyone, especially anyone who loves science and wants to celebrate Darwins’ powerful theory and would like to worship the creator who designed such an elegant system and works through it!”

Werner Heisenberg, From the known to the unknown

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“The existing scientific concepts cover always only a very limited part of reality, and the other part that has not yet been understood is infinite. Whenever we proceed from the known into the unknown we may hope to understand, but we may have to learn at the same time a new meaning of the word ‘understanding’.”

Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976)
German theoretical physicist and one of the key pioneers of quantum mechanics

 

Pope Francis: Finding truth and joy in research

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On 11 June 2016, Pope Francis said to the summer course participants at the Vatican Observatory:

“God’s creation, and our own place in it, is shared by men and women of very diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. All of us dwell under the same sky. All of us are moved by the beauty revealed in the cosmos and reflected in the study of the heavenly bodies and substances. In this sense, we are united by the desire to discover the truth about how this marvellous universe operates; and in this, we draw ever closer to the Creator.

He also mentioned hardship and joy that we can find in  the daily work as scientists:

“Dear brothers and sisters, scientific research demands great commitment, yet can sometimes prove lengthy and tiresome.  At the same time, it can, and should be, a source of deep joy.  I pray that you will be able to cultivate that interior joy and allow it to inspire your work.  Share it with your friends, your families and your nations, as well as with the international community of scientists with whom you work.  May you always find joy in your research and share the fruit of your studies with humility and fraternity.”

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read more here: Radio Vatican: Pope Francis speaks to participants of Vatican Observatory summer course

James Clerk Maxwell: Light in Nature and in Faith

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The Scotch physicist James Clerk Maxwell FRS FRSE (13 June 1831 in Edinburgh – 5 November 1879 in Cambridge) was one of the chief figures among 19th century physicists. His most notable achievement was formulating the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism, and light as manifestations of the same phenomenon.  Maxwell’s equation for electromagnetism have been called the “second great unification in physics” after the first equations by Isaac Newton. He saw great significance in a universe where the laws of nature fit together like pieces in a puzzle. In those links, he saw the existence and goodness of God and the mystery of the divine.

His Christian faith permeated his scientific work and, according to his own testimony, was at times a source of inspiration. One of his prayers was:

“Almighty God, Who hast created man in Thine own image, and made him a living soul that he might seek after Thee, and have dominion over Thy creatures, teach us to study the works of Thy hands, that we may subdue the earth to our use, and strengthen the reason for Thy service; so to receive Thy blessed Word, that we may believe in Him Whom Thou hast sent, to give us the knowledge of salvation and the remission of our sins. All of which we ask in the name of the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

He favored a world-view which includes ideas like the ones in the modern chaos theory such as ‘sensitive dependence to initial conditions‘. In his 1873 lecture on determinism and free will, he says:

“The subject of the essay is the relation to determinism, not of theology, metaphysics, or mathematics, but of physical science,—the science which depends for its material on the observation and measurement of visible things, but which aims at the development of doctrines whose consistency with each other shall be apparent to our reason…

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Maxwell can be seen, together with Poincaré, as a forerummer of Lorenz’ Butterfly effect (1963) . Image credit

For example, the rock loosed by frost and balanced on a singular point of the mountain-side, the little spark which kindles the great forest, the little word which sets the world a fighting, the little scruple which prevents a man from doing his will, the little spore which blights all the potatoes, the little gemmule which makes us philosophers or idiots. Every existence above a certain rank has its singular points: the higher the rank the more of them. At these points, influences whose physical magnitude is too small to be taken account of by a finite being, may produce results of the greatest importance. All great results produced by human endeavor depend on taking advantage of these singular states when they occur.

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.

The man of tact says “the right word at the right time,” and, “a word spoken in due season how good is it!” The man of no tact is like vinegar upon nitre when he sings his songs to a heavy heart. The ill-timed admonition hardens the heart, and the good resolution, taken when it is sure to be broken, becomes macadamised into pavement for the abyss.

It appears then that in our own nature there are more singular points,—where prediction, except from absolutely perfect data, and guided by the omniscience of contingency, becomes impossible,—than there are in any lower organisation. But singular points are by their very nature isolated, and form no appreciable fraction of the continuous course of our existence. Hence predictions of human conduct may be made in many cases. First, with respect to those who have no character at all, especially when considered in crowds, after the statistical method. Second with respect to individuals of confirmed character, with respect to actions of the kind for which their character is confirmed.”

John Henry Newman on evolution and man’s origin

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“Does Scripture contradict [Darwin’s] theory?—was Adam not immediately taken from the dust of the earth? ‘All are of dust’ —Eccles 3:20 — yet we never were dust — we are from fathers. Why may not the same be the case with Adam? … I don’t know why Adam needs be immediately out of dust — Formavit Deus hominem de limo terrae [God formed man from the dust of the earth]—i.e. out of what really was dust and mud in nature, before He made it what it was, living.”

John Henry Newman, Letter to E.B. Pusey (The Oratory, 5 June 1870)