James Clerk Maxwell: Light in Nature and in Faith

Standard

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…

Lorenz_butterfly

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.”

Pope Francis to Scientists on Lemaitre, Einstein and Aquinas

Standard

Dear friends,

I extend a heartfelt welcome to you all, and I thank Brother Guy Consolmagno for his kind words.

The issues you have been addressing during these days at Castel Gandolfo are of particular interest to the Church, because they have to do with questions that concern us deeply, such as the beginning of the universe and its evolution, and the profound structure of space and time, to name but a few.  It is clear that these questions have a particular relevance for science, philosophy, theology and for the spiritual life.  They represent an arena in which these different disciplines meet and sometimes clash.

As both a Catholic priest and a cosmologist, Msgr. Georges Lemaître knew well the creative tension between faith and science, and always defended the clear methodological distinction between the fields of science and theology.  While integrating them in his own life, he viewed them as distinct areas of competence. That distinction, already present in Saint Thomas Aquinas, avoids a short-circuiting that is as harmful to science as it is to faith.

Before the immensity of space-time, we humans can experience awe and a sense of our own insignificance, as the Psalmist reminds us:  “What is man that you should keep him in mind, the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:5). As Albert Einstein loved to say: “One may say the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.” The existence and intelligibility of the universe are not a result of chaos or mere chance, but of God’s Wisdom, present “at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old” (Prov. 8:22).

I am deeply appreciative of your work, and I encourage you to persevere in your search for truth. For we ought never to fear truth, nor become trapped in our own preconceived ideas, but welcome new scientific discoveries with an attitude of humility. As we journey towards the frontiers of human knowledge, it is indeed possible to have an authentic experience of the Lord, one which is capable of filling our hearts.

Greeting Address to the participants of the Conference organized by the Vatican Observatory,  Friday, 12 May 2017

Source: Vatican homepage 

 

 

The god of the Astronomers and the true God

Standard

In a recent article on Catholic Link, Mauricio Artiedo writes:

The god of the Astronomers

This god is as beautiful as the moon. His followers contemplate him with admiration and respect, especially at night, perhaps with a sincere prayer before sleep, but after that his presence in their daily lives is merely decorative. And it is not that these faithful men do not believe in him. It is not that they do not know that he incarnated and gave his life to redeem us from sin. They also know about the moon and have the certainty that some gravitational factors that allow life on Earth depend on her. That is not the problem. The point is that the god of the astronomers does not come down, he does not become concrete, nor does he get involved in the lives of others, and his mysteries belong to the past.

These believers are a very particular and sad race: they believe they have been redeemed, but they do not live as redeemed people; they believe they are loved, but they do not feel loved; they believe that the Eucharist is the body of the Living God, but in practice, he is dead.

Continue reading

Odd Man Out

Standard

A Reflection on the origin and the destiny of mankind

written by Dean Ohlmann

2014-06-22 Odd-Man-Out-5

According to naturalistic Darwinism, unplanned and unguided evolution has progressed nicely for billions of years with everything occupying a definable “natural” niche—until we get a being so powerful that it has the capacity to send everything back to primordial slime: Homo sapiens. This odd creature seems to have no natural niche. Nature, in fact, would seem to work much better without it. One is forced to conclude that this animal is oddly out of place with its needs and wants, its loves and lusts, its art and music, its crafts and creeds, its words, its thoughts, its emotions, its dreams, its illogical desire for independence in a world that exists only through interdependence. A godless process seems to have created a demigod; nature has birthed the unnatural. Many now believe that mankind has become a cancer so malignant that he will indeed bring about “the end of nature.”

Or could it be true that mankind has an origin that transcends nature? Centuries ago an awestruck writer wondered about this: “[O Lord,] You made [man] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:5-9).

The evidence compels me to believe that mankind has an origin, a destiny, and an accountability that are beyond the natural. To me there are only two ways to consider mankind: he is either a meaningless, cosmic orphan, or he has a purpose and an importance that transcend the cosmos.

– Dean Ohlman, a Christian nature writer recently retired from Our Daily Bread Ministries where he was a website host, writer, TV producer/scriptwriter on the theme of “The Wonder of Creation.”

Photo: from the movie” ODD MAN OUT” (1947)

Physics, Philosophy, Free Will, Falsification, and Faith

Standard

Physicist George Ellis Knocks Physicists for Knocking Philosophy, Falsification, Free Will

Horgan: At the conference where we met, Howthelightsgetsin, you were in a session called “The end of experiment.” What was that about?

Ellis: Well this was just echoing what you have already said: many of the possible high-energy physics experiments and astronomy observations relevant to cosmology…

via Physics, Philosophy, Free Will, Falsification, and Faith — Luke 10:27

(taken from SA’s blog Cross Check)

The second Law of Thermodynamics and Evolution

Standard

2nd LoT

“Nice try, evolutionist! But the second law of thermodynamics contradicts evolution” No, it doesn’t. Consider the energy provided by the sun.

Here a little explanation for those not familiar with the argumentation: Some arguments from the creationist/ID community are coming back over and over again, and one of them is that evolution cannot be true, because it contradicts the 2nd law of thermodynamics (2LoT).

The 2LoT states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems always evolve toward thermodynamic equilibrium, a state with maximum entropy.This means, in lay terms, that in an isolated system, everything tends to get to a random-chaotic state (thinks of a house becoming a ruin over time).

Continue reading

There is NO Flash of Light at Conception

Standard

Keep science communication accurate, reliable, unsensational! – an excellent article by Stacy A. Trasancos

The Telegraph recently reported something sensational. “Bright flash of light marks incredible moment life begins when sperm meets egg.” The article stated, “Human life begins in a bright flash of light … tiny sparks erupt from the egg at the exact moment of conception.” Pro-life and Christian sites obviously took notice, and their authors repeated…

via Contrary to Reports, There is No Flash of Light at Conception — Stacy A. Trasancos