Post Author: Bill Pratt
Very few people ever think about why science works; they just take it for granted. Some of the great scientists, however, have wondered about this question. Philosopher John Lennox, in his book God’s Undertaker, quotes Albert Einstein’s ruminations on the question of why the universe is comprehensible:
You find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world (to the extent that we are authorized to speak of such a comprehensibility) as a miracle or as an eternal mystery. Well, a priori, one should expect a chaotic world, which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way . . . the kind of order created by Newton’s theory of gravitation, for example, is wholly different. Even if man proposes the axioms of the theory, the success of such a project presupposes a high degree of ordering of the objective world, and this could not be expected a priori. That is the ‘miracle’ which is being constantly reinforced as our knowledge expands.
Einstein is saying that we should expect a chaotic world, a world which cannot be grasped by the mind. The fact that the world is able to be understood by human minds is a ‘miracle’ that deserves explanation. In particular, why does physical reality map to mathematics? Surely this fact demands an accounting.
Lennox notes that Paul Davies finds this mapping to be truly astounding. Davies comments that much of the mathematics applied to modern science “was worked out as an abstract exercise by pure mathematicians, long before it was applied to the real world. The original investigations were entirely unconnected with their eventual application.” (emphasis mine) Why? Surely this is strange.
Lennox continues, “The relationship between mathematics and physics goes very deep and it is very hard to think of it as some random accident.” Professor of Mathematics Roger Penrose has this to say: “It is hard for me to believe . . . that such superb theories could have arisen merely by some random natural selection of ideas leaving only the good ones as survivors. The good ones are simply much too good to be the survivors of ideas that have arisen in a random way. There must be, instead, some deep underlying reason for the accord between mathematics and physics.”
Not wanting to posit an agent behind this mystery, some skeptics will say that science itself explains the accord between math and physics. But this cannot be so. Lennox recounts the following words of John Polkinghorne: “Science does not explain the mathematical intelligibility of the physical world, for it is part of science’s founding faith that this is so.”
So why does science work? Why do math and physics work together so well? Lennox offers the Christian answer to this question:
The intelligibility of the universe is grounded in the nature of the ultimate rationality of God: both the real world and mathematics are traceable to the Mind of God who created both the universe and the human mind. It is, therefore, not surprising when the mathematical theories spun by human minds created in the image of God’s Mind, find ready application in a universe whose architect was that same creative Mind.
The non-theist is left with a real quandary. Without a Mind behind reality, the fact that abstract mathematics directly applies to reality remains a profound mystery. The non-theist is left, in essence, with blind faith in science.