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Friday, May 13, 2005

Philosopher A.J. Meyer reminisces about his dinners with Dirac, and math and beauty and ...

Hi Denyse ...,

This article [See “Math: What if beauty and truth conflict,” below] brings back several memories. Because of my close friendship with Behram Kursunoglu, who was a close friend of Paul Dirac and was also a former student of his at Cambridge, I became one of the few fortunate souls with whom Dirac would engage in conversation. One night after dinner, as Dirac and I were discussing some problems in physics, he told me to always believe the mathematics. He told me that he almost failed to get the Nobel, because he doubted the truth of the beautiful mathematics that predicted the existence of a particle that had the same mass but opposite charge as an electron [later known as the positron]. Nevertheless, he decided to risk possible ridicule and simply trust the mathematics and publish his findings. His publication was just in the knick of time, since the positron was discovered shortly thereafter.

At one of Dirac's last talks at a Coral Gables Conference, while he was admonishing the younger physicists about their incorrect and cavalier use of mathematics, Dirac stated that if the mathematics was ugly, the physics was probably wrong. One guy got up and asked Dirac: "What do you mean by ugly mathematics?" Dirac replied: "If you have to ask that, you are in the wrong business."

In summary, I don't think it is necessarily Beauty versus Truth. However, I do believe that Dirac was right when he said that "God used beautiful mathematics when He created the world." which echoes the author of Hebrews 11,1-3: "Now faith is the assurance of the things we hope for, the proof of the reality of the things we cannot see. For by it the men of old won God's approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were created, beautifully co-coordinated in symmetry, and now exist, at God's command; so the things we see did not develop out of mere matter."


Shalom to you too, A.J., and thanks for an illuminating contribution. - cheers, Denyse
To find out more about my book, go to By Design or by Chance?

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C.S. Lewis wrote a mock hymn to “Evolution”?

Apparently so. C.S. Lewis’s ”Evolutionary Hymn” is reproduced here, to the tune of “Lead us, Heavenly Father, lead us”:

Evolutionary Hymn

by C.S. Lewis

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair:
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Wrong or justice in the present,
Joy or sorrow, what are they
While there's always jam to-morrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we're going,
We can never go astray.

[read the rest at the link above]

Lewis, incidentally, had not started out opposing Darwinian evolution, but he came to do so because of the “fanatical and twisted attitudes” of its defenders. As I explained in By Design or by Chance?,

C.S. Lewis (1898–1963), perhaps the most widely read Christian apologist of the 20th
century, was careful to distinguish between evolution as a theory in biology and Evolution as an idea that came to dominate the politics and religion of his time. He noted that decades before Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, poets and musicians had started proclaiming that humanity was inevitably evolving, onward and upward, to a glorious future.24 “I grew up believing in this Myth and I have felt—I still feel—its almost perfect grandeur,”25 he wrote.

However, there is a big difference between the myth of Evolution preached by poets and the theory in biology. Lewis made quite clear to his readers that the biological theory of Darwinism does not argue that there will be inevitable, continuous improvements over time. It only explains continuous change over time. The change can be degeneration or decline. Really, it is all the same to the biologist, especially if the subject is fossil lampreys or some other unattractive entity. But as applied to human society, the myth of evolution morphed from a theory about changes to a supposed fact about improvements. It became a powerful weapon for good or ill in the hands of social reformers and politicians.

Lewis wrote: “To those brought up on the Myth nothing seems more normal, more natural, more plausible, than that chaos should turn into order, death into life, ignorance into knowledge.”26

The reason continuous improvement without human effort seemed so plausible was that contrary examples in nature were simply ignored. For example, popular presentations of evolution typically feature the evolution of the modern horse from a bulgy little pawed creature. They do not highlight the evolution of an active, independent creature into a degenerate, disease-causing parasite, though that happens, too. Much as Lewis admired the literature based on the Evolution myth, he didn’t like the political version very much at all. About that, he wrote:

It has great allies, Its friends are propaganda, party cries,
And bilge, and Man’s incorrigible mind.27

Lewis was also well aware that Darwinism has often functioned as a religion in itself. It certainly functioned that way for Thomas Huxley, “Darwin’s bulldog.” Evolution was a religion for politically varied figures such as playwright George Bernard Shaw, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and composer Richard Strauss. Popular understanding of evolution actually owes much more to them than to Darwinian biologists. Each of these thinkers had his own ideas about what evolution, specifically human evolution, was.28 However, Shaw got it right at least once. He explained in Back to Methuselah that “if this sort of selection could turn an antelope into a giraffe, it could conceivably turn a pond full of amoebas into the French academy.” 29 That, precisely, is what Darwin and his successors believe, and what everyone who can be described as a non-Darwinist disbelieves.

Lewis’s views about Darwinism as a biological theory changed over time. In the 1940s and 1950s, a friend tried to get him to join a protest movement against it. However, he refused, fearing that association with anti-Darwinists would damage his reputation as a Christian apologist. “When a man has become a popular Apologist,” he explained, “he must watch his step. Everyone is on the look out for things that might discredit him.”30 However, privately, by 1959 he had become increasingly skeptical of Darwinism and concerned about its social effects, especially on account of “the fanatical and twisted attitudes of its defenders.”31

To find out more about my book, go to By Design or by Chance?


Math: What if beauty and truth conflict?

Math prof Marcus du Sautoy emphasizes the importance of beautify in math concepts, and it is fair to say that it is also important in sciencec oncempts. He writes,

But in Einstein's view, the ultimate test for an equation was an aesthetic one. The highest praise for a good theory was not that it was correct or that it was exact, simply that it should be beautiful. Dirac concurred with Einstein's view. When asked in a seminar in Moscow to summarise his philosophy of physics, he wrote on the blackboard in capital letters: "Physical laws should have mathematical beauty."

This raises an interesting question: Lots of people love the idea that natural selection produces mind from mud precisely because it is so elegant and simple. They are, therefore, desperately unwilling to learn that it might not be true. Question: Is this somewhat like a guy who doesn't want to hear that the beautiful girl he's in love with from a distance is actually mentally retarded and couldn't possibly see him without her guardian's approval, and anyway, she will sound like his kid sister (8 yrs old)? And always will. Like, we all know that you can't TALK to the guy about it (he would smack you a good one); you can only wait for him to find these facts out for himself. I sometimes think that the current science establishment is like that hwere Darwinism is concerned.)

Incidentally, du Sautoy goes on to note,

The power of prediction is also a key part of the best scientific equations. Those scientists who first understood the equations for the motions of the heavenly bodies wielded great power. The Spanish invaders in South America were able to use their prediction of a solar eclipse to defeat the indigenous armies who were terrified by the power of their formulas.

The famous British physicist Paul Dirac came up with an equation to predict the behaviour of electrons. His equation, now inscribed on his memorial in Westminster Abbey, won him a Nobel prize. But as well as describing the behaviour of an electron, it also seemed to predict the existence of a new sort of particle called anti-matter. This strange substance would annihilate the matter that surrounds us to produce pure energy. Sounds like science fiction - indeed, the starship Enterprise is fuelled on the stuff. Yet despite early scepticism by scientists, anti-matter was in fact identified as a reality in 1932.

I wonder if anyone can come up with an equation for either Darwinism or intelligent design that actually makes predicts. Find out more about my book, go to By Design or by Chance?

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Could God create through Darwinian evolution? Sure, but ... did he?

On my designorchance discussion group at Yahoo, someone asked (quoting a third party,

What is so objectionable about a God who created through evolution? Why can we accept that God front loaded the universe but we insist on something more when it comes to evolution?

I find it fascinating how creationists accept on the one hand front
loading in astronomy but cannot accept front loading in biology.

Can anyone, such as Denyse explain this?”

So I replied,

..., the key question is, what does the evidence reasonably suggest?

I can't speak for “creationists,” as I consider myself a post-Darwinist, but I do not think that the evidence reasonably supports the “mud to mind” account currently proposed by materialistic science for the origin of the life we see around us today, particularly humans.

The current information load in life forms is simply too high, within the life of the present universe.

Whether life forms with a high information load are produced by intervention or by initial encoding can possibly be answered by research.

I see Darwinists as trying to back away from the issue by pretending that natural selection has awesome powers that it does not really have.

For the record, I do not doubt that natural selection plays an important role, particularly in maintaining species against harmful drifts, and perhaps sometimes initiating new species. (I do NOT rule that out because it seems implicitly reasonable, but the evidence base is hardly very large and I doubt that natural selection accounts for massive, complex changes.)

Science does not yet have a way to understand the relationship between matter, energy, and information. I suspect - and said in By Design or by Chance? - that progress in this area requires addressing that difficult issue in particular.

As G.C. Williams writes:

Information doesn’t have mass or charge or length in millimeters. Likewise, matter doesn’t have bytes. You can’t measure so much gold in so many bytes. It doesn’t have redundancy, or fidelity, or any of the other descriptors we apply to information. This dearth of shared descriptors makes matter and information two separate domains of existence, which have to be discussed separately, in their own terms. (pp. 233-34)

In my view, it is useless to speculate on what God did/might have done.

Historically, speculating on what God did/might have done would not have helped scientists determine whether Ptolemy or Copernicus was right about the organization of the solar system or whether or not spontaneous generation of life forms actually occurs.

In theory at least, God could have done it either way! Why not? In creating a specific universe, the only requirement for laws is that they be workable and self-consistent.

Various models are possible in theory; however, only one can prevail in fact in a given location.

What God DID (or, for those who do not believe in God, whatever actually happened) is for us to discover.

As I understand it, that is what science is: An attempt to discover what God did/what happened/what happens.

cheers, Denyse (Find out more about my book, go to By Design or by Chance? )

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Is the Darwin Fish an endangered species?

Jonah Goldberg takes after the frightened whine of the Darwinists that if anyone is allowed to question Darwinism (the theory that life moved from mud to mind in 15 billion easy and obvious steps), we will soon find ourselves in a theocratic state. Why? We didn’t have a theocratic state before Darwinism, so why should we after it?

I can take the somber, frightened "special reports" on National Public Radio, where you can literally hear the correspondents wringing their hands over the possibility that the "Darwin fish" affixed to their Volvos will be banned. I can even handle the dog-whistle shrieks of Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd types about the looming Inquisition led by an alliance of the new German (wink, wink) pope and the Kansas Board of Education. [both the new Pope and the Kansas Board have questioned Darwinism recently - d.]

But the most recent episode of NBC’s doddering “Law & Order” series is where I draw the line. The episode tells the story of a racist who committed murder nine years ago but who, in shame and remorse, subsequently found Jesus and was born again. In the nine years since he dedicated himself to Christ, he has led an exemplary life. But his guilt is discovered, and he decides to confess and show true contrition.

Goldberg’s screed mainly concerns a stupid TV program, as you will see. But the program is very much the kind of thing that people whose logo is a fish with rubber-boots feet would listen to for clues about their future. Advice to such persons: Tea leaves are more relaxing and just as useful. Honest. (Find out more about my book,, go to By Design or by Chance? )


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