Saturday, June 20, 2009

Should the existence of an understandable, law-governed world surprise us?

At least, apart from theistic assumptions? Einstein called the order in nature a "miracle."

“a priori one should expect a chaotic world which
cannot be grasped by the mind in any way...
[T]he kind of order created by Newton’s theory
of gravitation...is wholly different. Even if the
axioms of the theory are proposed by man, the
success of such a project presupposes a high
degree of ordering of the objective world.... That
is the “miracle” which is being constantly
reinforced as our knowledge expands.”

--Albert Einstein, Letters to Solovine (New York: Philosophical

Library, 1987), 131.
HT: Angus Menuge

4 comments:

Steven Carr said...

'a priori one should expect a chaotic world which
cannot be grasped by the mind in any way...'

I see Einstein never bothered with any arguments to that effect.

Why should we expect a world where water can turn into wine,or a world where demons can wreak havoc with natural laws?

J said...

Yes, the believers emphasize Newtonian order at times, and at other times, ask us to forget it (--like when claiming miracles occur). Einstein was not exactly affirming the code of the Old and/or New Testaments either.

That said, we should not just blithely accept the "Deism" (or hints of deism) one notes in Einstein, and many nature writers (say SJ Gould). One might be awestruck at the volcanoes around La Ciudad de Mexico until one erupts and buries a few villages--and thousands of paysanos--with lava and ash.

For that matter, sharks show remarkable order as well, until you see a few hundred enjoying brunch around a blue whale carcass.

JD Walters said...

There is no contradiction between a commitment to both a rational, lawful world and the occurrence of miracles. A great quote from Lewis illustrates this point:

"Theology says to you in effect, 'Admit God and with Him the risk of a few miracles, and I in return will ratify your faith in uniformity as regards the overwhelming majority of events.' The philosophy which forbids you to make uniformity absolute is also the philosophy which offers you solid grounds for believing it to be general, to be almost absolute. The Being who threatens nature's claim to omnipotence confirms her in her lawful occasions. Give us this ha'porth of tar and we will save the ship. The alternative is really much worse. Try to make Nature absolute and you find that her uniformity is not even probable. By claiming too much, you get nothing. You get the deadlock, as in Hume. Theology offers you a working arrangement, which leaves the scientist free to continue his experiments and the Christian to continue his prayers."
(Miracles, ch.1)

Edward T. Babinski said...

We evolved out of the same cosmos that we have slowly grown to understand more and more about, sounds perfectly reasonable that that might happen, given that our senses and minds evolved inside that same cosmos.

Our understanding evolved slowly, over vast eons, simple brains to more complex ones, upright posture freeing the hands, the development of language and recognition of numerals, complex language, mathematics, and later, complex mathematics and experiments, and we learned how to model regular behaviors of nature via mathematical equations, not that such equations "explain" such behaviors, but merely are models that help us predict them.

Kind of like taking a page of squiggly lines and drawing a grid on that page, and examining each squiggly line in each tiny grid box and assigning an equation to it that fits its curvature. That doesn't explain nature, but is instead a mere model of things that happen in nature regularly and repeatedly.

We continue to discover what happens when squiggles meet, when elements are mixed in various concentrations and new minerals or alloys are formed, what their unique properties are, or when different energies or forces interact. And we continue devising new mathematical models of such behaviors.

We couldn't know that when a glowing splint had oxygen added to a certain level, it would naturally burst into flame, starting a new sort of reaction, fire. Just as couldn't know that when brains started to evolve we would wind up eventually with walking talking creatures who could also perform math.