Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Biggest Puzzles about the World #1

There are many things I do not understand about the world. Higher math is fascinating, but the frontiers are beyond my comprehension. I once met a gentleman at a party who was a mathematician at Dartmouth College. I asked him what part of mathematics he was studying, and he looked at me sidelong and said, "Do you want the mathematical answer, or the analogy I give to non-mathematicians?" "Oh, the mathematical answer," I said. "I know a bit of math, teach calculus and all that." "Okay," he said, and proceeded to open his mouth and for two solid minutes utter sounds that were no more meaningful to me than the average cow moo. "Wait," I said. "Back up. Give me the analogy." I half-understood the analogy.

So I'm aware of the size - not just in space but in concepts and in laws and in natures - of the universe. But what I don't understand is why this has any bearing on the existence of God. The ancient Hebrews, long before Newton, Hubble, and Einstein, were awed by the massive size and complexity of the universe they knew and overwhelmed by the understanding that God "measured the waters in the palm of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span." You have to have a weirdly literal mind to think that an increase in natural scale somehow makes a difference to that literary metaphor. Do modern men think that the Hebrews would have looked at pictures from the Hubble Telescope and gone, "Damn. God is big, but this is 17 point 846 times bigger than God. Phew. Thank you, Mr. Scientist, because I almost wasted my life learning how to read f***ing backwards."

But people, including the wonderful Richard Feynman, seem to think this way. I don't get it. Moreover, they keep pressing it as an argument to me and my ilk: their modern, believing interlocutors. I have never once read any science book or anything in a science book that made me doubt the existence of God. Not in mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, or anything. I don't understand how it could. Once you accept that God created everything, then every time a scientist delightedly yells "Eureka!" and shows you the cool thing he's found, you think, "Whoa. One more cool thing God created. This is a good world."

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