Monday, March 24, 2014

Awe and worship in the face of science

Since we are surrounded by it and so used to it we can take science for granted and not reflect on how amazing it truly is. Things that regularly happen today in science would have been inconceivable decades ago, let alone centuries ago.

Below I list some of the things I think we should be in awe of.

The immense scales of the observable universe.
Our sun is just one star of two hundred billion in our galaxy, which is just one of almost two hundred billion galaxies. It takes light from the most distant galaxies tens of billions of years to travel to us.

Length scales of many orders of magnitude.
This is nicely illustrated in the wonderful movie Powers of Ten.

The universe exhibits a diversity of rich and complex behaviour. Yet it can understand much of it in terms of simple universal laws that are easy to state, e.g., the laws of thermodynamics, Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism, Schrodinger's equation of quantum mechanics, the genetic code, ....

Nature appears to be fine-tuned.
This covers not just the values of fundamental physical constants that lead to the notion of fine tuning and the anthropic principle, but the unique properties of water, and

The intricate and subtle "machinery" of biomolecules.
Proteins have very unique structures that are intimately connected to their specific functions.

We can measure precisely.
Scientists have created incredibly powerful and specialised instruments for making very precise measurements: telescopes, microscopes, the tension in a single strand of DNA, the magnetic moment of an electron [to one part in a billion billion, .....

We can predict the outcome of new experiments.
Scientists construct mathematical theories in their minds, on pieces of paper, in equations, and sometimes in computers. Their success is measured by the extent to which they can propose new experiments and predict the outcome. Last weeks announcement that BICEP had made observations that were predicted by the theory of inflation concerning the rapid expansion of the universe, just one millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the beginning of the universe is just the latest in a long list.

We can understand the material world.
Einstein said, "The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible." 

The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.
Eugene Wigner received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963. In 1960 he published an essay "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences that concludes
The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. 
We can manipulate and control nature.
Scientists and engineers can move single atoms, design drugs, make computers, atom bombs, heart pacemakers, mobile phones, manipulate genes, ......

Why is the universe like this?
Why are human brains capable of such a grand endeavour?
Why do we have such power over the material world that we can create intricate instruments to measure detailed properties of the universe?

Science has no answer.
Christians should be in awe and worship the Creator of it all.

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