The Divine Mathematician and His Image-Bearers by Melissa Cain Travis

In his celebrated book, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, Dr. Steven Weinberg said that mankind is a “farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes” after the Big Bang. According to Weinberg and many other atheist thinkers past and present, the cosmos is not purposeful and we, its observers, amount to nothing more than self-aware cosmic dust bunnies.

Dr. Weinberg is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, a scholar who has spent decades investigating the intricacies of the material universe. I find it astounding that individuals with such extensive knowledge of the mathematics of nature could so confidently dismiss the implications of the fact that we are conscious, intelligent beings capable of ascertaining these complex truths.

As science has become fully integrated with mathematics, knowledge of the world has exploded. Why isn’t every physicist asking the question: Why is there such a deep interconnection between mathematics, an abstract product of human rationality, the material cosmos, and the human mind if we, and it, are merely accidental?

In his 1623 work entitled, The Assayer, Galileo Galilei said:

Philosophy is written in this grand book—I mean the universe—which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth.

In their fantastic book, A Meaningful World, Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt remark:

We could imagine, with random ordering, that by some mercy of fickle chance, a purely accidental relationship of some mathematical system would “map onto” a particular aspect of nature, but we would never expect it to effectively illuminate the natural order beyond that merely accidental relationship .Yet if we keep finding that multiple mathematical systems “map onto” nature—calling us from one steppingstone of discovery to the next—then it is certainly reasonable to suspect a conspiracy of reasoned order.

Eugene Wigner, a prominent physicist (and agnostic) of the 20th century found this arrangement astonishing as well. He said:

The enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious…There is no rational explanation for it…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.[i]

Mathematics illuminates the orderliness of nature, yet it was first conceived by the human intellect. Isn’t this extraordinary? The natural world is intelligible and the mathematical truths needed to comprehend and describe it pre-existed our attempts to do so. Why should there be such a relationship between our abstract reasoning and the realities of the cosmos?  Where did our capacity for higher mathematics even come from? Materialists say that it is the product of blind evolutionary processes, but what survival or reproductive advantage is gained from being able to perform sophisticated equations—equations that have led to extensive scientific discovery?

Yet, if we are made by, and in the image of, a Rational Intelligence who is also the artificer of the universe itself, this coincidence is something we shouldn’t be at all surprised to find. As my great hero, astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler said:

To God there are, in the whole material world, material laws, figures and relations of special excellency and of the most appropriate order…Those laws are within the grasp of the human mind; God wanted us to recognize them by creating us after his own image so that we could share in his own thoughts.[ii]

 

 

[i]  Eugene Wigner, Symmetries and Reflections, 222, 237.)

[ii] Carola Baumgardt, Johannes Kepler: Life and Letters, 50.

 

Melissa Cain Travis,  Science Editor

Contact: Melissa@LiteraryLife.org

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Melissa Cain Travis serves as Assistant Professor of Christian Apologetics at Houston Baptist University. She is the author of Science and the Mind of the Maker: What the Conversation Between Faith and Science Reveals About God (Harvest House, 2018) and is a contributor to the forthcoming book, The Story of the Cosmos (Harvest House, 2019). She is nearing the completion of a PhD in humanities, her research focusing on the history and philosophy related to scientific and mathematical thought in the Western tradition and contemporary scholarship.

Image by Tom Darin Liskey