For a scientist and the mathematician, the question of ‘what is real’ is very strongly linked to proof. In his Faraday seminar last month, “Is There a Place at the Science-Religion Table for Mathematics,” the mathematician and philosopher P. Douglas Kindschi, pointed out that proofs are the building blocks of mathematics so, historically, maths has had the strongest claim on what is real. Continue reading
What did you do on your leap day this year? I listened to a talk by Roger Trigg, who is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick and a Senior Research Fellow of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion in Oxford. Professor Trigg has recently written a book, Beyond Matter: Why Science Needs Metaphysics, and on the 29th February he came to the Faraday Institute to tell us about it.
Science works, and we have non-stick frying pans to prove it. But as a philosopher, Trigg cannot simply stop there. He has to ask Continue reading
Wonder can be one of the biggest drivers for a scientist, whatever their beliefs might happen to be. I have recently been reading the work of John Polkinghorne. He writes that, for him, wonder points to something beyond science.
Revd Dr John Polkinghorne, KBE was a particle physicist, and Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University. He had always been active in his Christian faith but when he reached his mid-forties he decided that he’d “done [his] bit for physics”, resigned from his university position, and began a second career in the Church. After a number of years as a parish priest he returned to the academic world and made a significant contribution to the field of science and religion, something he has continued to do long after his retirement.
My latest academic explorations have been into the use of imagination in both science and Christianity. As always, I didn’t really know what to expect when I started my search, but I have found a rich seam of thinking on imagination in both the philosophy of science and theology.
Imagination isn’t a word that’s often used by working scientists. Most of the scholars I’ve met on my travels through the libraries of Cambridge have been philosophers, with the occasional retired scientist who is confident enough in their scientific achievements to write on more esoteric subjects. It didn’t take long, however, for me to realise that imagination is absolutely vital to the practice of science. (More on theology later.)
What I’m talking about here is not fantasy, which has no place in the laboratory, but imagining. For example, thought experiments have often been used in science. The Faraday seminar series is not linked in any way to my project, but by wonderful serendipity the Danish theologian Niels Henrik Gregersen was invited to speak here last month on The Role of Thought Experiments in Science, and Religion. He made the argument that thought experiments are used in similar ways in science and Christianity. Continue reading
Awe is an important part of the experience of science – one could almost say it’s a universal. When a scientist feels awe it is usually in response to something complex, precise, ordered, powerful or beautiful. There is an element of unexpectedness and delight, maybe even respect, fear or reverence. Awe always involves the need for some sort of mental adjustment or accommodation: we need to make room in our internal map of the world for this new and amazing experience. The physicist Werner Heisenberg vividly described this process of taking on board a startling new concept when he wrote of his discovery of atomic energy levels:
In the first moment I was deeply frightened. I had the feeling that, through the surface of atomic phenomena, I was looking at a deeply lying bottom of remarkable internal beauty. I felt almost giddy at the thought that I had now to probe this wealth of mathematical structures that nature down there had spread before me. Continue reading
The beauty of mathematics is in its ability to model reality. Our ability to do mathematics is equally astounding. Is there a theological aspect to this experience, and does it have its limitations? This is the second part of my interview with Enrique Mota, a mathematician from Valencia, Spain. (Part 1 here)
Mathematics, for me, is beautiful. It shows me that the God I believe in is great. In mathematics we have a tool that models structures and events that are deeply embedded in the fabric of the universe. You can write the problem as an equation, add some constants, and find a solution. It works. Continue reading
Enrique Mota is a Mathematician and a founding member of GBU, the IFES Christian student movement in Spain. He’s also a founding member of the Spanish Christians in Science group, which is making great efforts to help people in Spain understand how science and faith can relate to each other. This is the third of four interviews from my recent trip to Spain. Mota is a mathematician who clearly feels called to work in his field to the best of his ability, and to encourage others to do likewise.