This has been appearning in several newspapers, and now it’s in the Daily Mail, a British tabloid, so we can’t ignore it. The headline is From the laws of mathematics to human consciousness: Expert explains why he thinks God DOES exist. The newspaper has over 350 comments. Here are some excerpts from the news story, with bold font added by us for emphasis:
The question of whether a god exists is heating up in the 21st century. In 2014, the proportion of the US who didn’t believe in God was 33 per cent while in the UK it was 39 per cent. Despite this growing disbelief in a higher being, in a new article for The Conversation, Robert Nelson, a Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland explores why he believes that God exists.
Wikipedia has write-ups on several people named Robert Nelson, but not this one. Nevertheless, the tabloid’s headline says he’s an expert on the subject, so let’s find out what he has to say:
In 1960 the Princeton physicist – and subsequent Nobel Prize winner – Eugene Wigner raised a fundamental question: Why did the natural world always – so far as we know – obey laws of mathematics? As argued by scholars such as Philip Davis and Reuben Hersh, mathematics exists independent of physical reality. It is the job of mathematicians to discover the realities of this separate world of mathematical laws and concepts.
Math is a separate world? Really? Then Nelson says:
Physicists then put the mathematics to use according to the rules of prediction and confirmed observation of the scientific method. But modern mathematics generally is formulated before any natural observations are made, and many mathematical laws today have no known existing physical analogues.
That’s true of any language. Remember Jabberwocky? After that he tells us:
Isaac Newton was considered among the greatest mathematicians as well as physicists of the 17th century. Other physicists sought his help in finding a mathematics that would predict the workings of the solar system. He found it in the mathematical law of gravity, based in part on his discovery of calculus. At the time, however, many people initially resisted Newton’s conclusions because they seemed to be ‘occult.’
What does that have to do with god’s existence? Nelson continues:
How could two distant objects in the solar system be drawn toward one another, acting according to a precise mathematical law? Indeed, Newton made strenuous efforts over his lifetime to find a natural explanation, but in the end he could say only that it is the will of God. Despite the many other enormous advances of modern physics, little has changed in this regard.
Okay, if Newton said so. Here it comes Nelson’s conclusion:
As Wigner wrote, ‘the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it.’ In other words, as I argue in my book, it takes the existence of some kind of a god to make the mathematical underpinnings of the universe comprehensible.
We regard this as a Rosie Ruiz victory claim. The theologian sits back, lets others run the race, and then jumps in at the finish line and claims victory.
Then Nelson talks about “the mystery of human consciousness.” He says:
Like the laws of mathematics, consciousness has no physical presence in the world; the images and thoughts in our consciousness have no measurable dimensions. Yet, our nonphysical thoughts somehow mysteriously guide the actions of our physical human bodies.
Okay, but do preachers get credit for this too? Let’s read on — hey, now the subject of evolution comes up:
Evolution is a contentious subject in American public life. … As I say in my book, I should emphasise that I am not questioning the reality of natural biological evolution. What is interesting to me, however, are the fierce arguments that have taken place between professional evolutionary biologists.
What arguments would those be? Nelson says:
In 2011, the University of Chicago evolutionary biologist James Shapiro argued that, remarkably enough, many micro-evolutionary processes worked as though guided by a purposeful ‘sentience’ of the evolving plant and animal organisms themselves. ‘The capacity of living organisms to alter their own heredity is undeniable,’ he wrote. ‘Our current ideas about evolution have to incorporate this basic fact of life.’
A number of scientists, such as Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, ‘see no conflict between believing in God and accepting the contemporary theory of evolution,’ as the American Association for the Advancement of Science points out. For my part, the most recent developments in evolutionary biology have increased the probability of a god.
Okay, he’s the expert. Oh, wait — here’s another Rosie Ruiz argument
The development of the scientific method in the 17th century in Europe and its modern further advances have had at least as great a set of world-transforming consequences. There have been many historical theories, but none capable, I would argue, of explaining as fundamentally transformational a set of events as the rise of the modern world. It was a revolution in human thought, operating outside any explanations grounded in scientific materialism, that drove the process.
That all these astonishing things happened within the conscious workings of human minds, functioning outside physical reality, offers further rational evidence, in my view, for the conclusion that human beings may well be made ‘in the image of [a] God.’
There’s more, but this is long enough. Click over there and read it all. Then let us know if you find Nelson’s arguments persuasive.
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