Three small-minded numbers

Having been foolish enough to trespass onto the ChristianityToday website, I have only myself to blame wasting a part of my life reading Charles White’s sophormoronic ‘big numbers prove God is real’ article. You probably already know how that goes. But to save you from my mistake let me summarize his three amazing facts;, many Christian mathematicians think that numbers point to God. Three numbers in particular suggest evidence for God’s existence. They are 1/1010123, 10162, and eπi.

The first is a conflation of all the supposed fine-tuning required for this pleasant universe we live in.. Both at the level of physical constants and the more mundane requirements of the Drake Equation for estimating the number of habitable planets. The second is apparently the blind chance of benign mutations taking place at random and leading God’s children. That is basically, William Paley’s argument against natural selection.. what’s wrong with this picture (No, don’t all shout at once.. this guy is a professor, he can’t be that stupid can he? (No, don’t all shout at once)) The third and final is Euler’s equation which has the gee-whizzery of combining two irrationals and an imaginary to get a nice neat answer.. which is probably God showing off.

So what is wrong with these pictures?

I don’t know if i can even waste any breath on the anti-Darwin argument. If someone really believes that then you wonder just how amazingly stupid they must be and exactly where you can find the patience or words short enough to explain it to them..

but in a nut shell say each benign mutation as a one in a billion chance.. all you need is a few billion individuals and bingo… then over a half a billion years you have plenty of generations to string together what might seeming like a highly improbable winning streak. even the pope believes this.

but what about the fine tuning of the universe? that seems unlikely doesn’t it? Yes it does.. But i ask you what added value does putting God into your equations give your explanation? To me it seems you have avoiding confronting one highly complicated challenge but replacing it with another even more unworldly and improbable thing you need to explain.

And how do we know that this universe is that improbable anyway. With the right theory it might all suddenly make sense. Consider the analogy to those highly improbable mutations.. if you were an idiot who didn’t understand or hadn’t heard of evolution by natural selection then life on earth seems utterly incredible and improbable. as soon as you have this elegant theory at your finger tips the whole beautiful structure can be explained in a handful of sentences..

okay, i am glossing over all the complexities of genetics, microbiology &c. here but hopefully you get the picture. once you have a good theory, it explains loads of improbable facts..

so it might be a bit premature to say that the universe is so mind-bogglingly unlikely that in order to sleep at night we need replace it with something even more mind-boggling (a bearded father figure in the sky.. unduly interested in designing a vast universe for the benefit of some scummy naked apes but then indifferent to their petty sufferings.)

For one thing, we really don’t know much about our universe and it’s physics or chemistry yet. Practically the next article i read after Charlie’s improbably tall tales (after i wiped the tears of laughter from my eyes) was this story about the Cassini probe finding possible evidence of organic compounds on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which might well require the whole rarity of planets capable of supporting life to be recalculated. Suddenly there are two in our own solar system!

Then one could turn the this needs a Creator argument on it’s head. why would an all powerful if quixotic supreme sadist design a universe like ours that in fact seems to be far more dependent on immutable laws and tautologies of mathematics than on the whims of someone supposedly infinite creative. it’s not as if a clever God would have to make the universe the way this one appears to be. if he was all powerful he could keep changing things whenever he liked.. send a mighty flood here, miracles there.. a better than the ones we’ve had.. he could magic is all to another world with a click of his fingers he make the sky a different colour every day. He could strike me down with lightening right now. But our static, predictable law bound universe is rather boring by comparison.

God does not move in mysterious ways. If he does anything it appears that he just obeys the laws of mathematics.

So what about that remarkable Euler equation..

The final number comes from theoretical mathematics. It is Euler’s (pronounced “Oiler’s”) number: eπi. This number is equal to -1, so when the formula is written eπi+1 = 0, it connects the five most important constants in mathematics (e, π, i, 0, and 1) along with three of the most important mathematical operations (addition, multiplication, and exponentiation).

These five constants symbolize the four major branches of classical mathematics: arithmetic, represented by 1 and 0; algebra, by i; geometry, by π; and analysis, by e, the base of the natural log. eπi+1 = 0 has been called “the most famous of all formulas,” because, as one textbook says, “It appeals equally to the mystic, the scientist, the philosopher, and the mathematician.”

Well, here i grant that it is a rather beautiful and satisfying equation. But it no more proves the existence of God than the equation 1 + 1 = 2. Because, neither of them could be anything other than they are. It is a fool who thinks that the Euler equation arises by chance. It works and Euler discovered it because it has to be that way. Like everything else in mathematics at some level it is merely a tautology. A necessary consequences of setting off down the route of adding one and one to get two, in the process discovering things about the natural numbers. Which leads one naturally enough to real numbers and then onwards to imaginary and complex numbers – non-mathematicians may have to have a little faith at this point 😉

The other cool properties of e and π are indeed deeply inspiring but they don’t need some cosmic bookkeeper to make them that way. That is just the way it is. Get used it, it won’t be changing any time soon.

About caspar

Caspar is just one monkey among billions. Battering his keyboard without expectations even of peanuts, let alone of aping the Immortal Bard. By day he is an infantologist at Birkbeck Babylab, by night he runs
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