If you have any different insights on these topics, please share them. Maybe some day some of these ideas will make it to the big leagues and become pro-verbs. I also have a blog for technical computery stuff - zachstechnotes.blogspot.com.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

simple answers

The ways in which the universe works are not obvious. The things we think about rarely have simple thinkable answers.

When we talk about the issues that are important in our lives, it seems like we work under the assumption that there is a simple answer that we can work out with our minds. When we argue about whether there is a God or whether an ethical issue is wrong or right or whether something like global warming is really a problem, we think that we can prove that we are right by just stating a few facts. The fact is that people have been arguing about these issues for years. Are we really going to solve them with our limited minds?

I have come to believe that we are not able to know the answers to many of these questions. Can we know for sure that there is a God (we can, of course, declare this plausible because of evidence and accept it by faith) or what He is like? Why should we believe that we can comprehend Him or the reason for His existence? One thing that I learned this summer in my modern physics class is that the universe itself is fundamentally incomprehensible.

Any chemistry student will tell you that there are about 6.022 x 10^23 atoms in a 26 gram sample of iron, but can anyone really comprehend that number? I doubt it. Even if you say that you understand it, I would say that you cannot even come close to imagining that many of anything. There are less than 10 billion people on earth. 10 ^ 23 is ten billion times ten billion times 1000. It is impossible for the human mind to imagine this number.

This is even a very simple example of something we cannot comprehend. At the subatomic level, nothing is really intuitively comprehensible by the human mind. the states of subatomic particles are governed by probability distributions only. We cannot define the exact position and momentum of an electron at a given moment*. Physicist Werner Heisenberg said
"The atom of modern physics can be symbolized only through a partial differential equation in an abstract space of many dimensions. All its qualities are inferential; no material properties can be directly attributed to it. That is to say, any picture of the atom that our imagination is able to invent is for that reason defective. An understanding of the atomic world in that primary sensuous fashion . . . is impossible."
and Richard Feynman said
"I think it is safe to say that no one understands quantum mechanics. Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, 'But how can it be like that?' because you will get 'down the drain' into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that."
If we cannot understand or comprehend the most basic pieces of the universe, why should we expect to be able to understand everything else? Perhaps God did not intend for us to be able to prove Him or understand His thoughts and motives. There is so much knowledge that we do not possess; we should not presume to know so many of the answers. We can only stand in awe of the infinite greatness of the mind of God. As the apostle Paul says in Romans 11,

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!

“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”

“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

*This doesn't simply mean that we don't have accurate enough means to measure the position and momentum of an electron, it is a statement about the very fundamental nature of an electron. Even if we were the size of an electron we wouldn't "see" a ball flying through space - we cannot even imagine what we would see.

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