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Religion and Science: Convergence?

Malcom W. P. Strandberg

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

82 Larchwood Drive
Cambridge Massachusetts USA

First Edition completed November 2004
This Edition Printed, July 4, 2006

The capabilities of a human being can be compared to the facets of a jewel, with her various capabilities corresponding to the separate facets of the jewel. Each facet is a unique window into the gem, and each capacity of a human is a function complete within itself. A sense of humor does not require, say, the music talent of appreciating harmonic structure to be able to high light the irony of life. And the epicure responds to the taste, and smell, and sight that he has educated for that purpose quite distinct from his musical esthetics.

In short, the capabilities that represent the human being are not irreducibly complex, but are reducible, and represented by single, complete abilities. If the capabilities must be listed they would be a sense of humor, a musical capability, an erotic capability, a religious capability, an esthetic capability, an empathetic capability, the physical senses sight, and sound, and touch, a capability to wonder and be awed, a capability to endure pain and suffering, a relentless desire for life, a social capacity, a gastronomical capability, a logical capacity, and a rational capacity. The logical and rational capacities are listed separately because they are separate disciplines. The logical system of reasoning satisfies closure; every statement has only one consequence. It would be used in analysis in science and physics. The rational is the real world analytic tool. In a rational world there are at least 2 answers to every question. It is the tool used in politics and business, areas much too complex for logical reasoning, and where the questions asked are not valid logical questions. There are many more capabilities that could be listed, but to arrive at a complete list is not necessary for the matter discussed below.

A human experience may combine the use of several of these capabilities at one time. But the human brain is capable of multi-threading, as one would say in computer talk. A horse, beside the ability to input visual images and sound patterns is capable of a single cognitive thread. To prevent a horse from being spooked by some object or happening one need only occupy that thread with commands so the horse does not bolt. On the other hand, for humans in an adversarial conversation, one assumes that, beside inputting your sound pattern and your visual image with your body language and facial expressions, the adversary is also processing your remarks, searching for ways to invalidate your remarks, and composing a stunning rejoinder. At least 3 threads are in operation. An automobile driver with a back seat full of kids and a cell phone in hand has 5 or more threads in play.

With this view of human capabilities being reducible to one dimensional representations the matter of the convergence of physics --or science -- and religion is more readily dealt with. Thus there seems to be no need to invoke a superposition of scientific and religious capabilities. Our universe appears to be determined and invariant in space and time. Humans have created logical structures that appear to describe the physical processes in the universe. They are isomorphisms or local homomorphisms on a segment of the universe that allow one to describe observations of the universe in terms that reasonably approximate that behavior and are useful for humans to apply. And they only answer questions that are valid in the system of logic. The religious capabilities of humans will lead them to view those same phenomena and see the will of a deity that is the source of this determinism in the universe. It answers the questions that are invalid in the logic of science, but it does not augment the findings of science and is quite distinguishable from them.

The processes observed by science appear tobe invarient in in sense that a process taking place is identical with the same process iterated many times later. No diety is needed to repeat a process exactly each time it accurs; a diety would be needed tocause it tochange behavior on subsequent occurences.

The structures of these two capabilities, scientific and religious are quite different. The constructs of physics are based upon a metric and an arithmetic with which to transform it. Newton selected a metric, a second order differential equation relating a force to an acceleration, and calculus as the arithmetic with which to manipulate it. Quantum mechanics has matrix equations and matrix algebra or a first order differential equation and eigenvalue analysis for metric and arithmetic. Color theory never made progress from Newton's description of the elements of color until the early 1900's that Arthur Hardy and others exploited the tristimulus values and provided the arithmetic for their manipulation and the spectrophotometer that measured the data to be manipulated. There is no metric used by the religious capability, and there is no corresponding arithmetic. In no way can these different entities be combined in a linear superposition, say. They can certainly exist simultaneously in the human brain. The wonder and the awe and the reverence of the religious capability can certainly augment the findings of science. Theology is able to answer the questions which are not valid questions within the logic of science, the how and why about which science gives no guidance. They multi thread but do not interfere with each other.

Writings on the convergence of science and religion are fascinated by and encouraged in thinking that convergence is made possible by three words, relativity, uncertainty, and incompleteness. They come from the field of physics and they seem to exhibit the same limitations in science that rational theology deals with. The rational analysis of theology yields two or several answers for every question with no proof definitive. But the logic of science yields unique answers to valid questions; the indeterminacy of quantum states, which is referred to as the uncertainty principle, arises from the fact that the isomorphism on those states is given by a first order differential equation; hence only one of the canonical coordinates, position and momentum, can be specified. Newton chose a second order differential equation to describe the classical world; hence two canonical variables can be specified, position and momentum. In any case, it is a mistake to take the local homomorphism for the real physical universe to be the physical universe that it imitates. No physicist would want to see it happen for there would be too much physics to be revised, but it is possible that another representation of the quantum world that includes the classical world will be found. Newton's classical dynamics has been extended by relativity theory, with force at a distance replaced by space-time warping. So relativity and uncertainty are not aspects of physics that will make a convergence with religion possible; they are aspects of representations of a deterministic universe that need to be extended in some way. In no way do they require that the methods of physics, with its metrics and its arithmetics to be ignored to enable a convergence with the rational principles of theology.

Incompleteness does present problems, problems that science wisely ignores. I am told that Godel has shown that in a system of axioms, rules of inference and theorems, there will be contradictions or true statements which can not be proven to be true. Physics research does not appear to be limited by this conclusion. For example, one cannot prove that solutions exist for Maxwell's equations. However, solutions can be found from the wave equation derived from them, some of which satisfy Maxwell's equations, some of which do not. Physicists simply discard the solutions that do not satisfy Maxwell's equations. In a similar manner Godel acknowledged that the completeness of a robust system of logic could be proved by using axioms outside the system; the extended system would then be unable to prove its own completeness. One can go a bit further in avoiding problems with completeness of a logical deterministic system. The physical universe does appear to be deterministic, though the probabilities that one deals with in quantum systems do require careful handling to make that point. The arithmetic that physics uses to describe the behavior of the physical universe is deterministic, by tradition. But one can just as well use nondeterministic analysis, which is outside the ken of Godel, to carry out the calculation of the behavior of the physical universe. In this approach a metric is used as a caliper to judge the degree of validity of solutions that the system generates in a totally random fashion. In short, science, or physics, does not appear to be limited by incompleteness. And theology, which is not constrained by working within robust arithmetics, is not subject to the threat of incompleteness either. There is no convergence here.

If scientific thought and religious thought operate separately in a multi threading mode in the human brain one might ask how the brain functions; are the threads untangled, independent? The answer to that question is not known, but there is research that suggests that the process is nondeterminate. For example, the human being reacts to infection by producing anti-bodies that mark the infecting agent. A determinate system would have rules, theorems?, by which it would determine the nature of the infecting agent and other rules which prescribed the construction of the anti-body for that particular infecting agent. Given the countable infinity of ever changing infecting agents that program does seem heroic. On the other hand a nondeterminate process would have the human body generate antibodies at random and then use some metric to determine which are the most suitable and concentrate the antibody production on that segment of antibodies produced at random. The Nobel Prize in 1972 for Medicine or Physiology went to G. M. Edelman and R. R. Porter for research work elucidating the chemical nature of antibodies which suggests a nondeterminate process for their production. In later years Edelman has described his version of neural development and brain function. The structure of the brain is not based on a set of rules but by a principle of what works, neural Darwinism are the words he uses. In function the brain is not a logical organ, he says. The indeterminate randomness of the brain in its creative mode allows it to defy contradictions and to create coherence in regions quite outside the box, as the saying goes.

There are neurophysiologists who are proud to say they do not understand what Edelman is talking about, but the point to be made is that it is possible that the brain is not a logical machine. There are no axioms of science to become entangled with the axioms of theology, The creations appropriate to science can be created in the brain, possibly, along with the creative thoughts of religion or accompanied by the restful effects of musical accompaniment. In the same manner that the various courses of a fine meal complement each other and bring about a total satisfaction of the epicure, so can religion and science and music, and the elements of other human capabilities combine to bring a greater measure of satisfaction to a physicist's life. But convergence is not the word to describe that state of affairs.

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Malcom W. P. Strandberg, Email: mwpstrATmitDOTedu
Essay Installed 2006-07-04