The Argument from Maths in Seven Quick Points

Saints and Sceptics

1) As Galileo put it, the laws of physics are written in the language of mathematics . Many have discussed just how remarkable this is. Theoretical physicist Paul Davies writes, ‘Yet the fact that “mathematics works” when applied to the physical world – and works so astonishingly well – demands explanation, for it is not clear we have any absolute right to expect that the world should be well described by mathematics.’ (Davies, 1992, p.150)

Eugene Wigner famously wondered at the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics. Now, some might argue that Davies and Wigner ought not to have worried about such questions. After all, what other sort of universe could exist? Surely every universe could be described by mathematics? However, as Alvin Plantinga points out, this misses the depth of Wigner’s insight:

”…what is unreasonable, in Wigner’s terms, is that the sort of mathematics effective in science is extremely challenging mathematics, though still such that we humans can grasp and use it (if only after considerable effort).” (Plantinga, 2012, p.284)

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There are numerous other ways that our universe could have been. It could have been a maelstrom of random activity. But this would exhibit no regularity or law; it would have no discernible pattern that could be described by simple formula. Indeed, because there are many more ways to be disordered than there are to be ordered, we would expect a universe that existed by impersonal chance to be anarchic and unruly. A universe ordered by laws that can be described in the language of mathematics seems much likelier if theism is true.

2) In fact, the patterns that physics reveals are quite stunning in their elegance. Our universe is not only ordered; it seems to have been so ordered by a mathematician of the highest order using deep, advanced mathematics! This is the hall-mark of design.

3) Perhaps conscious agents can only exist in universes in which “mathematics works”. In the absence of conscious agents, no one would be around marvel at all the complex order in the universe. So, given conscious observers exist it was inevitable that they would observe a universe in which mathematics works…

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The Argument from Maths in Seven Quick Points – Saints and Sceptics


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