Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mathematics, Theology and Natural SciencesContrasts and Similarities.

Mathematicians will not easily be involved in a dispute.  Of course they may quarrel if they fall in love with the same woman, or with the same man if they are by chance one of the few female  mathematicians, but their dispute will not concern their specialism. 
The reason is clear. For instance: A straight line is the shortest connection between two points. Three of such lines may together form a triangle. The three angles of the triangle are together 180º.
If they are not exactly 180º, at least one of the three lines forming the triangle is not straight. If the outcome of the measurement is less than 180º, it is concave, and if it is more than 180º, it is spherical. Mathematicians think and discuss within the narrow limits of definitions and agreements. The old Greek philosopher Pythagoras was one of the founders of mathematics.

Narrow limits of definitions and agreements also play a dominant role in theology. Whereas  mathematicians may be communist or capitalist, atheist, christen or muslim, the conditions, definitions and agreements within their specialism are the same, because logic is the leading factor in their thinking within this discipline.
In religion, thinking is not done. So the definitions and agreements in that discipline are not determined by logic and thinking, but by dogma's devised and prescribed by religious leaders, in turn based on their holy books, that were written by their predecessors. These holy books were written long ago and clearly carry the traces of their time. As a consequence, a description of e.g. the Bible  as the "Word of God" can earlier be seen as an insult of an eternal and almighty God than as an homage to such a God.

Given that religions are not based on logic, but on individual questions and needs of the men who did design the religion, it is comprehensible that, definitions and agreements accepted by groups of religious believers, would develop along different lines, being dependent both on location and time.
Though women are usually forming the most loyal group of believers, men are among the most fanatic supporters. Women are not among the founders of religions because men would never accept that. At the best women can be declared holy.
Whereas some Indians living in the surroundings of the Amazon river were considering the sun and the moon as their gods, on other parts of the earth complicated religions were developed such as Buddhism, Hinduism and the Jewish religion. Christianity may be seen as an offshoot of the latter, given that the main addition was the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ. In that sense Christianity was in fact a mixture of the Jewish religion and the Gods of the old Greek and Roman people, who also preferred to see the gods as if they were partly also men.
From that point of view, it is also comprehensible that religious groups accepting the same  definitions and agreements will again split up in separate groups, as soon as separation of their common values takes place.

In some villages in the USA, you will see streets with only churches on both sides. They remind to  shops in a shopping street. In the Netherlands, we had the so called "Hervormde kerk", and as a split-off, the "Gereformeerde kerk", the church of my parents. The names "Hervormd" and "Gereformeerd" are two words with the same sense. So, the first term should be translated by "Reformed Church" and the second  by "Re-Reformed Church". Once anyone has said: "The schisms in the Netherlands will only come to an end if there are exactly as many churches as residents in the country". By the way, I am proud to add that I am a Dutchman. Also, we have an extremely high number of political parties, even a party for the animals. Unfortunately no animals are invited to participate in the elections.
Doubts on the almighty God were already expressed by the old Greek philosophers. So Epicurus (ca.  300 BC) said in reference to the frequent suffering in the world: "Is God willing to prevent the evil, but he cannot, he is not almighty. Can he, but isn't he willing, he is malicious. Can he and is he willing, How can there be any evil?
Later, religious leaders, confronted with similar questions thought to be plain by answering: "God's ways are inscrutable." However the time that such silencers were accepted is over now.
A theologist to be considered as a scientist, can only be an atheist.

One of the reasons for the gradual exodus of churches is, that natural sciences - though never able to proof that God does not exist - did produce a lot of knowledge denying important statements in the bible and other holy books.
Karl Popper, a relatively recent, but well-known science-philosopher has explained that a scientific approach can only be useful to test a thesis, if there is a possibility to rule it out by empirical falsification.
As a consequence, doubts on the existence of a God can only be supported by doubts on the contents of the holy books.
Contrasts between firm religious dogma's and the contents of associated holy books on the one hand and the rapidly increasing knowledge produced by natural sciences on the other hand, are responsible for a decreasing interest in religion in the Western world. It is not surprising that only less that 10% of the top of well known astrophysicists and biologists in the USA do belief in a God, as reported by Richard Dawkins.
Today, many more scientists are involved in natural sciences, than in the past. Then at the time, natural sciences were mainly practised by individual scientists as a hobby, but the rapid distribution of their results as a consequence of accelerated communication by newspapers, journals, internet and email are together putting an increasing pressure on the religions.
Especially in the last century, the progress made by natural sciences did grow exponentially. Two developments did strongly contribute to their impact on human society. First of all, most men - even those belonging to the strongest opponents of modern science - are using its results, such as mobile phones, video camera's, flatscreen TVs, cars and GPS navigation, airplanes, computers, internet and email.
Maybe more impressive is that natural sciences were able to forecast important developments, especially if such developments were nearly incredible for those, not known with scientific progress in general.
Though mathematics in itself do not allow any forecasting, mathematics appeared to be one of the main tools used in natural sciences allowing their specific forecasting. The discovery of the unexpected power of nuclear energy and its applications by physicists and the discovery of new planets or solar systems by astrophysicists before they could even be observed, are examples. But also e.g. the finding of fossil rests of extinct animals, that were unknown, but nevertheless forecasted by biologists as based on the evolution theory.

Natural sciences differ from mathematics because interpretation of results may vary and may be changed as soon as new experimental results are obtained that force to revise the existing theories. This is an absolute condition to prevent that dogma's should get a chance, as they did in theology.
It is the only way to prevent that the tower of science should once appear to be a Tower of Babel.
Natural sciences differ from theology because belief is only the beginning, but not the end at the same time. In natural sciences, belief should - in general - be followed by a long experimental way to confirm that it is justified.
Conditions, definitions and agreements are also important in natural sciences, but exclusively with respect to methods used to perform the experiments, the right control experiments, evaluation of the results etc. Interpretation remains free, if based on a rational evaluation. Discussions should also be based on rational arguments only.
As was the case with respect to mathematics, the old Greek philosophers did also develop important ideas on natural sciences, although they were not able to confirm these ideas by subsequent research.
Metrodorus of Chios postulated in the fourth century BC: That the earth would be the only populated place in the infinite universe, is a thought as absurd as if in a field that is seeded, only one grain would grow out.
Hippocrates postulated in the same period of time that all human acts are determined by atoms (atoms as the smallest indivisible particles).

Nico van Rooijen, April 13, Haarlem, NL

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