Saturday, August 21, 2010
My response to Jerry Coyne re: mathematics
On his blog, Jerry Coyne, who is supposed to be a famous evolutionary biologist, wrote the following in response to an article by Karl Gibberson titled Mathematics and the Religious Impulse:
My response:
Professor Coyne,
I have no doubt that you are a giant among fruit fly ejaculate researchers but you are an ignoramus concerning mathematics (and other subjects, from what I’ve observed.) Humans did not “invent” mathematics. Not even Euler, Cauchy, Gauss, or the other greats of mathematics could have “invented” the fabulous results of complex analysis. And abstract algebra was advanced without any application in mind but it turned out to be crucial for physics.
But don’t let any of that stop you from babbling about subjects you know nothing about or spinning just so yarns.

Mathematics is, of course, a logical system invented by humans, and so has to “work”. One could equally well ask, “Why does logic work?” But if Giberson is asking, “Why does math help us understand the world?”, that seems equivalent to asking “Why does nature obey laws?” One answer is that if it didn’t, we wouldn’t be here to ask the question. But maybe I’m missing something. Yet consider this: if nature didn‘t obey laws, would we see that as evidence for no God? Of course not! In fact, the temporary and local suspension of physical law is precisely what a miracle consists of, and miracles, of course, are evidence for God. So when physical laws are obeyed, God’s working, and when they’re broken, God’s working too. Perhaps there’s some intermediate degree of lawlessness that would convince the faithful that there is no God?
My response:
Professor Coyne,
I have no doubt that you are a giant among fruit fly ejaculate researchers but you are an ignoramus concerning mathematics (and other subjects, from what I’ve observed.) Humans did not “invent” mathematics. Not even Euler, Cauchy, Gauss, or the other greats of mathematics could have “invented” the fabulous results of complex analysis. And abstract algebra was advanced without any application in mind but it turned out to be crucial for physics.
But don’t let any of that stop you from babbling about subjects you know nothing about or spinning just so yarns.
Labels: mathematics