The curious “assumption of intelligibility”

The curious “assumption of intelligibility” February 13, 2021


Remnants of planetary crust disintegrating under the tidal forces around a cool white dwarf. Material in the disc becomes vaporised close to the central star and flows onto the white dwarf atmosphere. Credit: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick


I eagerly await vaccination against COVID-19 — not only for my own safety and that of my family, but for all of those around me, for my community, for the society in which I live:


“Pfizer’s vaccine appears to reduce coronavirus transmission: Vaccinated people tend to carry less virus in their bodies than unvaccinated people, studies show”

“If the vaccines do reduce the spread of the virus, “it means that even people [who] aren’t vaccinated will gain protection from the vaccinated people around them,” says Marm Kilpatrick, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz. As more people get vaccinated, they won’t go on to infect as many other people as they might have before the shot, he says.”




Wondering whether to sacrifice in order to pay for music lessons for your children?


“Musical Training Gives the Brain a Crucial Advantage—Especially at an Early Age, Says New Study”


This is a really good innovation:


“Kenyan Woman’s Startup Recycles Plastic Waste into Bricks That Are 5x Stronger Than Concrete”


An interesting idea:


“The First Farmer in the US to Sequester Carbon for Cash Earns $115,000 For His New Planting Strategies”




I love stories of archaeological finds by amateurs.  This is a nice one:


“Amateur Treasure Hunter Unearths Missing Centerpiece of Henry VIII’s Crown — And It’s Worth Millions”

““There are many more people using metal detectors than there are archeologists, so they find much more stuff, and it’s transforming our view of the past,” academic archeologist Professor Carenza Lewis told ITV.”






“Birds can ‘read’ the Earth’s magnetic signature well enough to get back on course”




Out of Switzerland:  “A new way of forming planets”


“TESS discovers new worlds in a river of young stars”


“Image: Hubble takes portrait of nebula”


And, from the other end of the planetary life cycle, an item out of England:


“Vaporised crusts of Earth-like planets found in dying stars”




Once again, out of England:  “Women better at reading minds than men – new study: Bath psychologists have developed the first ever ‘mind-reading questionnaire’ to assess how well people understand what others are really thinking.”

I’m not even slightly surprised to learn that “women are much better than men at putting themselves in someone else’s shoes.”




This is important:


“Postmodernism: “The Ultimate Sour Grapes of Science Deniers””


Definitions are necessary but, quite often, surprisingly difficult.  Here’s an example:


“How Big is the Solar System?”




Rev. Dr. David Wilkinson, a British Methodist theologian, holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology and teaches at the University of Durham.  This is a passage that I marked a while back during a reading of his book God, Time and Stephen Hawking: An Exploration Into Origins (London: Monarch Books, 2001):


Although the popular view of Hawking’s work has often been to see it as an attack on God, it is far from that.  There are a number of things about Hawking’s views on God which need to be clearly noted.

First, he takes as an assumption without justification that the universe is intelligible to us, that is we are free to observe it and describe it in mathematical terms.  However, this is surely an aspect of the universe which needs explanation.  John Polkinghorne was Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge where he encountered first hand the intelligibility of the world in the area of particle physics.  Now an ordained minister in the Church of England, he argues that it is a striking and non-trivial fact that the pattern of mathematics is realised in the physical structure of the world and that our minds are able to solve problems that the physical world presents.  For this assumption of intelligibility used by science Polkinghorne sees the most reasonable explanation as the existence of a Creator who is the common ground of the rationality of our minds and the universe.  We may add that a mathematical account of the creation of the universe implicitly assumes that the mathematical laws are transcendent, that is they are not contained by the physical universe.  Yet where do these laws come from?  Is the most reasonable explanation once again a rational creator?

Second, Hawking tends to identify God as exclusively a ‘deistic’ creator, making God vulnerable to being pushed out of the gaps.  Deism viewed God as the initiator or originator of the universe, but that was all.  It was as if God lit the blue touch paper and then went off for a cup of tea to have nothing more to do with the universe.  Little consideration was given to historical revelation or religious experience that may point to God as sustainer and lawgiver of the universe.  Hawking talks of God in much the same way and so his work is an attack on deism, rather than Christian theism.  (129-130)


It should be pointed out, however, before any reader is reflexively inclined to dismiss him and his comments on the grounds that he’s merely a theologian, that Rev. Dr. Wilkinson also holds a doctorate in theoretical astrophysics and that he is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.


He goes on to offer a third note on Professor Hawking’s theoriziing and its relevance to the existence of God, but I think that I’ll save that point for a future blog entry.  Instead, I’ll now quote another passage from Rev. Dr. Wilkinson that I marked.  Referring to “the old distinction between how and why questions,” he remarks that


it is helpful to understand that science is primarily concerned about ‘how’ questions.  How did the universe arise out of a Big Bang?  How do gas clouds collapse under gravity to form stars?  It [science] is a successful discipline because it limits itself to these kinds of questions.  To note that it does not address ‘why’ questions is not to introduce a God of the gaps but simply to recognise that science is not about value and purpose.  (131)



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