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“God is a Mathematician”

“God is a Mathematician” July 22, 2021

 

A view of SD's second largest city
An eastern view of southern Rapid City, South Dakota, taken from the Rapid Valley (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

 

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Dr. Kyler Rasmussen continues with his still-new series of Bayesian blog posts on the website of the Interpreter Foundation:

 

“Estimating the Evidence: Episode 3: On an Improbable Dictation”

 

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Here at FreedomFest 2021, I chaired a session early this afternoon in which Professor Daniele C. Struppa, a professor of mathematics at Chapman University in Orange County, California, and, since 2016, the University’s thirteenth president, spoke under the title “God is a Mathematician.”  It’s a topic in which I have a particular interest, so I was pleased to be asked to manage the session.  The large room was filled to capacity, so it seems that there was interest in the subject.  Professor Struppa did a good job.  The one question that he addressed of which I would not have thought, however, was the contrast between what the Nobel laureate theoretical physicist Eugene Wigner famously called “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Physical Sciences” and the, to this point, considerably lower level of success in applying mathematics to biology and living systems.  Interesting topic.

 

I hadn’t read his talk beforehand, but I was able to respond with a few thoughts on such matters as the Platonist view that numbers and mathematical objects are “real” and that mathematics is discovered, not merely invented, as well as on the ancient Pythagorean notion of music as mathematics (e.g., the ratio of string lengths and the relationship of the notes of the musical scale).  And this, in turn, got me to thinking about the famous ancient idea of “the music of the spheres.”  Thanks to my iPhone, I was able to cite Lorenzo’s speech to Jessica, from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (V.1):

 

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears. Soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patens of bright gold.
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still choiring to the young-eyed cherubins.
Such harmony is in immortal souls,
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

 

Just to make the passage really clear, here’s the inadequate translation into modern English that’s given for the passage on the Spark Notes “No Fear” Shakespeare site:

 

How beautiful the moonlight’s shining on this bank! Let’s sit here and let the music fill our ears. Stillness and nighttime are perfect for beautiful music. Sit down, Jessica. Look at the stars, see how the floor of heaven is inlaid with small disks of bright gold. Stars and planets move in such perfect harmony that some believe you can hear music in their movement. If you believe this, even the smallest star sings like an angel in its motion. Souls have that same kind of harmony. But because we’re here on earth in our earthly bodies, we can’t hear it.

 

To that, Professor Struppa replied by mentioning Johannes Kepler’s 1619 Harmonice Mundi (The Harmony of the World) , in which Kepler discussed harmony and congruence in geometrical forms and physical phenomena.  (It is in the final section of the work that he related his discovery of the so-called “third law of planetary motion.”  Kepler was convinced that “the geometrical things have provided the Creator with the model for decorating the whole world.”  In the Harmonices Mundi, he attempted to explain the proportions of the natural world—particularly in its astronomical and astrological aspects—in terms of music.  The central set of “harmonies” was the musica universalis or “music of the spheres,” which had been studied by Pythagoras, Ptolemy, and many others before him.

 

After my own session, we watched a fifty-minute movie at the Anthem Film Festival, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary.  (It’s a permanent part of FreedomFest.)  Titled Thomas Sowell: Common Sense in a Senseless World and narrated by the Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley, it profiles a man whom I consider one of the great thinkers of our time.

 

Thereafter, we heard speeches from such folks as Kristi Noem, the current governor of South Dakota, and watched a video interview with the actor Dennis Quaid, who will star in the title role in a forthcoming (COVID-delayed) biographical film entitled Reagan.  I’m looking forward to it.  Quaid was scheduled to have been here in person, but a film project created a scheduling conflict, and thus we were stuck with a mere video appearance.  I was pleased, though, to hear Quaid describe Ronald Reagan as his favorite American president and as the greatest president of the twentieth century.  My respect for Dennis Quaid is much higher now than it was this morning.

 

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Here’s a bit of thinking outside the box — to use an expression that doesn’t exactly represent such thinking.  Latter-day Saints, of course, cannot altogether dispense with congregational worship — even less than Catholics can.  And few if any of us wish to dispense with it.  The sacrament is at the core of our regular weekly worship, as the mass is at the center of weekly Catholic worship.  But the Restoration also includes a commitment to “gathering” and to Kingdom-building that isn’t present in Catholicism.  Still, I think that we can learn from our experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Here’s what some Protestants are thinking:

 

“These churches are done with buildings. Here’s why: These two congregations went virtual during the pandemic and neither pastor wants to go back. Do American congregations actually need churches to build communities?”

 

And this, I think, is important:

 

“Defend Religious Liberty for All Despite Our Differences”

 

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Finally, I think there’s some useful counsel in these two short little articles:

 

“‘The pioneer legacy is a legacy of inclusion,’ President Oaks declares”

 

“When in Doubt, Keep the Door Open to Faith: Although at times we may doubt our spiritual experiences, our certainty can come flooding back.”

 

Posted from Rapid City, South Dakota

 

 

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