"God wrote the universe in the language of mathematics"....Galileo
That about sums up [HA! pun intended] how early scientists felt about mathematics. They cherished it, they advanced it, they found in it an essential tool in revealing just how God worked. And that was their motive: to uncover the design of God and thereby give him praise. We've all seen those math formulas in which gravity, force, acceleration and everything else can be expressed with just a few variables. Why should that be? Why should things not be a hopeless mishmash, like our sock drawer? The answer is what Galileo said...God wrote the universe, and he used mathematics as a language.
Scientists commonly thought that way back then, much to the exasperation of today's atheists. When Kepler worked out the laws governing planetary motions [they move in ellipses, not circles] and published the results, he suddenly let loose with a paean to God, smack dab in the middle of his treatise. If you didn't know better, you'd think it was one of the Bible psalms. Would any scientist be caught dead doing such a thing today?
"The wisdom of the Lord is infinite; so also are His glory and His power. Ye heavens, sing His praises! Sun, moon, and planets glorify Him in your ineffable language! Celestial harmonies, all ye who comprehend His marvelous works, praise Him. And thou, my soul, praise thy Creator! It is by Him and in Him that all exists. that which we know best is comprised in Him, as well as in our vain science. To Him be praise, honor, and glory throughout eternity."
It's not bad. I'd put it with the Psalms, if it were my call. But nobody asked me.
Does it not dovetail with this one, which is in the Bible?
"You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created." Rev 4:11
Contrary to popular belief, those early scientists really didn't experiment much. Instead, they worked out the math, since they were convinced that was how God designed things. When they made experiments it was mostly to confirm results, or as Newton once said, to convince the "vulgar," [He also told how he made up the story of the falling apple to dispose of "stupid" people who asked him how he discovered laws of gravitation.] And Galileo, when describing an experiment of dropping two different masses from the top of a ship's mast, has his fictional creation, a fellow named Simplicio, [!] ask whether he actually made such an experiment. "No, and I do not need it, as without any experience I can confirm that it is so because it cannot be otherwise," was his reply. He worked mostly with mathematics.
Accordingly, Isaac Newton played with the notion of firing a giant cannonball from a mountaintop with just enough velocity, not too much and not too little, that it's ordinary straight line path would be continually offset by the earth's pull so that it would orbit the planet indefinitely. Of course, he didn't actually perform such an experiment, it was all in his head. Working from a few known quantities (radius of the earth, distance a body falls in the first second) he deduced laws of universal gravitation, and, like Kepler, gave God all the glory:
"This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being...This Being governs all things, not as the soul of world, but Lord over all." Mathematical Principles, 2nd edition
Oddly, though mathematics has proven so astoundingly successful at describing the universe we live in, it's success lies in giving up on a greater goal. Long before Galileo, Aristotle and his contemporaries wanted to know what things were. They didn't bother much with description, since that seemed of secondary importance. Only when scientists reversed priorities did they discover mathematics served as an amazing tool of description, though not explanation. This lack of explanation was a sore point for some of Newton's contemporaries, steeped in the tradition of Aristotle. Leibniz, who independently of Newton, discovered calculus, groused that Newton's gravitational laws were merely rules of computation, not worthy of being called a law of nature. Huygens labeled the idea of gravitation "absurd" for the same reason: it described effects but did not explain how gravity worked.
Newton agreed. In a letter to a Richard Bentley he wrote: "That one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed form one to another, is to me so great an absurdity that, I believe, no man who has in philosophic matters a competent faculty of thinking could ever fall into it."
Describing how things work through mathematics has led to scientific triumphs that knock the socks off all of us, and contemporary scientists have gone far beyond Newton. Yet impressive as they are, are they anything more than cheap card tricks when compared to the goal of explaining why things work? Is the latter reserved for the mind of God?
O the depth of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable his judgments [are] and past tracing out his ways [are]! For “who has come to know Jehovah’s mind, or who has become his counselor?” Or, “Who has first given to him, so that it must be repaid to him?” Because from him and by him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen Rom 11:33-36
Many of the particulars here are found in the book Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge, by Morris Kline.
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