Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Stupid Letter of the Week

Here's an extract from a stupid letter to the editor of my local newspaper, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record:


"Some of the world's leading scientists are wrestling with a number of very big, profound questions, namely: Why is there anything? Why should there be anything? How and when did living cells appear on our planet? What is the essential nature of life? What is the nature of - and relationship between - space and time? Did anything exist prior to the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago?

...

"...I rather doubt that even Stephen Hawking can imagine, or describe, a perfectly straight line that continues forever, with no beginning and no ending. To do so would be to understand infinity, which is beyond the scope of our finite minds.

"Ideally it would be great if science and good religion could work together, as partners, on these questions."


What confusion! The writer describes a "straight line that continues forever", and then says it can't be described. He also doesn't seem to know that such a line is discussed and described in the 7th grade curriculum. Nor does he seem to know that infinity, in its many variations, is routinely understood by the finite minds of mathematicians.

Then he proposes that "good religion" would be a partner for science to answer his questions. My question is, exactly what would "good religion" bring to the table?

7 comments:

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Goggle: Paul Zacharias Kitchener.

Result:
There are 1 people called PAUL REV ZACHARIAS in Kitchener, ON


He's a "REV".

manuel "moe" g said...

I wish laymen had to read Knuth's "Surreal Numbers" before commenting about what mathematicians can and cannot understand about infinity.

Their fallacious arguments always imply that mathematicians cannot understand billions, because a lifetime would just barely give the time to vocalize the syllables in counting up to one billion.

Samuel said...

"Some of the world's leading scientists are wrestling with a number of very big, profound questions, namely: Why is there anything? Why should there be anything?"

I thought that's what a minor in philosophy was for....

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

"Some of the world's leading scientists are wrestling with a number of very big, profound questions, namely: Why is there anything? Why should there be anything?..."

"Why" questions and "How" questions are not as distinct as some people imagine; sometimes a simple restructuring can convert one to the other. There are some "Ultimate why" questions, this being one, which as Samuel has pointed out are the province of philosophy, not science. And philosophy doesn't seem to have come up with a good answer either.

While it may be true that leading scientists wrestle with this question, it is not a part of their doing science.

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

"good religion" usually translates as "my religion."

Jeffrey Shallit said...

"All sensible men are of the same religion. But what religion that is, no sensible man will ever say."

-- attributed to many people

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Whenever I have a problem with infinity :-) I map it to zero by the function x -> 1/x.

I bet that Rev. Paul Zacharias had not imagined that his letter would attract so many comments. He didn't write it in order to be taken seriously by the Perimeter Institute but only to show to the religious folk around him that he and them can differentiate themselves from scientists (by saying trivialities).