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LOOKING FOR GOD'S FOOTPRINTS / James Gleick "Have you ever thought, Angelica," said Persse, "what a remarkable thing it is that the moon and the sun look to our eyes approximately the same size? . . . The odds against it happening by chance must be billions to one." "You don't think it was by chance?" "I think it's one of the great proofs of a divine creator," said Persse. "I think He had an eye for symmetry." —David Lodge, "Small World" SURE, IT'S EASY TO make fun. Our planet flies through space more smoothly than any airplane, covered with water yet never spilling a drop, so it must have had a Designer. Our eyes display too complex an architecture to be reached by random mutations, so they must have had a Biological Engineer. Our atmosphere contains just enough oxygen, just enough carbon to support life, so it must have had an Environmental Consultant. New York City offers a brilliantly conceived breeding ground for cockroaches; surely, therefore, we can deduce the existence of a cockroach deity. The so-called argument from design—from design, that is, to the existence of God—had barely been thought up before it was being satirized, and you can't always tell the serious versions from the parodies. But lately science has been upping the ante. No one cares any more that the moon is unusually large (although some have argued seriously that its tidal washing and splashing may have been a precondition for life's forward march out of the primordial oceans). Nowadays we have the incredibly well-tuned gravitational force, which, if put ever-so-slightly out of whack, would have turned the universe into a collection of red dwarf stars or blue giant stars, either way presumably inhospitable. We have the strong force in the atomic nucleus—a little stronger or a litter weaker, and stars apparently could not burn at all. The post-Big Bang expansion seems especially problematic. Nonscientists don't realize how lucky they are that the universe got bigger than a Ping Pong ball. When modern physicists and mathematicians calculate the odds against life as we know it, they no longer speak of "billions to one." They toss around numbers like IO40, or IO3"1, or ten to the ten to the thirtieth, a number that cannot even be typeset without either two levels of superscript or a universe full of zeroes. The Missouri Review · Il Certainly, for most of the last millennium, science and faith have been mortal enemies. Science explains; faith builds on the inexplicable. Certainly, amid the agnostic throng, few modern scientists talk openly about belief in God. Yet even so, as science staggers toward its Grand Unified Theory and other grails, some of its practitioners have been seeing an argument for God's existence in the esoterica of high-energy physics. They feel that somewhere in these cosmological coincidences, and also perhaps in the accumulating perfection of modern mathematics, lies the evidence of design that cannot be explained away. Perhaps, they feel, science is finally reaching a level of knowledge that will confirm God, instead of rendering Him superfluous. This is the argument that got its most vigorous and many-sided airing in John Updike's 1986 novel, Roger's Version. Though never quite so earnest, never quite so garrulous about it, some practicing scientists really do share at least a part of the feeling of Updike's pallid, pimpled antagonist, a computer scientist named Dale Köhler, that, as he says: "The most miraculous thing is happening. The physicists are getting down to the nitty-gritty, they've really just about pared things down to the ultimate details, and the last thing they ever expected to happen is happening. God is showing through." Updike's version contains its share of parody, to be sure. It also assembles the richest hodge-podge of scientific shoptalk to be found anywhere in fiction—absolutely authentic in its slangy allusions to cellular automata and fractal patterns and the Mandelbrot set. Dale Köhler knows his science, and he cannot be laughed at when he says, "They've been scraping away at physical reality all these centuries, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 11-15
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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