Sunday, March 02, 2008

Aunt Matilda's cake

"Perhaps a simple illustration will help convince us that science is limited. Let us imagine that my Aunt Matilda had baked a beautiful cake and we take it along to be analyzed by a group of the world's top scientists. I, as master of ceremonies, ask them for an explanation of the cake and they go to work. The nutrition scientists will tell us about the number of calories in the cake an its nutritional effect; the biochemists will inform us about the structure of the proteins, fats etc. in the cake; the chemists, about the elements involved and their bonding; the physicists will be able to analyze the cake in terms of fundamental particles; and the mathematicians will no doubt offer us a set of elegant equations to describe the behaviour of those particles.
Now that these experts, each in terms of his or her scientific discipline have given us an exhaustive description of the cake, can we say that the cake is completely explained? We have certainly been given a description of how the cake was made and how its various constituent elements relate to each other, but suppose I now ask the assembled group of experts a final question: Why was the cake made? The grin on Aunt Matilda's face shows she knows the answer, for she made the cake, and she made it for a purpose. But all the nutrition scientists, biochemists, chemists, physicists and mathematicians in the world will not be able to answer the question - and it is no insult to their disciplines to state their incapacity to answer it. Their disciplines, which can cope with questions about the nature and structure of the cake, that is, anwering the 'how' questions, cannot answer the 'why' questions connected with the purpose for which the cake was made. In fact, the only way we shall ever get an answer is if Aunt Matilda reveals it to us. But if she does not disclose the answer to us, the plain fact is that no amount of scientific analysis will enlighten us." (From John Lennox, God's Undertaker - Has science burried God? - p. 40,41)

If you have 1 hour and 40 minutes to spare, use this time to watch this debate between Professor Richard Dawkins (best known for his book The God Delusion) and Dr. John C. Lennox (author of the before mentioned book, Reader in Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics Philosophy of Science at Green College.)

John Lennox's book God's Undertaker is not an easy read, but I can highly recommend it to you if you are interested in science and religion.