Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Today I helped to lead a trip to the top of Top Tibba, a local hill. In spite of all of the musings that ensue, I managed to have a peaceful walk. I even came home with three more rocks for the Redwood Cottage Rock Garden. I also took a picture of some mountain top flowers that were dusty and wilted looking but perhaps in their prime.
We pointed out some ripply rocks that are fossilized remains of a pre-historic beach. Geologists figure the Himalayas are products of a collision between two continental plates, and the rock that has been thrust so high was once a beach of northern India. In geological contexts, these ideas are all discussed as though they were sound conclusions from solid evidence, but the mathematician in me cringes at the muddy waters of this proof. Not that I doubt the point, but that I loathe the argument.
Now I in my ignorance might assume, upon finding a rock that looked like a beach, that since the rock was about as far from a beach as ever a rock was, maybe there were other ways for rocks to become rippled. Maybe the beachy appearance was misleading. I might ponder whether or not sand would fossilize without losing its ripples, but I would not conclude that the ripples constituted irrefutable evidence that the particular rock was once a beach. Assuming such a thing implies that there is no other possible process that would result in such a formation, and I would feel naive to assume that.
The geologists' response, while accepting an idea that is superficially far-fetched (a rock moving from a non-existent ocean to a mountain top), rejects an idea that is scientifically cautious, that maybe within the vast plentitude of what we do not know there lies an arrangement of forces besides water which could produce such a visual effect.
I do not particularly doubt this theory, much less do I have a better idea, but the brand of logic that seems to tie together our understanding of geology makes me grateful to have chosen mathematics.
As long as I have the can of worms opened, I have wondered about academic attacks on creationism. Science has a foundation of organizing knowledge that can be observed, measured and replicated entirely within the physical realm. This excludes the considerations of any interactions, if ever they have occurred, between this world and a supernatural one. My question is this: If there is a supernatural world and if it has ever interacted with our natural world, would our Science do a sufficient job of interpreting such an interaction? Upon interacting with the natural world, does a supernatural force not become natural? Or even worse, does the natural world not become supernatural?
At one point mathematics, which was once only concerned with real numbers, was unable to deal with certain problems. When complex numbers arrived, they provided an articulation of something not altogether different, but more complete. The complex numbers include the real numbers, it was found. The world had been dealing in special cases, and it was no wonder there were unanswered questions. While most people may never go beyond using real numbers in math, the pesky truth remains that they are simple cases of complex numbers, and they always have been. There are questions which are asked in terms of real numbers, but can only be answered using complex numbers.