"Chance and the Unity of Nature"

BTG Issue: 
January/February 1981 | Vol. 16 No. 1-2
"A mathematician challenges some basic premises of modern science."

"Throughout human history, philosophers and seekers of knowledge have sought to discover a single fundamental cause underlying all the phenomena of the universe. Since the rise of Western science in the late Renaissance, many scientists have also felt impelled to seek this ultimate goal, and they have approached it from their own characteristic perspective. Western science is based on the assumption that the universe can be understood mechanically and mathematically ... and Western scientists have therefore searched for an ultimate, unified mathematical description of nature. ... The scientists' search for a unified explanation of natural phenomena begins with two main hypotheses. The first of these is that all the diverse phenomena of nature derive in a harmonious way from some ultimate, unified source. The second is that nature can be fully explained in terms of numbers and mathematical laws. ... [The] second of these hypotheses constitutes the fundamental methodological assumption of modern science, whereas the first has a much broader philosophical character. Superficially, these two hypotheses seem to fit together nicely. ... We will show in this article, however, that these two hypotheses about nature are actually not compatible. To understand why this is so, we must consider a third feature of modern scientific theory – the concept of chance. As we carefully examine the role chance plays in a mechanistic explanation of nature, we shall see that a mechanistic theory of the universe must be either drastically incomplete or extremely incoherent and disunited. It follows that we must give up either the goal of mechanistically explaining the universe, or the idea that there is an essential unity behind the phenomena of nature. At the end of this article we will explore the first of these alternatives by introducing a nonmechanistic view of universal reality, a view that effectively shows how all the diverse phenomena of nature derive from a coherent, unified source."

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