Monday, August 11, 2008

Comment on Physics and Christian Theology: Beauty, a Common Dialect?, an outline article by Tracee Hackel.

In Pursuit of Truth: A Journal of Christian Scholarship published the article mentioned in the title of this blog post. The outline version then appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of Classis, the quarterly journal of the Association of Classical & Christian Schools.

As a practicing mathematical physicist who is also Trinitarian in thinking, I definitely appreciated the general tone of the article, and agreed with most of the points the article made.

However, I did have some small quibbles with the article. In one part of the article, the author wrote:

Maxwell’s insight, which led him to unify the theories of electricity and magnetism, launched human understanding beyond the mechanistic world of Newtonian physics into the new universe of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics...

Being steeped in Trinitarian Christian theology appears to have made Maxwell particularly adept at the kind of thinking required to discover the necessary components of quantum mechanics.

I'm not exactly sure what Hackel meant here.

1. Studying the Maxwell equations, and discovering that they are not invariant under a Galilean coordinate transformation, was certainly important to the discovery of relativity theory. One of Einstein's postulates of Special Relativity states that the laws of physics (particularly Maxwell's equations) are valid in every inertial reference frame.

In other words, relativity is hidden in the Maxwell equations. However, I do not think it would be accurate to say that Maxwell launched human understanding beyond Newtonian mechanics, at least not immediately. Certainly, it was not Maxwell who did that.

2. Maxwell didn't discover the necessary components of quantum mechanics. Now, while it is possible to construe Hackel's statement to mean that those who did discover the necessary components of quantum mechanics had to have the same kind of thinking as Maxwell, an undiscerning reader might not pick up on that, and think instead that Maxwell indeed DID discover the necessary components of quantum mechanics.

I challenge Tracee Hackel to counter these statements, which would, I believe, be corroborated by most physicists today, and probably most historians of science.

Perhaps Hackel is right on these points, and I am wrong. I'm certainly wrong my fair share of the time. However, this time I don't think so.

In Christ.

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