Tag Archives: science

What does pi sound like?

Happy Pi Day! (3/14)

Happy Pi Day! (3/14)

What does pi sound like? I had never thought of that before seeing this video.  The musician in the video makes each digit correspond to a note on a scale.  He then “plays” pi for 100 digits.  The result is both random and beautiful – which is a perfect description of the number pi.

Pi is an irrational number.  It cannot be expressed by a ratio of two integers.  Instead, it describes the ratio between the diameter and the circumference of a circle.  It goes on forever in randomness.  According to wikipedia, pi has been extrapolated to 10 trillion digits (that would make for a very long song).

Pi is one of those pursuits that has endless applications.  The more I learn about pi, the more I realize I know very little about it.  I find that there is an incredible beauty in mathematics and things like pi and the lesser-known, but equally impressive phi (1.618).

What is less often discussed when it comes to things like Pi and Phi are the theological implications. Theology and science and mathematics are too often seen as competing interests, but to me these fields are about the search for meaning and truth.  There are certainly distinctions that need to be made between these fields, but treating them as mutually exclusive is a a mistake as well.  They use different tools and methods, but the search for truth is part of what makes us human.

Many see phenomena like pi and think, “there is no need for God.”  I see pi and see a remarkable tool that God created.  I cannot prove that I am correct.  This is a faith statement, and faith is irrational.  That does not make faith un-real.

For me, pi itself is a metaphor for faith.  Pi is a reasonable construct of irrationality.  Its very irrationality is a part of this universe that is full of randomness and chaos.  It is out of chaos that God called things into order.

OK, so now I’m starting to get deeper than I originally intended, but I think this is an interesting conversation.  I am fascinated by math, science, evolutionary biology, anthropology, astronomy, and theology.  They are distinct, but cannot be separated.  I believe that the pursuit of knowledge is a God-inspired pursuit.  Happy Pi Day!

For more about how Religion and Science coexist, I highly recommend this book, What About Religion and Science, by Paul Stroble.  You can follow @PaulStroble on Twitter, and read his blog called Journeys Home.

Another post about the wonder of science.

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I’ve rejected that god too.

rejected godMost of the time, when I talk to someone about the god that they have rejected, it turns out that I’ve rejected that god too.  You know, the god of fear and closed-mindedness.  The god of rejection and shame.  The god that supports oppression, injustice, and bullying.  The god that calls people to violence.  The god that uses religion and ritual as a way to pacify the masses, or line the pockets of the powerful.  The god that demands right choices lest I be punished with eternal torment.  I’ve rejected that god too.   Unfortunately, there are many people that have only been told about that god, and so they have walked away.  I want to tell you about the God that I worship.

The God I worship loves me.  God loves me for all my failures, imperfections, and bad choices.  God loves me just as I am, and is working with me to grow into what I could be.   God has picked me up, dusted me off, and reminded me that I am not junk. I am God’s.  God uses my weakness for strength, and has replaced my shame with grace.

The God I worship wants me to love my neighbor as myself.  God wants me to work for justice and act with kindness.  God wants me to be vulnerable to others, not because God wants me to be weak, but because it is impossible to love without first being vulnerable.

The God I worship wants me to love God with all my heart, mind, and strength.  God wants me to expand my mind.  God wants me to challenge, for it is in challenging that we may grow.  God wants me to look to the stars and wonder, explore, and dream about what is possible.  God wants me to know not just the words of the Bible, but to know the heart of the Word.  God wants my whole self, not just my Sunday self.

Today I saw my daughter enter a room.  My heart leaped.  I put my arms out and hoped beyond hope that she would see me and come.  I wanted to see her smile.  I wanted to make her laugh.  I wanted to embrace and make her know that she was loved.  That is how God looks at each of us, and even that is insufficient to describe God’s love.

This is the God I have found.  Perhaps I should say more accurately, this is the God that has found me.  This is the God for which I live and breathe.  This is the God to whom I testify.  This is the God whom I fail time and again, but who is willing to stick with me. This is the God of good news, the God of grace, mercy, and justice.  I don’t blame or fault anyone for walking away from god.  Odds are, I’ve walked away from that god too.  All I can do is show you, tell you, demonstrate to you, and live out the love that is in me.

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Why God?

The Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh from the NYC MoMA

On a beautiful evening in northern Michigan, I was laying on the beach.  I was surrounded by  most of the people I love in this world.  My daughter lay asleep on a towel.  My other daughter was wrapped in the loving arms of a family member.  The sun had set.  The sky had done its marvelous shift from blue to red to purple.  The stars were beginning to appear and slowly. Almost imperceptibly, more were making their debut.  It is a scene that has been repeated since the dawn of humanity.  A group of people, surrounded in love, adoring the awesome specter of a night sky.

I don’t know about the rest of my family, but I knew that I was participating in the oldest form of religious ritual.  For as long as humanity has been walking, eyes have turned skyward at night.  The seemingly endless chaos of stars in the sky has inspired awe and wonder a thousand generations.  My little human mind started to do what little human minds do – I started to label and categorize.  I remembered little snippets of my Astronomy 101 class and was able to identify the Big Dipper, the North Star, Cassiopeia.  I thought to myself, “I think that might be Mars.”  We strained to see satellites, and were envious of those that caught a glimpse of a shooting star.  Even though my analytical mind knew that was not a shooting star, but a piece of space debris being burned in our atmosphere, my wondering mind wished I could catch a glimpse of one.   I was lost in a sense of wonder and astonishment, and couldn’t help but ask myself that age-old question, “How many stars are there?”  I tried in vain to count, but gave up quickly.  “I wonder what that bright star is?” I wondered.  “Is that a constellation?” I thought to myself.

Then someone, perhaps wondering the same things as me, pulled out their iphone.  In an instant they were using it to look at the stars, and it was telling them the names of each constellation, each bright star, each planet, each galaxy and nebula.  It was an amazing little app (and it was free).  There, on secluded beach in the midst of my naive wonder, technology came in to save the day.

My wonder was gone.  And yet, it was really gone before the iphone appeared.  I know that there are more stars in the sky than I can count. Google can tell me there are between 2,000 and 6,000 on any given clear night that we can see with no aid.  I know that what we can see is but a tiny speck in the greater universe.  There are about 100-200 billion stars in our galaxy, and we inhabit an average galaxy.  Conservative estimates say there are about 100-200 billion galaxies.

In ancient times people gazed at the stars and thought that they must be hung in the sky from a firm dome that covers the earth.  There were a few odd “moving stars,” and they just increased the sense of amazement.  Today we know better.  We know that stars are out in a seemingly infinite thing called “space.”  We know that there are more stars than we could ever name or group into neat little patterns.  We know that stars are not tiny pins of light, but instead are giant gaseous nuclear reactions.  We know that the stuff from which we are made – elements – are created in the great furnaces of stars, and more are made in the cataclysmic explosions that occur when stars die.

There are thousands of other mysteries that we have explained, riddles that we have unravelled, questions that we have answered.  All of our progress and discovery has taken us places that seemed unfathomable only a few generations ago.  In the span of 66 years humans went from Kitty Hawk to the moon.  As more and more is explained, there seems to be less and less need for God.  The myths of our ancestors, used to explain things like sunset and sunrise, seem like silly childhood stories.  More and more people ask, “Who needs God?”  Besides being the title of a wonderful book by Harold Kushner, this is a question that has been on the minds of modern people for decades.

I cannot answer that question for you.  Maybe you don’t need God.  I think it is perfectly possible to live a full, rich life without ever believing in God.  I also believe, however, that there is something in us that yearns for more.  I need God because when I look at the stars at night I see from two distinct perspectives.

When I gaze up into the stars I may, at the same time, participate in two of the most basic human instincts.  I desire to name, count, label and categorize.  There is a part of my humanity that makes me want to know more.  It is a driving curiosity that makes me want to get a star map.  I feel comfort in being able to order the seemingly chaotic universe.  I feel comfort in knowing that there is not pure mystery.  Discovery and advancement is a holy work.  Science, knowledge, technology have given us many wonderful gifts.  I am in awe of the capability of the human mind to create and of the human will to advance.  Yet there is something in me that is equally human that knows that there is more up in the stars than a vast collection of hydrogen gasses and nuclear reactions.

I stop and wonder at the sheer magnitude of it all.  I wonder about my own place in this vast and seemingly chaotic universe.  I am drawn into a deep conviction that there is more to all of this than one life.  There is more to this world than even our collective lives.  While at the same time feeling dwarfed by it all, I am strengthened in knowing that I have a place in it.  There is something for me here to do.  I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know that it has a lot to do with loving one another.  I lay down on a beach surrounded by people I love and know that there is something powerful and real that is surrounding us.  I may not be able to name it.  I may never understand it, but I know it is real.

And for me, this is the beauty of being human.  You can call it the analytic and artistic – the objective and subjective – the intellect and the emotion – the yin and the yang.  I call it the sublime paradox of being human.  It is the mystery of faith – the drive to advance, to know, and to understand, held in juxtaposition with the humility of surrender, knowing that there are some places our intellect will not be able to bring us.  Ultimately it is there – the place where humanity’s drive to be more, and our humility to seek God, that is our greatest hope.  It is there – between the extremes of religious fundamentalist tyranny and amoral scientific advancement – that the Kingdom of God is realized.

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