Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Nobel Prize and the value of explanation

There is a memory that I have that still conjures a sense of magic in my mind. Forty-seven years ago, I accompanied my grandmother into a men's clothing store in Claremont, NH. This was the big city, filled with shops and stores and fancy dressed shop keepers who greeted customers with broad smiles. This particular men's clothing store, however, had something no other store in the area could boast; as you approached the entrance a small black circle at the top of a shiny silver post saw our arrival and an invisible doorman opened the door for us. Obviously the rest of the store was incredibly boring to a four year old but this 'magic eye' captured and held my attention. What did it see when it looked at me? Did it know I was four years old? Did it see both me and my grandmother? Did it remember me from my last trip to the city?

Jump ahead nearly twenty years and my curiosity about God's creation had led me to books on astronomy, theoretical physics and astrophysics. I enjoyed reading the biography of one of my heroes and Nobel prize winner, Dr. Einstein and of his many contributions to physics on both an atomic and galactic scale. I was shocked to discover that Dr. Einstein did not win his Nobel prize for the General or Special Theories of Relativity as one might assume. Amazingly, he was awarded the coveted prize for explaining the photo-electric effect. That's right, Dr. Einstein knew how and what the magic eye from the men's clothing store saw and was able to explain it. Please understand, Dr. Einstein did not invent the photo-electric effect, that was done by other scientists, but he was able to explain the effect and the explanation was of such value that it won the highest recognition of a grateful world.

I was reminded of these events just this week as the winners of this years Nobel prizes were announced. Picking winners is a daunting task for the Nobel committee because the winners must be folks whose contributions have historical significance BUT they must be alive. The Nobel is never awarded to a dead person. The latest winner, as of this writing, is Gerhard Ertl of Germany. He has won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for being able to explain chemical processes on solid surfaces.

Dr. Ertl can explain how catalysts in automobiles work, how fuel cells function and why iron rusts. Let me point out again that Dr. Ertl did not invent the catalytic converter or fuel cells or rust. His gift to science is his ability to explain the process. This is a pattern you will find over and over amongst the winners picked by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The Nobel prize is really a measure of mankind's value on explanation. This value tells us something about how conventional knowledge is accepted and perpetuated. If we would reward a man with 1.5 million dollars because he can explain why rust happens, imagine what an explanation of the beginning of life would be worth. How valuable would an explanation of evil be, or of man's inhumanity toward man?

The reason that explanation is so valuable is because apart from the explanation science is merely trial and error. That's right, the photo-electric effect was discovered through trial and error. Chemical processes on solid surfaces were discovered through trial and error as were MOST of the great discoveries of science. What is of greater value than the discovery is the explanation of the mechanics involved and the significance of the event. Until the explanation is revealed the event remains an ACCIDENT and no scientist can ever be content with an accident, or can he?

If ones worldview is a rejection of theism, a rebellion against the Sovereign God of Scripture than not only will the accidental be tolerated but it will be advanced and protected politically. Never mind that the mechanism for evolution, natural selection and mutation, cannot be demonstrated and it's irrational. Science is strangely content to avoid a Biblical explanation for life and it's non material aspects even in theory; in the case of evolution science is at BLISS with accident.

The Bible is rejected, why? The Bible is a book of revelation, a book of information and most significantly to the scientist, a book of explanation. Why will these doctors who place so much value on the explanation of an invisible doorman reject the explanation of invisible good and invisible evil, of non-corporal information and the invisible workings of providence? The reason is clear, if God is in the equation then all mankind is responsible to Him. If God is the explanation then all have sinned and fall short of his glory. If God is creator, then man is a creature and must step down from his throne built on trial and error.

When the evolutionist turns his back on explanation in favor of accident, he proves that his only motivation is a rejection of the Creator.


Steve Burri said...


Good to meet you this afternoon.

Here's my (our) blog's address. The blog started with my brother, his twin adult sons, and me; two atheists and two Christians; two conservatives, one libertarian, and one progressive.

We started about 2 1/2 years ago with much lively discussion. However, I am now pretty much the sole survivor.

Come for a visit.

Sharon Madsen said...

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