The Man Behind the Wall
Posted by Anthony Mannucci
My book “Embrace The Infinite” is largely about how science and religion inform each other. Consider the following.
You come upon a wall that appears to be pulsating. Bulges in the wall appear at irregular intervals, like little domes the grow and recede. This is something you’ve never seen before.
Then you study the growing and shrinking of the bulges and notice there might be a pattern to it. You put on your scientist hat and start to jot down when and where the bulges form. After doing this for some time, you look at the data you’ve written down and you guess a simple formula that describes when and where the bulges form. You return to the wall, armed with your formula, and find that it holds up. It explains where the bulges will appear and predicts where the next bulge will form, etc. You are excited at having explained the bulges, but also puzzled as to what is causing them.
You notice a small door to the right of the wall. You crouch and slowly open it to find something that startles you: there is a man behind the wall, with a large pole pushing the the wall to create the bulges. He does so in such a way to create the pattern or formula that you discovered. He does it repeatedly, like clockwork, never failing or tiring.
Your reactions are mixed: awe at his perseverance, sympathy for his plight (why is he compelled to do this?), strangely a fear that he will stop.
What has this do with science?
As scientists, we are on the front side of the wall, watching nature behave, noting the patterns and, if we are lucky, figuring out the rules that govern how nature behaves. In the real world, there is no little door we can go behind to figure out why nature behaves as it does. We figure it out, but we don’t know why it is that way.
Nature behaves in such a way that we can figure it out. That is what gets many people excited about science, and about the truths science reveals. However, there are many things that science does not reveal, not because science is deficient, but because science is a method of reasoning that gives us some insights, but not everything.
Why does nature behave as it does? Sometimes there is a simplicity to nature’s behavior that is pleasing, so pleasing we think of that simplicity as a sufficient “explanation.” But really this is not so. There is no explanation. Our imaginations and our desires seem to seek out a deeper purpose to this world, but science is limited in what it can show us.
Many scientists and atheists don’t want to ask why, or attempt to venture behind the wall. But is it so wrong to consider such a venture? We have active minds with imaginations and a seeking nature to learn more. We can ask why, but the answer is not easy to find. Are we wrong to try? How can we be so sure it is wrong to try?