The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer

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Sacred Science

Can emergence break the spell of reductionism and put spirituality back into nature?
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In the early 17th century a demon was loosed on the world by Italian mathematician Galileo Galilei when he began swinging pendulums, rolling balls down ramps and observing the moons of Jupiter — all with an aim toward discovering regularities that could be codified into laws of nature.

So successful was this mechanical worldview that by the early 19th century French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace was able to “imagine an Intelligence who would know at a given instant of time all forces acting in nature and the position of all things of which the world consists… Then it could derive a result that would embrace in one and the same formula the motion of the largest bodies in the universe and of the lightest atoms. Nothing would be uncertain for this Intelligence.” (continue reading…)

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Evolution and economics are both examples
of a larger mysterious phenomenon
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Living along the Orioco River that borders Brazil and Venezuela are the Yanomamö people, hunter-gatherers whose average annual income has been estimated at the equivalent of $90 per person per year. Living along the Hudson River that borders New York State and New Jersey are the Manhattan people, consumer- traders whose average annual income has been estimated at $36,000 per person per year. That dramatic difference of 400 times, however, pales in comparison to the differences in Stock Keeping Units (SKUs, a retail measure of the number of types of products available), which has been estimated at 300 for the Yanomamö and 10 billion for the Manhattans, a difference of 33 million times! (continue reading…)

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Digits & Fidgets

Is the universe fine-tuned for life?
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There was a young fellow from Trinity
Who took the square root of infinity.
But the number of digits
Gave him the fidgets;
He dropped Math and took up Divinity.

In the limerick above, physicist George Gamow dealt with the paradox of a finite being contemplating infinity by passing the buck to theologians.

In an attempt to prove that the universe was intelligently designed, religion has lately been fidgeting with the fine-tuning digits of the cosmos. The John Templeton Foundation even grants cash prizes for such “progress in religion.” Last year mathematical physicist and Anglican priest John C. Polkinghorne, recognized because he “has invigorated the search for interface between science and religion,” was given $1 million for his “treatment of theology as a natural science.” In 2000 physicist Freeman Dyson took home a $945,000 prize for such works as his 1979 book, Disturbing the Universe, in which he writes: “As we look out into the universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the Universe must in some sense have known that we were coming.” (continue reading…)

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