When has somebody using the faith-based method of religion made a spectacularly accurate prediction about how reality behaves? Never. Not ever.
But people using the tools of science have done just that. This is one reason, among many, why science rocks and religion sucks.
Below is an excerpt from the final chapter, where Steven Strogatz, the author, discusses how amazing it is that calculus can be used to make predictions about reality that are as precise as one in a hundred million.
Religion has no choice but to bow down at the feet of science and admit that when it comes to comprehending the mysteries of the cosmos, there's a clear winner. And it sure isn't religion.
Behold what Strogatz has written. I find this hugely more appealing than any religious text, since I've seen the light and decided that I much prefer truth over fiction, facts over falsehoods, open-minded inquiry over faith-based blind belief.
By wielding infinity in just the right way, calculus can unlock the secrets of the universe. We've seen that happen again and again, but it still seems almost miraculous. A system of reasoning humans invented is somehow in tune with the harmony of nature.
It's reliable not just at the scales where it was invented -- at the everyday scales of ordinary life, with its spinning tops and bowls of soup -- but also at the smallest scales of atoms and at the grandest scales of the cosmos.
So it can't just be a trick of circular reasoning.
It's not that we're stuffing things into calculus that we already know, and calculus is handing them back to us; calculus tells us about things we've never seen, never could see, and never will see. In some cases, it tells us about things that never existed but could -- if only we had the wit to conjure them.
This, to me, is the greatest mystery of all: Why is the universe comprehensible, and why is calculus in sync with it?
...The first example [of the eerie effectiveness of calculus] takes us back to where we started, with Richard Feynman's quip that calculus is the language God talks. The example is related to Feynman's own work on an extension of quantum mechanics called quantum electrodynamics, or QED for short. QED is the quantum theory of how light and matter interact.
...More important, it's the most accurate theory anyone has ever devised... about anything. With the help of computers, physicists are still busy summing the series that arise in QED, using what are known as Feynman diagrams, to make predictions about the properties of electrons and other particles.
By comparing those predictions to extremely precise experimental measurements, they've shown that the theory agrees with reality to eight decimal places, better than one part in a hundred million.
This is a fancy way of saying that the theory is essentially right.
It's always hard to find helpful analogies to make sense of such big numbers, but let me try putting it like this: a hundred million seconds equals 3.17 years, so getting something right to within one part in a hundred million is like planning to snap your fingers exactly 3.17 years from now and timing it right to the nearest second -- without the help of a clock or an alarm.
There's something astonishing about this, philosophically speaking.
The differential equations and integrals of quantum electrodynamics are creations of the human mind. They are based on experiments and observations, certainly, so they have reality built into them to that extent. Yet they are products of the imagination nonetheless. They are not slavish imitations of reality.
They are inventions.
And what is so astonishing is that by making certain scribbles on paper and doing certain calculations with methods analogous to those developed by Newton and Leibniz but souped up for the twenty-first century, we can predict nature's innermost properties and get them right to eight decimal places.
Nothing that humanity has ever predicted is as accurate as the predictions of quantum electrodynamics.
I think this is worth mentioning because it puts the lie to the line you sometimes hear, that science is like faith and other belief systems, that it has no special claim on truth.
Any theory that agrees to one part in a hundred million is not just a matter of faith or somebody's opinion. It didn't have to match to eight decimal places. Plenty of theories in physics have turned out to be wrong. Not this one. Not yet, at least. No doubt it's a little bit off, as every theory always is, but it sure comes close to the truth.