Proportionality is best known in its use as a word in Law; Statute Law. Most of us know that rule on which our law is based and which was parodied by the operetta-makers Gilbert and Sullivan, who said;’ Make the punishment fit the crime’. This making the punishment fit the crime is an example of proportionality. Another example is a saying my wife uses about people who overreact about solving a problem. She says that they ‘use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut’. Another proverbial saying is the one which we use to accuse people of making too much fuss over an event; ‘Making a mountain out of a molehill’. Both too much fuss and over-reactive remedies are disproportionate as answers to the problems for which they are chosen to solve. So by now you should be getting an idea of what the word ‘proportionality’ means and how it is used.
Now let’s look at magnitude; which deals with the relative sizes of things we meet with in with life; and the example of the importance of magnitude is given in the story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears. Papa Bear’s chair was too big; Baby Bear’s chair was just right. Papa Bear’s bed was too big; Baby Bear’s bed was just right; both were just right for Goldilocks because she too, like Baby Bear, was a child, and so she was smaller than her parents were; just as Baby Bear was smaller than his parents were.
Goldilocks found a chair and a bed of the appropriate magnitude for herself; but magnitude isn’t only about the size of objects. Goldilocks’s found Papa Bear’s porrage too hot and found Mama Bear’s porrage too cold; she also found Mama Bear’s bed too soft, and Papa Bear’s bed too hard. And so magnitude can be about hot and cold and about comfortable and uncomfortable as well; and it can also be about lots of other things that have a spectrum with an extreme at either end. North and south; east and west; beginning and end; wet and dry; and so on.
So we have these two ideas; proportionality and magnitude; with which we can look at nature and at the world in which we live.
It is an argument of some vintage, one which is time-honoured, which has applied these two ideas of proportionality and of magnitude to life and to nature. The argument has gone on to use the evidence having arisen from this application to support a claim that God has made our lives and has made nature itself to be proportionate, just right, for us to live in; because all things we meet with are always of a suitable magnitude for us to live with.
The same argument is often used today as a basis for proposing an Intelligent Design for life, the universe and everything; God being the Intelligence whose Design of things is our world and ourselves. Everything just right.
Now in a general sense I guess everything is just right for life and existence. Yet we see people who are extraordinarily tall or extraordinarily short; giants and dwarves; living considerably shorter lives because of their lack of proportionality; because of their extreme magnitude; than do people who are around average height. We can conclude that around about average height is good to be at and so things have been made just right in this respect.
(Let’s leave the circularity of this argument for a few minutes and come back to this objection to it soon)
But yet we do see that giants and dwarves are born and do die early in general; and so for these people life is not proportionate, not just right; and because their magnitudes are too extreme. How does our understanding of God making things all proportionate and of just the right magnitude bear up in the light of these unfortunate people and their lives?
We can extrapolate this example of dwarves and giants to all kinds of small minorities of events, people, phenomena, which do happen, or do exist, or are observed, and all of them give the lie to the idea that everything is always just right and that God has made it just so. And these exceptions to proportionality and to the right magnitude are those evidences used by people who disaprove of the arguments for Intelligent Design, and who wish to deny that such a thing exists. Often these people will want to deny Intelligent Design in order for them to deny God also; whereas those people who want to assert Intelligent Design as a fact usually will want to assert it in order to uphold their belief in God.
Yes we do see horrendous weather; storms, floods, tsunami, and we see violent earth movements; volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides, avalanches; and we see accidents happen in which people die or are severely injured or maimed; we see stillbirths and non-induced abortions, miscarriages, we see diseases which take a toll; and of course there is death, which is an utter disolution of one’s mortal frame; hardly just right and scarcely proportionate or of appropriate magnitude as a universal life-event?
So whenever one is looking at particulars then there are almost always exceptions to proportionality and to appropriate magnitude; and only as a general truth in practice can one uphold with any reasonable grace an idea that God is the Intelligent Designer behind all things. Those against God would add perhaps that God has also to be held responsible for these unfortunate particular exceptions; so as to counter whenever anyone tries to give Him any credit for the general truth of the rule of proportionality and of appropriate magnitude. Yet the weirdness of such arguments which blame God for the exceptions to the norm which occur; is that they do assume that God exists – so where does that leave those who argue thus?
But let’s look at the items men and women over time have observed to be behind the occurrence of phenomena; of events; of life; let’s look at those items which we call names like ‘scientific laws’ or ‘universal principles’; and which belong to pure science as opposed to applied science. These are things which look more like things in which we might find no exceptions to their generality of proportionality and of appropriate magnitude. They include things like Newton’s Laws of Motion, and his Theory of Gravity; and there are also Euclid’s Laws of Geometry, and there is The Periodic Table and the Laws which govern chemical reactions, and the structure and composition of atoms and molecules and so on. These things tend to have a better prognosis for universality in what they predict and presume.
We need to remember as we are looking at these laws and universals that science as a discipline is a work in progress; and so we have seen come into being other geometries than Euclid’s, and which make sense and become useful; we have seen Einstein modify and amend Newton’s Laws; and scientists have made chemical elements utterly new to the earth, along with materials and compounds and configurations of structures of atoms which never yet had existed naturally, so far as is known presently.
Science being a work in progress is a very different thing from that inevitability of there being always exceptions to proportionality and to appropriate magnitude whenever one is looking at objects and events in the world in particular. Because science has yet no firm and certain universal rule or rules which are able to explain the government of all things, by God, or else in the course of nature, this does not mean that there are no such rule or rules to be found; and thus were there such a rule or rules necessarily there would be and could be no exceptions to their outcomes or their applications.
Those exceptional events like accidents and extreme weathers all adhere in their scientific analyses to the rules of science as far as we have these and know these rules, and without any exception.
Only our knowledge of these rules as we have them is imperfect in itself.
Now of course there is Quantum Physics and there are certain other parts of physics which appear at least presently to abide by and to adhere to no known rules; and thus for science presently these areas of physics manifest themselves here and there in outright logical contradictions and even in presumed impossibilities. One might ask legitimately then how one might have rules and order and universal laws which always apply when there exists such a thing as Quantum Physics which seems to give the lie to order and to rules and to universal laws?
But for now let’s escape such a perplexity and resort back to Newton and Newtonian physics and to our old friends proportionality and appropriate magnitude. It is an accepted fact that Newtonian physics is useful and necessary in order to do science within the spheres of proportionality and of appropriate magintude under which life on earth subsists. This means that Newton’s Laws are a good fit, are just right, for our everyday needs, at those magnitudes at which human life subsists, and so proportionately, Newton’s Laws are those we have found to be most workable within these limits.
Things are beginning to become more complicated. Not only in general concerning perceived phenomena are most things proportionate and of appropriate magnitude – temperature, humidity, weather, specific gravities of substances and so on – but scientific laws, like Newton’s, likewise are those which are just right for us; are proportionate locally and of appropriate magnitude. And these scientific laws like Newton’s are those which lie behind even those exceptions to the general rule of phenomena being proportionate – hurricanes, earthquakes, plagues etc. The laws of nature which govern hurricanes for instance are those which govern all weather.
Layers upon layers of proportionality then. Local and specific appropriate magnitudes. An interdependence, an interweaving, an interaction, an interconnection, interspersion, of proportionalities and of appropriate magnitudes – an acute and chronic fine balance of proportionalities in a three dimensional weave of the fabric of local existence; of human and terrestrial life and existence, and their continuity.
This complexity is not wholly graspable in its particulars I do indeed believe. Just as figures like light years as miles and billions of dollars, lots of zeros, just go off our radar for grasping how much they mean or really are; so too this interweave and this pile and texture is just over the top for our computational minds; only the principle of the idea behind such a number or behind such a stash of money is available to us to be envisaged, imagined, felt emotionally.
The old and trite butterfly at the equator sneezing and a polar bear at the Arctic catching a cold is peanuts, small change, compared to this universal setup of complex interspersed, interwoven etc local (and possibly intergalactic?) proportionality and appropriate magnitudes.
Once this has been established, now we can look into the circular argument made earlier, and so give some light perhaps on how this circularlity affects what else I have said in this essay.
Indeed it is perfectly true that say, Normal Temperature and Pressure (NTP) is normal; is proportionate and of appropriate magnitude; otherwise it would not be NTP!! But the actual measurements of say x bars and y degrees are in figures which represent conditions which are just right for life on earth. Life on earth as it now is would not have, could not have occurred if NTP had been radically something other than x bars and y degrees.
Those who object to this reasoning would say perhaps that had NTP been radically different either no life would have or could have appeared on earth; or else a radically different life on earth would have appeared. This is all speculation; there is no way of establishing this at all. At best comparisons can be made with planets etc which have radically different to earth NTPs but these are and remain only hazards of comparisons. Have we as a race and species not seen many many of our most dyed in the wool assumptions about the outer planets and their satellites blown up in smoke entirely recently; by way of the actuality of space probes going there and seeing the things for themselves? The fact remains that NTP here on earth is as it is at x bars and y degrees.
Now the arguments are circular no doubt about that; NTP is NTP because NTP is NTP; x bars is xbars and y degrees is y degrees because they are such. They just are such – we may possibly go no further in the last instance as to why they are such – we are in the realms of metaphysics and so in the realms of specualtion.
Now it is just the same case of circularity of argument for a theory (not really a theory) which nearly everyone accepts as being indubitably the case and actual and true – its axiom on which its whole collossal structure rests is circular and is not a theory but in fact a loose hypothesis – this is the axiom: ‘survival of the fittest’.
One answers the question why does x survive by saying ‘x is the fittest’. When asked why x is the fittest one can only reply ‘because x has survived.’ A circular argument, no worse, nor no better than those put forward by what I am advocating; and possibly not worse than advocates of Intelligent Design suggest? Why has x survived? Because God made it to survive. How do we know God has made it to survive? Because it has survived.
Take your choice – the one is as good as the other – but no – this is not true – the arguments from proportionality and from appropriate magnitudes and so one small step from Intelligent Design have an advantage of greater explanatory power than has the axiom taken from the theory of evolution. Evolution is a theory of biology and is applied to life and to life forms only. It says nothing about rock and mineral formations; about light and heat and gravity and electromagnetism and about interplanetary, interstellar, intergalactic, and beyond, what happens thereabouts and why and how.
Moreover the hypothesis of proportionality and of appropriate magnitudes is able to be extrapolated so as to accommodate conditions in other stellar localities than ours; and has potential to be applicable at all magnitudes; and regardless whether life is present or is not, and regardless whether life forms as our life- forms are can be postulated, or perhaps some other kinds of life-forms.
Thus given that proportionality and appropriate magnitudes might be applied universally and with as much argumentary power as ‘survival of the fittest’ is argued; but yet with an almost absolute and universal explanatory power; plus with it leaving open a probable window for God as the Intelligent Designer to wave to us out of; the concepts of proportionality and of appropriate magnitudes seem to me to be unjustly regarded and much underestimated and should be considered and approved more readily than they are at present.
Scientists feel that to approve such ideas as being science is demeaning to them because it represents for them ‘a bending of the rules’ because it is seen as being unscientific. Yet so much has been built up upon and around the edifice of the mantra, ‘survival of the fittest’, and which claims to itself regardless great integrity and great acclaim – and is held to be good science.
I leave you here with I hope food for thought.