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Stereoscopic vision and God

December 17th, 2018

Stereoscopic vision is a useful and subtle aspect of how we, and some animals, see. Because our two eyes both face the front (unlike some animals and insects whose eyes face more left and right), they both see similar but subtly different views. For example, if two objects are in line, one behind the other, our left eye will see the object furthest away slightly to the left, while the right eye sees it slightly to the right.

The brain is able to notice this difference, and correctly infer that the distance to the rear object is greater. Without this stereoscopic vision it would be harder to estimate how far away objects are, and whether they are moving towards us, or away.

You see this in this stereo photo of a man in a narrow laneway. The two pictures are almost the same, but the left photo (which is what the left eye would see) shows more of the lane to the left of the man (as we see it) than what the right photo shows.

Award-winning physicist Aron Wall observes that knowing God may require something analogous to stereoscopic vision.

Aron Wall, physics and faith

Aron is a physicist who researches quantum gravity and black-hole thermodynamics, and his interests include wormholes, faster-than-light travel and gravity. “What ties most of my work together” he says, “is that I’m trying to answer the question: What is spacetime made out of?”

Wall currently works at the Stanford University’s Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics, and was recently announced as the joint winner of a 2019 Breakthrough New Horizons in Physics Prize for fundamental insights about quantum information, quantum field theory and gravity. He has also received the 2018 Philippe Meyer Prize and the IUPAP Young Scientist Prize. Next year he takes up a position at Cambridge University.

Wall is a christian, and blogs about science and theology at Undivided Looking, one of my favourite blogs.

Stereoscopic vision and faith

Recently Wall was asked how he, as a research scientists who depends on hard evidence, can believe in God who cannot be approached scientifically. His answer was interesting.

He replied that all of our scientific theories are approximations, “valid in certain patches, but we don’t know the whole.” So there will often be anomalies that reveal deeper truths: “Often paradoxes are our best approach to understanding the universe.”

He points out that stereoscopic vision is an analogy of this. Our two eyes see slightly different pictures, but “You don’t say: ‘My two eyes contradict each other, so I can’t believe either.’”

So he says that to understand God, we need several different types of information. Not only science, but also “the evidence for Christ comes in the form of historical data ….. and also our personal spiritual experiences”

Did the universe have a beginning?

Wall has looked at seven different scientific arguments about the beginning of the universe and concluded that they were 5-1 in favour of a beginning, with one being inconclusive.

This is an example of where stereoscopic “vision” (i.e. using different perspectives and different areas of knowledge to approach a question) can assist in understanding God. The Kalam Cosmological argument argues that the universe had a beginning and a cause, and infers that this cause must have been God. The argument is logically valid, but opponents may argue that the universe didn’t have a beginning, thus negating one of the premises. But Wall’s review suggests that this premise is much more likely to be true than not.

And for those who argue that such arguments are insufficiently certain, Wall’s comment about scientific theories as approximations is helpful too. Very little in life, including in science, is provable or certain, we learn to life with uncertainty, probabilities and approximations, so it is hard to see why we should expect anything different in belief in God (or disbelief for that matter).

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Main photo: Thierry Fillieul on Pexels. Stereo photo: wadimf1 Flickr via Compfight cc

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