Numbers in Nature
Rev José Mario O Mandía
Some of you know the answer to the question above. The succession of numbers is called the Fibonacci Series, named after Leonardo Fibonacci (1170 – 1250, also known as Leonardo Bonacci, Leonardo of Pisa, or Leonardo Pisano Bigollo). He is considered the most talented Western mathematician of the Middle Ages.
The number series that Fibonacci popularized came from a hypothetical problem he thought up regarding the reproduction of a pair of rabbits. I will spare you the details of the problem. In his solution, he came up with a series of numbers where it turns out that each number is the sum of the two numbers before it. For example, if you look at the series of numbers above, 5 comes from adding 2 and 3 (the two numbers that precede it); 8 from 3 and 5 (again, the two numbers before it); and so on. Can you figure out now what follows in the series?
Well, it also turns out that the numbers in the Fibonacci series are found in nature. For example, flower petals usually come in groups of 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, or 89. Fibonacci numbers can be found in pineapples, in cacti, in pine cones, in sunflowers, in nautilus shells. They are found in the shape of the galaxy and even in DNA molecules. Check it out for yourself in the internet.
So, what’s the point? The Fibonacci Series shows us how many things in nature can be expressed in numbers. It shows that there is indeed a design, and when there is a design, there is a logic. Now let’s see how that ties up with faith.
The book of Genesis says that when God began the work of creation, “God said….” God spoke – He created everything through his Word (“Logos” in Greek). Saint John explains in his Gospel that this Logos is God. “In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
In Greek, logos is a very rich term, and can be translated as “word”, “meaning”, “explanation or account”, “reason”. In other words, in the beginning, there was already Reason, and it was through this Reason that God created. It means that there is a meaning in creation that is waiting to be explored. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). This truth of faith is corroborated even by thinkers who do not profess the Judeo-Christian belief. Already in the 5th century BC, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher named Anaxagoras taught that the world was organized by the “Nous” (Mind).
We have seen above that in nature we find a design, we find a logic. The word “logic” comes from the Greek “logos”, and thus implies rationality. We find logic and rationality in nature because it was created through the Logos. Nature is organized, orderly, and therefore intelligible because its origin is an Intelligent Being.
If nature is intelligible, then it can be studied and explored. Nature shows regularity (e.g., the revolution of the planets around the sun, the frequency of visible light) and this regularity can be investigated and even expressed in mathematical formulas. This is why the Judeo-Christian belief encourages science because the more science reveals the universe, the better we appreciate the greatness of its Source. The effects lead us to the Cause. Science is not an enemy of faith. The enemy of faith is lack of knowledge (Latin “scientia”) and ignorance.
The dispute between faith and unbelief is the dispute between design and chance, between reason and unreason. This is why people of faith have pioneered the study of the world and the universe. Let me mention a few examples.
Robert Grosseteste (c. 1175-1253), Bishop of Lincoln from 1235 to 1253, specialized in mathematics, optics, and science. Grosseteste is considered the founder of the scientific movement at Oxford University. Roger Bacon, a Franciscan friar, was his pupil. Bacon is one of the earliest advocates of the modern scientific method. Father Gregor Mendel (1822–84) pioneered the science of genetics and Fr Georges Lemaitre (1894-1966) proposed the Big Bang theory. The Jesuits have led the way in astronomy – around 40 moon craters are named after them! We can say that Western science grew thanks to the impulse of the Catholic Faith. Check Wikipedia for the list of Catholic scientists. Even now, the Church continues to encourage scientific study. She maintains, for example, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Vatican Observatory.
Let us conclude with the words of Saint John Paul II in his 1998 Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason): “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word, to know himself – so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Exodus 33:18; Psalm 27:8-9; 63:2-3; John 14:8; 1 John 3:2).”