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‘Good Death’: a Common Pattern in the Evolution of Mathematics, Science and Biological Organisms

S & CB 23 (2)
October 2011


Drawing from experience of pure mathematical and historical research, this paper investigates the formation and development of mathematical concepts, and explores the way such a communal creative enterprise evolves. These insights are used to look again at biological evolution and scientific theory-selection. On turning round the metaphor ‘red in tooth and claw’ that is sometimes applied to nature and to competing scientific theories and contrasting the two images, compost heap and scrap heap, a common pattern emerges of forms of ‘self-giving’ operating within a framework of co-creative competition. Images of ‘self-giving’, and even of ‘sacrifice’, are found in the evolution of the cosmos, of living organisms, of scientific theories, of mathematical concepts. In each there is the passing, or ‘death’, of the old, not just to make way but to prepare the way for, and to be subsumed into, the ‘life’ of the new. Use is made of Austin Farrer’s theology of ‘a world made to make itself’, and his insistence on the centrality of self-giving in the economy of God’s world.

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