How is Math done Christianly?

“For all things in heaven and on earth were created by him– all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers– all things were created through him and for him.”

Colossians 1:16

The short answer to the question in the title is: I don’t know, but I have some thoughts. Those thoughts are the driving force behind the creation of this blog.

To most people mathematics seems uninfluenced by Christianity, or any religion for that matter. Math seems values-neutral. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, or an Atheist, 2 + 2 will always equal 4 in a base-10 number system, the cosine of π/3 will always equal 1/2, and the Pythagorean Theorem will always be a2 + b2 = c2 . Not only do mathematical results appear to be the same regardless of creed, gender, or ethnicity, so too do the mathematical processes by which those results are obtained. There is not a Christian way of finding the zeroes of a polynomial function and a non-Christian way. The work of doing mathematics looks then to be entirely self-contained.

Even if this is true, I don’t think it serves as a valid argument that math can’t be done Christianly. Even if the results and the processes of mathematics can go unaffected by the Gospel, the presuppositions we bring to those processes and the interpretations that we make from those results are always affected by our value system. In this sense, at the very least, we can find Christian mathematics. And if we begin the doing of mathematics with presuppositions rooted in truth of the cross, death, bodily resurrection, and return of Christ, and we conclude mathematics with interpretations wholly in line with the Triune God’s redemptive plan for His creation, can it really be said that the Gospel has no influence on the process of mathematics which falls in between?

The purpose of this blog is to raise questions regarding these three stages: the presuppositions that we bring to the table of mathematics (I guess that makes it a times-table… Get it? Anyway… ), the work of doing mathematics itself, and the implications and interpretations which follow from that work.

So then, some of the things that will be discussed…

…in terms of presuppositions: First, we all have them. It is impossible to think about any subject in isolation from religious beliefs. There are many people who would disagree with that statement in general, and vehemently disagree with it when it comes to mathematics. So I plan to discuss the validity of this claim. Second, the proper presuppositions to have are Christian ones. Why? Because Christianity is true. In this regard you may find discussions here with very little, if any, math content that focus primarily on explaining and defending historically orthodox Christian faith (and all the people who grew up despising math said: Amen!).

…in terms of doing mathematics: there are some very interesting patterns and results that arise that fit very well with a theistic concept of the divine nature. We’ll discuss some examples from the history and philosophy of mathematics and push the envelope to consider how we might see these patterns and results not merely as indicative of theism, but specifically Christianity.

…in terms of implications and interpretations: I believe this is an area where it becomes very clear that mathematics is not values-neutral. The number one question I would get as a math teacher would be “when am I ever going to use this?” But that wasn’t really the question the student was asking. The question they were asking is “why should I value this?” and they expected an answer in terms of the practicality of the subject: how math would help them get ahead, make more money, solve their problems, etc. Is it right to lift up practicality as such a virtue? should mathematics only be pursued because it is useful? Or should it be pursued because it is true. Should the question driving interpretation be “what is good for me?” or should it be “what is good?” Is their justice and morality in using statistics to classify people? These are just some of the questions that arise when discussing the interpretation of mathematics, and I believe each of them has a distinctly Christian response.

Well, there it is. A lot of stuff just spilled out of my head and onto the computer for all to see. Please don’t run away. I promise it will get better from here.

Recommended Reading on This Topic: Calvin Jongsma, “Mathematics: Always Important, Never Enough. A Christian Perspective on Mathematics and Mathematics Education.”

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