Teaching Mathematics with a Biblical Worldview Foundation

by Brent Luman

(Disclaimer: The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of GodandMath.com. Guest articles are sought after for the purpose of bringing more diverse viewpoints to the topics of mathematics and theology. The point is to foster discussion. To this end respectful and constructive comments are highly encouraged.)

Philosophy

The ISC mathematics program seeks to build upon Biblical foundations.  We believe that all truth (including mathematical truths) exists in the mind of God, and therefore learning mathematics is, in the words of St. Augustine, “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”  We believe that…

… mathematical truths reflect the nature of God.

…mathematics describes the order, symmetry, and beauty of God’s creation.

…mathematical thinking is one way in which humans demonstrate the image of God.

…mathematics is a necessary and useful tool for humans to obey God’s commands to:

  • exercise stewardship over God’s creation.
  • love their neighbor.
  • fulfill the great commission.

In order to magnify the glory of God as He deserves and to prepare students for useful service in His world, we must teach mathematics with these truths in mind.  It is not enough for us to teach mathematics concepts and skills; we must seek to help our students understand these concepts and skills within the framework of the above truths.

Practice:

The following are some general suggestions for practical ways to teach with the above truths in mind.

1.  Teach mathematics concepts and skills within a real-world context.

This is critical.  When a teacher presents new concepts with examples from the real world (science, money, maps, art, architecture, etc.), this will naturally lead to discussions about God’s creation as well as mathematics as a useful tool for exercising stewardship over His creation.

2.  Teach mathematics in historical context.

Although this applies mostly to middle and high school mathematics concepts, this is not only good pedagogy (connecting ideas to their place in history), but it gives teachers the opportunity to discuss the worldview of the people who developed mathematics.  Some, like Pythagorus, approached mathematics from a humanist perspective.  Others, like Kepler, approached mathematics from a Biblical perspective.

3.  Develop and use good questions that challenge students to think.

Here are a few possible questions for starters:

  • Will this process (adding, subtracting, the distributive property, the quadratic formula, etc.) always work?
  • Will this fact (3+5 = 8,  4 x 6 = 24, etc.) always be true?
  • How can learning mathematics help me to make good decisions?
  • Why does the mathematics (on my paper) work so well to describe the physical world (out there beyond my classroom)?
  • Where does this pattern show up in the real world?
  • How can I use this concept to…
    • …help someone?   …take care of God’s world?  …spread the good news?
    • Did this concept exist (pi, irrational numbers, the Pythagorean theorem, elliptical orbits, etc.) before humans discovered it?
    • Is mathematics discovered or invented?  Explain your thinking.
    • How did this development in mathematics (i.e. logarithms, calculus, etc.) influence the development of science?

4.  Gather and use some key resources.

Here are a few resources to consider:

A.  Mathematics: Is God Silent?  by James Nickel.

This 410-page work outlines in detail the development of mathematical thought in history, with emphasis on a Biblical Christian worldview.  The second major focus of the book involves pedagogy: how should we teach mathematics?

http://www.biblicalchristianworldview.net/Mathematics.html

BRevealing Arithmetic, by Katherine Loop.

Available in print as well as an e-book download, this 218-page work describes how elementary school arithmetic can be taught from a Biblical worldview.  It includes a lot of practical suggestions about how to teach elementary school mathematics.

www.christianperspective.net

C.  The textbooks written by Harold Jacobs.

Harold Jacobs’ textbooks, while not explicitly written with a Christian worldview (although Jacobs is a believer), are a marvelous example of mathematics presented in a rich, real-world context.  These textbooks are highly recommended for classroom use, or, at least as reference material for teachers.

Elementary Algebra (Algebra I)

Geometry: Seeing, Doing, and Understanding

Mathematics: A Human Endeavor (and integrated course for those who don’t like math!)

http://www.lamppostpublishing.com/mathharoldjacobs.htm

Brent Luman is the Principal of the Tianjin International School, a role that he has recently transitioned into after 9 years of teaching mathematics. Brent has contributed several lessons on the integration of faith and specific mathematical topics. These lessons can be found on the “Curriculum and Lessons” page under resources.

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