Christian Mathematicians – Salmon

By Steve Bishop

(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.)

George Salmon (1819-1904)

 Revd George Salmon (1819-1904) spent all of his academic life at Trinity College, Dublin. He graduated from there in mathematics in 1839 and in 1841 he was given a mathematics teaching post. He eventually became the Provost of the College in 1888, a post he held until his death in 1904.

Gow (1997), in a brief biography, writes that despite not making any major mathematical discoveries Salmon “exerted a great influence on mathematical research and teaching in Europe and America in the second half of the 19th century.”

Salmon was a fine mathematician who spent much of the last years of his career studying and writing theology. He was ordained to the Anglican priesthood in 1844.

He published around 40 research papers in mathematics largely dealing with issues in algebraic geometry and three successful academic textbooks:

  • A Treatise on Conic Sections (1848)
  • A Treatise on Higher Plane Curves (1852)
  • A Treatise on the Analytic Geometry of Three Dimensions (1862)

From 1860s he devoted his time to theology and wrote a number of theological book including:

  • Prayer (1849)
  • The eternity of future punishment (1864)
  • The reign of law (1873)
  • Non-miraculous Christianity (1881)
  • Introduction to the New Testament (1885)
  • The infallibility of the Church (1888)
  • Thoughts on the textual criticism of the New Testament (1897)

Nesbitt (2005) comments: “George Salmon’s life and work is an excellent example of how complementary the study of both mathematics and theology can be” and “his mathematical brilliance was a factor in his theological works, especially in his analytical approach and process orientated approach to find meaning and truth.”

He was also a keen chess player. He used the analogy of a chess game many times in his theological works.

Salmon is buried with family members in a vault in Dublin near the grave of another Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton.

References

Gow, Rod (1997) “George Salmon 1819-1904: His mathematical work and influence” IMS Bulletin 39: 26-76. Available online http://www.maths.ucd.ie/~rodgow/salmonims.pdf

Nesbitt, Sarah (2005) “George Salmon: from mathematics to theology” http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Extras/Salmon_theology.html

Further reading

Some of Salmon’s works are available here: http://www.tracts.ukgo.com/george_salmon.htm

 

Steve Bishop is the compiler of A Bibliography for a Christian Approach to Mathematics and the author of several articles on the relationship between faith and math. Look for future posts from him in this series on Christian Mathematicians.

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