I must again apologize for the delay between posts. I have spent the last few weeks settling in to my new teaching position at Regents School of Austin. I plan on sharing more about Regents later. Throughout my orientation to the school I have been practically overwhelmed by amazingly well stated arguments for understanding mathematics from a Christian perspective and outstanding faculty who live it out in the classroom. I have been doing a lot of mental processing and I hope to share the fruit of that labor soon.
For now, I wanted to share my first day of school lesson for my advanced geometry class. For the first time in my professional career I am in a position to openly teach on the integration of faith and mathematics. I plan on taking full advantage of the opportunity. I’ll share as much as I can here, in hopes that it may be helpful to other teachers, and in hopes that these lessons might get refined through comments and discussions in community.
What is Geometry?
The prefix Geo means “earth” and the suffix metric means “measurement.” Put them together and you get the idea that to do Geometry means to literally “measure the earth.” Even in its earliest forms, Geometry was used to analyze positions and movements of celestial objects so its reach went beyond the literal “earth.” Perhaps then a better translation for Geometry would be to “measure nature.”
At this point I direct my students to a poster I have mounted above my door:
This phrase is said to have been inscribed on the door of Plato’s academy. It roughly translates to “Let no one ignorant of Geometry enter here.” This translation necessitates clarification for students. Plato was not standing at the door checking transcripts to see who had their Geometry credit. Plato is not interested in his pupils’ ability to do mathematics, rather he is interested in his pupils’ ability to think. In this context, Geometry is a way of thinking; a way of thinking that is logical and consistent, and to be ignorant of it is to be unwilling to accept the value of reasoned study.
With this idea in mind we can broaden our definition of Geometry from “measuring nature” to “thinking logically and consistently about nature” or perhaps more succinctly “thinking rightly about nature,” though this last phrasing is likely to gain little acceptance in a postmodern world where truth (rightness) is relative. Oh well. Truth is objective. I am not going to argue for this point here, but it is crucial to accept if we are going to continue to define geometry Christianly.
The next logical question is, if Geometry is “thinking rightly about nature,” how do we define “rightly”? As Christians, our definition of truth/rightness comes from the nature and revelation of God. God is Truth and He has given us His Word to reveal Himself (truth) to us. His Word appears in a variety of ways and in general we can classify God’s revelation into two broad categories: special revelation and general revelation.
Special revelation is detailed and specific revelation of the nature of God, the nature of creation, and how the creation is to relate to the Creator. This is the Word of God as revealed in the written Word of Scripture and the incarnate Word of Jesus Christ. This revelation is primary. This revelation is salvific.
General revelation is how God has revealed Himself through His creation. Looking at the intricate designs and beauty of nature gives us a sense that there must be a Designer, a Creator, behind them. Creation is the Word of God that was spoken in Genesis 1 that brought forth order from chaos. This ordered realm in which we live is where we find Geometry, only now we can refine the definition from “thinking rightly about nature” to a more Christian perspective of “thinking rightly about creation” – and by “rightly” we mean with an understanding that special revelation exists and is the primary source of revelation for ordering our lives and our relationship to God.
Putting these ideas together (the ideas of applying Geometry to nature, realizing it is a system of thinking, understanding nature as creation from a Creator, and seeing special revelation as necessary for correctly orienting our thought processes) we begin to see how one may approach the study of Geometry from a Christian perspective:
To do Geometry Christianly is to order our lives in a right relationship with God, through His Son Jesus Christ and His Holy Word, so that we might be able to think clearly, consistently, and truly about His created order.
The verse that ties this all together is the verse that is used as the theme for this website: Colossians 1:15-17.
He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstbornover all creation, 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. He himself is before all things and all things are held togetherin him.