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

 

How is math done Christianly?

The short answer to the question is: I don’t completely 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.

In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign,does not declare,’That is mine!’

Abraham Kuyper

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 work of mathematics, the work of doing mathematics itself, and the implications and interpretations which follow from that work.

We don’t rightly understand anything until we understand its connection with Jesus Christ.

St. Augustine

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 in mathematics 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 get as a math teacher is “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?” 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.

Recommended Reading on This Topic:

2 + 2 = Jesus ?

Stewards of the Created Order: A Case for Christian Influence in the Field of Mathematics

Post on Mathematics: Shadows of Things to Come

Other Articles (Alphabetical by Author’s Last Name):

Bishop, Steve: Mathematics and the Myth of Neutrality

Bradley, James: Letter from the Founding Editor for the ACMS Journal

Byl, John: A Christian Perspective on Math

Geertsema, Jan: A Christian View of the Foundation of Statistics

Hay, John: Biblical Perspectives on Mathematics

Hilgeman, Tom: Integrating Math and the Bible

Huizenga, David: “Faith + Math,” from Christian School Teacher

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

Kvasz, Ladislav: “The Invisible Link Between Mathematics and Theology”

Poythress, Vern: “A Biblical View of Mathematics”

Poythress, Vern: “What does God have to do with Numbers?”

Sellers, James: Biblical Integration in Mathematics: Why and How?

Strauss, Danie F. M.: Is Christian Mathematics Possible?

Westenberg, Wayne: Why Mathematics and Christianity?

Zonnefeld, Valorie: Where is God in the Math Classroom?

For Additional Resources:

Please check the Resources for Integrating Faith and Mathematics page.

Many Thanks to:

The Association of Christians in the Mathematical Sciences

Dordt’s 2011 Vermeer Math Workshop

Steve Bishop

Brent Luman

And many others.

5 thoughts on “How is Math Done Christianly?

  1. Gunawan April 14, 2013 / 6:40 PM

    Can our school invite you to share the knowledge of how to teach math biblically?
    My name is Gunawan, I am from Indonesia, and our school is developing Bible-based curriculum.

    • joshwilkerson January 17, 2016 / 1:57 PM

      Thank you Anthony! Your blog looks awesome. Best of luck on your graduate studies and your endeavor to integrate your work in mathematics with your Christian faith.

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