Wednesday, January 6, 2016

1: Mathematics and Faith

I’ve long wrestled with the question of how my study and teaching of mathematics relates to my identity as a follower of Jesus. During my time as an undergraduate at Stanford, in particular, as I advanced in the mathematics major and started becoming seriously involved with ministry on campus, this question started dominating my thoughts. I wondered about the relationship between a discipline that sought to uncover propositional truth through proof and my commitment to the Person named Truth.

This troubled me. I wanted to take the teaching of Jesus seriously that we are to love God with the whole mind, but I was rather unclear about how doing mathematics accomplished this.

Useless by xkcd
Is mathematics part of God’s creation? Is studying algebra comparable to studying biology? Or is mathematics, especially modern mathematics, a creation of humanity? Is it just one big puzzle, like a never ending game of Sudoku? And, if so, how could I justify spending so much time doing it? Doesn’t the great want of the world demand we do more than just solve puzzles? Might much of mathematics be a distraction from meeting humanity's needs?

Over the next few posts, I offer a sketch of how I’m coming to understand the nature and value of doing and teaching mathematics from a Christian perspective. I originally shared much of this sketch during a talk I gave at Andrews University last fall during a faculty luncheon sponsored by the Center for College Faith. I must admit, though, that many of these are still live questions that I fully expect to continue wrestling with throughout my life. Over the last several years, however, I’ve gone from thinking of faith and mathematics as irrelevant to each other to finding beautiful connections between the two. Hence, my faith in Christ has become a great motivation to take mathematics seriously and my appreciation for mathematics has grown my love for God.

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