God and Mathematics
By Theresa Jennings
Vern Poythress holds six academic degrees including a PhD in mathematics and a ThD. In his book, Redeeming Mathematics: A God-Centered Approach, he argues in favor of an inexorable connection between God and mathematics, based on God’s consistent character and nature.
Truly God created humans as rational, thinking creatures (Gen. 1:27). He also created a world that was anything but random. There are patterns found in the skies and movement of the stars and planets which have given us time constructs such as day and night, time and seasons.
There are number patterns in nature using the Fibonacci Sequence (1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21…). This sequence begins with 2 ones, then each successive number is the sum of the two previous numbers. You can see these special numbers repeated in the spiral patterns of pine cones and sunflower seeds. Many flowers, especially daisies, have either 3 petals or 5 petals or 8, but rarely do they have 6 or 10 petals.
Everyone has heard of the special irrational number, pi (p), approximately 3.14… or 22/7. Pi is the circumference of a circle (distance around it) divided by the diameter (distance across the circle through the center point). In 2013, pi was computer-generated to 12.1 trillion digits with no pattern or stopping point. Geographers have found many rivers on earth where the measurement of the actual length of the river, including all the twists and turns, divided by the measurement of direct distance, “fly as the crow flies,” is equal to pi.
God in Mathematical Theory
I taught all types of math classes in my 40 years with the Memphis City Schools. Probably because of my faith, I could see parallels (oops, math word) with God in so many topics I taught. At the risk of scaring those who really dislike math, let me share some of my thoughts.
To lay the groundwork of working with arithmetic, we define the Properties of Numbers. The Reflexive Property (for example, 3=3) says the value of a number does not change. If 3=III today but 3=II tomorrow, no form of math would be possible because the quantity of a number would be variable. In the same way the character of God is unchanging. In Exodus 3:14, God makes the statement to Moses, “I am who I am,” erasing all doubt of the invariability of God.
The Symmetric Property (if 1= 2/2 then 2/2=1) says that the order of an equality statement does not matter. John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This looks like a statement of Word = God and God = Word. This is followed in John 1:2 with “He [Christ] was with God in the beginning.”
The Transitive Property (if 1 = 2/2 and 2/2 = 4/4, then 1 = 4/4) colloquially states if 1st quantity = 2nd quantity and 2nd quantity = 3rd quantity, then 1st quantity must = 3rd quantity. To translate the Transitive Property to the Bible verse, we are told that Word = God = Christ = Holy Spirit, all interchangeably interconnected.
OK! I know you “math-a-phobes” are getting restless, but let me mention just a few more ideas.
In algebra, my favorite of the mathematical disciplines, we learned how to find the point where two lines or curves intersect. In second year algebra we studied four ways to find this intersection point, and in our Christian lives are we not striving to intersect with God multiple times a day? To praise Him, to ask for guidance, to seek to do His will? Also do we not intersect with fellow believers to share God’s encouragement and with non-believers to share God’s love? We are not intended to go off on a tangent (pun intended) by ourselves leaving God and others behind.
Also, in algebra, we use logical steps in solving equations or “finding x.” To help students visualize the process, I hid an unseen object within a box, closed the box, wrapped it with paper, and tied it with ribbon. I asked students to first list the exact steps I had done in order, then asked for steps necessary to reveal the object in the box. We found to disclose the hidden object (i.e., find x), each step must be removed in reverse order. To solve the equations of life, with God’s help we must peel away the extraneous layers to reveal the pearl of greatest price, a loving relationship and commitment to the Supreme God of life.
Finally, anytime students encountered application problems, the dreaded “word problems,” I could depend upon hearing groaning statements of “I can never to solve these!” I submit that life is full of “word problems” where we are looking to walk with God and apply what we learn from the Bible and through prayer to search for a God-filled life. What good is it to learn math procedures and rules if they cannot be applied to life to help us think, analyze and solve? What good is there in knowing God without applying His love and doing His work? Faith without works is dead (James 2:17).
“The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.” (Johannes Kepler, 17th century German astronomer and astrologer).
Mathematics is in God’s world, and God can be found in mathematical principles if you want to look.