This article aims to give a short, non-technical beginner’s answer to the question, “what has Christianity got to do with Mathematics?”
Many people think that nothing could be less relevant to creationism than mathematics. Two and two are four for the creationist, the atheist and for everyone else; it’s just a cold, hard fact. Mathematics looks like just an abstract pursuit for the boffin. The idea of that mathematics and Christianity have anything to say to each other seems to them like madness!
Nothing could be more wrong than this, and in this article I want to prove it. I think I need to prove it, because as a creationist my belief is that the whole of reality is made by and upheld by Jesus Christ. Mathematics was part of reality last time I checked. Unless I can show how it can be “brought into captivity” to Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), and “done to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), then I and every other Christian mathematician would have a major problem for both our lives and our faith.
Mathematics Is The Language Of The Created World
Firstly I can point out that the world around us – the physical world that we live in – is actually mathematical. That is, it can, at many fundamental levels, be described by mathematics. At school most of us probably learnt Newton’s equations. Surely everyone has heard of the most famous and elegant statement of all, about the interchangeability of matter and energy, Einstein’s E = mc². In fact, the whole subject of physics can be thought of in this way: attempting to describe the physical world as a mathematical equation. Physicists all over the world are looking for the “holy grail” of physics: a single equation to describe reality.
Hence, whilst mathematics is an abstract pursuit, it is absolutely not an irrelevant abstract pursuit. Mathematics is the “language of physics” – the language of the world we live and move in. This is very interesting, because maths is something that depends on our minds. In the physical world, we can throw a ball into the air. Newton’s motion equations are entirely abstract; you can’t go anywhere in the world and find an his second law, locked up in a cage somewhere: they exist only in the mind of an intelligent being. Nevertheless, those equations elegantly describe what the ball does in the real world.
Do you see what that means? The physical world is mathematical, and mathematics lives in minds. That gives us a clear pointer that the world is not the result of random evolution. It is the creation of an immense mind. We can and must use our minds if we are to understand the orderly patterns of the world around us; which is an obvious testimony to the fact that that world itself is the product of a mind which ordered and structured it.
Mathematics is Discovery and not Invention
This all means that mathematicians aren’t making up what they do. It’s not a case of someone with a blank sheet of paper asking what they’d like mathematics to be. Mathematics is already been there and has always been – part of the eternal and beautiful order of the mind of God. The mathematician’s task isn’t to event it – he can’t – but to discover it and describe it for our benefit and God’s glory.
When you put this in simple terms, it seems very obvious. If we put two oranges next to three oranges, we’ll always get five oranges. We don’t get the option of deciding that it will be something else – the answer was there before we even existed. The mathematician, then, is dealing with things which really exist in the mind of God, and seeking to put them to use. That’s not a waste of time, but a fine job for a Christian seeking to honour his Creator. There are many useful parts of our daily lives which we owe to mathematicians. Without the discoveries in the realm of prime number theory, you wouldn’t be able to buy things safely using encryption over the Internet, or log in to your office network without fear of having all your company secrets stolen over the wire.
Evolution and Mathematics: Conclusion
The theory of evolution ultimately teaches that our brains are the result of time and chance. The only difference, it says, between our brain and that of a mosquito is a series of mistakes in copying DNA. What basis does this give for mathematics? None at all. Unless our minds are reliable, the mathematics that we do may just be after all completely abstract and an illusion. We’d have no reason to believe that it could be useful in the physical world. According to the atheist, matter/energy is the only thing that exists, and so mathematics is just an abstract invention – we made it up, it exists solely inside human brains, and we can do with it what we please. There is no way that the atheist can account for the fact that the physical world, the mind, and mathematics, make such a perfect fit together. The atheist mathematician has to go about his work doing who-knows-what, for reasons who-knows-why. In practice, he can’t do mathematics like an atheist. Because he actually lives in God’s created world, he finds that the only thing that works is to do his work as if God existed. He mus live as if he could assume that mind, matter and mathematics all hang together in this perfect way, whatever his belief system says. He has to act irrationally! The Christian mathematician, though, can go about his business seeking to praise and glorify God as he goes along, rejoicing every day that his field of study makes so much sense and is so useful in the world.
The author has an MMath degree from Oxford University.