Mathematics and God?


A couple of days ago, I commented on blogger 8411c’s intriguing argument that the existence of elementary mathematics proves the existence of God. You can read 8411c’s post here.

While I still don’t buy 8411c’s argument, I  can appreciate where he’s coming from. (I think 8411c is a he rather than a she — correct me if I’m wrong.) I’ve attended churches, studied Judaism and Buddhism and read the Bible, (parts of) the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita, but nothing has ever put me closer to the numinous than studying mathematics.

I first felt the transcendence of mathematics while I was still a grammar school student in England where a talented teacher (Mike Bliss) introduced his class of grimy adolescent boys to Euclid. I was struggling, alone, at home with Euclid’s non-intuitive proof that the base angles of an isosceles triangle are equal. Why, I thought, did Euclid resort to such a complicated argument to prove such an elementary and obvious fact? Then I saw it. Euclid’s theorem appears early in his development of geometry: it is Proposition 5 of Book 1 of the Elements. Euclid had little more than his common notions and postulates to work with — common notions and postulates that were so elementary and inchoate that facts derived from them described the fabric of space. What Euclid proved was true not only on Earth, but also throughout the immensity of the universe. I was so awestruck by the power of this thought that I lost myself in it for what was probably a few seconds, but may have been minutes.

Since then, I have experienced to same transcendence several times: contemplating the Pythagorean theorem or the fundamental theorem of calculus can still do it for me. Not all the time. The feeling catches me by surprise: I can’t wish it into existence.

Is this the same feeling of freedom from time and space and self that religious mystics experience? If so, good for them. For my part, contemplating the holy was a dead end; as my articulate fellow atheist Wendy Kaminer puts it, I never had a “talent for religion”.

I don’t know what 8411c’s religious beliefs are, but it is evident that he appreciates mathematics. Good for him.

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About aharmlessdrudge

Way back during the late Bronze age -- actually it was the 1950s -- all of us in high school had to take a vocational test to determine our interests and, supposedly, our future careers. I cannot remember the outcome, but I do recall one question that gave me pause. "If you were to win a Nobel prize, would it be in literature or in physics?" I hesitated over the question: although I enjoyed mathematics and science more than English class, I did have a couple of unfinished (and very bad) novels hidden away at home. I cannot remember what I chose back then, but the dilemma followed me to university, where I switched from mathematics to English and -- after a five-year stint in journalism -- back to mathematics. I recently retired as a professor of statistics. Retirement. What a good chance to revive my literary ambitions. I have finished a novel -- more about that in good time -- and a rubble of drafts of articles about mathematics and statistics is taking up space on my hard disk.
This entry was posted in Atheism and Religion, Mathematics and Logic and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mathematics and God?

  1. There are some interesting points in time in this article but I don’t know if I see all of them center to heart. There is some validity but I will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well

  2. Ahoy there, if mathematics gives you a sense of transcendence would you care to take a look at this: http://struth-his-or-yours.blogspot.com/2008/11/mathematics-and-god.html
    Kerry

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