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.