Mathematics Professors Wanted – Believers Need Not Apply.
The new Princeton University Press book: How Mathematicians Think by William Byers a mathematician at UC Berkeley supports the extraordinary claim that atheism is “killing mathematics.” In his insightful review of the book, Gregory Chaitin one of the worlds leading mathematicians asks, “Would Euler, Cantor, and Ramanujan be welcome in the Mathematics Department of a university today?” His conclusion is a resounding “No”. These giants of mathematics would not be welcome among academic mathematicians because atheistic materialism has become the dominant paradigm in today’s universities.
Euler, who created much of the math used today, was so strongly informed by his Christian beliefs that he is recognized as a Lutheran Saint, and is commemorated each May 24 on the Church Calendar. Cantor invented, or in his view “discovered,” transcendental numbers (multiples of infinities) as a way to “better understand God.” Ramanujan, recognized as one of the greatest geniuses of the Twentieth Century for his work in Analysis and Number Theory, argued that, “…an equation is only of value if it expresses one of God’s thoughts…”
Other famous theistic mathematicians, who would now be expelled from academia, include the Sumerian priests who started it all with accounting and calculating the astronomical calendar, the Pythagoreans, who invented geometry and number theory (the foundations of advanced math) as part of their mystical investigations into knowing God, and a vast number of Christian luminaries including Descartes and Pascal. Towering above all of these are the penultimate mathematicians of all time, Newton and Leibnitz, the cofounders of modern calculus, with deeply and explicitly Christian motivations behind their mathematical investigations; they most definitely would not be welcome.
Byers and Chaitin believe that math began to die in the twentieth century as freedom of thought and creativity became constrained by an over emphasis on formulae; “…words, ideas, diagrams, examples, explanations, and applications” were all rejected in favor of a “nit-picking avoidance of mistakes.” Creativity was abandoned in favor of rigor, and this rigor has resulted in “rigour mortis.” As someone who has taught math, I was struck by the truth of these claims. It is very difficult to think of a truly important discovery in math coming after the 1950s.
What caused the creativity, imagination, and leaps of insight characteristic of mathematicians to be replaced with a stultifying and slavish attachment to formulaic rigor? It is Byers and Chaitin’s conclusion that secular humanistic beliefs about the nature of man are at the heart of the problem. Secular humanists contend that man is nothing more than an accident of nature, that consciousness is simply biochemical reactions in the brain, and that life itself is totally without purpose and meaning. “If mathematicians see themselves as machines they will behave like machines; if mathematicians think they are trivial, then they will be trivial.”
Why This Is Important
It is important that Christians know their intellectual heritage. Many surveys have been done on the religious beliefs of scientists. Mathematicians are always at, or near, the top of these studies showing that 70% to 80% of them believe in God. The percentage of believers decreases, as the field of scientific study gets “softer,” with the social sciences having the lowest percentage of believers.
The media consistently try to portray Christians as stupid, ignorant, benighted dupes, or worse. However, in the sciences, the exact opposite is true; intellectual capability tends to be highly correlated with belief in God. Christians need to know that they have been the key players in the cutting edge of mathematics, the world’s most fundamental intellectual endeavor.
Beyond the troubling damage being done to the advancement of mathematics by secular humanism, there is also the practical cost. Technological innovation, economic progress, and health are all tied to the continued advancement of math. Kill math and you kill innovation. Kill innovation and you kill economic growth and people.
1. New Scientist, "Review: How Mathematicians Think" by Gregory Chiatin, July 25, 2007.
2. "How Mathematicians Think", by William P. Byers, 2007, Princeton Universty Press, Princeton, NJ.