Once upon a time, I wrote about a jackass who was criticizing his college math instructor, because the instructor couldn’t explain what made the calculus class christian, or why it was different from what would be taught in a math class at a secular college.
That kind of thinking is quite strong in certain segments of the conservative christian community, and that disgusts me. Let me show you an example, and then I’ll explain why is annoys me so much. A reader
send me a link to the math curriculum for a Baptist high school, and it seriously bugs me.
Here’s their explanation of a high school geometry class:
Students will examine the nature of God as they progress in their
understanding of mathematics. Students will understand the absolute consistency of mathematical principles
and know that God was the inventor of that consistency. They will see God’s nature revealed in the order
and precision they review foundational concepts while being able to demonstrate geometric thinking and
spatial reasoning. The study of the basics of geometry through making and testing conjectures regarding
mathematical and real-world patterns will allow the students to understand the absolute consistency of God
as seen in the geometric principles he created. Students will demonstrate an awareness of the structure of
a mathematical system, connecting definitions, postulates, logical reasoning, and theorems while exploring
attributes of geometric figures. Students will make and verify conjectures about angles, lines, polygons,
circles, and three-dimensional figures through coordinate and transformational approaches. Through the
knowledge of conditional statements and their converses, constructing and justifying statements about
geometric figures and their properties, students will begin understanding the concepts of constructing
geometrical proofs. Students will be able to solve problems with the use of formulas for the areas and
volumes of polygons and circles while applying them to real-world situations; in addition, they will
develop and improve their spatial visualization and reasoning skills with three-dimensional figures. As
they investigate properties of parallel lines, students will write deductive arguments to justify their
conclusions and apply those properties to real situations. Students will apply their knowledge of triangles
to develop properties of parallelograms, trapezoids, and kites as they continue developing their
mathematical reasoning abilities and their algebraic skills by learning to write coordinate proofs.
Right-triangle trigonometry will be introduced in the area of sine and cosine ratios and vectors. Finally,
students will study circles from an algebraic point of view by writing equations of circles in the
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a religious reconstructionist Jew. I’m sympathetic to the idea
of religion. So I’m not just ranting because I dislike religion. What I dislike is the
use of religion to promote ignorance – and the perversion of legitimate knowledge to try to
turn it into support for religion.
Math is based on logic. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in God or not. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in our universe, or some radically different one. Math wouldn’t change. Math is the product of
pure abstract reasoning. First order predicate logic will always work in exactly the same way in a universe created by a benificent deity, a universe created by a malevolent deity, a universe created by a gaggle of insane elves, or a universe created by absolutely no one. It doesn’t matter what you believe. Math is going to be math. A theorem in FOPL will be a theorem in FOPL. No formal system is going to be both complete and consistent. The axiom of choice is going to be independent from the other axioms of set theory.
There are two ways of looking at math. In one of them, basically what I said above, math is a kind of pure and eternal truth. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, what you are: if you start from the same premises, the same things will always be true, and there is nothing you can do to make
In the other point of view, math is purely a creation of the mind. It’s one of the only things you can do from first principles. In this point of view, there’s no way that a deity can affect structure of
math – because math is entirely a creation of the mathematician. But once again – it’s a pure product
of the mathematicians mind. The mathematician picks a set of axioms and a set of rules of logic, and that defines the kind of math s/he can do. Without his or her choice of axioms and inference rules, there is no math; and the math is entirely determined by that choice. The existence or non-existence of a deity is completely irrelevant – whether a deity exists or not, it’s the axioms and inference rules that make it work.
Studying math isn’t exploring the nature of God. Math doesn’t demonstrate anything about God. God didn’t make geometry consistent – geometry is consistent, because it’s defined from predicate logic with a consistent set of axioms. And that’s true whether there’s a God or not. And God couldn’t make
geometry be inconsistent.
Teaching kids that you can’t understand math without God is lying – deliberate lying that will
reduce students ability to understand math. Just like inserting God into a discussion of physics,
it’s just introducing irrelevant information that, at best, adds nothing; and at worst, detracts from
the students ability and motivation to understand the material.