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Mathematics

From the mind of God

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Published: 18 May 2021 (GMT+10)
Bertrand-Russell
Bertrand Russell: atheistic mathematical logician

Did you know that mathematics could be racist, and that there is such a thing as ‘white math’? A claim is being made in some US academic circles that to insist that there is a correct answer to a statement like ‘2 + 2 = x’, is inherently racist, and that mathematics needs to be made antiracist. An organization1 funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has published a document entitled, “A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction2. The document’s Letter to Reader states, “The framework for deconstructing racism in mathematics offers essential characteristics of antiracist math educators and critical approaches to dismantling white supremacy in math classrooms by visualizing the toxic characteristics of white supremacy culture … with respect to math.”

Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) a prominent anti-Christian philosopher and mathematician,3 a professed atheist,4 and Sergiu Klainerman, a professor of mathematics at Princeton University,5 among others, would disagree with the premise that mathematics is inherently racist. From a Christian perspective, we can add the fact that the basic principles of logic and mathematics cannot be racist nor are they in any way subjective human constructs, because they come from the perfect (Psalm 18:30) and holy (1 Samuel 2:2; Revelation 4:8) mind of God. Let us explore the reality that mathematics comes from the mind of God.

In Genesis 1–2, the narrator (God) uses concepts of mathematics embedded within the account without expounding the conceptual depth which underlies these concepts. For example, the enumeration of the days of Creation Week in Genesis 1 and 2 (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; Genesis 2:2) may appear to be rather routine. After all, we count from our earliest days—a child counts the number of days until his or her birthday. Some writers have observed that the use of the ordinal adjective (‘second’, ‘third’, etc.) with the word ‘day’ indicates that God is speaking of standard 24-hour days, and that the use of the cardinal (‘one’) and ordinals to number the days of creation demands a sequential chronological reading of the text. However, while this is true, they often fail to observe that the use of the ordinals indicates that the enumeration of the creation days is of fundamental importance. In addition, Genesis 5 implicitly uses addition, such as in the statement, “When Seth had lived 105 years, he fathered Enosh. Seth lived after he fathered Enosh 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died.” (Genesis 5:6–8)—i.e., 105 + 807 = 912.

Another use of a fundamental mathematical concept in Genesis 1 is the inclusion of entities in sets (e.g., six days of creative activity and “two great lights” [Genesis 1:16]). Sets are based on the abstract concept that assumes the existence of universals and not merely particulars by which each entity is viewed as independent from all others. A universal is the grouping of instances by their consistent characteristics or qualities. For example, when God later spoke to Adam and told him that he could eat from every tree in the garden, but one (Genesis 2:16–17), he used a universal to describe a set and Adam would have understood the concept to include grapes from vines, berries from bushes, and pears and nuts from trees. Universals are usually grouped into three classes: types or kinds (e.g., boats, birds, or chairs), properties (e.g., heavy, big, or small), and relations (e.g., parent, higher, colder). Since we use universals all the time, we may not understand an inherent difficulty with their existence. The problem of universals has perplexed philosophers from the earliest days.6 The challenge is how to account for their existence: Are they real? Do they exist independent of particulars? Can they exist if the universe is merely the product of random events in a material universe? Are they purely constructs of language?

The correspondence between abstractions—mathematical concepts such as ordinal counting and sets—and phenomena in nature is difficult for materialistic naturalists to explain. If mathematics is purely an invention of human minds, then it is a challenge to explain the correspondence between a mathematical equation and what happens in the natural realm.7

The efficacy of mathematics is astounding. With calculations, men and women guided the Apollo missions to the moon, can triangulate on signals generated by ‘black’ boxes to find a lost airplane at the bottom of the ocean, and can synchronize computers 20,000 kilometers apart so that they receive e-mail messages correctly. A materialistic naturalist cannot explain why pure abstractions—e.g., trigonometric equations, can have such an effect on the physical universe.

The existence of counting and mathematics is evidence that the universe was created by an intelligent designer—the God of the Bible. The laws of mathematics (e.g., commutative, associative, and distributive) come from God’s mind. Mathematics is one form of God’s thought—others include descriptive (Genesis 1), naming (Genesis 1:5), animating (Genesis 2:7), visualizing (Exodus 25:40; Exodus 26:30), and logical (Isaiah 1:18). The laws of mathematics exist in God’s mind and were not affected by the Fall of man into sin. The laws of mathematics are therefore perfect (Psalm 19:7) and can be derived without error. Of course, this does not mean that accountants and engineers (and others), affected by the Curse (Genesis 3:17–19), will always perform their arithmetical calculations without error.

Unbelievers can use the mechanics of mathematics without being able to explain what counting is or provide a logically consistent reason for why mathematics works, particularly when applied to natural systems. The problem is that their worldview claims that the universe came into existence by chance and has no non-material dimension (e.g., everlasting human souls). The fact that materialistic naturalists count and use complex mathematics to accomplish amazing things illustrates that they live in practical terms as if there is a God behind the universe, while denying His existence (Romans 1:18).8

When we examine the laws of nature (e.g., the Law of Gravitation or Coulomb’s Law of Electric Charge), we quickly discover that they are based on mathematics and that they model how God has chosen ordinarily to govern the universe; not how He must govern it—the laws of nature are descriptive, not prescriptive. The fact that nature can be described mathematically has been a continuing surprise to those who cannot think beyond their presuppositions of materialistic naturalism. They have difficulty explaining why there is a connection between physical reality and abstract mathematics. The fact that there is, indicates that the universe is more than the sum of its parts and is the product of intelligent thought.

Attributes of God are reflected in mathematics. For example:

Leonhard-Euler
Leonhard Euler: great creationist mathematician
  • His infinity is hinted at by endless number sequences such as found in π (pi).
  • His orderly precision and logical nature are displayed in the order and logic of mathematics, a system to which no human invention can compare. For example, the exponent in Newton’s Law of Gravitation (F = Gm₁m₂/r²) has been studied in numerous experiments and is a perfect 2 (to better than 1 part in a trillion). Also, in every right(-angled) triangle, the square of the longest side (hypotenuse) always equals the sum of the squares of the lengths of the other two sides—as expressed in the Pythagorean Theorem (a² + b² = c²).
  • Similarly, his beauty can be observed through the formal symmetry and patterns in mathematics. For example, Euler’s equation e + 1 = 0 combines the five most important mathematical constants into one equation.9
  • imgflip.comgolden-ratio
  • His omnipresence can be seen in the correspondence between nature and mathematics. For example, we can model vocal and instrumental sounds in mathematical terms and reproduce them in our mp3 players using a digital signal processor. Or the circumference of all circles is 2πr, no matter how small or large the circle is. Both of these would be impossible if mathematics were merely an invention of man’s mind. Mathematicians did not invent math. For instance, calculus was not invented by Newton or Leibniz, it was discovered10 by them. Mathematical reality lies outside of mankind and is not invention or art, it is a study of the order God has put into the entire universe.
  • His unity is seen in the system of mathematics which has order, unifying principles, rules that make sense, and an amazing interconnectedness. Clearly a deliberateness is evident in mathematics. For example, π is linked to the set of all odd numbers:
    π⁄₄ = 1 – ⅓ + ⅕ – ⅟₇ + ⅟₉ – ⅟₁₁ + … (the Madhava–Leibniz formula).
    Also, ratios between consecutive numbers in the Fibonacci sequence (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 …) approach the golden ratio φ (phi). This is the number such that the equation φ² - φ - 1 = 0 gives a φ of 1.618 …, which is precisely the ratio of the radius of a circumscribing circle to the side of a regular inscribed decagon (10-sided figure). The unity of mathematics has been called ‘remarkable’, ‘surprising’, ‘unexpected’, ‘mysterious’, ‘a miracle’, and ‘astonishing’, by those who have no belief in God.
  • Fibonacci-numbers
    Fibonacci numbers can be seen in botany. The arrangement of the whorls on a pine cone (left) and the petals of a sunflower (right) follows a sequence of Fibonacci numbers.
  • While God’s unity is seen in mathematics, so also is his diversity (in a Trinity)—in a single system that can be used to describe human behaviour, calculate stresses on a building foundation, predict hurricane behaviour, and model the revolution of the planets.
  • The fact that God is a communicator is shown through mathematics’ ability to provide complex, specified information such as is evidenced when vocal and instrumental sounds in a musical presentation can be represented in mathematical terms, stored in digital form (zeros and ones), and reproduced again in analog form as puffs of air with high fidelity, using computer chips called digital signal processors.
  • His power is demonstrated through what can be accomplished with mathematics—to synchronize traffic flows, describe musical scores that stir the heart, and define monetary systems that allow modern economies to function.
  • His truthfulness is observed in the constancy of equations such as 2 + 2 = 4. Since all truth is ultimately God’s truth, anything which is true reflects God’s nature.
  • God’s consistency (unchangeableness) is shown from the fact that the results of calculations applying mathematical equations will never change anywhere in the universe. The fact that even atheists believe in the consistency of mathematics is evidenced by advocates of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) who expect that someday we will receive a radio signal from outer space that is based on a regular pattern such as counting by binary numbers.

Only people with a Christian worldview can understand that mathematics reflects the logical, ordered, and good mind of God. As one of His forms of thought, God thinks mathematically. So, the existence of mathematics declares to mankind that God is behind the order in the universe. We can count and perform mathematical calculations because we are image-bearers of God, (Genesis 1:26–27) and can think God’s thoughts after Him. The notions that there are such things as ‘white math’ and that mathematics is ‘racist’ is utter foolishness (Romans 1:22), as is any idea that mathematics is a mere human construct or invention. In addition, such an approach to mathematics, which eliminates the demand for precision and objectivity, is a disservice to those who can benefit from learning to apply mathematics correctly.

References and notes

  1. Math Equity Toolkit; equitablemath.org. Return to text.
  2. https://equitablemath.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/11/1_STRIDE1.pdf. Return to text.
  3. Bertrand Russel, The Principles of Mathematics; Cambridge University Press, 1903; people.umass.edu. Return to text.
  4. “The right answer”, posted on The Atheist Conservative; theatheistconservative.com Return to text.
  5. Sergiu Klainerman, There Is No Such Thing as “White” Math,bariweiss.substack.com, 1 Mar 2021. Return to text.
  6. The Medieval Problem of Universals, plato.stanford.edu, 31 Oct 2017. Return to text.
  7. Vern S. Poythress, A Biblical View of Mathematics, 4 Jun 2012; frame-poythress.org. Return to text.
  8. Vern Poythress, Creation and Mathematics; or What Does God Have to do with the Numbers? frame-poythress.org, 21 May 2012. Return to text.
  9. Other examples of beauty in mathematical equations are provided by Clara Moskowitz, The 11 Most Beautiful Mathematical Equations, livescience.com, 1 Jun 2017. Return to text.
  10. Ramos, S.C., The Discovery of Calculus: Leibniz vs. Newton; stmuhistorymedia.org, 3 Nov 2017. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Nicholas S.
We (as with hopefully every reasonable minded human being) will not want to be the first to travel across a bridge based on engineering calculations incorporating the 'new' maths. We hope Bill and Melinda Gates will revise their book before the ramifications are consequently observed, should they want to cross that bridge. If they don't revise, they will be burning the bridge back to reality, for the sake of unreasonable and illogical thought. Mathematics and racial tension do not mix. God sees no distinction between races, Romans 2:11. Friends at school were good at maths and we were in no way at conflict with them. They were and are Indigenous and we were and are Caucasian. So where is the problem?; certainly math did not corrupt our relationship/friendship; where is the link between math calculations and racial prejudice issues? Respective to calculations in maths and issues with racial tensions, neither one can be extrapolated from the other to solve the problems of either. Just as we can't mix oil and water. Mathematics is inherently innocuous. How can the science of number, quantity, and space be racist? While math is calculation, it is not calculating in the sense of what humans may calculate to be that which their prejudices may express. It's a different type of calculation. We hope and pray this doesn't cause more unnecessary discordance between people groups trying to then do their own variety of irreconcilable and impossible maths. It appears this is trying to remove mathematics from the building blocks of intelligible thought process. At a time when we need to work towards Harmony and Unity; Certainly that is the Command from God, Psalm 133. Thank you CMI, brilliant article and treatise of this matter, revealing the good of mathematics, 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
Robert P.
Thank you for this wonderful essay on one aspect of the mind of God, and the projection of it into our world, namely Mathematics. Simply delightful!!
Bud B.
While I completely agree that mathematics itself has been and continues to be discovered (not invented), when I read A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction, I find that it isn’t saying that the math is white the writer is saying that the TEACHING of math reflects white supremacy.
I saw phrases like “ Teach rigorous mathematics, understanding that rigor is characterized as thorough, exhaustive, and
interdisciplinary.”
You have set up a straw man here by contending that the writers of this workbook are claiming that mathematics itself is racist.
I agree with the writers that by teaching children of colour that math is a tool for them as well; that mathematics will advance them in the sciences, in business, and in finance. I disagree that racism is systemic. If racism is systemic, then any system that God had a hand in creating (and as a devout Lutheran, I believe that government and the culture are directed by the “Left Hand Of God”) I.e. white culture, would need to be dismantled in order to reconstruct a system that is not racist. I have a real problem when people suggest deconstructing God.
Ray N.
Who gets to decide which maths is racist and which is not? Not everyone likes maths, and some people's minds are wired for maths and some are not. What did Einstein see in his mind when he came up with the Theory of Relativity? And it's not easy for everyone to visualize it even when you've been given the equation.
I wonder if they are trying to label certain maths as racist so they can 'cancel' it and remove from curriculum? The beauty of maths, like God, is it cannot be cancelled. It is universal. You can't 'cancel' the formula for Netwon's Law of Gravitation, cos Newton is 'white', and create an alternative equation, and assume the physics around gravity will change to suit.
James H.
I scanned through the "teaching guide" in reference 2. In 83 pages, I could not find one single word of mathematics teaching in it. Not even 1 + 1 = 2. Apparently that equation must be racist. A state education system that teaches material such as this to children has lost its way and has descended to child abuse.
Norman W.
Race is a manmade construct. Having different features or skin color do not create different races. There is but one race and that is the human race. Math is and always has been a universal constant. We did not create math. God created it along with all the laws of the universe. For self involved people to inanely infer that something God created can be racist is to believe they have an inherent knowledge of everything, even more that God himself. People just need to get over themselves and accept that God made no mistakes. Human is human. Male is male, Female is female.
Courtney K.
This also makes me think of the dimension instructions God gave in building the ark, and building the tabernacle. The dimensions were perfect for seaworthiness. Likewise... engineer/author Andrew Hoy pointed out that the current rectangular model of the Tent of Meeting may not be accurate because it doesn't follow the dimensions exactly and created a 6-story yurt-like tabernacle model. Much like Noah's ark being reevaluated, his model would have the extra ends form a circumference of 314 cubits, which is why I mention it, because it's a multiple of pi and I figure it might be an interesting case to evaluate for the same reasons as the ark.
Steve B.
Love the article, it's helped me to see that God can even be understood through math how wonderful is He.
Cameron N.
Never before has an article make me want to shout in praise to the Lord.

I never thought of the laws of Mathematics showcasing the perfect immutable nature of God and the way you described it really nailed it hard.

I'd love to see an article like this one and loving God with all Your logic as a series with all the immutable thoughts of God you talked about. Descriptive, Animating, Naming, and Visualizing. I read your articles on Imagination and that may be one that counts for visualizing.

Honestly. I'd love to own and read a book on these things.

What a mighty God we serve indeed!

I feel so blessed to be able to utilize mathematics in a way to bolster my imagination and creative thinking. For Him to allow me any relational closeness and understanding with His mind through mathematics and visualization and logical reasoning is unknown. Yet still, He gives it.

Worthy to be praised indeed.

PS I'm black haha.
WR B.
I, as an aboriginal North American, my maternal grandparents were mixed breeds, one half Sioux and the other half Cherokee, taught math for several years to mixed race junior high and high school students. The problem with learning abstract concepts was not a problem of race, but parental apathy. I ran into privileged white parents, immigrant Mexican works, famous female single parents, and the local black mechanic who said, “I had trouble with math, so it is no big deal that my son (or daughter) is having the same problems.” Math skills are like Bible skills, each individual has to decide to learn it for themselves. The best we adults can do is not reflect our personal prejudices onto our children’s learning patterns. If we are apathetic, how do we not expect them to be? My use of math is not perfect, but probably better than many, but I owe it all to my mother, and her parent’s attitude which she reflected, “Is that really the best you can do?”
Bill P.
As always God who created the heavens and the earth is correct. He says: "although they knew who God is they did not glorify God or thank Him. On the contrary, they have become futile in their thinking and their undiscerning hearts have become darkened. Claiming to be wise they became fools !
These people who claim to be wise, now teach that mathematics is racist ?!?!
I am a very old man now (have been a believer of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for 40 yrs.), and thought I heard and seen everything, but this takes the cake. To say that "mathematics is racist" proves this.
You refer to the Apollo missions. Imagine what would have happened if these people had programed the system of the Apollo craft and typed into the system that guided the ship to the moon that 2+2=5 ! Those men and the craft would still be floating out in space, and the men on board dead by now.
It amazes me that we here on earth can not hear God laughing (from His throne in heaven) at these insane theories from those who say there is no God who created the heavens and the earth and EVERYTHING (including mathematics) in them.
Yet even now, God would show them mercy if they would repent of their unbelief and give honor and praise to HIM who lives forever. The pride in their hearts will not allow them to do so.
Scripture teaches clearly that in "The Last Days" (when God brings Israel back into the land that He promised their Fathers) that there will be mockers and scoffers of His creation and the Flood in Noah's Day. When we who believe and trust in Him see these things begin to happen, we are to look up for our redemption is near, and His return to rule the nations is at the door.
TY CMI.
Neil A.
I agree that maths is built on the orderly, logical mind of our Lord and that some of the ideas you quote at the top of the article are indeed foolish. However, we must be careful to distinguish the systems of mathematics from the ways that it is used, taught and celebrated. Maths has been used (often loosely or erroneously) to justify horrendous acts like genocide and eugenics. We need to accept this and recognise the contributions of non-western, non-white (and non-male!) individuals to the development of maths.

This is not pandering to modern, trendy, often anti-God movements, where it gives fair weight to what a diversity of people that God has brought to exist have discovered in respect to the mind of our Lord. I feel this article should have acknowledged this aspect—otherwise it could be accused of “whitewashing” past events and the people that sought to justify appalling crimes using “neutral” mathematics.
Jonathan Sarfati
We are very familiar with the issues behind both genocide and eugenics, but this is the first time I’ve heard the claim that neutral (which should lack scare quotes) mathematics is partly to blame. Rather, the so-called progressive movement is largely behind the push to attack objective mathematics, and was also at the forefront of eugenics a century ago. For example, the New York Times has supported nonsense about supposedly racist mathematics, but in the 1930s it was instrumental in Holodomor-denial, i.e. covering up Stalin’s genocide-by-starvation of Ukrainians.

The answer to any misuse of something is not always to reject that something, but correct use. There are indeed mathematicians from both sexes and from all people groups, and I provided a few in my response to Geoff C. W. I could also add Emmy Noether (1882–1935) , a brilliant Jewish mathematician who discovered the theorem named after her, that a symmetry of a given property has a corresponding conservation law, vital to modern physics. But all this reinforces the point of the article: it’s precisely because mathematics comes from God’s mind that people made in His image can all contribute.
Ken B.
This is a great article on how mathematics reflects something of the mind of God. Truly awe-inspiring.

However it does not dig deep into the questions raised in the first paragraph - is there such a thing as 'white math'? and is making objective statements such as 2+2=4 inherently racist?

I have done a brief search for articles under 'critical race theory (CRT) and math' and most of what I found has to do with white people being at an advantage when it comes to learning math.
For example, white students (and Asians) typically perform better than black students in math and this reinforces positive or negative expectations, respectively. The idea is expressed in this statement from an article on 'culturally responsive teaching'. [link deleted per feedback rules]
"many students have internalized deep anxiety or fear when it comes to math, due to either or both societal messages and their prior experiences. Math has traditionally been seen as the domain of old, White men, and when students cannot identify with mathematics—with role models who have been successful in math or with reasons that math matters to them and their lives—it becomes harder to stay motivated, particularly in secondary mathematics when the content leaves the easy applicability of grocery stores and bank accounts and becomes significantly more abstract".

It is good that we appreciate the wonder of God's revelation to us in the mathematical realm, but we should be careful in using that to challenge the ideas of others, that we represent those ideas fairly. In that regard I am yet to find a CRT paper which challenges statements like 2+2=4 as being 'inherently racist'.
Jim Hughes
Thanks for your feedback. I deliberately did not to refer to CRT -- it is an inflammatory topic in the US at the moment. Its influence has overflowed into Canada, where I reside.

There are examples of some US academics claiming that expecting a correct answer in mathematics is problematic. One example states, "Brooklyn College Professor of Math Education Laurie Rubel argued this week on Twitter that the mathematical equation 2+2=4 “reeks of white supremacist patriarchy.” Rubel’s tweet was retweeted and promoted by several academics at universities and colleges around the nation." [https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2020/08/09/brooklyn-college-education-prof-claims-math-is-white-supremacist-patriarchy/]

However, let us not focus on what we might view as a foolish idea, but on the fact that mathematics reflects the amazing mind of our Creator.
Geoff C. W.
Have they not thought about the fact that there have been and are some great mathematicians who are not white? And that there are amazing constructions around the world that rely in part on mathematics? I’m thinking of some of those structures which are aligned with the sun or point exactly at a star or north, etc, and which display perfect maths in their construction.
Jonathan Sarfati
The great mathematician/astronomers Eratosthenes and Ptolemy were from Alexandria in Egypt in Africa. Ramanujan was a 20th-century mathematical genius from India. The Apollo moon landings would not have occurred without the black female mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson dramatized in the 2016 movie Hidden Figures. The black mathematician Gladys West provided the data on earth’s precise shape (geoid) that formed the basis for the Global Positioning System (GPS)—although she still prefers paper maps herself!

But this just reinforces the point of the article: mathematics comes from the mind of God, and all humans regardless of skin shade are made in God’s image and likeness so can discover mathematical truth.
Pauline T.
Thanks for such a delightful description of the mysterious and brilliant mind of our God, on such a topic as mathematics—from the small daily routine of simple counting to the astounding interconnectedness of ALL maths—because God is infinitely wise and utterly truthful and perfect. What a marvelous testimony to our awesome Creator and Redeemer. Indeed—rebels are utterly without excuse !

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