What Does God Have to Do with Mathematics?

Here is a short but good article from Dr. Vern S. Poythress regarding what God has to do with mathematics. Here is an interview on his book: Redeeming Mathematics: A God-Centered Approach. You can find the .pdf here or you can purchase at Westminster Bookstore or Amazon.

What does God have to do with mathematics? Many people would say, "Nothing. God and mathematics are separate subjects―there is no relationship."

I, too, grew up thinking that way. But I have changed my mind. The two subjects have everything to do with each other.

My Story

I can illustrate by telling my story. As a child, I put my faith in Christ, and at nine years old publicly confessed my faith.

I also had an early love for mathematics. It grew as I got to high school. I worried about whether my love for math was greater than my love for God.

I knew from the Bible that God had to be first: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt. 22:37). But was I that way? Or was math my first love?

Until years later, I had no one to tell me that my two loves did not need to compete. What stimulated my love for mathematics was beauty and truth that reflected God's beauty and truth.

What stimulated my love for mathematics was beauty and truth that reflected God's beauty and truth.
God as Creator

How so? We have to start with what the Bible says about creation. God made the world and everything in it. He spoke it into existence:

And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. (Gen. 1:3)

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host. (Ps. 33:6)

By speaking, God specified the nature of each created thing. By implication, he also has specified all the regular patterns that belong to the world―patterns in animals, patterns in physics, patterns in mathematics. The world has a quantitative side to it because God made it that way. Mathematics comes from him. It reflects his speech. And his speech reflects his character.

So, back in highschool, I should have understood that I could love God in the very process of loving mathematics. I only had to understand that I was enjoying his glory and wisdom. That has implications for how mathematics should be taught, doesn't it?

We can take further steps in understanding particular ways in which God reflects his glory in mathematics.

Three Realms in Harmony Because of God

First, God reflects his glory in the harmony of three main realms involved in mathematics. The three realms are (a) the world around us, (b) our own minds, and (c) the truths of mathematics as general truths. For mathematics to make sense and to be reliable, we have to have a harmonious relation among the three realms. Without the world, there is no application. Without our minds, there is no one to think the mathematics (well, no one except God). Without the truths, there is nothing to think about or to apply.

This groundbreaking book lays a theistic foundation for the study of mathematics, exploring everything from simple concepts such as addition and subtraction to more complex topics such as set theory and the nature of infinity.

But why are these three realms in harmony? Atheists have a hard time saying. Many times they try to start with just one of the three, pretending that it is ultimate, and "build" the other two from the third. But that doesn’t really work. The world has to be there, and our minds have to be there, and the truths have to be there, before we even start.

The three realms of mathematics are in harmony because God specified all three. He specified the world by speaking it into existence. He specified our minds by making us in the image of God, so that we as creatures can imitate his own mind. He specifies the truths of mathematics, because he himself is the truth. The three are in harmony because they all come from God. And everyone depends on it all the time.

Unity and Plurality Due to God

Second, let us consider where unity and plurality come from. There is only one true God. His unity is the foundation for the unity and harmony in the world he made. It is a universe, with profound consistency in the regularities of mathematics, physics, and other sciences.

But God is also three persons. The second person of the Trinity is called "the Word" in John 1:1, indicating that God's speech creating the world has its deepest foundation in God himself. God can speak and create a plurality of creatures because plurality belongs to God himself, in the plurality of persons in the Trinity.

Mathematics is possible only because there is both unity and plurality. Mathematics is possible because God is God―he is one in three.

Vern S. Poythress (PhD, Harvard University; ThD, University of Stellenbosch) is Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Biblical Interpretation, and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he has taught for four decades. In addition to earning six academic degrees, he is the author of numerous books and articles on biblical interpretation, language, and science.

6 responses to “What Does God Have to Do with Mathematics?”

  1. If there’s one pattern in math more than any other makes me realize we have an intelligent, perfect creator, it’s the concept of the perfect square. Consider the following:
    The perfect squares (1, 4, 9, 16, 25, etc.), represented algebraically by n^2, are the sum of the first n odd numbers. So 5^2 is 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 = 25. I know the following conclusion sounds a little cheesy, but God takes what is odd, from the least to the greatest; orders it; and sums it all up into something perfect: everything is “squared away.”
    I had a bunch more to say on this, including on the chiasm of the perfect squares, but I realized as I was typing that I could just turn it into my own blog post, so look for another math blog post from me soon. I think I started something here!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Very cool brother! I 👀 forward to that future post.

      Like

  2. I love Poythress’ chapter on math in a book called Foundation of Christian Scholarship. I need to read his book on Redeeming Mathematics one day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. His book on logic is really good. I have his recent book on the The Mystery of the Trinity and look forward to reading it.

      Like

      1. Awesome!!! I”m reading his book on Philosophy

        Liked by 1 person

  3. […] 7.) What Does God Have to Do with Mathematics? […]

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