Can’t Wait To Hear What the Science Department Has To Say August 8, 2007

Can’t Wait To Hear What the Science Department Has To Say

Math class descriptions at Castle Hills First Baptist School:

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.

Because when you study triangles, you’re really just studying the Trinity.

And does anyone else start twitching when you realize they talk about God and proofs in the same paragraph?

(via Reddit)

[tags]atheist, atheism, mathematics, God, religion, Castle Hills First Baptist School, Christian[/tags]

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  • Maria

    oh geesh……….:rolls eyes:: ridiculous……

  • TXatheist

    No surpise this is in Texas. 🙁

  • Oh, more of this stuff! I wonder what the good Baptists would say about the neo-Pythagorean ideas about mathematics that someone like John Athony West advocates in Serpent in the Sky, with his championing of ancient Egyptian and Asian wisdom… I don’t agree with West’s arguments from design or his conspiracy theories about Egyptology, but he has, as a person of faith, some pointed criticisms of biblical literacy and fundamentalism, and their fear of pagan learning. I read West’s book – are the Baptists as open-minded as I am? Hmmm? 🙂

  • Kyle

    Check out this from the “Civics” class description:

    Students will evaluate the past and learn from its lessons (I Corinthians 10:11), and become effectual Christians who understand “the times” (I Chronicles 12:32). Students will study the foundational documents of our founding Fathers built upon as they formulated the ideals upon which our country was established. Such documents include: The Magna Carta, The English Bill of Rights of 1689, and the Mayflower Compact. Students are equipped with an understanding of the basic principles contained in these documents, and are able to identify their dependence upon biblical and Reformation principles, leading them to an understanding why the American system is meant for a religious people.

  • So God created math? Wow, but the math department is really big on itself.

    Don’t they grasp that math is a HUMAN attempt to understand things, and by definition it’s limited, inevitably incomplete and partially wrong?

    These theists. Always claiming certainty they have no right to.

  • Polly

    This coming from a religion that promotes the idea that: 1+1+1=1.

  • Miko

    Foundationally, most of mathematics is derived from the idea of combining an empty set with itself repeatedly, so in a way what they’re really suggesting is that their god is an axiomatic embodiment of nothingness.

    Actually, the students are most likely to become agnostics, since we’ve never actually proven that most of mathematics is consistent.

    Seriously though, as a member of the mathematics community, allow me to summarize as follows: this idea is stupid. And sadly not all that new.

  • Don’t they grasp that math is a HUMAN attempt to understand things, and by definition it’s limited, inevitably incomplete and partially wrong?

    That should be left to the philosophers.

  • Miko, I’d have suspected that the foundation of math is in human analysis of their experience of the physical world, just as logic and science are. The PHYSICAL world, and if someone believes they have another kind of experience and they analyze it as an experience of the supernatural, something NON-PHYSICAL, the experience is theirs and as valid as the one that the sciences are based in. What is it about some people that makes them believe they have a proprietary interest over other peoples’ experience that is superior to that of the person who owns the experience? I’d have no problem if someone came the the conclusion that their experience validates atheism. It’s their life, not mine.

  • Kate

    What?? No one has mentioned pi = 3 yet?!?!?! Or the sign at the Creationist museum that mentions 1/3 and has “30%” written in the background…ahaha.

    This makes me queasy. 🙁

  • kate

    I’d like to politely threadjack this discussion if I may.

    As somebody who loved math when I was a kid (I wanted to be an epidemiologist when I was 10), but who lost interest during high school, can anyone recommend any interesting books on math?

    I’d like to re-learn some of the math I’ve forgotten, and learn some new stuff as well, but I don’t want to just work on problems in textbooks. If anybody knows a book or two that explain the history of math, and some of the basic principles underlying it, in an interesting way, then please leave a comment here.

    Back on topic- I’d hate to be an atheist teen forced to go to Castle Hills First Baptist by my parents, unable to take silent secular solace even in math class, but if you want crazy math beliefs, I believe the Time Cube guy has even the Pi = 3 folk beaten for ‘I’m Nuts!’.

  • kate, back when I used to tutor high school algebra I suggested that they get Algebra Programmed second edition by Alwin and Hackworth (three volumes) as a learning aid, . I don’t think you’ll find them new but you can find them at ABE books or ebay. You might have to erase or white out answers if someone has written them in. The first edition isn’t nearly as good, though the third one is. After those you can try a more conventional approach but they are very gradual and very clear, if you follow the instructions.

  • I’m a little disappointed by those who have decided to use this thread to mock Christians. So some Christians think that it is possible to learn something about God through intellectual pursuits like math. What is so ridiculous about that? For those of use who do believe that all that exists was created by God, it’s not so incredible to think that everything we learn about our existence reveals something more about God’s character (in the same way that studying a painting or a novel reveals something about its creator). Like it or not, for theists a knowledge of God is one of our highest values, so to say that studying math can increase our knowledge of God is a way of valuing math very highly. That, I think, is not something atheists should have too much objection to. (Would you rather have your students think that math was somehow opposed to their faith Hemant?)

    Personally I’ve known several Math majors at my Christian college who found the study of Math to be a quite worshipful experience. As someone who hated 9am Calculus classes, I have a hard time understanding their emotion, but I can appreciate on the theoretical level why this would be the case for them.

  • ash

    Mike C.

    are you really suggesting that it’s ok for kids to be taught about god in a maths lesson? how about we teach them about allah through music lessons, shiva through phys-ed, FSM through home-economics…how an adult chooses to interpret the subject is up to them, whatever stories the religious want to use to explain such subjects to their children in sunday school or classes on religion i can deal with (not with happiness, but hey-ho) but god in science, maths, whatever is a waste of valuable lesson time that given by currrent educational standards cannot be afforded.

    Would you rather have your students think that math was somehow opposed to their faith Hemant?

    where did the idea come from that anything not actively promoting faith is anti it? personally, i’d rather it was not confused with any opinion on faith, period.

  • Eliza

    Last year I’d found a page of quotes in Wikipedia by mathematicians describing the spiritual experience they got through mathematics. Now, I can’t find it 🙁 but did come across this, on the Wikipedia page on “Mathematical beauty”:

    Galileo Galilei is reported to have said “Mathematics is the language with which God wrote the universe”, a statement which (apart from the implicit deism) is consistent with the mathematical basis of all modern physics.

    Mathematics can be a spiritual experience & pursuit (for some people), but it’s not clear to me how it can be linked to Christianity per se. Just think how much mathematical beauty could have been transmitted in the Bible – but instead it ignores the whole field, outside of maligning pi by claiming that pi = 3, and outside of improbably large head counts, which vary anyway from book to book.

  • The Galileo quote that I remember says “The book of nature is written in the language of mathematics” — was that a different one?

    I remember reading that of all the sciences, mathematics has the highest proportion of believers in God. In a way that makes sense, because sometimes it’s easy to imagine that mathematics might have been created by God (it’s a lot more perfect than the real world, that’s for sure). On the other hand, though, if God created maths, He probably created logic, as well — which means it wouldn’t have been beyond Him to, say, give us free will and force us to be perfect both at once. Seriously, if you can alter maths, you ought to be able to create a world where direct contradictions are allowed…

  • Eliza

    kate, here are some interesting books about mathematics, of several different types. You might like some over others; depends on what you’re looking for. (I won’t try to enter links, as my post would go to moderation…) We are lucky to have a “math store” near us, which carries alot of great books as well as games & toys. The first 2 listed here are my son’s absolute favorite books (along with The Phantom Tollbooth).

    1) The Colossal Book of Mathematics: Classic Puzzles, Paradoxes, and Problems – by Martin Gardner (who also has written a number of other books for “lay” people interested in recreational mathematics)

    2) A Passion for Mathematics: Numbers, Puzzles, Madness, Religion, and the Quest for Reality – by Clifford A. Pickover (this has alot of short pieces, problems interspersed with history etc, good for busy people or those with short attention spans)

    3) Recreations in the Theory of Numbers: The Queen of Mathematics Entertains – by Albert H. Beiler (it’s a 1964 book, which is still on the market)

    4) Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea – by Charles Seife

    5) Mathsemantics: Making Numbers Talk Sense – by Edward MacNeal (this is my personal favorite – I think it should be required reading, maybe in & after high school)

  • Eliza

    Lynet, both versions came up when I did a search. I haven’t tried all that hard to clarify, but some sources state these sayings are from Galileo’s writings (rather than hearsay of something he said) so it should be possible to pin it down. But that’s as far as I got, no actual source citations found.

    The Wikiquote page on Galileo lists these quotes as “unsourced”:

    The great book of nature is written in mathematical symbols.

    Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.

    Philosophy is written in this grand book— I mean the universe— which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth (1623)

  • (Would you rather have your students think that math was somehow opposed to their faith Hemant?)

    Like ash said above, math is a secular subject. It has nothing to do with God. It just seems irrelevant to put God in there, even at a Christian school. In a public school, it’s not like we’re saying 2 + 2 = 4, therefore God doesn’t exist. The math class should just not deal with that subject.

    (Though I have been reading a couple books about people using math to prove/disprove God. More on that later…)

  • Eliza

    But, Hemant, to Mike C (& “strong theists”), everything has to do with God, since everything is from God. There is no such thing as “a secular subject”. (I’m playing “devil’s advocate” here.) 😉

    It is interesting to imagine kids going from math class, where they are taught “to understand the absolute consistency of mathematical principles and know that God was the inventor of that consistency,” straight to Bible study…

    Better schedule a long recess in between those 2 classes!

  • Mike C.

    are you really suggesting that it’s ok for kids to be taught about god in a maths lesson?

    Yes, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting. For those who believe in God I see no reason why they shouldn’t seek to learn more about her in every area of human learning.

    In fact, I have to respectfully disagree w/Hemant but I think mathematics has quite a bit to do with God. One doesn’t have to believe in God to do math of course, but for those who do believe in God, math becomes yet one more window through which we can glimpse a bit of the divine beauty.

    Of course I’m not suggesting that this should be taught in public schools, but we’re talking about a private Christian institution here. If they want to teach that you can learn about God through mathematics, they have every right to, and honestly, I’d be disappointed if they didn’t, since again, as a theist, I believe that the image of God is reflected in all of existence – including math.

    To put it another way, “all truth is God’s truth”. For a theist, if it’s true, then it’s from God, and therefore as we discover truth (including mathematical truths) we are discovering things about God.

  • Funny thing Eliza… we cross posted, and yet you said essentially what I was getting at too. As you said, for a theist there is no such thing as a secular subject. I’d completely agree with that statement.

    Good job at playing the “devil’s advocate”. 🙂

  • ash

    Mike C., like i said, i’ve no problem with maths or any other subject being interpreted however you please at the appropiate time, but wasting it on explaining the relevance or not of god to every subject is foolhardy at best. it shouldn’t make a difference if it’s a private school. what if the same school were to decide you didn’t need math to understand god, therefore math itself was irrelevant? do you really need english lit to get god? geography? science? nah, chuck it all, god will provide as long as we have faith…still ok? well it is a private school…
    a subject can be taught in a secular manner without a theist having to agree that it’s all it is. a child has a right to an education that will serve them well regardless of any faith choices they do or don’t make in the future.

  • I assume, since it’s called a ‘Baptist’ high school that it’s a private school, which, one used to be able to assume, didn’t receive government funding. If they want to mention religion in their math class then it’s their business. If their students aren’t able to handle enough math later on then that might be unfortunate but, thankfully, it’s really their business.

    By the way, I have a bigger problem with having public schools that cater to a selected and select clientèle (whooo! accent ague in the spell check). I’m a leveler, public schools should provide the same resources to every child in the country. And public schools should be behind the wall of separation, with exceptions for literature, art and music where it would be hard to not deal with religious content.

  • ash

    olvlzl, whilst i agree with the second half of your post, i can’t say the same about the first. at the moment, they’re just kids, who cares if they can add up properly, or if they pray when they do it…but they grow up. if one of these kids goes into building bridges and didn’t spend enough time on basic math to calculate load bearings…if one of these kids inherits daddies business that you/your family/friends work at, and insists on their employees practising religion the same as them/runs it into the ground…if one of these kids has enough of an education to get into politics but still believes faith should be part of everything and state/church lines should be blurred…, then it becomes both our business and our problem.

  • doug

    As an outsider reading this post, let me make some comments that I hope will be useful. I have a PhD in cell biology and I now do cancer research for an academic institution. I’ve obviously had a lot of training in math and science (although I read very few books on math theory). Interestingly, I attended private Christian schools who interpreted science, math and many other disciplines through a Biblical perspective. What’s important to note is that none of these perspectives affected my ability to design or perform biological experiments. I say only “affected” because it neither positively or negatively influenced my scientific abilities. The issue here is about personal rights. If American Muslim, Jewish, or Christian PRIVATE schools want to interject their religious perspective into said disciplines, then it’s the business of the parents paying for their education. I personally believe this is a waste of time, but having been to both private and public schools, the private school education was much, much better (although this was due more to fewer distractions and smaller class sizes than interjections of anti-evolutionist ideas in Biology). Our problems as a country of eclectic religious perspectives arise from our inability to effectively separate church and state. Christians do not have the “American” right to interject Biblical perspectives into Public school curricula just as Atheists do not have the right to interject any overstatements of the evolution of physical or biological laws. Reminder: Evolution refers to the alteration of matter already in existence. Existential interjections about creation or however else the universes came to existence are for philosophy class because they cannot be explained by scientific methods (yet). The goal of primary schooling is to educate our children in as many disciplines as possible to make them well-rounded, informed individuals capable of making their own decisions. Let parents decide what religious perspectives they want to teach their children. By the way, is there anyone who can comment on the current theories of how physical laws are formed?

  • Mike C, I think we’re talking about two different things here. You wrote:

    For those of use who do believe that all that exists was created by God,

    But MATH wasn’t created by God. Math is a HUMAN invention, meant to describe the universe which may or may not have been created by God.

    Math has flaws. The most basic being you cannot prove 1? 0.

    Math is NOT absolutely consistant, nor was God the author of the consistency that exists in mathematics. What consistancy there is was created by humans.

    But this school declares this human invention, mathematics, to be of divine creation and logical perfection. HA! What hubris!

    That Gallileo may or may not have made the same mistake (which is easy to make, esp for an ego the size of Gallileo’s), has no bearing on the truth of the statement.

    It’s a delusion of grandeur. I guess if you’re so good at math that you always get your sums correct, and they’re correct at describing the universe so often, you get a little big-headed and assume you’ve got it perfect.

    How far from perfect math is, and how wonderful for math teachers to assert that Euclid’s Elements descended from the sky on golden plates.

    it’s not so incredible to think that everything we learn about our existence reveals something more about God’s character (in the same way that studying a painting or a novel reveals something about its creator).

    Then they should limit their worship to the Creator and His Creation, and not worship the constructions of man. This is idolotry.

    It is folly to pretend that our sciences are perfect and God-given. It is hubris not to draw a distinction between man-made math and the universe it attempts to describe. Math is a man-made pursuit.

    Yes, we should be pleased when our models describe the universe accurately. But we should NOT assume that our models ALWAYS and CONSITANTLY describe the universe accurately because our models were created by God.

    Nor should we assume that since we make our models with math, that God did the same when creating the universe. That would be like a caveman looking at a jumbo-jet and concluding that we made it by banging two rocks together.

  • WordPress didn’t like my equation there.

    Let me say it this way: You can’t prove 1 does not equal zero.

  • I agree Siamang, and I think the wording of that school’s statement about math (i.e. “the absolute consistency of mathematical principles”) was unfortunate. You are quite right that our constructions and understandings of God’s creation (mathematical or otherwise) are not perfect, absolute reflections of the reality. However, I think you overstate the point if you then say that they are absolutely worthless in knowing anything about God at all. Yes, they are human inventions, but then, humans too (in the theist view) are God’s inventions, so there is a sense in which human rationality and our attempts to understand and describe the world do still reflect a bit of the divine image. Not enough for us to worship our understandings as God herself (as you say, that would be idolatry), but enough for us to still value what we can know as providing glimpses and pieces (however incomplete or inadequate) of God’s reality.

    Even St. Paul admits as much when he says in 1 Corinthians 13 “We know only in part… we see only a pale reflection, as in a mirror.” But he doesn’t tell to therefore give up on knowing anything and not bother. We value things like math for the glimpses of reality they do give, while still realizing that there will always be so much more we don’t know yet and cannot grasp.

  • Ash, I think you are exaggerating the effects of this school’s approach to make your point. It’s ridiculous to think that they aren’t adequately teaching math because they spend too much time talking about religion in the math class. I went to Christian schools till 5th grade, and went to a Christian college as well, and while both experiences integrated faith into the classroom, I still learned plenty of math. (In fact, they probably did a better job than most public schools. When I eventually transitioned to a public school in Jr High, I ended up skipping a grade because my Christian school education was so far ahead of where the public school was.)

    My experience and Doug’s are the norm in most private Christian schools. It is quite possible for these institutions to integrate faith into the classrooms without sacrificing the overall quality of education.

  • The idea that bridges will fall down because Christian kids learn about God in the math classroom is ludicrous at best. It’s like as saying that America is in moral decline because of the atheists and their godlessness. I say this as a practicing engineer who went to Christian schools from K-12 and undergraduate. I also feel I was better prepared for engineering grad school than most of the grad students who came from public universities.

  • I thought people in the sciences were all supposed to be atheists. Maybe the bridges fall down because the engineers and designers are too busy think of mean things to say about “theists”. If it’s religious training that is the problem, how did all those medieval and renaissance buildings stay up so long?

  • ash

    Mike C. + macht…ok, so let’s assume that this won’t be detrimental at all to their maths abilities…now please address the other point i made…

    if one of these kids has enough of an education to get into politics but still believes faith should be part of everything and state/church lines should be blurred…

    after all, it’s already been stated that for a christian, god affects/is part of everything, so please explain to me why any christian who feels this would wish to keep religion and politics seperate – especially a former pupil of a school like this, where mixing religious and secular subjects did no harm whatsoever/improved the subject?

  • I think that student should be able to say or think what every he wants and if the electorate likes what that person has to say, they should vote for him or her. If they don’t like what he or she has to say, they should vote for somebody else. If it’s unconstitutional then appropriate measures should be taken. Other than that, I don’t see the problem.

  • Logos

    olvlzl, no ism, no ist
    Haven’t you ever heard-if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all

  • Maria

    oh, I didn’t realize it was a private christian school……well, it’s certainly okay to mention God then, just don’t let it detract from teaching the math correctly……can that be done?

  • ash

    If it’s unconstitutional then appropriate measures should be taken.

    you do realise constitutions can be undermined, subverted and even changed?

    regarding the matter of ‘it’s a private school, they can do whatever’, is this a privilege purely extended to the religious, or could it also be applied to any agenda a private school wished to teach? can anyone else see an inherent danger here? would white supremism and holocaust denial as definitive history be ok if it was taught at a private school?

  • “you do realise constitutions can be undermined, subverted and even changed?”

    Yes. And unless the constitution is changed legitimately, I consider those things “unconstitutional” and should therefore be dealt with appropriately.

  • Eliza

    ash said:

    after all, it’s already been stated that for a christian, god affects/is part of everything, so please explain to me why any christian who feels this would wish to keep religion and politics seperate

    I’ve heard it said that the purpose, for some Christians, would be to keep politics/the state from influencing (diluting? tainting? constraining?) their religion.

  • Eliza

    I’m going to fall back into the devil’s advocate role again. (Mike C, you gonna put me on retainer?) 😉

    Siamang, you said:

    But MATH wasn’t created by God. Math is a HUMAN invention, meant to describe the universe which may or may not have been created by God.

    The representation – the language – of mathematics is a human invention, but is mathematics itself? Think of the examples of mathematical concepts occurring in nature, for example the Fibonacci sequence, the golden ratio, pi…how can you say that mathematics is a human invention?? Mathematical realism is the view that mathematics is a natural phenomenon, & we are simply discovering and describing it.

    Mathematical realism, like realism in general, holds that mathematical entities exist independently of the human mind. Thus humans do not invent mathematics, but rather discover it, and any other intelligent beings in the universe would presumably do the same. In this point of view, there is really one sort of mathematics that can be discovered: Triangles, for example, are real entities, not the creations of the human mind.

    Many working mathematicians have been mathematical realists; they see themselves as discoverers of naturally occurring objects. Examples include Paul Erd?s and Kurt Gödel. Gödel believed in an objective mathematical reality that could be perceived in a manner analogous to sense perception.

    That page goes on to describe several models of mathematical realism, including Platonism. Not one of them is called Human Hubris. 😉

    You seem to view math as (as the page linked above calls it) and “embodied mind theory”:

    Embodied mind theories hold that mathematical thought is a natural outgrowth of the human cognitive apparatus which finds itself in our physical universe. For example, the abstract concept of number springs from the experience of counting discrete objects. It is held that mathematics is not universal and does not exist in any real sense, other than in human brains. Humans construct, but do not discover, mathematics.

    With this view, the physical universe can thus be seen as the ultimate foundation of mathematics: it guided the evolution of the brain and later determined which questions this brain would find worthy of investigation. However, the human mind has no special claim on reality or approaches to it built out of math. If such constructs as Euler’s identity are true then they are true as a map of the human mind and cognition.

    Embodied mind theorists thus explain the effectiveness of mathematics — mathematics was constructed by the brain in order to be effective in this universe.

    Math has been described as the study of patterns. We see patterns all around us, even when they’re not really there. Mathematics includes a way of formalizing the description & proofs of patterns that exist.

  • Siamang seems to hold to a constructivist view of math, which is only one of many philosophical schools of thought about math. Afterall, math isn’t just about solving problems like 2+2=4. 2+2=4 presupposes questions “what is a number?”, “which numbers are ‘real’?”, “what is a proper mathematical proof?”, “what is a mathematical truth?” and so on. In other words, we may all agree that 2+2=4, but that doesn’t mean we all agree on what 2+2=4 means.

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