Here’s a modern parable that explores the grounding of worldviews. A mathematician, in a philosophical mood one day, wondered what grounded his mathematics. The math works, of course, but why? He wonders if he’s missing something foundational.
He consults a theologian friend of his. The theologian knows almost nothing about mathematics, but he knows his Christianity.
The mathematician says, “Mathematics is like an inverted triangle with the most advanced math along the wide top edge. That top layer is grounded on the math below it, which is grounded on what is below, and so on through the layers, down to arithmetic and logic at the point at the bottom. And that’s where it stops.”
The theologian nodded his head slowly. “I see the problem—what does the bottom rest on?”
The mathematician was silent.
“In your view, it rests on nothing,” said the theologian. “It just sits there in midair. But the problem is easily resolved—mathematics and logic come from God. There’s your grounding.”
“Are you saying I need to convert to Christianity to be a mathematician?”
“Not at all. Just realize you are borrowing from the Christian worldview every time you make a computation or write an equation.”
Satisfied that this nagging problem had been resolved, the mathematician returned to his work and thought no more of it. The End.
After that theological excursion, was the mathematician any better off? Was he faster or more accurate or more creative? Did his proofs work where they hadn’t before? In short, did he get anything of value from the exercise? Not at all.
And note where the theologian was wrong—the axioms at the bottom of the triangle aren’t sitting in midair and taken on faith. They’re continually tested. “1 + 1 = 2” has worked on everything so far, but we’ll take notice if we find a situation where it doesn’t. Some mathematical claims are tested, and some are proven based on other claims, but none are taken on faith. The idea that atheists or scientists borrow from the Christian worldview is popular but empty.
If we imagine 1 + 1 = 2 only because God says so, that means that in a godless universe 1 + 1 might not equal 2. That’s a remarkable claim, and the theologian must support this rather than simply asserting it without evidence.
“God did it” is no more useful or informative than “logic and arithmetic are just properties of our reality” or “that’s just the way it is” or even “I don’t know.” An interesting question has been suppressed, not resolved. In fact, by the theologian’s own reasoning, his answer rests in midair because he gives no reason to conclude God exists. His claim is no more believable than that from any other religion—that is, not at all.
The person who stops at “God did it” has stated an opinion only—an opinion with no evidence to support it. It doesn’t advance the cause of truth at all. Mathematics is tested, and it works. God is an unnecessary and unhelpful addition to the mix.
Continue to chapter 25.
Image credit: Dan Cristian Pădureț via Unsplash
the Nephilim: Genesis 6:1–4.
After the Flood, they are described . . . as giants: Num 13:33.