In the early 1960s, I attended a Christian schools’ conference held in Oregon at the old campus of Salem Academy. Four or five of us sat around in the mathematics sectional meeting discussing how to “integrate” mathematics and faith. We concluded that there wasn’t much we could do, except tell our students that mathematics was created by God.
A fledgling teacher, I returned to my classroom, proffered this bald-faced pronouncement and was nonplussed at David Smith’s response: “How do you know this?”
I: “Well...uh...uh...God created everything!”
Dave: “How do you know that math is a thing?”
Then I remembered the one historical tidbit someone had mentioned in our sectional in Salem. It seems that the child Blaise Pascal, given only a few beginning hints by his father, independently came up with the first 32 of Euclid’s Propositions. Didn’t this show that something was really there, to be discovered?
I tried said anecdote on Dave. Obviously overcome by this display of the breadth of his teacher’s knowledge, he said, “Interesting.” I was congratulating myself on the progress I was making when his next question transported me back to square one. “How do you know this really happened?” (You could see even then that Dave had the makings of a professional mathematician, which in fact he now is.)
A few subsequent similar experiences taught me two things:
- When it came to a philosophy of mathematics, I didn’t know what I was talking about.
- I had better have documentation for my anecdotes and other quotations.
This book is the result of years of reading and thinking about, and discussing, the origin, nature, and purpose of mathematics. It is far from the last word on the subject, but it is a step, long overdue, toward giving God the credit for mathematics.
As to the checking of references, I quote Sir Winnie: “I am reminded of the professor, who, in his declining hours, was asked by his devoted pupils for his final counsel. He replied, ‘Verify your quotations.’” [Winston S. Churchill, “The Hinge of Fate,” The Second World War, Vol. IV, (London: Cassell, 1951), p. 616]. Following this advice, I have tried to provide documentation you can trust.
The Pascal story is on shaky ground. A friend of Pascal’s claimed that the young Blaise had peeked at a copy of Euclid, even though Pascal’s biographer-sister, Gilberte, insists the anecdote is true. [Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 21, 1965, p. 362].
I am indebted to my wife Sharon for her encouragement, suggestions, and support; to my daughters Nancy and Lisa for unpaid hours of typing and research; and to Dr. John Blanchard, Dr. Mark Fakkema, Dr. Frank Gaebelein, Paul Morris, Dr. David Smith, and my brother, Rev. David Zimmerman, sharpeners of my wits.
Portland, Oregon, 1995.
The world of ideas which it discloses or illuminates, the contemplation of divine beauty and order which it induces, the harmonious connection of its parts, the infinite hierarchy and absolute evidence of the truths with which it is concerned, these, and such like, are the surest grounds of the title of mathematics to human regard, and would remain unimpeached and unimpaired were the plan of the universe unrolled like a map at our feet, and the mind of man qualified to take in the whole scheme of creation at a glance. —James Joseph Sylvester1