Is Math Just a Tool?

Biblical Worldview

by on ; last featured March 1, 2015
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Surely there’s one thing Christians and atheists can agree on—math. Like dirt and rocks, it's not good or bad—it's just a tool. 2 + 2 = 4 no matter what you believe. You don’t need the Bible to appreciate and use tools properly . . . right?

I’ve often heard Christians, even Christian teachers, say that some aspects of our lives, such as math, are just tools, neither good nor bad. No “Christian perspective” is required to fully understand and use them.

When pressed for a reason, they often say something like this: “Things like math can be used for good or evil—so they must be neutral. With math, you can build a bridge to help travelers (good), or you can build an atom bomb to kill people (evil). So math is amoral, like rocks. With rocks, you can build a house or kill people.”

This may sound reasonable on the surface, but it fails to consider what the Bible says about “What is good?”

Jesus said, “There is none good but . . . God” (Mark 10:18), since God alone is perfect, complete, and without moral corruption. Yet the Scriptures also use the word good to describe God’s creatures (1 Timothy 4:4) and those who live godly (3 John 11). This broader sense of “reflecting God” in being conformed to the purpose of God’s design is the sense relevant here.

Everything God made was “very good,” and God wants His glory to be seen in every little detail of our lives—“whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This truth can transform your view of all human endeavors, including the liberal arts (the study of language, music, astronomy, biology, logic, . . . and math).

God’s “Very Good” Creation

The argument that math is neutral like rocks ignores the fact that God called all creation, even the rocks, good when He created them on the third day (as part of the dry land; Genesis 1:10–13). At the end of Creation Week, He declared the rocks very good as part of His creation (Genesis 1:31).

Furthermore, God’s creations are still good, even after the Curse (see 1 Timothy 4:4). Jesus said that if people do not praise Him, the rocks would cry out in praise of their Creator (Luke 19:40). So rocks are good; they are intended by God to be used for good purposes. However, like anything else, they can be misused for evil. In fact, God declared the rocks good before He created a person to use them for anything at all, whether good or evil.

So did God create math (the rules that govern numbers and equations) like He created rocks? He certainly made numbers, the basis of math, because He counted the days of creation. When God declared that everything He made was “very good,” this included both the visible things and the invisible things, such as language and numbers.

Numbers, then, are like rocks—both are good! Both are intended by God for good, but both can be misused for evil.

In fact, all the liberal arts are good. The Bible, either explicitly or implicitly, contains each before Adam’s Fall: numbers for math, words for speech and language, days for history, singing for music (see Job 38:7), stars for astronomy, animals for biology, and conditional statements for logic (if you eat . . . , you will die). God’s creation (Genesis 1–3) gives each of the liberal arts a good foundation.

No Scripture supports the neutrality of anything. God made all things good.

Thus, the use of something is different from its nature. Just because something can be used for good or evil does not make the thing amoral. In fact, no Scripture supports the neutrality of anything. God made everything good. It is people in this fallen world that pervert their good purpose. God still intends us to use all our resources to glorify Him; so they are good and their purposes are good, until we misuse them contrary to God’s purpose.

The Good Uses of Math

Math is good in many ways, and we should consciously appreciate its value. First and most important, the characteristics of math reflect characteristics of God, its Creator. They help us understand Him better. Consider just three examples.1

  1. Math is true. Most students know this, since there’s always a right answer. God is true (Deuteronomy 32:4).
  2. Math is orderly. Algebra requires arithmetic, trigonometry requires algebra, etc. God is orderly (I Corinthians 14:40).
  3. Math teaches us about infinity. For any number, no matter how big, you can always find a bigger number by adding one. Likewise, no matter how small a decimal or fraction is, you can always find a smaller number by dividing it in half. Infinity is also involved in repeating decimals, sequences, series, and geometry (lines extend infinitely). Infinity gets even more attention in calculus (limits) and sizes of sets (cardinality). Of the liberal arts, math seems best at teaching us about infinity. God is infinite (Psalm 147:5).

Math is also essential for fulfilling God’s dominion mandate, originally given to Adam (Genesis 1:28). Math is an important tool in building everything, from telescopes to dams. God commanded Moses to use math in taking a census of the nation (Numbers 1), and He also commanded artisans to use math to build the tabernacle to exact specifications (Exodus 25:9–28). All men exercise God-given dominion over creation (Genesis 1:28).

We also see the value of math in our lives by its fruit. Jesus said you will know a “tree by his fruit” (Matthew 12:33). What fruits are harvested from the tree of math, especially in school? First, math develops a high regard for truth and accuracy, which reflect God, who is true and accurate (Numbers 23:19; Ezekiel 45:10). Next, every student eventually grapples with a seeming impossible problem. This develops perseverance, a godly attribute (Ephesians 6:18). Finally, math develops thinking skills. Despite complaints (“I’m never gonna use this stuff!”), students will reason and solve problems throughout their lives. God is a God of reason (Isaiah 1:18) and expects us to hone our minds (Ecclesiastes 10:10; Mark 12:24–27; John 3:10).

How should God’s good foundation be built into our lives? After all, shouldn’t we study everything in light of God’s purposes? Christian teachers need not take a lot of time from the mechanics of math but should address its significance. They should refer to the Bible for the morality, foundations, and philosophy of every subject (see “Taking God Out of the Equation,” Answers, Jan.–Mar. 2012).

Good education doesn’t mean just “leaving out all the bad stuff.” In fact, the worst error in secular classes is that they leave God out. That evil viewpoint is at the core of modern humanistic religion. To teach others that truths exist without God—rather than giving God glory for all He is and does—is idolatry.

Unfortunately, this is not being taught at most Christian schools.2 Moreover, only a handful of Christian colleges give God and His Word any attention in math classes. This should not be. Just as The Genesis Flood sparked the modern creation science movement by decrying the school’s failure to teach biblical creation, evangelicals need to take a similar stand in the other liberal arts, even mathematics, which have been similarly taken over by humanistic thinking.

Christian parents and teachers who strive to put God’s Word back at the center of the sciences should do the same in every discipline, including math. This is the real mark of a Christian—giving God glory in all things. Where is the Bible outside of Bible classes, even in Christian schools? There is as much a problem in other departments as there is in science!

Ron Tagliapietra is an adjunct math instructor at National Louis University in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of the math textbooks from BJU Press, as well as Math for God’s Glory.

Related Downloads

Math for God’s Glory, Chapter One

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  1. My book, Math for God’s Glory (Xlibris, 2004), delineates 20 characteristics.
  2. Even among Christian publishers, only my former employer, BJU Press, produces high school math texts that teach these points (as features), and many teachers skip them.


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