Religion and Math

            At the beginning of my graduate degree in statistics at Auburn University finishing later at Colorado State, I developed a relationship with a student teacher, Man Peng, in which we discussed religion occasionally.  He was an atheist and related his atheism to mathematics, saying that he “could not believe something he could not prove.”  He believed that this was a common thread through the mathematical community, because of characteristics such as proof shared among mathematicians.  The New York Times reports that approximately 14.6% of mathematicians adopt the God hypothesis (Holt, 2008).  Recent practice standards within math education call teachers to incorporate specific practices within instruction that will hopefully push students to acquire traits commonly seen within mathematicians, such as reason abstractly and quantitatively, construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others, etc (ALSDE, 2010).  Do these practice standards reflect an attempt by the education community to divide or question our religious beliefs as they relate so closely to the scrutinized educational theories proposed by John Dewey and mathematical thought? 

            Early educational theorists and philosophers such as John Dewey found a strong relationship between learning and experimentation.  These theories of pragmatism, instrumentalism, and progressivism pushed what was important can be seen and applied immediately to life at hand.  John Dewey in particular “stressed that all doctrines, whether educational or religious, are no more than hypotheses until they are tested and verified (Edmondson, 2006, p.28).”  His philosophical relationship to community based learning, humanism, and student centered curriculum has lead many authors to criticize his political motivations and authority of knowledge.  Indeed writings and teachings by John Dewey and other related educational theorist have extremely affected pedagogical techniques today as some see in a positive or negative light (Edmondson).  The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics says that “students learn more and learn better when they can take control of their learning by defining their goals and monitoring their progress. (NCTM, 2010, p. 21)”

Current western education is commonly seen as a threat to religious dogma, a recent example coming from the extremist group named like Boko Haram, meaning western educations is forbidden or sinful (Quist-Arcton, 2012).  Though these ideologies are rampant throughout the world, the United States is highly regarded for its post-secondary education attracting many students from around the world.  The underlying factor that these closed minded religious groups, criticizers of early theorists, and other outspoken criticizers hold in common is the lacking ability of a student to make an accurate educational decision without the indoctrination of the more learned.  There is definitely truth to this argument in Proverbs 29:15 and in the modern day classroom, as though a room full of students with no educational guidance would very predictably end with extremely little educational accomplishment.  It must also be considered, that students with no prior experience or examples from others will have no base to build knowledge upon.  Though we are counseled to learn from the mistakes of others, it is overwhelmingly evident that we learn best from personal experience.  Experiencing God is one of the fundamental aspects of Christendom, so it can easily be implied that god expects us to learn in the same way he teaches his children (Blackaby, H. et. al., 1998).  The book of Job, the most ancient of religious texts, suggests that learning through life experiences brings understanding (Job 12:12).    Examples flow through religious texts that illustrate characters learning from experience, so to relate this to anti-religious views is ignorant. 

Lastly, there is evidence to suggest that the building of an open-minded human can be related to religious skeptics’ criticisms.  Jesus said, “Let the children come to me… for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (Matthew 19:14, King James Version).  The apostle Paul, who wrote thirteen of the twenty seven books in the Christian New Testament, says in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke, thought, and reasoned like a child.  But when I grew up, I put childish ways behind me.”  It is evident that as humans’ mature, the questioning of what may have been taught as truth is called into question by new knowledge and experience.  With this reasoning it is apparent that the teaching of open-mindedness isn’t really taught, but gained through maturity and experiences.  Teaching your kids or students to reason, conjecture, make use of proof, etc. is not anti-religious.  On the contrary, these methods should and are respected in many religious institutions.  Jesus assures those in Matthew 7:7 that those who seek him will find him and Proverbs 30:5-6 declares that the word of God is true and complete.  Anything that is true and complete can be tested and held accountable for truth.  For this reason, it is important for people of every religion to understand why they believe what they do and be able to answer to scrutiny of their holy texts.  This is the same for educational classrooms.

If someone believes modern pedagogical techniques are attacks on religion, there may be questions to if the believer has a true grasp of their own religion.  Questioning beliefs and experiences are not a modern phenomenon that has reduced religious beliefs.  Many ancient apostles and patriarchs did this regularly (Moses, Job, Jesus’ disciples, etc).  To teach the arts of questioning, hypothesizing, critiquing, etc. are not anti-religious, but rather religious.  Most recent research has found that the teaching of individuals solely with Dewey practices is not good educational practice (NMAP, 2008).  Good teaching has an efficient mix of student and teacher centered instruction, implying that experience with God and the reading of his text are essential to full development of a spiritual being.   Western education and in particular modern math education are not anti-religious, but help students understand their thought processes and formulate viable arguments that can be applied to their life and religion.  Though the content of religion and mathematics are very disjoint, teaching practices between the two are the same.  There is no evidence to suggest that the content within mathematics leads to anti-religious beliefs.

      Resources

Alabama State Department of Education. (2010). Alabama course of study mathematics: Building

mathematical  foundations of college and career readiness. Montgomery,  AL:  Author.

Blackaby, H., Blackaby, R., & King, C.  (1998). Experiencing God: knowing and doing the will of God.

B & H Publishing Group. 

Edmondson III, Henry.  (2006).  John Dewey & the decline of American education: How a patron saint of

schools has corrupted teaching and learning.  Wilmington, DE.  ISI Books.

Holt, Jim.  (2008, January 13).  Proof.  The New York Times.  Retrieved February 6, 2012, from

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/books/review/Holt-t.html.

Quist-Arcton, Ofeibea.  (2012, January 27).  After bombings, an exodus from a Nigerian city.   Retrieved

February 6, 2012, from http://www.npr.org/2012/01/27/145985188/after-bombings-an-

exodus-from-a-nigerian-city.

National Council of Teacher of Mathematics (2000). Principles and standards for school mathematics.

Reston, VA: Author.

National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008).  Foundations for success: The final report of the

            national mathematics advisory panel.  Washington, D.C.  U. S. Department of Education.

Advertisements

3 responses to “Religion and Math

  1. Experiences with God are part of the ultimate equation… Like your thoughtful post!

  2. The proof of God in mathematics reminds me of Pascal’s Wager.

  3. I like Pascal’s wager. It’s funny to me how much the world is changing. Some of the most notable mathematicians from the past believed there was a God; however, now only 14% do. Even more biologists don’t believe in God according to the report I cited. I wonder if there is any relationship between the 14% of mathematicians and there accomplishments. I say this in light of either being held on a pedastol for other beliefs or because there is a relationship to the belief in God and common sense. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s