Category Archives: Faith

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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.

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Ramblings

I have so many different thoughts rambling through my head constantly about a class I’m taking at Auburn University (Issues and Trends in Mathematics Educaiton) and how it will influence me as an educator.  Will all of this knowledge make me the Gingrich of math education?  Is there nothing new under the sun?  How can we learn from past mistakes?  Is the decline of American education related to reform practices or just correlated?

I’ve heard to be careful what you read or watch, as it will certainly impact your thoughts.  (Been reading John Dewey and The Decline of American Education)  I’ve read a study that says we believe everything we read or see until we have time to judge its truthfulness or how it may contradict we already hold as true.  There are so many different views of almost any topic or situation.  Philosophy and qualitative studies I wouldn’t say is my forte, but it is becoming increasingly interesting.  I’m really having to wrap my thoughts around different arguments and find out what parts are truth and what parts are noise from people just wanting to be heard.

What is truth?  How do we prove causation?  Qualitative and quantitative research, I believe, should be mixed not disjoint.  So many people in the world do not mix these together.  An example by Obama wanting to lengthen drop out ages in all states to 18 does not address the real issue at hand and is based purely on quantitative studies.  AL state senator, Shadrack Mcgill, says that increasing teachers pay will not increase the quality of teachers because teachers who teach will work for any amount of money, because they are called to teach according to the bible (Click Here for Article).  Old Shadrack seems to be basing his vote purely on qualitative studies.

How do we mix these two types of research?  This is essential if we want to show causation!

Rat in a Cage

It’s been a stormy last couple of days here in Alabama.  It’s really made me think about how, as large as our world is, we are actually very constrained.  The clouds parted in the sky and I noticed a beautiful blue sky with white clouds above the storm clouds.  Things are always so relative to the observer.  As a plane was flying overhead, the pilot could observe a wonderful bright day while I experienced a dreary wet day.  Things can be so different for two people in the same place at the exact same time.  As I marvel at this very simplistic marvel, I think about this relationship to God.  We are so confined to the earth we live on.  There have not been many people at all to leave the Earth’s atmosphere, yet even this phenomenon is trivial.  Even an observer in our own universe seems trivial.  What awaits outside this dimension?  I wonder how an observer outside space and time could forget sins forever.  If God forgets sins and is outside time, couldn’t he always go back to revisit these sins?  Will I forget my own sins when I enter into a higher dimension?

Courageous

I saw an awesome movie last Tuesday with my wife called “Courageous”.  It really made you think about how you spend your time with your family and how valuable each second is that you have with them.  The strength of the main character in the story was also breath taking.  I believe it would be very difficult to lose my child and not give responsibility to God for this action.  Negative things happen in a world that is filled with sin.  These things aren’t from God but are allowed by God to strengthen his people.  The question still is open to why did he chose to take that little child and other innocents of the world.

Creation Moments (not the same)

I used to really like listening to Creation Moments on the radio. I used to really like reading the transcripts sent to my e-mail daily from Creation Moments. I’m beginning to become a little frustrated with them this year. I’m not sure if it is the recent change in leadership or what, but they are becoming much more devisive. A post on their facebook page today says that you can’t be a Christian and believe in evolution. I’m not saying I completely believe in evolution like most evolutionist, but I am saying that you can be a Christian and believe in evolution. I have mentioned in other blogs this year that making devisive sermons does nothing to further the cause for Christ. This goes for Creation Moments as well. There post on Richard Dawkins interview is incorrect; A Christian can believe in evolution.  Your personal relationship with Jesus is what makes you a Christian, not your belief on hoe God made this world.

Link to their facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Creation-Moments/93344997307

Interview:

Tithing Prediction

I’ve been working on the church budget committee for the last 3-4 years.  I’ve always wanted to fit a time series model to the church income, so I finally did it.  The first model you see here is a more of a model that the church uses.  If the church does any prediction, they just think the average of the previous tithes would be the best model.  I also incorporated what the church leaders also think in their minds that last year’s month probably has some implication of what will happen the next month.  This is called a moving average in time series.

Differencing of 1 for stationairity.

 

I next adjusted the series for seasonaility.  I believe it is a wide known belief that certain months relate to one another in peoples giving.  Less people are in church during the summers producing a slightly lower tithing rate.  Other things such as holidays also play a part in peoples normal giving.  The following model is an ARMA process with differencing of 1 and 12 to produce a stationary process.

 

The last model I have here to show is a Classical Fit with a seasonal component of 11 and a linear trend component for the average.

 

It is interesting to see the confidence bounds for each of these models.  The first two models had two months that income went well over the expected rate.  The last model seems to stay within the bounds.  When I looked at the residual plots of each of these models there was also some interesting characteristics.  All of the model residuals showed some dependence on the economic downturn and upturn the last year.  I believe it will be interesting to see how these predictions hold as the economy seemingly improves.

*I should probably put a disclaimer here at the bottom concerning what really happens at our budget meetings.  We really never look at forecasting titheing habits of the church.  We do however discuss what’s best to do with what God has and is giving us.  We seek input of our church leaders and prayerfully seek God’s council in the congregations budget allocations.

Choir Devotion for Wednesday

So often I find myself out of relationship with God.  It’s not that I am straying from my beliefs, but I don’t make time for the relationship that God has called for me to have with him.  First Thessalonians 17:1 says to, “never stop praying”, which in turn means to have a continuous relationship with our father.  God is always by our side even when we feel like we haven’t fostered our relationship.  I think of it much like my son, as he is sitting up on his own now.  I take away my hand and give him the opportunity to hold him self up and learn.  When he starts falling, I put my hand under him to catch him and lighten the fall.  Eventually, he will be walking and I will have to pull my hand away and let him fall.  The father of the prodigal son in Luke 15: 11-32, chose to pull his protective hand away from his child by letting him leave his home, fall, and then restore his relationship after sinning against him.  If you feel like your going through a time in your life where you have fallen or are  not making time for your relationship with Jesus, remember God is just beside you with open arms and perfect wisdom.  Hebrews 13:5 says, “I will never leave your nor forsake you”.  Just as we are to make time to foster our relationship with our spouses, we should make time for our relationship with Jesus.

Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”