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At New Republic: Did math kill God?

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Cover: The Great Rift in HARDCOVER From Josephine Livingstone at New Republic, reviewing Michael E. Hobart’s The Great Rift: Literacy, Numeracy, and the Religion-Science Divide,

In a new book called The Great Rift: Literacy, Numeracy, and the Religion-Science Divide, Michael E. Hobart offers a new twist on a huge old metanarrative: the death of God. Something or other happened in Renaissance Europe, the story goes, and it eventually distanced scientists from religion. Hobart locates this great shift in the field of mathematics. Other historians have given credit to experimenters who pioneered the scientific method, or astronomers like Galileo or Kepler, but Hobart claims that Renaissance mathematics is distinct from its medieval predecessor because it reconceived numeracy as a tool for describing the quantities of things into an abstract system for describing relations between them. Scholars began thinking “with empty and abstract information symbols,” which catalyzed a revolution from “thing-mathematics” to “relation-mathematics.” Because this form of knowledge went beyond ordinary language, which previously was the primary means of conveying information, people slowly began to conceive of a world contingent on “natural” laws rather than the word of God.

The Great Rift contains a huge wealth of historical anecdote and Hobart marshals it confidently, but tends to wobble when he makes grand claims. You can tell it’s happening because the passive voice bobs up like a bad apple. More.

A photograph of the Greek letter pi, created as a large stone mosaic embedded in the ground.
pi in mosaic, Berlin/Holger Motzkau

Well, first, the birth of modern science coincided with an age of great religious ferment in which the concept of evangelical Christianity took root. It is hard to imagine anyone making a serious case that that was the effect of a dying culture. But someone will, or probably has, made such a case. The intellect is a free country, after all.

More to the point, as agnostic mathematician David Berlinski points out, there is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics. That is in the nature of immaterial concepts.

In fact, naturalizing mathematics has become a philosophical goal for some, consistent with the idea that our consciousness is itself an illusion so that we merely evolved to think that mathematics offers a coherent picture of the universe (because our selfish genes spread more efficiently if we believe that).

See also: From Real Clear Religion: Mathematics as a challenge for naturalism


David Berlinski: There is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics.

5 Replies to “At New Republic: Did math kill God?

  1. 1
    groovamos says:

    Anyone understand this sentence from the linked article ” I am an appalling mathematician, but I just about understood Hobart’s discussion ….” ?

    My reading on this topic have included references to the ‘Cartesian-Newtonian” paradigm so-called, referring to Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes. Both of those giants believed they were blessed by God with something almost like revealed knowledge especially Descartes with his discovery of analytic geometry and his way of describing how it unfolded in his imagination. Newton was more circumspect and devoted his later years to studies of topics ridiculed by materialistic science nowadays. The two men along with Liebniz and a few others were largely responsible for the explosion of modern mathematics known as mathematical analysis, or ‘analysis’ as it is called, which is at the heart of higher mathematics.

    The readings I have come across related to the topic of paradigms include much of the literature from the ’70’s and ’80’s which with references to Thomas Kuhn, proclaiming a coming collapse of the dominance the above so named paradigm, and as a reader of Stanislav Grof’s thinking on this I was convinced that it was going to come quickly but it has not – not to say that it isn’t happening.

    I met a young woman last night with an engineering degree who as a psychiatric resident here in Houston has just joined a group which is starting up a study of the use of implanted electrodes in the brains of suffering humans to study the etiology of OCD. They are employing EE’s to not only search for patterns in the sensing electrodes but to come up with protocols to send stimuli to other electrodes in order to interfere with what they imagine as out-of-control electrochemical cascades of ‘brain-vomit’ which is a term I just now thought of (have I coined a term? maybe I’ve heard it before). As devotees of pattern recognition they will also employ facial recognition software to study the subjects facial reactions to the stimuli they plan to inject into their brains.

    I found myself appalled, as she was describing this program; I felt like telling her that this is the lobotomy thinking of our times, the electroshock of our times and it will end as those did with no useful outcome, and possibly harm. This is the ‘Newtonian-Cartesian’ paradigm run amuck once again in medicine, as it has over and over in the past, due to the of experimenters’ religious belief in the organic-mechanistic origins of mental illness.

  2. 2
    Seversky says:

    At New Republic: Did math kill God?

    Don’t know about God but it damn near killed me at school.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    of related note:

    Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss’ 241st Birthday Honored With a Google Doodle. Here’s What to Know about the Mathematician
    April 30 2018 marks mathematician Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss’ 241st birthday
    Excerpt: While still a teenager, Gauss became the first person to prove the Law of Quadratic Reciprocity, a math theory to determine whether quadratic equations can be solved.,,,
    “The name of Gauss is linked to almost everything that the mathematics of our century has brought forth in the way of original scientific ideas,” said 19th Century German mathematician Leopold Kronecker.

    Gauss, like Euler, Riemann and Gödel, was a devoted Christian:

    Carl Friedrich Gauss
    Gauss was a Lutheran Protestant, a member of the St. Albans Evangelical Lutheran church in Göttingen.[28] Potential evidence that Gauss believed in God comes from his response after solving a problem that had previously defeated him: “Finally, two days ago, I succeeded— not on account of my hard efforts, but by the grace of the Lord.”[29] One of his biographers, G. Waldo Dunnington, described Gauss’s religious views as follows:

    For him science was the means of exposing the immortal nucleus of the human soul. In the days of his full strength, it furnished him recreation and, by the prospects which it opened up to him, gave consolation. Toward the end of his life, it brought him confidence. Gauss’s God was not a cold and distant figment of metaphysics, nor a distorted caricature of embittered theology. To man is not vouchsafed that fullness of knowledge which would warrant his arrogantly holding that his blurred vision is the full light and that there can be none other which might report the truth as does his. For Gauss, not he who mumbles his creed, but he who lives it, is accepted. He believed that a life worthily spent here on earth is the best, the only, preparation for heaven. Religion is not a question of literature, but of life. God’s revelation is continuous, not contained in tablets of stone or sacred parchment. A book is inspired when it inspires. The unshakeable idea of personal continuance after death, the firm belief in a last regulator of things, in an eternal, just, omniscient, omnipotent God, formed the basis of his religious life, which harmonized completely with his scientific research.[30]

    In the following video, the discovery of the higher dimensional nature of the square root of negative one, which is integral to quantum mechanics, and the discovery of higher dimensional geometry, which is integral to General Relativity, are discussed:

    The Mathematics Of Higher Dimensionality – Gauss & Riemann – video

    The history of the square root of negative one is particularly interesting to look at. Descartes had rejected complex roots and coined the derogatory term “imaginary” to describe the square root of negative one. Whereas, Gauss, who was the mathematician who finally clearly explained the higher dimensional nature behind the square root of negative one, suggested that complex magnitudes be called “lateral” instead of “imaginary” magnitudes since they represent a dimensional extension of the continuum. Gauss also proposed that complex magnitudes be awarded “full civil rights.”
    The author further comments, in the language of Plato’s allegory of the cave, complex numbers represent “forms” from a higher dimension casting “shadows” on the real number line.

    Complex Magnitudes
    Excerpt: Descartes had rejected complex roots and coined the derogatory term “imaginary” to describe the square root of negative one, , but Leibniz thought that “The divine spirit found a sublime outlet in that wonder of analysis, that portent of the ideal world, that amphibian between being and non-being, which we call the imaginary root of negative unity.”
    Gauss invented the “complex plane” (shown below) to represent these quantities. He suggested that complex magnitudes be called “lateral” instead of “imaginary” magnitudes since they represent a dimensional extension of the continuum.
    Gauss also proposed that complex magnitudes be awarded “full civil rights.”
    In the language of Plato’s allegory of the cave, complex numbers represent “forms” from a higher dimension casting “shadows” on the real number line.

    And in quantum mechanics, we find that the square root of negative one is necessary for describing the wave packet prior to measurement.

    Why do you need imaginary numbers (the square root of negative one) to describe Quantum Mechanics?
    “Quantum theory needs existence of an x such that x^2= -1. The reason for this is that orthogonal function spaces, of dimension greater than 2, cannot exist otherwise. In fact the only place where i (the square root of negative one) is needed is in the wave packet prior to measurement. Even the Canonical Commutation Relation doesn’t need it. And nor do the eigenvalue equations. In those, any general scalar will do. But in the wave packet, you need an i.”
    – Steve Faulkner – Philosophy of Science, Logic, Epistemology

    What was not mentioned in the preceding video, or in the article, is that the wave function is also represented as being in an infinite dimensional Hilbert space:

    Wave function
    Excerpt “wave functions form an abstract vector space”,,, This vector space is infinite-dimensional, because there is no finite set of functions which can be added together in various combinations to create every possible function.

    Why do we need infinite-dimensional Hilbert spaces in physics?
    You need an infinite dimensional Hilbert space to represent a wavefunction of any continuous observable (like position for example).

    The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences – Eugene Wigner – 1960
    Excerpt: We now have, in physics, two theories of great power and interest: the theory of quantum phenomena and the theory of relativity.,,, The two theories operate with different mathematical concepts: the four dimensional Riemann space and the infinite dimensional Hilbert space,

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    Here is an interesting quote about the infinite dimensional Hilbert Spaces in quantum mechanics:

    The Applicability of Mathematics as a Philosophical Problem – Mark Steiner – (page 44)
    Excerpt: The role of Hilbert spaces in quantum mechanics.. is much more profound than the descriptive role of a single concept. An entire formalism-the Hilbert space formalism-is matched with nature. Information about nature is being “read off” the details of the formalism. (Imagine reading off details about elementary particles from the rules of chess-castling. en passant-a la Lewis Carro;; in Through the Looking Glass.) No physicist today understands why this is possible..

    Moreover, we find it is an infinite dimensional Hilbert space that takes an infinite amount of information to describe properly.

    Explaining Information Transfer in Quantum Teleportation: Armond Duwell †‡ University of Pittsburgh
    Excerpt: In contrast to a classical bit, the description of a (quantum) qubit requires an infinite amount of information. The amount of information is infinite because two real numbers are required in the expansion of the state vector of a two state quantum system (Jozsa 1997, 1)

    Quantum Computing – Stanford Encyclopedia
    Excerpt: Theoretically, a single qubit can store an infinite amount of information, yet when measured (and thus collapsing the superposition of the Quantum Wave state) it yields only the classical result (0 or 1),,,

    Excerpt: real numbers with their infinitely many decimals have infested almost every nook and cranny of physics, from the strengths of electromagnetic fields to the wave functions of quantum mechanics: we describe even a single bit of quantum information (qubit) using two real numbers involving infinitely many decimals.

    As should be needless to say, the preceding findings are very comforting to overall Christian concerns. Here is a video that goes over the preceding findings, and how they relate to Christian presuppositions, in a bit more detail

    Double Slit, Quantum-Electrodynamics, and Christian Theism- video

    Thus mathematics has, in fact, confirmed some basic Christian presuppositions and, if anything, killed, not God, but atheistic materialism.

  5. 5
    Barb says:

    I suggest he take a look at the book “God Created the Integers” (actual title) for more information.

    Professor Paul Davies reflected on the ability of the brain to handle the abstract field of mathematics. “Mathematics is not something that you find lying around in your back yard. It’s produced by the human mind. Yet if we ask where mathematics works best, it is in areas like particle physics and astrophysics, areas of fundamental science that are very, very far removed from everyday affairs.” What does that imply? “It suggests to me that consciousness and our ability to do mathematics are no mere accident, no trivial detail, no insignificant by-product of evolution.”—Are We Alone?

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