Intelligent Design

Isaac Newton’s private religious beliefs get attention while the war on math continues

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And crickets except when it comes to this gossip:

As Peter Dockrill reports for Science Alert, many of Newton’s unpublished notes concerning alchemy, occult matters and the biblical apocalypse only resurfaced after his death in 1727. In the British scientist’s own day, church leaders would have viewed many of his ideas on these subjects as heretical.

“His descendants made sure very few saw the papers because they were a treasure trove of dirt on the man,” Sarah Dry, author of The Newton Papers: The Strange and True Odyssey of Isaac Newton’s Manuscripts, told Wired in 2014. “… His papers were bursting with evidence for just how heretical his views were.”

Livia Gershon, “Isaac Newton Thought the Great Pyramid Held the Key to the Apocalypse” at Smithsonian Magazine

Sure. That matters.

See also: The progressive war on science takes dead aim at math

21 Replies to “Isaac Newton’s private religious beliefs get attention while the war on math continues

  1. 1
    AaronS1978 says:

    What goes up must come down

  2. 2
    Viola Lee says:

    Is the war on math continuing? How? The article by Rochelle Gutiérrez is from 2018. Is there evidence that there is really a war on math, as opposed to discussing how to make math education more effectively reach and benefit a broader range of people.

    To summarize: efforts to improve math education does not equal a war on math.

  3. 3
    Viola Lee says:

    As to Newton, I’m not sure why the article counts as “gossip.”: it’s a response to the sale of some important papers that were just sold. Newton’s life was fascinating and complex, as is true of many brilliant people. It’s important to know, I think, that all (I think I can be so strong) famous people had various human foibles and weaknesses. Understanding that about people in general is an important virtue.

  4. 4
    polistra says:

    He was an original thinker and a careful thinker who got a lot of other things right. Maybe he was right about this as well. An awful lot of orthodox thoughts from that era (“God-given rights” and similar rot) have been getting us into lethal trouble in this era. Maybe it’s time to review the unorthodox side.

  5. 5
    johnnyb says:

    Viola – there was a recent WSJ article (in the last few weeks) where people were advocating not teaching the times tables to students. Also, don’t think that just because an article about something is two years old doesn’t mean that the activists aren’t still working.

  6. 6
    Viola Lee says:

    I understand that there are pedagogical arguments about various things including the times tables. I think one of your articles suggests being less formal about such things until the third grade. I wouldn’t think that anyone would suggest that people never learn the times tables, but people might suggest that the facts develop over time with other tools integrated in as appropriate. I guess I don’t see that as a “war on math” as much as a controversy about math education, and not a black-and-white one at that. I think the “war on math” meme is a counterproductive, divisive perspective on a subject that is worthy of discussion in a more civil, nuanced way between people who want the people to better understand and use math.

    Also, I understand that the lady who wrote the article in 2018 is probably still active, as are others. What I am interested in is if such perspectives are having much of an impact.

  7. 7
  8. 8
    Fasteddious says:

    Thanks ES58, that was an eye opener!
    Those who can, do. Those who can’t, obfuscate and call it teaching?

  9. 9
    Viola Lee says:

    I’ve seen that Seattle document. Again, my question is, is this widespread, or or these few examples that show up outliers?

  10. 10
    News says:

    Viola Lee at 9, I’ve been following this story for some time. A war on math is catnip to teachers who can’t teach.

  11. 11
    Viola Lee says:

    By the way, that is a social studies document, not a math department document.

    I’m not defending the document: While I appreciate some of what they are trying to do, I think the document goes way overboard. My point is that this is not a “war on math”: why such an extreme and divisive metaphor if in fact such divisive positions are not the norm in the world of math education?

  12. 12
    News says:

    Further to Viola Lee at 9: These are the “Notes” to an article I wrote recently for a print publication on the very topic we are discussing.

    I fear that Viola Lee will either find a way to claim that – as the movement ramps up – nothing is really happening or join the dark side and say it is a good thing. People need to believe what they need to believe.

    The worst off students will, of course, be the losers.

    [1] Kayla Lattimore and Julie Depenbrock, “Say Goodbye To X+Y: Should Community Colleges Abolish Algebra?,” NPR, July 21, 2017: https://n.pr/2QMzueo

    [2] Greg Piper, “Professor proposes ‘mathematx’ to fix pro-human bias in math,” The College Fix (August 21, 2018): https://bit.ly/2QKvKKf Note: It is not clear whether she gave the presentation because the conference page no longer exists. But she is prolific within the discipline, as a list of her publications demonstrates: https://bit.ly/3gS4u7j

    [3] Douglas Murray, “Will maths succumb to the woke wave?”, Unherd, October 4, 2019: https://bit.ly/2QLF7cF

    [4] Kevin Hartnett, “Is the Equal Sign Overrated? Mathematicians Hash It Out,” Wired (October 13, 2019): https://bit.ly/32R9cgN

    [5] Paula Bolyard, “Orwellian: Teacher Blames ‘Western Imperialism,’ ‘Colonization’ for Concept of 2+2=4,” PJ Media, July 8, 2020: https://bit.ly/335q2IX

    [6] Nancy Pearcey, “Does Mathematics = Western Imperialism?”, The Federalist, July 26, 2020: https://bit.ly/32T35rZ

    [7] James Lindsay, “2+2 Never Equals 5,” New Discourses, August 3, 2020: https://bit.ly/2EWC0Mo

    [8] Ibid.

    [9] Ben Zeisloft, “Math education prof: 2+2 = 4 ‘trope’ ‘reeks of white supremacy patriarchy’” Campus Reform, August, 2020: https://bit.ly/34Y4yA5

    [10] Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, “Intersectionality: An Excerpt from Cynical Theories”, Areo, June 6, 2020: https://bit.ly/34Ya7OR

    [11] Douglas Murray, “Will maths succumb to the woke wave?”, Unherd, October 4, 2019: https://bit.ly/2QLF7cF

    [12] Edward Feser, “Keep It Simple,” First Things, April 2020: https://bit.ly/3jJsrj7

    [13] Kurt Mahlberg, “Is it racist to say that 2+2=4?”, MercatorNet, August 19, 2020: https://bit.ly/31PIVA6

  13. 13
    Viola Lee says:

    Thanks, News. I started by scanning the first article, and I agree with most of it, although as usual the headline is misleading. I’ve taught Intermediate Algebra at the community college level, so I am familiar with the curriculum. As I’ve said before, there is too much material that is out-dated: students would be more successful if they were taught the concepts that would be useful (for instance, polynomial curves) and a variety of techniques for using them (hand-sketching, graphing calculator, computer program), but not techniques like finding the roots using long division, for instance. Instead, they should spend more time on applications that show the concepts in action: balls thrown in the air, applications to volume situations, etc.

    The article makes a good point that some students are positively motivated and enthralled by math itself, and will want and need to take more upper-level courses, but they are not the usual intermediate algebra student at the community college level. I certainly had students who did well and I encouraged them, if it fit their program, to go on take the next level of math.

    And it is absolutely true, I think, that we need more statistics and data analysis in the math curriculum, as that is a critical math skill. In stats, probability, and data analysis, one needs a good ability to understand abstract concepts expressed in algebraic form, but one doesn’t need quite a few of the mechanical skills taught in Intermediate Algebra.

    So at least our first article illustrates my point: that there is constructive discussion going on about improving math curriculum and pedagogy to make it more accessible and beneficial to more students, but that is not a “war on math”. Furthermore, to be clear, the discussion is not about the validity of the math itself, but on what people should know to develop their minds and gain the skills (conceptual, mechanical, and applied) to use math well in the world today.

  14. 14
    Viola Lee says:

    One more point about the first article in News’ list: the headline is misleading (which is a common problem with headlines of all sorts.)

    One of the most important reasons to study algebra, starting in late elementary school, is to learn to think about abstract numerical concepts represented in formulas, such as A = LW. Everyone needs to know how to put specific numbers into many kinds of formulas and evaluate the value of the expression, and more importantly, understand the relationship between the abstract concepts involved. I don’t think the article is even hinting that that level of algebraic understanding should be eliminated.

    For instance, in stats, students need to understand the concept of standards deviation, which is represented by a Greek letter that I can’t type here. The formula, written compactly in summation format, can be daunting, but a few simple numerical exercises and applications can bring it to life. After that, nobody calculates it longhand. So the distinction between understanding and using the abstract concepts, on the one hand, and doing algebraic manipulations on the other hand, is critical.

    I don’t think anyone wants to get rid of x + y in the sense of understanding numerical relationships between abstract numerical concepts.

  15. 15
    Viola Lee says:

    I also looked at article 4, Kevin Hartnett, “Is the Equal Sign Overrated? Mathematicians Hash It Out,”. That is about very sophisticated math, not everyday math at all. I don’t know what point News would make of the actual content of the article, but I suspect that the headline and headline graphic caught her eye.

  16. 16
    Viola Lee says:

    I’m probably the only one here interested in this, except johnnyb, so it’s probably not worth my time to keep posting on this thread. But I’ll keep News’ list of articles for future reference.

  17. 17
    News says:

    Viola Lee, we knew for sure you would find a way to avoid dealing with what is really happening. Teacher unions must find a way to sugarcoat the inability of many teachers to teach math (and the unions don’t plan to help them teach math but to cover for failure).

    All some of us would say is this: It’s not the well-off students who will suffer. They have tutors, especially in the age of COVID. It’s the others, who might have had a chance. But thanks for contributing. It’s a record.

  18. 18
    Viola Lee says:

    What? I’ve responded, and no one has responded back to what I wrote. Do you agree or disagree with any of the things I said? How am I “avoiding what is really happening?” I’ve been involved in working on improving math curriculum and pedagogy for years: what have you done to help?

  19. 19
    jerry says:

    Math can be easy for young people. One needs to teach both memorization and simple concepts.

    First, they must be able to count to 100. Easily done for any 4 year old. They should be able to identify this counting with the specific number. Easily done with flash cards.

    Every child must memorize the times tables for 1 To 9. And the addition tables for 1 to 9. So that they can instantly reply the correct answer for any combination. I am talking the capability of providing an instant correct number. This can be done at 6-7 years old.

    Then conceptualization At the same time or earlier they must be given a 100 pennies or some other uniform entity so they can then combine them in various groupings of 1 to nine. They can start with groups of 1 so they can identify the pennies with a specific number of 1 to 100. They can then combine groups of 2, 3 etc to show larger numbers form from combinations of smaller one.

    By grouping the pennies into various combinations the basic concepts of addition and multiplication is visualized. This can be done with most 5 year olds.

    Then the memorization at 6 years old will be based on concepts and be readily accepted.

    Then it’s a matter of more advanced addition and multiplication and then subtraction. All speeded up by the memorization. Division will take longer but long division should be mastered by third grade.

    The concept of an unknown number can be introduced in 4th grade. As 1n, 2n, 3n etc can be readily taught. So basic algebra is possible by the end of 4th grade.

    Now none of this done since schools are mainly warehousing kids and teachers haven’t the time to do this. So it proceeds at a much slower pace. But some parents have the time and I have seen it done especially with home schooling.

    Some will advance quicker than others. But all can be proficient in arithmetic for the rest of their lives by 10 years old.

  20. 20
    Bob O'H says:

    For instance, in stats, students need to understand the concept of standards deviation, which is represented by a Greek letter that I can’t type here. The formula, written compactly in summation format, can be daunting, but a few simple numerical exercises and applications can bring it to life.

    Good news – you’re writing about the estimator of the standard deviation, which is just called s. 🙂

    (also – the estimator everyone uses is biased)

  21. 21
    jerry says:

    I’ve responded, and no one has responded back to what I wrote. Do you agree or disagree with any of the things I said?

    I have read your comments, some twice. I’m not sure I can summarize what you wrote. It seems you are saying it’s not really happening that much and some concepts are useful.

    Try summarizing it and maybe we can comment then.

    I personally think math teaching stinks. But I am not a teacher and have just observed how some have done it really well. I was in a PhD program for math that had zero to do with teaching anything below calculus. Though I did tutor basic algebra to some high school brothers and sisters of friends who were having problems.

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