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Two plus two equals five is not good theology in a rational universe

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Some of us try not to wade into theology as such very much for the same reasons as we try to avoid taking a whack at the tarbaby. Where theology is directly relevant – for example if someone claims that there is an “artistic license to lie” about traditional religious ideas about the universe, well, we don’t have much choice, do we?

Just recently, a troubling statement emerged: A notion of theology that suggests it is somehow counter-real or anti-real. A priest explains, in a post mainly devoted to issues in the Vatican’s media office:

But on the communications front, 2018 demonstrated amply that it is not the supposed “enemies” of the pope who cause the Holy Father the most problems. It is his most enthusiastic friends. In early 2017, Father Antonio Spadaro, the papal amanuensis and consigliere plenipotentiary, tweeted: “Theology is not mathematics. In theology 2 + 2 can equal 5. Because it has to do with God and real life of people….” His intent was to defend Amoris Laetitia [a controversial recent document].

But it had the opposite effect, as the pope’s inner circle gave off a creepy authoritarian vibe. Ever since George Orwell’s 1984, insisting that 2+2 can equal 5, or whatever the party line is, has become shorthand for totalitarianism. Indeed, in 1980s Poland a frequent anti-communist slogan was that, “For Poland to be Poland, 2+2 must always equal 4.” Raymond J. de Souza, “Friendly Fire” at First Things

The people involved are unlikely totalitarians but they could make life easier for such by being as witless as they sometimes seem. Anyway, for the record, it’s not true that the Catholic Church thinks that 2+2 = 5 or that totalitarianism is good government.

See also: Michael Keas: Stephen Hawking Among Worst Offenders ForScience vs. Religion Myths

Bill Nye’s “Christianity vs. The Big Universe” Myth

Neil deGrasse Tyson and “the artistic license to lie”


The progressive war on science takes dead aim at math

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13 Replies to “Two plus two equals five is not good theology in a rational universe

  1. 1
    Bob O'H says:

    Traditional Christian theology already asserts that 3 = 1, so I don’t see the problem.

  2. 2
    kairosfocus says:

    BO’H: pardon, but as a statistician, you will doubtless be familiar with complex unity. The triune conception of deity does not address the threeness and the unity to the same thing in the same sense so the 3 = 1 assertion or the equivalent 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 is an attempt to equate guavas and mangoes. Indeed, the classic Athanasian Creed goes out of its way to underscore this. In simplest relevant terms, a triangle has three vertices but is one and the same triangle. Without the associated threeness, the unity of the triangle does not exist, and once the three vertices are present as points in space so is the triangle. You may wish to ponder the shield of faith, once held to be the coat of arms of God. This is also how we have the legend of the Shamrock, where Patrick (challenged on seeming obvious hopeless incoherence) plucked a leaf and asked his pagan interlocutors, is this one leaf or three? If one why three lobes, if three why one stem? so, the legend says, the shamrock therefore became the symbol of Christian Ireland. Where also, we must recognise the relevant concept of “simplicity” i.e. God is not an assemblage of independently existing parts, a composite being. We need to deepen our understanding of unity and diversity . . . the problem of the one and the many.

  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    kf – I think you understand my point. Just as having 3 = 1 makes sense theologically (but not mathematically), so having 2 + 2 = 5 can make sense theologically. So unless someone is going to argue that theology is a mathematical pursuit, I don’t see any problem.

  4. 4
    News says:

    kairosfocus at 2, ought we really to whack Bob O’H with Athanasius? Surely, that’s like asking Mr. Gradgrind to understand quantum mechanics.

  5. 5
    News says:

    Bob O’H at 3, 2+2=5 does not make sense theologically because it is an effort to get around math. Theology subsumes math but doesn’t obviate it. Everything remains true but there are other truths. 2+2 still makes 4 but that does not prevent other truths from changing a picture.

  6. 6
    Bob O'H says:

    News –

    2+2 still makes 4 but that does not prevent other truths from changing a picture.

    As I understand it, that was essentially Spadaro’s point too.

  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:

    BO’H: 3 = 1 is not asserted theologically or mathematically. The threeness and oneness cannot be equated as they speak of different things.Three mangoes are examples of the one mango kind — even if one is a Julie, one a Bombay and one a number eleven. A guava is not a mango, though we could add two guavas and two mangoes to get four fruit — notice, how a unifying theme lurks behind the addition. That sum is not going to make a mangosteen pop up out of nowhere to yield five fruit. I already pointed to triangles where by their nature, three distinct vertices must be present and so soon and so long as they are, the triangle is present. We have to address complex unity where addition is not the proper operation to apply. KF

  8. 8
    Bob O'H says:

    kf @ 7 –

    BO’H: 3 = 1 is not asserted theologically or mathematically. The threeness and oneness cannot be equated as they speak of different things.

    IOW God isn’t the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I think you might have to review some basic Christian theology.

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:


    my point is, that which the Athanasian Creed summarises and which is reflected in the classic shield of faith diagram:

    . . . we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Essence [“substantiam”]. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited [“immensus,” beyond measure]; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord.


    PS: News, forgive me, I know you warned. It does seem that inherently complex (as opposed to composite) unity is a difficult concept to grasp.

  10. 10
  11. 11
    Bob O'H says:

    kf @ 9 – Yes, we agree on that. Which is why, theologically, we can say 3 = 1. That’s what “one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity” means. God is both 3 (the trinity) and one (the unity).

  12. 12
    kairosfocus says:

    BO’H: that is exactly why the = is not correct, as the LHS and RHS refer to different things.KF

  13. 13
    anthropic says:

    BO’H is a reminder that there are only 10 kinds of people; those who understand binary and those who don’t.

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