Math + religion = Trouble

January 29, 2008 at 9:21 am | Posted in math, religion | 6 Comments

That’s the title of this article on Mathematics and the existence of God.

One fact quoted in the article is that only 14.6 percent of mathematicians believe in a supreme being. Yet another minority that I’m a part of. Hooray for me.

The article seems to have been spurred by a recent book, Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up, by John Allen Paulos. Supposedly (I haven’t read the book) Paulos refutes the classical arguments for the existence of God in this book.

Well, that’s fine with me. I believe in God/dess not because of logical arguments. My reasons are entirely subjective, and so are both irrefutable and non-transferable. His debunking of logical arguments in favor of God’s existence, in my opinion, does nothing to support non-believers, nor is it a threat to believers. In fact, he himself concedes that there is “no way to conclusively disprove the existence of God.”

This makes perfect sense to me, since the heart of one’s relationship to God is not founded on reason and logic. It should not conflict with reason and logic, but that’s not where it comes from.

I also like the attitude Paulos takes with his book. Quoting from the article:

Even as Paulos works to refute the classical arguments for God’s existence, he does something too few of his mindset do: Chide non-believers for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“It’s repellent for atheists or agnostics,” he admonishes, “to personally and aggressively question others’ faith or pejoratively label it as benighted flapdoodle or something worse. Those who do are rightfully seen as arrogant and overbearing.”




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  1. You said that your belief in a Supreme being is an act of Faith, not of reason. And Kudos to you for knowing that. At its heart, as you say, believing in God always comes down to Faith.

    Personally, I believe Atheism is the same. In the final analysis, one must have Faith that God does not exist, for there is no way to prove he doesn’t.

    Of course, Atheists HATE the idea that they are acting on Faith, so they try to prove God doesn’t exist. But they can’t. So they try to prove that there is no way to prove he does exist, and hope that that will give them cover. But it doesn’t.

    In then end, since they can not prove He (She/It) doesn’t exist, they have only their Belief that it is so.

    It must be hard to be an Atheist. At least when I an stuck with something I can’t work out, I can pray about it. [grin]

  2. I think part of it comes down to being comfortable that there are some (many) things about this world/universe/existence that I do not know and *will* not *know*. Furthermore, that does not stop me from learning about them. It is an added bonus to be able to deal with those things that one does not rationally know in a reasonable way.

  3. That is a sound attitude, and one of the reasons why it always made sense to me that scientists/mathematicians SHOULD/COULD be religious, instead of the CW which says that we should be atheists.

    Scientists/Mathmaticians, etc., are in an excellent position to know how little we know. There is so much diversity and complexity out there, it really seems silly (to me) to say that there isn’t some higher order power underlying everything.

  4. A spurious conjecture: perhaps the scientists/mathematicians who are die-hard atheists are reacting to an insistence of mainstream religion on acceptance of blatently illogical assertions. Scientists/mathematicians generally seem to have logical minds, and when religion demands acceptance of that which flies in the face of reason, they firmly take a stance against religion. Anecdotal evidence that I’ve heard seems consistent with this idea.

    Though religion/spirituality stems from a place outside of reason (I would argue), it should not be intentionally UNreasonable.

    But you and I have discussed this before; if we are speaking only to each other, we are preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, it is interesting to me to check back with each other every few years on these things. 🙂

  5. Right exactly. I find that most scientists don’t react negatively to being religious; they react negatively to things they have heard from certain religions, or religious figures. But what I don’t understand is why they are so quick to through the baby out with the bathwater. As scientists, if we read a papar that misintirpreted certain key findings, we wouldn’t throw out the whole theory, we would just dispute the specious conclusions of that particular author. So why don’t scientists just take issue with specific religious teachings, question/dispute/disregard them, without denying the basic Truths of Spirituallity/Religiousness?

    And hey, this isn’t your living room, someone else might jump in with an idea.

  6. “So why don’t scientists just take issue with specific religious teachings, question/dispute/disregard them, without denying the basic Truths of Spirituallity/Religiousness?”

    Perhaps because they do not acknowledge the “truth” of these things. Perhaps because their experience does not support spiritual/religious claims, and they suspect wishful thinking is more likely the reason for belief in such things. Perhaps scientists who inspired them were anti-religious themselves, and that attitude was imparted at an early age. Perhaps because a skeptical attitude has served them well in the past, and so they apply it to spirituality/religion.


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