Recently I posted about a book I was reading and one of the comments was rather interesting. An acquaintance of mine commented in dissent of the Book of Mormon and said: “You are an intelligent and well-read man. What is it about the LDS faith that appeals to you?” It was a question I could not answer fully in the comments but was worthy of answering nonetheless. In this post, I will attempt to answer that question and the presuppositions attached it.
The glaring presupposition is that because I am intelligent and well-read I should know better than to believe in a silly religion. In other words, religion and intellectualism are mutually exclusive. I reject this notion in no uncertain terms. It is wrong. It has been my experience that the more I study and learn, the more I understand that there is a God. Allow me to explain how I have come to this conclusion.
My formal studies are in history, religion, and linguistics. However, a passion of mine for many years now has been mathematics. The intriguing thing about Mathematics is that it is the basis of every single natural science. It is integral in physics, chemistry, and biology. While biology is the study of living organisms, physics is the study of the physical universe, and chemisty is the study of elements and their interactions, mathematics is different. Mathematics is the study of mathematics.
Mathematics stands apart from empirical sciences in its fundamental nature and methodology. Unlike empirical sciences such as physics or biology, which rely on observation, experimentation, and empirical evidence to formulate and test hypotheses about the natural world, mathematics is a deductive and abstract discipline. It is built upon a foundation of axioms and definitions from which logical conclusions are derived through rigorous reasoning. Mathematical truths are universal and do not depend on empirical observations; they exist independently of the physical world. While mathematics finds applications in empirical sciences, serving as a powerful tool for modeling and understanding natural phenomena, the discipline itself remains rooted in the realm of abstraction, emphasizing the exploration of pure ideas and logical relationships. In essence, mathematics explores a world of concepts, structures, and relationships that transcends the empirical, making it a unique and indispensable intellectual endeavor. One of the key questions that has been debated for centuries is the question of if mathematics is discovered or invented.
The question of whether mathematics is discovered or invented is a longstanding philosophical and epistemological debate in the philosophy of mathematics. Different schools of thought provide varying perspectives on the nature of mathematical entities and the relationship between mathematicians and mathematical truths. These schools of thought are generally as follows
- Mathematics as Discovery (Platonism): Platonism is a philosophical position that suggests mathematical entities exist independently of human thought and are discovered rather than invented. According to Platonism, mathematicians are like explorers uncovering pre-existing mathematical truths. These truths are considered to be abstract objects existing in a non-physical, transcendent realm. The famous mathematician Kurt Gödel was a notable proponent of Platonism.
- Mathematics as Invention (Constructivism): Constructivism, on the other hand, argues that mathematical entities are products of the human mind and are invented rather than discovered. Mathematicians, in this view, create mathematical structures and concepts through a process of mental construction. The intuitionistic school, led by mathematicians like L.E.J. Brouwer, is a form of constructivism that emphasizes the role of intuition and mental constructions in mathematics.
- Intermediate Views (Intuitionism): Intuitionism, founded by Brouwer, takes an intermediate stance. While not fully Platonist or fully constructivist, intuitionism emphasizes the subjective and constructive nature of mathematical knowledge. According to intuitionism, mathematical truth is a product of the mathematician’s intuition and mental activity, and it is not independent of human thought.
This debate is still going on but the consensus among mathematicians is that mathematical concepts are discoverable i.e. they exist as independent entities. From a Platonist viewpoint, mathematical entities and truths exist independently of human thought and are waiting to be discovered.
In a sense, mathematics requires a leap of faith—an unwavering belief in the existence of mathematical entities and structures, whether or not they are directly observable or tangible.
- Transcendence of the Abstract: Much like religious faith, mathematical realism involves a belief in the existence of abstract entities that transcend the material world. Mathematical objects, such as numbers, geometric shapes, and functions, exist independently of human perception or application, echoing the transcendent nature of religious concepts.
- Immutable Truths: In both mathematical realism and religious faith, there is a commitment to the existence of immutable truths. Mathematical truths, once discovered, remain eternally valid, mirroring the enduring truths proclaimed by religious doctrines. This shared emphasis on unchanging verities contributes to the sense of universality in both realms.
- Quest for Understanding: Mathematical realists, akin to individuals of religious faith, engage in a quest for understanding and enlightenment. The pursuit of mathematical truths involves exploration, discovery, and a deep sense of awe and wonder at the inherent order and beauty found within the abstract realm of mathematics.
Therefore, science is not void of faith — faith is defined by the apostle Paul (in the Christian tradition at least) as the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see1. Mathematics certainly fits that definition as does the belief in God.
When speaking of faith, it’s not just something exclusive to religion. Science and math also involve a kind of faith – a belief in things we can’t directly see. The apostle Paul, in the Christian tradition, defined faith as having confidence in what we hope for and being sure about things we can’t observe [Hebrews 11:1]. This definition applies not only to the belief in God but also to the trust we place in scientific principles and the beauty we find in mathematical ideas. Whether we’re using a microscope to explore the natural world, uncovering the elegance of math, or seeking comfort in spirituality, we’re all on a shared journey of faith. It’s a journey that goes beyond specific fields and brings us together in our shared quest for understanding the mysteries that shape our lives.