mathematics

Reasons to believe: Mathematics, Reason and Faith

There is an undeniable trend among Millennials, the generation born from 1980 and beyond, that shows they are abandoning religion by a large percentage. According to Pew research 36% of Millennials identify as “none.” Meaning that 36% do not identify with any religion at all.

 I talk with a lot of with people who have left religion and overwhelmingly they state one objection. They state that it is unreasonable to believe in God. This arguments is interesting to me as a believer.

When I first starting engaging with people of this mindset, who are some very good friends and wonderful people, I wanted to show them some of the fallacies of their arguments(at least the way I saw it). I couldn’t however, appeal to the authority of Christ, a prophet or the Bible, because they reject the authority or the veracity of those claims. I had to engage them in their realm with logic and reason. I started looking for secular arguments for the existence of God or at the very least, arguments to show them that it is not unreasonable to believe in God.

One of those arguments is the discipline of Mathematics. Often it is said of God that there is no empirical evidence to substantiate a belief. Empirical evidence in science means that there is observation taking place. People can observe and recreate the conditions and results of the experiment. If the condition is not repeatable then many claim that there is pseudoscience at play. This is the reason some claim that String Theory is not science because it cannot be tested.

In that same vein there is a debate about whether mathematics actually exists objectively or if it is a man made creation. Do people CREATE math or do they DISCOVER math. Mathematical realism is the most popular view among mathematicians. Mathematic realism states that math is real, it has an objective existence. The other STEM(Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) sciences are different. For example, Geology is the study of the earth, Biology is the study of living organisms, and Physics is the study of the natural world, mathematics is simply the study of math.

So within mathematics we have the same exact debate as we do with existence of God. Mathematical realism states that mathematical concepts like the derivative of Tan X, square roots, and PI are concepts that exist objectively in the universe and that we, as human beings discover them. To the contrary, others believe that math is simply a human creation. Some say math is a language, others a metaphor, while other think that it simply an element in our story of life and is only true because we have made it true. This is called fictionalism.

Fictionalists state that mathematical concepts are just as true as Batman and James Bond. They are true because they exist within a story. Within the construct of the story it makes sense, but outside of the story they don’t exist and are just arbitrary. There have been many people that have suggested that math only exists as a human construct because humans have a need to understand the world around us and therefore, we create systems to help us do that. They state that mathematical operations are nothing more than a way for us to explain the universe.

Whether or not you believe math is discoverable or created there is one fact that is undeniable and that is that the only math known by humans is…the math known by humans. Mathematical realist believe that beyond our current knowledge of math there is more math to be discovered. With the lack of observable empirical data, mathematical realism comes down to a certain faith. Faith that someday new mathematical concepts will be discovered and that they do in fact exist.

Coming back the argument presented in the beginning, is it reasonable to believe in God, the answer is a resounding yes. If empirical data is needed as evidence , as a requirement of belief then mathematics should be discarded as a science due to it’s complete lack of said evidence. If even mathematicians can admit there is faith in mathematics then why can we not admit that that there is room for faith in everyday life? If it is reasonable to believe in math, it is perfectly reasonable to believe in God.