How can “1 + 1 = 2” be anything but neutral? How can math facts be approached biblically?
If you’ve ever wondered how a biblical worldview applies to math, I’d invite you to join me on a little exploration. We will take a look at some biblical principles that give us a framework for understanding math, explore the worldview conflict in math, and examine how we can “reclaim” this vital subject for the Lord.
While the Bible does not specifically talk about math, it offers principles through which we can view and understand each aspect of life, including math. For example, the Bible teaches us that Jesus created and sustains all things (Colossians 1:16-17). Thus He created and sustains math! This does not mean He created the symbols on the piece of paper we have come to associate with math; it means He created the real-life principles those symbols represent.
Sit back and think for a moment about why math works. Why do equations we solve on paper apply in real life? They apply because they are ways of describing the consistent way God holds the universe together! One plus one consistently equals two because God keeps objects adding together consistently. We can only rely on math to work because a faithful, never-changing God consistently sustains this universe.
“When taught to view math as neutral, students are subtly being taught that there are certain absolutes and principles that exist independently from God—absolutes that are not engaged with a worldview”
Biblical principles can also govern our use of math. The Bible teaches us that God has given each person work to do—work we are to work at as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:17). So as we learn math, we want to learn to use it to help us in our work—and we want to do it as unto the Lord!
Math proves a useful tool in many areas, both directly and indirectly. Math also helps us learn logical thinking, structured thought process, and problem-solving skills, thus indirectly serving as a tool at a deeper level.
Now that we have an overview of a biblical worldview toward math, let’s take a look at what worldview is prevalent in most math teaching today. Pick up nearly any math textbook, and you’ll notice it does not mention where math came from or why it works. Math “facts” are taught and drilled into students day in and day out, but students are never given a foundation on which to understand those “facts.” They’re left looking at math as a neutral, self-existent structure.
While calling something neutral may not seem like a worldview, it is! It subtly takes God out of math. Neutral means indifferent or, “not engaged on either side; not aligned with a political or ideological grouping.” When taught to view math as neutral, students are subtly being taught that there are certain absolutes and principles that exist independently from God—absolutes that are not engaged with a worldview.
This is a subtle but very dangerous twist on reality. Math should be reminding us to trust God, the One who day in and day out sustains this universe with such faithfulness that math facts can be used to describe how objects will operate! Instead, math facts end up encouraging students to place their faith in human reasoning and math itself. They are left viewing math as the source of truth.
Math works consistently. But if we view math facts as “neutral,” we are subtly giving math itself—or man’s reasoning—credit for the consistency around us. Instead of leaving math awed at God’s faithfulness, we’re learning to trust math and human reasoning. This sort of thinking lies at the root of naturalism and humanism.
“Rather than memorizing the steps to the addition problem by rote, we can realize that these steps are just one way men, using the ability God gave them, have come up with to describe the consistency around us.”
Looking back, I can see how the things I learned in math for years subtly harmed my heart. When I began wrestling to make my faith my own, I approached the topic with the thought that I needed to see what math and “science” proved or disproved before I could commit myself to God. My understanding of math, which should have been reinforcing God’s faithfulness (after all, math could not exist without the biblical, faithful Creator!), was actually drawing me away from Him and encouraging me to trust math itself and human reasoning.
So how do we reclaim math? How do we teach the next generation to base their thinking in every area, including math, on God’s Word?
When I first thought about teaching math biblically, my first inclination was to add a Bible verse or analogy to a math lesson.
However, adding a Bible verse to a secular lesson does not fix the problem. It is similar to taping Bible verses over a bomb. We might succeed in hiding the danger, but not in diffusing it.
If we really want to reclaim math, we need to diffuse the bomb and begin looking at each concept, not as a neutral fact, but as a useful way of describing the consistency in our universe God created and sustains. As we do so, we will discover fascinating glimpses of God’s character revealed in math and begin seeing math as more than numbers on a piece of paper.
For example, when studying addition, rather than merely memorizing how to add two numbers, we can pause and realize that 12 + 4 only consistently equals 16 because day in and day out, God is holding all things together that consistently—by the power of His Word! Wow! What a powerful, faithful God we serve!
Then, rather than memorizing the steps to the addition problem by rote, we can realize that these steps are just one way men, using the ability God gave them, have come up with to describe the consistency around us. There are other ways to add—including ways that do not involve carrying digits at all. We might take a look at some of those other ways…or at various ways addition can help in our daily tasks or in exploring God’s creation.
Rather than looking at math as an independent fact, we are now seeing it as a useful tool to describe God’s creation. We are left marveling at God’s faithfulness and power, encouraged to trust Him in every area.
Yes, indeed, math can be—and needs to be—reclaimed. Its very existence serves as a testimony to God’s faithfulness. Let’s not miss out on seeing Him in math!