“When are we ever going to use this?” This question is the bane of existence for mathematics teachers everywhere. As a precalculus and calculus teacher in public school, my response was usually something like, “Knowledge is never a waste, and this does have uses, but honestly, YOU may never use this.”
Now, as a teacher in a classical Christian school, I have a very different reply (and an answer I always wanted to give when I was in public school): “Didn’t God make mathematics beautiful? Isn’t it amazing that we can consistently find the things we find?”
Science and mathematics give us a window to know our Creator and His creation, a way to see that God is beautiful, consistent and orderly. Colossians 1:16 tells us “that all things have been created through Him and for Him.” ALL things. This includes a mathematical system that is beautiful, consistent and orderly. Mathematics reveals God’s beauty and order. And, as we use mathematics to describe the natural world, it gives a different understanding of God’s creation.
In Genesis 1:28 we see God’s mandate to Adam and Eve (and by extension to us): “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.” We cannot fulfill God’s command without a firm understanding of His created order, and the sciences give us tools to become good stewards of God’s creation.
But the benefits don’t stop there! One often-overlooked but beautiful feature of mathematics is its ability to give us a deeper understanding of God’s attributes. In geometry, my students read Flatland, written by Edwin A. Abbott in 1893. While the book is a satire on Victorian England, it also contains theological gems, which the author intended. Flatland uses characters who live in a world of two dimensions and a visitor from the third dimension. Their story gives us a way to discuss and better understand attributes of God like omnivident (all-seeing) and omnipresent. We also discuss passages from several C.S. Lewis books in which Lewis uses a cube to help us understand the Trinitarian nature of God. Should we be surprised that one of God’s creations, mathematics, can give us a deeper understanding of Him?
Paul says it well: “For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made” (Romans 1:20). As a Morning Star teacher, I can discover with students how the sciences are part of God’s creation–and how they allow us to “see” His invisible attributes.
One thought on “Why Math is More than Useful”