Christian Education: Mathematics  

Monday, January 14, 2008

I am continuing my posts on Christian Education with Mathematics. If you missed my last post on History or want to know the background behind these post you can find more information at Christian Education: History.

So let's take a peek at what the A Beka Book site says about mathematics. I mean, mathematics is straight-forwardly agnostic, is it not? It neither presupposes or denies a god. Well, not according to A Beka Book.

No subject matter better reflects the glory of God than mathematics. To study mathematics is to study God's thoughts after Him, for He is the great Engineer and Architect of the universe.
So, mathematics is just the thoughts of a god. Well, at least now I can join the rest of religious people in actually knowing what God thinks. But, I wonder what the square root of 9 has to do with loving my neighbor or not suffering a witch to live.
Unlike the “modern math” theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, we believe that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute. All of the laws of mathematics are God's laws. Our knowledge of God's absolute mathematical laws may be incomplete or at times in error, but that merely shows human frailty, not relativity in mathematics. Man's task is to search out and make use of the laws of the universe, both scientific and mathematical.
While I believe the underlying principles of mathematics, just like the underlying principles of physics exist whether there are humans or not, a lot of what we use math for is relative, like our calendar system or applying negatives to finance.

As a disclaimer I must say that I don't have any problem with Christian schools teaching Christian doctrines. I just find it a bit stifling that everything has to reflect back to the religion. And the indoctrination of children bothers me. Yes, it's indoctrination. I may not find it as dangerous as say, a child trained to pick up weapons, but it is a terrible thing to keep a child ignorant in order to keep a child within a religious structure.
A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory. These books have been field-tested, revised, and used successfully for many years in Christian schools. They are classics with up-to-date appeal. Besides training students in the basic skills that they will need all their lives, the A Beka Book traditional mathematics books teach students to believe in the absolutes of the universe, to work diligently to get right answers, and to see the facts of mathematics as part of the truth and order that God has built into the real universe.
No set theory? Now I know why I absolutely hated it (and didn't understand a lick of it) in college. What is the reason that set theory is excluded?

Maybe because it's too complicated for pre-college students? No, I was able to find senior-level classes online where set theory was included in Geometry at various schools across the nation.

I had to research (this series has been good for me already) to find that many people believe that set theory contradicts religious arguments for free will. So the argument goes that if God controls everything then people cannot freely choose, but if people cannot freely choose then they have no say over their own salvation.2 To believe that both God controls everything and yet people can control their own salvation is not logical.

Another interesting, if profoundly wrong, argument is that in studying modern philosophical subjects such as set theory a Christian can be drawn off the path of serving the Christian community as a Christian philosopher3. And I also read an argument that infinite sets conflict with Christianity because they pre-suppose that there is no beginning, and thus no creation.4

Someone that knows more about mathematics and philosophy can correct me where I'm wrong.

But my main argument is that a fundamental part of mathematics is left out of the curriculum because it conflicts with the religion. This is deplorable when you're educating children. If you must, let them know you don't agree, but at least give them the chance to learn.

Related Posts
Christian Education: History
Christian Education: Science
Christian Education: English
Christian Education: My Conclusions

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21 comments: to “ Christian Education: Mathematics

  • John Evo
    Monday, January 14, 2008 at 9:26:00 PM CST  

    I'm not particularly worried about this. If Christians (already at an intellectual disadvantage to secularists) want to handicap future Christians with the lack of knowledge they will surely need to be successful and, thus, impact society; well, I'm not sure that's a bad thing. If we were talking about public schools, I'd have a whole different take on this.

    Unlike the “modern math” theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative

    I'm certainly no mathematician, but my understanding is that they believe it is not "arbitrary and relative" but part of fixed laws of the universe that would apply wherever you go in the Universe. There is an understanding that if we were to ever "make contact" it would be mathematics that would have to be our common link.

    Math is a "safe" science for Christians, since math by itself has nothing to contribute to knowledge of the natural world, thereby invalidating more biblical claims of knowledge. This is why those who hold doctorates in math are slightly more likely to be theists than Phd in other fields of the sciences. It's still a tiny percentage.

  • ordinary girl
    Monday, January 14, 2008 at 9:42:00 PM CST  

    But it does bother me, Evo. As a child brought up thinking I knew these subjects and then to later find out I was ignorant of a lot of things, it was horrible. I felt like I was robbed of an education I should have been entitled to. And no matter whether a child is secular, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., I think every child deserves a solid education.

  • John Evo
    Monday, January 14, 2008 at 9:59:00 PM CST  

    We each have our places where we focus what energy we have to fight the many wrongs going on around us. I guess this is just one of those areas that, while I might abhor it, I'm not going to put a lot of my time in to battling. But I can appreciate your feelings and why it's something you feel compelled to speak out forcefully about.

  • The Exterminator
    Monday, January 14, 2008 at 11:20:00 PM CST  

    Math is a "safe" science for Christians, since math by itself has nothing to contribute to knowledge of the natural world, thereby invalidating more biblical claims of knowledge.

    Do you mean that you're under the impression we've already learned everything we can about pure mathematics? (Urrrr urrrr. Oops, there's the buzzer telling us you're wrong. Sorry.)

    And now I'm going to step in and mediate between you and OG:
    Evo points out that Christian teachers at Christian schools have a right to teach Christian children any Christian nonsense they choose to. He's right.

    However, OG points out that she, as a titularly Christian child, didn't really get a vote in what she did or didn't learn. She's right.

    In my opinion, the point goes to OG. I don't object to religious schools taking time from more valuable subjects to conk kids on the head with stories from some allegedly holy book. But when they lie and/or withhold information, it's criminal. Evo, I suspect you'd have a different attitude if OG were saying that she was taught creationism instead of evolution. You science guys are always so quick to throw math onto the back burner. But there would be no way of examining, comparing, contrasting, charting, analyzing all your precious data without mathematicians.

    So, Evo, urrrr urrrr. There's that buzzer again. We hate to send you home empty-handed, though, so here's a consolation prize:

  • Venjanz
    Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 12:10:00 AM CST  

    Just a bit curious what you would think of this, Evo: If I were to say Blacks have an intellectual disadvantage to Asians, as recent studies have shown, would it be fair to say that it’s good that Blacks are hindered by an endemic anti-intellectual sentiment in urban African-American culture (this is true, look it up-Keepin’ it REAL!), and have less overall aptitude for “success” (I’m not sure what you meant by that) than Asians, we should smugly dismiss the work of Blacks because Asians are more likely to contribute positively to society?

    Forgive me if I am mistaken, but you seemed to be saying something similar in your first comment.


  • Mamacita Chilena
    Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 11:04:00 AM CST  

    Ok, I was going to comment, but you guys are all way smarter than me. I only slept two hours last night, and I am BARELY following this discussion right now, so I'll just keep my mouth shut :)

    Although, I do agree with O.G. that it's SO unfair to children to not be taught the full breadth of knowledge they could be learning, all because their parents have chosen their religious education for them. If a 4 year old was rational enough to say, I am a Christian, I want to go to a Christian school and get a Christian education, and fully understand what that means than it's fair. But handicapping the child's education for the parents' beliefs is not fair.

  • ordinary girl
    Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 1:58:00 PM CST  

    Ok, I was going to comment, but you guys are all way smarter than me.

    Oh come on now, Mamacita. My math is horrible. That's why I spent 2 hours looking at web sites trying to understand axiomatic set theory and I barely have a grasp. The concept isn't hard, but how it's applied. Yeah, I can forget about understanding that without some fundamentals.

  • Lifeguard
    Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 2:49:00 PM CST  

    Nobody's commented yet on the fact that the textbook basically uses math as a propaganda tool for christianity, which is, pardon my french, f*cking outrageous. It's like they can't lose an opportunity to show that every last piece of the world out there either proves or reflects the hand of some deity.

    In my own admittedly inadequate way of describing it, math is the study of how quantities interact with each other. It is quite possibly, the most impersonal thing imaginable.

    I've never heard of a christian feeling threatened by math, because it's value neutral. But this is way overboard insofar as it's trying to smuggle religion into that vacuum and somehow make the association that this somehow reflects the ordered mind of the almighty.

    Christian math... wtf? I guess we should be glad they're teaching math at all.

  • John Evo
    Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 3:05:00 PM CST  

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • John Evo
    Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 3:09:00 PM CST  

    Well, when everyone misunderstands my comment, then there is only ONE person to blame!

    But, really Ex, take it easy with the buzzer. It's loud, annoying and obnoxious! And, at least in one case, it's buzzing in my head for no damn good reason. OF COURSE I'm not saying we've learned everything we can about math. Even if my words weren't clear, you surely know ME better than that!

    What I'm saying is that math - taken as a study unconnected to biology, geology, cosmology - doesn't make inferences about the natural world. You can USE math, within studies, that do just that. So if you are a PhD who focuses entirely on math theory and not it's application to other areas of science, you may be able to more able to overlook scientific refutations of biblical knowledge. Indeed, mathematicians are more likely to say they believe in a "god" than a PhD in embryology would be. Scientific evidence in embryology continually reveals a natural world that is at odds with a biblical understanding of the same thing. New findings in mathematics don't do this.

    Also, don't be so quick to judge me on how much more angered I would be if it were evolution at stake instead of math. My kids were taught the same "Beka Bullshit" that Oh Gee was. That obviously includes in the biological sciences.

    My difference with you here has nothing to do with me putting math on the back burner. You need not school me on the fact that "my" precious studies couldn't be done without it. My differences come from the fact that in the "math problem" we have theists telling us that math is the language of god. If they were also saying that evolution was the system of god's creation of species, I wouldn't have nearly as big of a problem with them. I'd still disagree, but I wouldn't battle with them over it.

    Now buzz on this... :)

  • Anonymous
    Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 6:06:00 PM CST  

    OG said, "I just find it a bit stifling that everything has to reflect back to the religion."

    This is the key to conservative Christian thought - everything good points to God. Anything that does not reveal God, or lead people to think about, worship, praise and pray to God, is e-v-i-l.

  • ordinary girl
    Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 6:09:00 PM CST  

    Chaplain, you're right. I remember once my mom complained that I was reading too much Nancy Drew and not enough Bible and that I was in danger of creating an idol.

    I think my parents just didn't understand my voracious reading appetite, and besides there was little else to do but read much of the time.

  • John Evo
    Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 8:46:00 PM CST  

    It was the Hardy Boys for me, but I didn't start hearing about "evil" until I started spending much time listening to The Beatles and Rolling Stones.

  • The Exterminator
    Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 1:11:00 AM CST  

    Evo: I apologize for misinterpreting what you'd said. I'm always ready to jump on people who claim somehow that math isn't a true science when it's actually the purest of the sciences. You were not one of those people; I mistakenly read that attitude into what you'd said.

    Still, I did enjoy giving you the buzzer.

    When your mom complained about your Nancy Drew reading, did you stop? (I'm guessing no.)

    ... pardon my french, f*cking outrageous.
    I don't understand French. How do you pronounce that asterisk?

    Actually, Christians have been threatened by math almost since Christianity began. Some time in the 400s, Hypatia, one of the foremost mathematicians of her day, and certainly the first important female mathematician, was
    killed by a Christian rabble in Alexandria. Her "crime" was trying to spread knowledge.

  • John Evo
    Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 2:41:00 AM CST  

    Some time in the 400s, Hypatia, one of the foremost mathematicians of her day, and certainly the first important female mathematician, was
    killed by a Christian rabble in Alexandria. Her "crime" was trying to spread knowledge.

    Wasn't she a Muslim? Muslim, woman, intellectual... that was enough to get you strung up in those days by Christians. The math could have been fairly incidental (not saying it WAS... just COULD have been).

    Oh... and I accept your humble and profuse apology. You can stand up now.

  • The Exterminator
    Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 3:02:00 AM CST  


    Wasn't she a Muslim?

    Hypatia: ca. 360-415
    Mohammed: ca. 570-632

    I'll let you do the math. (Is that a buzzer I hear?)

  • Billy
    Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 11:05:00 AM CST  

    John Evo:

    My problem with situations like this is that, although some of these kids may come over to the reality side, most will not. And their kids will be educated in the same incomplete (and sometimes lying) way. Unfortunately, this will seriously inhibit America's ability to compete on the world stage if a substantial portion of our population has an incomplete education or, worse, an education built upon lies.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 1:23:00 PM CST  

    ...texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.

    Well, that pretty much says it all. I am in total agreement with you OG. Intentionally leaving something out of the curriculum because you feel it doesn't support your particular viewpoint is indeed very deplorable. Especially something like set theory, which is fundamental to so many fields of study in logic, math, science and engineering. I say this as an engineer and educator (who just so happens to be teaching some set theory next week).

    When I first saw your post it reminded me about a post I made awhile back about a Christian school's calculus course.

    Finally, I find this Christian objection to set theory rather entertaining considering that there have been objections to set theory like:

    "[set theory is] God's mathematics, which we should leave for God to do."
    - Errett Bishop

  • John Evo
    Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 2:10:00 PM CST  

    Wasn't Hypathia an Egyptian believer in the old gods?

  • John Evo
    Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 2:16:00 PM CST  

    Billy - I hear you. And I hear Oh Gee. I'm really just saying we have a whole bunch of battles on a lot of fronts and I'm happy that some of you are fighting this one. But I tend to shy away from it in favor of other battles that I think I can contribute more to.

  • ordinary girl
    Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 9:28:00 PM CST  

    Evo, much of the knowledge about Hypatia has been lost because the church considered her heretical, but I haven't seen anything indicating she worshiped Egyptian gods. She could have though. I don't really know.


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