Christian School Mathematics

By John Van Der Brink

"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Is. 1:18).

Though the most important teaching and meaning derived from this verse is the spiritual need for redemption, there is something else implied in this verse. God is speaking to man, and is appealing to his reason. There is no other creature in God’s creation that can reason. Animals can learn something, but that is by rote repetition or by stimulus/ response. But man has been given the ability to reason. This ought to teach us something. Many think of man as a supreme animal, but it is not so. God gave man the ability to reason so he could know, and worship God. Man cannot know and worship God by reason only, but without reason he cannot know and worship God. How does man know God, and how does he worship Him? He knows God by seeing God - by seeing who He is. How does He see God?

1. Organization and Synchronization

One way to see God is to see Him in His creation. We see something of God, by the organization and synchronization of nature. That especially becomes evident in a math class. How can mathematics be used to see God? Mathematics is a highly reasoning or deductive process. Reasoning allows us to observe certain data, and then draw conclusions or make predictions from those observations. An example of this is in our calendar. The calendar is defined by the solar system. Man has observed and tabulated how long it takes for the earth to make one revolution and how long it takes to make an orbit around the sun. This data is precisely recorded and on its basis we make predictions about what is going to happen when. In other words, one day is not longer than another, and the length of one year is precisely the same as another. In a random universe evolving out of nothing, it would be impossible for regularity and precision to emerge. But by reasoning, by "reverse interpolation" we can conclude that there must be a God. Random evolution never produces fixed laws, like are needed to observe and construct a calendar. Nor does it produce observable data upon which we can make future predictions. By being able to observe the fixed laws of the universe, man can by reasoning see or observe something of God. For example, he can observe in the atom the incredible complexity and diversity of nature. Using a mathematical construct, he can describe the character of the atom. By it, he can see the intricacy, the wisdom, the harmony, the intelligence of the Creator.

2. Harmony

Man by mathematics can also see something of the harmony of God. The so-called Golden Ratio, which describes an architecturally pleasing rectangle, is found repeatedly in the natural world. This number 1/2 (1+5) consistently reproduces the harmony witnessed everywhere. By observing this phenomena, one can see that harmony originates from God in His creation, and its observance is conducive to admiring the Creator. Another way in which mathematics can be used to appreciate the harmony of God is by relating art and music concepts to mathematical expressions. For example the various sounds of a vibrating string or of some material phenomena can be assigned a mathematical value. Then one can predict that a certain sound will be dissonant from the harmony heard in nature. Once again, the harmony of nature can be compared with disharmony of human composition, and one can only admire the harmony of the Creator.

3. Exactness and Precision

Finally, mathematics can be used to reason the exact- ness or precision of God. The harmony of creation, the precision of creation is evidenced by man’s work in an observatory. It can be predicted with an accuracy reduced to seconds when for example, a certain star will appear. Mathematics is used to make this prediction. But the fact that the prediction can be made and its resultant fulfilment indicated God’s exactness - that nothing in His creation is left to luck or chance.

Despite the excellence of mathematics in learning some- thing about the Creator, it cannot teach us (nor can any other subject) who God is and who we are before Him. Mathematics can tell us about creation, but it does not tell us about the Saviour. It does not reveal sin, nor does it describe salvation. Reason cannot bring about reconciliation.

For that, we need another kind of instruction - the teaching of the Spirit. That instruction, though it can be discussed, goes beyond what we can understand by reasoning. In fact, those who receive that instruction are taught and also believe by faith (not by reason). By faith they embrace things not seen, things that are not tangible. They see sin, and by faith they may also see a Saviour. Though mathematics cannot show or teach salvation, it can lead to opportunities for moral and spiritual application. For example, by observing the precision and accuracy of mathematics, one can point out that God is exacting also in His creatures. There is a right and a wrong, truth and error, fallacies and proof. Christianity must be real and truthful, and not fallacious or without substance. Mathematics also has a moral value in daily life. One who has an understanding of mathematics, has the skills necessary to function responsibly in many vocations, and he may carry out and use that understanding for the benefit of his fellow men, which it is his Christian responsibility to do. By so doing, he may glorify the God who gave him that understanding. The secularist does not do this. He glorifies man with mathematics. He sees reasoning as a product of the human mind, and glorifies man for what he sees. But he is shallow,

and by this proves his moral prejudice. Honesty shows that reason is based on the facts of creation - which ought to humble rather than exalt man. An understanding of these things points to principle based decision-making. We all have heard of "circumstantial" decisions. Many today make decisions based on what the outcome will be. But in math we are taught there is an objective truth, and that decisions need to be made by what is right or wrong, not by expected outcomes. In sum, there is a real difference in Christian school math from public school math. This difference may not always be spoken, but it will sometimes be felt. The Christian schoolteacher’s attitude towards the subject he teaches can portray his amazement for its design - a simple exclamatory comment in the classroom conveys reverence and awe for the God of creation. Students in a Christian math class are also taught to serve others and recognize God’s authority, and not to be proud of their mental achievement. A truly great mind is a humble mind, not a proud one. May our minds then and our reasoning be not a god, but an instrument by which we are taught to take our rightful place as a humble servant of God, and a faithful help-meet for others.