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‘Suppose we loosely define a religion as any disc. pline whose foundations rest on an element of faith respective of an present. Quantum mechanics for example would be 4 religion under this definition, Bue mathematics ‘would hold the unique position of being the only branch of theology possessing a rigorous demon- __ stration of the fac that it should be so clasifie. E De Sua! element of reason which may be ‘Mathematics and the sciences have no business ~ with the divine religion Aaron ben Zalman Emmerich Gumpertz (1723-1769)? What do Christian beliefs have to do with mathematics? Surely mathematics is neutral doesn’t two plus two make four no matter what beliefs someone has? If mathematics ‘were neutral, it would be independent of beliefs or philosophies. However, this is far from the case. In discussing various philoso- phies of mathematics, Paul Ernest comments _-Mathernatical truth ultimately depends on an ire- ible serof assumptions, which are adopted with: | out demonstration, But to qualify as true know! edge, the assumptions require a warrant for thei assertion, There is no valid warrant for mathemati “cal knowledge other than demonstration or proof. | ‘Therefore the assumptions are belie, nor know: _exige, and remain open ro doubv. Mathematics thus rests on belief. This echoes an observation of cosmologist John Barrow: “One would normally define a “religion” a a system ~ ofideas that contain starements that cant be log BB eeretbrally demooneraed, Rater, Ba ee partly upon some artces of | faith. Such a definition has the amusing conse- | quence of including all the sciences and systems of "though that we know; Gadel’ theorem not only - demonstrates that mathematics is a religion, but shows that mathematics isthe only eligon tat ca prove ite © be one! _ CSE + Volume V, Number 4 + 2001 ~ 2002 Mathematics and the Myth of Neutrality Steve Bishop, a mathematics lecturer at Soundwell College in Bristol, UK, has a BSc (hons) in physics with mathematics, and a MA in applied theology. He is coauthor of The Barth Is the Lord's In other words, beliefS are integral to mathematics; it cannot be neutral. The philosophy of mathematics ‘The philosophy of mathematics can be divided into two main schools, the absolutists and the libilists, The absolutist sees mathematics as objec- tive, fixed, incorrigible, and absolutely certain— hence the name: the emphasis is on mathematic (singular). The fallibilist sees it as being subjec- tive, incomplete, corrigible, ever changing, and fallible: it is mathematics (plural). An absolutise math teacher may well teach by emphasizing rou- tine mathematical tasks and creating the expecta- tion that there is one correct answer. The falliblist ‘math teacher may well emphasize the collabors- tive, problem-solving, investigational approach to ‘math, How we view math affects how we teach. ‘A math absolutist may well teach as she does because of her own pedagogical knowledge and experience, ‘vo plus two may equal four, but the issue is whose concept of “two and whose cor cept of “plus” and “equals” are we using? In the following, we will e xamine some ways in which different philosop! view mathematics Absolutist views of mathematics Absolutism is a blanket term for several distinct views, which can include logicism, formalism, intuitionism, Platonism, and empiricism, What they all have in common is that at heart all mathematics rests on a firm foundation, but they strongly disagree about what that foundation is. Logicism Advocates of logicism include G. W. Leibniz, Gottolb Frege, Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead, and Rudolf Carnap, who states their article of faith bald- ly: “Logicism is the thesis that mathematics is reducible to logic, hence nothing but a part of logic."* Here logic becomes absolutized, However, the foundation of logic was soon shown to be sinking sand. It proved to be overcomplicated, obscure, and ambiguous. ‘The paradoxes of set theory also added to its demise. As Russell later confesses: Beliefs are integral to mathemati ics; it cannot be neutral. 19 Platonism is remarkable in that it is so successful; most practicing physicists and mathe- maticians have adopted it. | Fhaving constructed an elephant upon which the "mathematical word could rest, T found the elephane ‘tottering, and proceeded to construct a tortoise 10 | Keep the eephant from falling. But the tortoise was “more secure than the elephant, and afer some | oven yea fer -ardhious toil, [came to the con: "clusion tha there was nothing more that I could do in the way of making mathematical knowledge -indubiable? Formalism ‘The main figures associated with formalism are David Hilbert, Johann von Neumann, and Haskell B. Curry. The adherents of formalism, which was dominant in the mid-twentieth century, see mathemat- ics as a formal language. It was Kurt Godel who undermined the whole formalist program in 1931. He “proved” that there will always be certain true statements that can never be proved. The following is a typical example: This statement cannot be proved true. Ifit can be proved true then the statement is false; if it cannot be proved true then it is true! For the formalist, mathematical objects do not exist; mathematics is reduced to for- mus, to linguistics Intuitionism Immanuel Kant and Leopold Kronecker are the forebears of mathematical intuitionism, though the best known are L. E. J. Brouwer and his student Arend Heyting. Heyting asserts, “The intu- itionist mathematician proposes to do math- matics as a natural function of his intellect, as a fie, vital activity of thought. For him, mathematics is a product of the human mind’ And Brouwer says, “Mathematical entities do not have existence in our concep- tion of nature anymore than nature itself.” Mathematics, the constructivists contend, is invented, not discovered; it is a human con- struction. Nevertheless, it is absolutist in that it sees the foundations of math as certain. The intuitionists sought to base mathematics on, what was self-evident, The enterprise failed when they couldn't agree on what was self evident; what was “self-evident” apparently wasn't! They rejected anything that wasn't ineuitive and thus rejected a large amount of math, a result that made the approach unten- able to most mathematicians. ‘Typical was Kronecker’s rejection of irra- tional numbers. As mathematics for the intu- itionist is constructed from intuitively obvi- ous ideas, it takes place primarily in the mind, Intuition is the foundation for math- ematics; hence we have Kronecker’s famous statement: “God made the integers, but all else is the work of man.” Platonism Cosmologist John Barrow aptly describes the platonic view of mathe ‘matics: “Pi really isin the sky.”"” Mathematical objects and structures have a real objective existence “out there somewhere”; hence mathematics is discovered, not invented. As the name suggests, this view originates in the thought of Plato. In this sense Pythagoras and Leibniz were Platonists. More recent adherents include Georg Cantor, Gilbert Hardy, and Kurt Gédel, together with the physicists Heinrich Hertz, Richard Feynman, John Barrow, Roger Penrose, and Paul Davies. Many Christians, such as John Polkinghorne, have also adopted a form of mathematical Platonism. Platonism is remarkable in that it is so suc- cessfiul; most practicing physicists and math- ematicians have adopted it. It is, however, inherently religious: it attributes the attribut- cs of divinity to an external eternal realm that contains mathematical ideas. Clouser notes that “by regarding this hypothetical realm as having’ independent existence, [Platonists] accord it the status of divinity?" Empiricism For the empiricist, math is based on empirical generalizations, or sense data. This was the position of the utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, There are at Jeast two valid objections to empiricism When our experience contradicts math, we don't rej of math is abstract and does not have its ori gins in the world of experience. Of absolutism and falibilism, it is abso- Jutism that could provide any justification for a neutral view of mathematics. However, as ‘we have seen, all absolutist views rely upon some aspect of creation to provide a founda- tion, They all have a faith commitment that some aspect of reality is selfexistent—hardly a neutral position! Moreover, the consensus now is that absolutist views of mathematics are untenable and unreliable. Imre Lakatos (1922-1974), perhaps the most trenchant critic of absolutist approaches to math, has shown that the quest for certainty in the above theories leads to a vicious circle: in the CSE + Volume V, Number 4 2001 - 2002 quest for certainty, they all rely on unprov- able assumptions. Neither elephants nor tor- toises were a stable enough foundation! In the next section, as we examine fallibilist jews of mathematics, we will see that these views actually support the notion that math- ematics is not neutral, Falliblist views of mathematics Conventionalism For the conventionalist the foundations of mathematics rest on lin- guistic conventions. Conventionalists include the moderates, for example, W. V. O. Quine and C. Hempel, and the non-absolutists, such as Wittgenstein. Though not strictly fal- libilist, conventionalism can be accommodat- ed within a fallibilist view. As one philoso- pher, Machover, points out, it has often been the refuge of defeated logicists. Conventionalism points out the social structure of mathematical knowledge and lit- tle else. It reduces mathematics to the lingual and social aspects of reality. Social constructivism Social construc- tivism is the philosophy of mathematics that Ernest proposes. It draws on conventional- ism and Lakatos’ quasi-empiricism. Reuben Hersch and Ernst von Glaserseld have advo- cated similar approaches, labeled “humanist” and “radical constructivism,” respectively: Ernest summarizes the social constructivist view |The grounds for describing, mathematical know “edge as a social construction and adopring this name are threefoe Be eae oetrestecmatical knowiedce is linguis |e conventions and rules, and language is 4 social aan | Gi Tnerpenonal social processes ate reid 0 turn an individual's subjective mathematical know! edge, after publication, into accepted objective mathematical knowledge. Gi) Objectivity itself wil be understood to be social, Point (ii) is perhaps the weak point: the shift from subjective to objective knowledge in the social constructivist position is by pub- lication, This idea seems to imply that math- ematics rather than being “our there some- where” is “in there somewhere”! It causes more problems than it solves. It could be construed to suggest that journal referees are the arbiters of truth; and what happens if conflicting accounts of mathematics are both CSE + Volume V, Number 4 * 2001-2002 published, Are they both deemed to be tru Point (iii) takes objectivity as social agre ment. Objective knowledge can thus be false! ‘This opens the way up to accusations of rel- ativism. Emest acknowledges these weak- nesses but is, to my mind, unsuccessful in defusing them. Point (i) is taken from conventionalism; consequently, it suffers the same weakness as that position: it is a reduction of mathemat- ics to the lingual and social aspects of reali One of the main tenets of the fallibilist view of mathematics is that it is a product of human activity. This undermines the neutral- ity view of math, as this argument shows 1. We all have a worldview. 2. Religious commitments shape a world- view. 3, Worldviews shape all human activity. 4, Mathematics is a human activity. Therefore, 5, Mathematics is shaped by worldviews, that are religious commitments. ‘The conclusion for a fallibilist can only be that mathematics is shaped by one’s world- view—harily a neutral position! The view then that mathematics is neutral is untenable. In place of a conclusion ‘The fallibilist view actually supports the idea that mathematics is not neutral. The absolutist view, which appears to support the belief that mathematics is neutral, rests on the belief that math can be reduced to one or ‘two aspects of ereation that are believed to be self-existent and uncreated. ‘These beliefs imply divine attributes and thus are inherent- ly religious, hardly a neutral position. None of the philosophies alone can pro- vide a suitable basis for a Christian approach to mathematics. A Christian approach to mathematics may well have to acknowledge with absolutists an ontological objectivity, but also with fallibilists an epistemological subjec- tivity, but we must recall that mathematics is a creation of God; the only thing uncreated is God. This is the point in which a Christian view of mathematics radically departs from other philosophies. Mathematics does not rest ‘on some aspect of creation; its foundation is God, the Creator of all things. Christian beliefs should and do shape mathematics. ‘To view ennotes, visit ACST's website at was onypubliatonsse>. Mathematics does not rest on some aspect of creation; its foundation is God, the Creator of all things. 24