Ben and I discussed below whether math is “spiritual”.

Vern Poythress has an essay on A Biblical View of Mathematics in which he argues that mathematics is not religiously neutral:

The neutrality postulate holds special attractiveness as applied to mathematics, because of the apparent widespread agreement about mathematical truths. “Everybody knows that 2 + 2 = 4.” If religious beliefs really have an influence, why is there such widespread agreement, cutting across religious lines? We intend to answer this question on several levels: (1) by showing that the agreement in mathematics is not so widespread, nor so uncorrelated with religious beliefs, as the textbooks would have you believe (§§2-7); (2) by showing that non-Christian philosophy of mathematics is involved in deep-set cleavages and antinomies, in its understanding of even so simple a truth as 2 + 2 = 4 (§§11-18); (3) by showing that only on a thoroughgoing Biblical basis can one genuinely understand and affirm the real agreement about mathematical truths (§25).

So, first of all, what differences have arisen in mathematics in connection with religious belief? Differences have arisen over arithmetical truth, over standards for proof, over number-theoretic truth, over geometric truth, over truths of analysis, over mathematical existence-not to mention the long-standing epistemological disputes over the source of mathematical truth. Let’s consider these areas one at a time.

A couple additional comments:

1) Even if one does not buy Poythress’ strong claim that mathematics ultimately requires a trinitarian theistic grounding, his point that math is not religiously neutral still stands.

2) It seems to me that if math is not religiously neutral, that is essentially an *a fortiori* argument that every other field of knowledge is not religiously neutral. If something so (apparently) universally accepted is still religiously biased, how could something like history or biology fare any better?

(And for what it’s worth, Poythress has a PhD in mathematics, a ThM in apologetics, a ThD in New Testament, and also has studied and taught in linguistics, so he’s not out of his field here.)

February 16, 2008 at 12:13 am

Great post Andrew (btw, thanks for your thoughtful posts and contributions here and elsewhere — I thought the infant baptism post on your blog was particularly interesting; thanks for letting us in on your wrestling with these issues!).

I want to digest this more, but nonetheless, this will certainly spur some good conversation.

Blessings.

February 18, 2008 at 12:56 pm

This is true. Even in math, we must agree on bivalent logic and there are those who dispute it. Without bivalent logic 2 + 2 = 4 is dubious, but the dispute is fueled by the desire to deny absolute truth rather than to discover absolute truth.

February 20, 2008 at 5:30 pm

If you take the (biblical) presuppositional view of Van Til (which Poythress via Frame does, I believe – though Van Til is better understood through Bahnsen if you prefer an indirect method) then *all* knowledge is analogical – math, science, everything, because we live in a pre-interpreted universe (cf. Genesis 1) where God has defined the standards by his ethical statements in His infallible word. The Psalmist puts it well, Ps. 36:9 “For in your light do we see light” and as Paul proclaimed to the pagans in Acts 17:28 “In him we live and move and have our being.”

Nice blog, enjoy the thoughtful posts.