Re: At What Point Do Poythress' Concerns Matter

Dan:

What I wonder about is, on a practical level, do these philosophical differences really impact on elementary and secondary level math education?

I’ve had a bit of time to chew on this, and I think I have a bit more to say.

One of the obvious problems with secularism in general is its feigned attempt to be religiously neutral. If there is anything that postmodernism has taught us, it is that there is no such thing in the world of humanity.

In a similar manner, when we discuss a subject entirely, and never mention God, I think there’s a tacit assumption that is being conveyed in instruction, that God is functionally non-existent when it comes to math. God is irrelevant to this part of life.

If anything, Poythress’ points have undermined that unreflective assumption.

So, as to the pragmatic question you asked, my answer would be: I imagine it would have some kind of religio-psychogolocial effect on the students who are taught math in such a way that God is seen to be absolutely disposable when it comes to doing it. This may be hard to quantify, but I think the likelihood of it having an effect seems relatively high.

For what it’s worth, too, math has a strange way of making people reflective, or at least making some people who are already just a little reflective a bit more reflective about philosophy and related things. The only time in high school I remember someone discussing philosophy directly (and not in a historical fashion) was a reference to a priori versus a posteriori knowledge (an issue in epistemology) in a grade 11 math class. Math is deeply related to philosophy in many ways, and I don’t doubt that that will have some kind of practical psychological effect on students.

Ben:

Could we enhance our Spirituality by including God in the study of arithmetic or algebra? Yes. But can we learn all we need to about arithmetic and algebra just by studying those topics? Of course. 2+2=4 is not modified by any other information.

A few things:

1) I think part of Poythress’ point is that we don’t just enhance our spirituality, but our knowledge of mathematics itself by understanding its relation to God.

2) “All we need to know” is highly vague, and hard to discuss.

3) If one piece of information sheds light on the meaning of another piece of information, I would say that it modifies our understanding of that latter piece. And if, as Poythress argues, believing in the Christian God regulates the meaning of 2+2=4, then I would say that it modifies our understanding of that equation.