Christian Fundamentalism’s War on Higher Mathematics

384px-Relation1001.svgI’ll be the first to admit that my math skills are rudimentary. I’d go so far as to say they’re borderline non-existent. To quote that famous plastic scholar Barbie, “Math is tough!” If you can do math, especially anything from algebra on up, you’ve got my admiration – maybe even my fearful reverence. You’re like the first caveman who mastered fire to me. You don’t have to worry about me coming to your door with pitchfork in torch in hand. However, the same can’t be said of certain groups of Christian fundamentalists. According to BoingBoing’s Maggy Koerth-Baker, some of these guys are waging war against higher mathematics, particularly something called “set theory”. Check it out:

Some of these folks get very touchy about the idea of infinity. Mark Chu-Carroll is a software engineer at foursquare and a math blogger. Unlike me, he was already aware of the fundamentalist objection to set theory, because he’s actually had people show up in his comment section railing about how the theory is an affront to God. Particularly the part about multiple infinities. Chu-Carroll told me that one commenter explained the problem this way: “There is only one infinity, and that is God.” Basically, this perspective looks at set theory and Georg Cantor and sees humankind trying to replace the divine with numbers and philosophy.

The second problem is a little more complex. Remember how the modern idea of set theory really isn’t all that modern? That’s because I’m pretty sure A Beka doesn’t mean “modern” as in “recent”, but “modern” as in “modernist”.

I can tell you from experience that A Beka (and Bob Jones University Press) are stridently against modernism in all its forms. (I’m assuming they’re against post-modernism, too, but you have to understand that the opinions and perspectives this sort of Christian fundamentalism has about society and culture were formed between the late 1920s and early 1970s and, because of this, the culture wars that they are fighting often come across as confusingly antiquated. Thus, the ongoing obsession with the imminent threat of Communism. See also: Why I sat through multiple sermons on the evils of rock n’ roll in the late 1990s.)

Koerther-Baker was raised in a fundamentalist home, and as a science writer has a particularly insightful take on why fundamentalists find set theory so frightening. The article isn’t very recent, but it does concern an issue that not too many people are aware of. It’s definitely worth a read.

What do Christian Fundamentalists Have Against Set Theory?


30 Comments on "Christian Fundamentalism’s War on Higher Mathematics"

  1. Charlie Primero | Apr 14, 2013 at 1:54 pm |


    Ha! That’s good. I’m stealing it.

  2. emperorreagan | Apr 14, 2013 at 2:22 pm |

    I guess this is like when most people didn’t realize the fundamentalists weren’t just running shitty candidates for president – their real focus was trying to take over school boards and local government.

    So now fundamentalists are attacking little followed branches of knowledge?

  3. The Well Dressed Man | Apr 14, 2013 at 2:59 pm |

    The line of reasoning here is a bit recursive in that disinfo linked to boing boing which linked to mother jones which referred to a paragraph on math on a fundie christian homeschooling site. I’m more worried about young-earth creationist bs than anti set theory bs. It’s pretty hard effectively argue against something you can’t begin to actually understand. Limiting/defining/working with infinities takes some serious math study, which should automatically exclude anyone who literally believes the earth is just a few thousand years old.

  4. I’m not surprised. After all, they believe 1 + 1 + 1 = 1.

  5. InfvoCuernos | Apr 14, 2013 at 4:53 pm |

    soooo, you can have a father, son, and holy ghost that’s all one god, but you can’t have multiple infinities? Now they’re just fucking with us.

    • And therein lies the great irony and contradiction of the Christian triune godhead, but don’t try arguing this point with them though.

      • indeed, for so many say “well we as mortals just can’t comprehend it” and as if it were some relevant climactic accumen. they just don’t appreciate the genera problem or the k-clique problem. nor the oddity of 4 valence carbon, 3 dimensional space, and then the hint that there are way too many silly coincidental things about 3 that indicate failure. but hey, it’s a non-christian’s fault and their vegas games are evil!

  6. Gordon Klock | Apr 14, 2013 at 6:25 pm |

    Fundies have an appalling lack of faith,it is the very reason that they keep trying to break reality to fit the bible.(I think they fear knowledge,because it seems that deep down,they don’t really believe their own religion,they just cling to it out of fear of entropy)

    • totally agree with that. I think the people that get most offended when you contradict their beliefs, be they Christian fundamentalists, scientific materialists, etc. are probably those who deep down disbelieve in their truth. They know that they have an aspect of truth but are afraid to question some things that would contradict some illusions they hold.

  7. could be my fault aetherically. pentagrams and such. i found out Einstein can only capture certain dybbuk! lightspeed just doesn’t cut it. neither does 27 choose 5. no way to catch them all using hebrew character set! i as well have spent too much time around fundies. they treat stuff like metaphoric food. they don’t care. they have their set of kata and their over-bearing righteous sovereignty. just ask them about the pigeon hole principle as regards the bottomless pit! “so i choose to be the prophet because then no one else can take that place!” and then see if they ignore the sacrifice or whatever. “i’d be already foregiven if i thought there was more than one infinity but i’m going to take this opportunity to express my attitude instead!” about a third of them are thieves who wrongfully convert intrusted property. a second third are genuinely domesticated. the other third is whatevs. i otta go storm’m like a good little high templar…

    • Calypso_1 | Apr 15, 2013 at 8:37 am |

      you should drop the ‘pentagram’ & deal with coxeter groups. It will just add to their confusion.

      • checking that out. hmm, seems those apply to processor technology engineering that i’ve been working on. indeterminate technology plots as well i feel are here, working around it. lightning not striking the same place twice? does an electron choose a path least-recently occupied by another electron, electricity, electromagnetic field, photoelectric effect, etc? i wish i knew :/ triage of the universe~ i’ll have to stick to theoretical physics for now. no access 🙁

  8. BuzzCoastin | Apr 14, 2013 at 7:41 pm |

    “Christian” leaders need enemies like: creationism, mathematics, logic & reason
    in order to better coral & fleece the sheeple
    do the math
    the anti-something position pulls the flock together into a paddock
    and makes them easier to fleece through donations & entetrainment produkts

    • kowalityjesus | Apr 14, 2013 at 8:02 pm |

      that is a bit tangential. However anyone who isn’t educated enough to see the metaphor (along with the literalism) in the bible is rightly perturbed. It would be cute if it weren’t dangerously ignorant.

      • BuzzCoastin | Apr 14, 2013 at 8:13 pm |

        The Bible & most religious writings are like the Rorschach test
        people see what they think to see
        or in the case of most religions, what they’re told to see

        the foundation of any religion is its sacred texts
        which usually contains a message of tolerance & brotherly love
        that is usually ignored
        in favor of things like
        contention, domination and destruction of non-believers

        if Jesus’ followers actually followed the precepts of Jesus
        they wouldn’t need to focus on petty things like
        contention, domination and destruction of non-believers

        • mannyfurious | Apr 15, 2013 at 11:25 am |

          The weird thing about most “Christians” is that there generally infinitely more interested in the Torah than in anything Jesus had to say. They can’t even seem to understand the most basic of Christian mythology, which is that the very presence of Jesus on Earth at some point and time makes the 10 commandments obsolete.

  9. Darren Prosser | Apr 14, 2013 at 8:32 pm |

    Seriously, a set of comments by Christians in obscure math blogs warrants an entire post now? What is next….Christian fundamentalists oppose the amazing atheist on his YouTube home channel!!!!!!. You guys used to be fairly objective here at Disinfo Mr Staggs. Yet now have a anti-Christian post every week. But now you are really stretching it. How sad.

    • Matt Staggs | Apr 14, 2013 at 10:57 pm |

      The “entire post” is written at BoingBoing, which I’ve referred you to. Criticizing Christian fundamentalism is hardly anti-Christian, but if it is, then that’s a “anti-Christianity” that I’ll gladly claim. Go ahead and add all of your other varieties of religious fundamentalism on that pyre, soak it in gasoline and light it with a Roman candle. I hope that it burns so damned hot (damned hot – get it?) so I can see it from outer space. Fundamentalists make the decent, serious-minded and inquisitive religious people I’ve known in my life look bad. They’re a medieval pox; something that should have been ensconced in a tomb and left to moulder along with the Black plague and ergotism, but here it is among us once again, resurrected like some repressed, fun-sucking, education-phobic vampire, and God forbid someone point it out for the dripping herpetic sore on the lip of modernity that it is. If you’ve looking for a soft serve scoop of fuzzy love for the likes of Ken Ham and his anti-science, idiotarian ilk, then I’m afraid that we’re not serving your flavor here anymore. Save your “tsk-tsk” for someone inclined to listen.

    • Or, you know, submit content for the site yourself. Some days we need a break from Bigfoot sightings, Ron Paul’s economics, and the persecution of Graham Hancock.

  10. Calypso_1 | Apr 15, 2013 at 7:21 pm |

    The ill-informed fundies should also consider that Cantor believed he had received his ideas from God. He believed that above the multiple infinities, he described as trasfinites, was the Absolute Infinite which he considered synonymous with God. This he considered to have a tripartite manifestation, in god himself, in the natural world,
    & in the mind of man. This would have some parallel to the idea of Univocity of Being.

    For those that can’t see concepts of multiple infinities.
    How many times can you make a division between 1 & 2.
    How many times between 1 & 3.
    Which is a bigger infinity?

  11. Aram Jahn | Apr 18, 2013 at 5:11 pm |

    Matt: near the end of your part of the article you misspelled Maggie’s last name. Just a head’s up.

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