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?

 

, , ,

  • Charlie Primero

    OMG LOOK WHAT THE FUNDIES TEACH KIDS

    Ha! That’s good. I’m stealing it.

  • emperorreagan

    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?

  • The Well Dressed Man

    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.

  • Andrew

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

    • Calypso_1

      Depends entirely on units of measurement.

  • InfvoCuernos

    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.

    • http://strictlyapathy.comoj.com/ SoulArbiter

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

      • http://artasith-m-nasdsnre.tumblr.com/ Simon Valentine

        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!

        • http://strictlyapathy.comoj.com/ SoulArbiter

          Well 3 is an odd number after all.

          • http://artasith-m-nasdsnre.tumblr.com/ Simon Valentine
          • http://strictlyapathy.comoj.com/ SoulArbiter

            Yeah. It does hurt the head.

          • http://artasith-m-nasdsnre.tumblr.com/ Simon Valentine

            pain. i’ve been on fences a lot concerning what emotions are. reactions to those questions had been quite distinct from discourse concerting psionics. feedback. mana. procedural indictations. a program’s omega number as a unit a’la psi a’la bra-ket and quantum realms. i hope your future quests involving pain are in your favor

  • Gordon Klock

    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)

    • jnana

      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.

  • http://artasith-m-nasdsnre.tumblr.com/ Simon Valentine

    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

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

      • http://artasith-m-nasdsnre.tumblr.com/ Simon Valentine

        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 :(

  • http://artasith-m-nasdsnre.tumblr.com/ Simon Valentine

    sshhh don’t tell them >.<
    http://i.imgur.com/7Zni8h1.png

  • BuzzCoastin

    “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

      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

        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

          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.

  • Darren Prosser

    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

      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.

    • Reasor

      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.

      • Matt Staggs

        I’d love that. All are welcome….all are welcome.

  • Calypso_1

    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?

  • Aram Jahn

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

  • http://strictlyapathy.comoj.com/ SoulArbiter

    The same could be said for Judaism. As you’re aware, Abrahamic religions promote the belief that God is indivisible. Islam can be seen as a much more ‘proper’ form of monotheism via rational deduction, but realistically Islam is also a combination of pieces of Judaism and Christianity.

  • Calypso_1

    Single Malt is purer than blended. Both are fine for palates of various discrimination & for rumination on imponderables, inconsequentialities, the host of heavenly species & all manner of being between. The demise in elocution, by which immersion in such portends, is inversely proportionate to the heights achieved in acceleration & swathe of minds missive pleas of import. All to be lost in the vaporous swooning must now be divined in the clamorous theatre of cruelty left in the eviscerate scrivener of better angels.
    Purity, laxity, conscribe what you will – Truth be told – the defilement stares back from the mercy seat.

  • http://strictlyapathy.comoj.com/ SoulArbiter

    Will you deny that Islam doesn’t take its foundational cues from Judaism and perceives Jesus in sort of the same light as Arianism? As you said Islam, “made civil law of the moral values”, was the original intent of Judaism. You are correct in saying that Judaism was solely and purely for the “chosen people” as Jews thought that they have the privilege to be the chosen, however Christianity and Islam are two alternatives that presented the opportunity for those not of Jewish backgrounds to believe in the one true God via their respective doctrines and principles central to their respective faiths. Be under no apprehension that I am trying to discredit or attack Islam in any way, shape or form. I do, however, agree with you that Islam is probably more closer to being a truer monotheistic religion than its Abrahamic predecessors.

  • Calypso_1

    Considering that Set Theory underlies the foundations of the vast majority of modern mathematics & that Cantor was vindicated in his lifetime – not really.

  • Calypso_1

    You need to check your history. His stays in mental hospitals were due to life long depression the final bout of which was brought on by the death of his son.

    He continued to lecture & attended conferences even after this, just at a reduced pace.

    Yes he had substantial critics but was awarded the Sylvester Medal for his work in 1904. He died in 1918.

  • Calypso_1

    It’s an easy claim to make. Wiki’s are great quick reference. My personal library is not as digitized.

    You can’t equate his mental health or job history with the success of the mathematics.
    Perhaps you should also look at the success of his contemporaneous supporters (ie Hilbert) vs. the contributions of his critics (primarily Kronecker).
    That radically important ideas face opposition is no mystery. That someone looking back with all the hindsight of history cannot parse through the dynamics of what occurred is slovenly at best.

    I’ve also read more extensively: ‘The Mystery of the Aleph’ is a nice lay book.

    Try ‘Contributions to the Founding of the Theory of Transfinite
    Numbers’ by the man himself for a little more fun.

    or ‘The Higher Infinite: Large Cardinals in Set Theory from
    Their Beginnings’ if you are up to it.

    I’ve also done plenty of course work involving Set Theory.

  • Calypso_1

    ▪◊a
    b
    c

  • http://artasith-m-nasdsnre.tumblr.com/ Simon Valentine

    i like your abilities as basic analysis as it is that you seem personal achieving it, something, etc. at the same time we may be young, we may be not mutually exclusive, despite. that said, a similar endevoure with my part has been called Promian Ideology. similar to tabula rasa. similar to backtracking, reverse engineering, logic, non-sense, set theory. is not a shadow agenda an agenda? like DaVinci saying all things are connected, like tabula rasa = universe, nothing = everything? good luck to you

  • http://artasith-m-nasdsnre.tumblr.com/ Simon Valentine

    A+, A*, A! ~ self-, -tis-, nounmagicadjective, -al. tis k, tis k; tiz k.

21