Mathematics is the Native Language of God.
I will take, what may seem like a strange sidebar to this conversation, but I think is an essential concept and the philosophical root to this discussion. I think I’ve said this before, but I am convinced that mathematics is the native language of God.
All other texts, those that use syntax of words, which are attributed to God, are second, third or forth translations removed. While these language forms are more accessible to the masses, they also are the foggiest of mirrors and easy for misinterpretation, while mathematics is always precise. Not always understood, but ALWAYS precise.
This may not make sense to those who do not know or are gifted in the higher mathematics. I’m speaking of the world of theorem formation and mathematical proofs. This God language is even more evident in the higher mathematical world of physics. When you get into quantum physics, string theory, or the search for the Grand Unifying Theory of Physics, explaining quantum and Newtonian physics in the same equation, you quickly come face to face with the question of God (which may be defined as order, meaning or purpose). You cannot escape it. Sometimes they evade the question or put it in different terms than “god,” but it hits them directly in the face.
A few of those mathematicians still want to deny the reality of an orderly and meaningful universe so strongly that they will come up with preposterous alternatives. For example, one theory (to remove this tension of the appearance of meaning) is to imagine that billions of universes are constantly popping into existence and disappearing. These universes have no order, no meaning and are therefore critically unstable. Only this universe, the one we happen to live in, is filled with order and meaning and is therefore stable enough to continue giving us the false impression that there is only one universe and it is one of order and meaning.
One of the reasons that my perspective makes some people feel uncomfortable is that they have the false notion that we humans invented math and God is the other. That is not true. We invented spoken and written languages, the words, grammar and syntax. We also have invented arbitrary symbols to represent mathematical concepts, which are observed already in nature. However, the mathematical principles were here from the beginning and unyielding within this universe of order and meaning.
Another reason that it appears that mathematics is God’s native language, and some may see this as a stretch but please follow me, is that if you take the Bible for example (I don’t know about other texts) God “speaks” and huge changes happen in the universe. If God was speaking in human, vocal language, then it would have to become some type of powerful magic, like in a Harry Potter story, “Hocus Pocus!” and it happens. But if it was God speaking a line of new physics into the world at creation, say the principle of weak nuclear forces, then profound changes would occur, so profound that our mortal human minds couldn’t even begin to predict the outcome.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not know these higher forms of math or am I gifted in them. But I can appreciate them in the same way I can stand in the Dutch Realism section of the Louvre for hours, not having a clue how the artist achieved such feat (especially the miniatures using 1 horse hair brushes), or could I ever start to reproduce their work. I have no knowledge or gift in that area but can fully appreciated the mystery of it. That’s my relationship with higher math.
I will make another wild statement, which many will find odd and some even offensive. Those people who have found God through math (and there are a small and growing clan of them, especially at the really high-end thinking theoretical physics crowd) are the luckiest theists. I say this because it is like those people who become friends after the first person studies and really knows the language of the second. If the first person never has a full command of the language of the second person, and I’ve had such relationships, the friendship remains superficial at best.
There is a narrative that is common among, almost all, religious groups I’ve spent time with. Certainly, it is a strong narrative within my Christian worldview. This is the belief that when sacred language texts come to a previously naive community, peace, love and harmony breaks out as a result. While that has rarely happened in history, far more often, the written texts are soon followed by strife, disharmony, violence, cruelty and, murder. It is because, while the language texts are far more available to the masses than the higher forms of math, they are far more easily misunderstood and misapplied and often demand a false certainty in their meaning.
The physicists come to this with far more humility, because they know that they are getting mere glimpses of God and are overwhelmed with His mystery. They never have it all figured out.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting one of those physicists, who works at the Large Hadron Collider located in CERN, Switzerland. He and several of his colleagues are Christians, but some are Hindu, Muslim and a variety of philosophical perspectives. But he shared how they all stand in an equal place, tiptoe to tiptoe, trying to peer behind the fabric of creation. They realize they are on hallowed ground and are filled with the tremendous mystery of creation hidden deep within the subatomic.
Most cultures deny their ugly histories. Christianity has some of the ugliest. People—and in my opinion, Evangelicals and Muslims are the worst—by intentionally unlearning their real history. History is well-documented, at least for 2500 years.
Some factual information is hard for us Christians to swallow such as, while the Roman persecutions (think of Nero for one) killed Christians in the thousands, the great 1500-year war between Islam and Christianity has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands (maybe a million, depending on how you count the bodies), that the deaths caused by Christians killing one another or killing non-Christians, trying to force them to follow the “peaceable” God, is in the tens of millions. It is about the disagreement of the interpretation of the texts. It depends again on how you count the bodies, but it could approach 100 million. Those deaths were often the cruelest of them all like you the dear Christian brother pouring molten lead down your Christian brother’s throat, or burning them at the stake, all over the different understanding of words and their language syntax.
But it is the problem of language and its limits and the deeply spoiled human soul. If God was only available to the few high-minded theoretical physicists, then He would be remarkably limited in His access. But with written language (verses math) the problem is of interpretation by limited people. The failure in interpretation always errors in trying to reach certainty where the texts do not. Certainty always leads to divisions, hate, and unspeakable cruelty.
I think this tendency of certainty is also part of the quest for value. We seem to have more value when we project to the world around us that we have certainty in all areas of life, and we have it with great confidence. Confidence is sexy.
It is no coincidence that when I meet up with my old Christian friends, those who hold the most certain view points on all areas of life, that they spend a lot of the time describing (when you unveil and unpack their words) all the people groups they hate on that particular day, those who have errored. Then, towards the end of the conversation, they lower their voice and tell me something very personal about their own lives, something that they could never speak of among their Christians community of “certainty friends,” because they know they would be hated by those friends if they found out. It is strange.
I will make one more odd statement before I leave this part. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to eat in the private homes of Christians (and Muslims, few Buddhists) from Pakistan, to Dubai, to Tibet, to Oman, to Palestine, to Egypt, Greece, Europe, and America. I can say with some confidence that the further the Christian culture is removed from Palestine, the further their concept of Jesus is from the true historical Jesus. So, therefore, I have found that Christians in middle America know the true historical Jesus the least of them all, but oddly, have more confidence in their own view than all the others. That’s how we have ended up in this place where a huge swath of American Evangelicals considers Donald J. Trump as the architype for the most perfect Christian, while as least that many more would see the image of Christ as more like Gandhi. It is an absurdity.
I will take this conversation back toward the original purpose, finding value in life, when I return.
5 responses to “RAMBLINGS: Value and Meaning Part II”
I read your text, but am awaiting your further writing to see your personal belief on who you say Jesus is and how you define Evangelical Christians? Guess I’ve felt lumped in with that term as I believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God and strive to live by it, though many many times fall very short as you saw working with me at CNC!! Your points are very interesting and lead my mind into trying to understand what exactly that all means!! Hopefully you can tie it all together for this lesser deep thinker!!! Hope you are now home feeling better!!
My personal opinion, based on my reading of recent (100-year) history that “Evangelicalism originated as a theological statement to contrast the more liberal (especially European) theology. However, today, I believe it is purely a political voting bloc controlled by the Republican Party and has nothing to do with the honest theology anymore, but more about perceptions. That’s while I will never be a Republican or a Democrat again.
I don’t think math is as universal and objective as you seem to think. Math is a way of creating models that help us predict and make sense of the world around us. There is not just one math, there are many mathematical models (perhaps the British “maths” is better than the American “math”), none are universal, some are useful when used to model many situations, some useful in a select few situations, while other mathematical models are still seeking some real-world place where they can be applied. Even something as fundamental and foundational as 1+1=2 is not universally true, but is only predictive in some situations. For example, for 1 liter of water mixed with 1 L of ethanol 1+1 = 1.92. Or, if I take one fire add it to another fire, I do not have 2 fires, I have one (bigger) fire, so in this case 1+1=1. The “universal” 1+1=2 is not universal, it’s contextual. If there is some ultimate language of God I think it has to be completely ineffable. Math (or any other human language) are maps and models that we create to try to make sense of the world. I would argue that not only are our models of the world (mathematical or otherwise) never universally applicable but also that most phenomena can be modeled more-or-less equally well by different and contradictory models (think wave and particle models for the electron or ecological vs evolutionary vs biochemical explanations for any characteristic of living creatures).
On the topic of certainty– Have you read The Sin of Certainty by Pete Ens? I just finished it and thought it was quite good. The book makes some similar points to what you are.
I am sure you are correct with my error being in the attempts to over-simplify. I think, if there is one point I wanted to make is that the universe is real, it is built on a fabric of order, although (as you pointed out in the photon particle Vs wave contradiction) is not always predictable or understandable by our finite minds. However, you can extrapolate from the math (and there may be several mathematical approaches to one problem) to make predictions about the real world, which often come true. The prediction of the presence of the Higgs Bosom was from a purely mathematical prediction, that was later confirmed in the real world by the experimental physicists at CERN. When I speak of the preciseness of the math, I was probably meaning more of the laws of physics, which for most part (particle vs wave as one exception) cannot be violated. I have not read the Sin of Certainty, but it sounds very interesting. I will have to put it on my reading list. Somehow, we Christians wanted a God of mystery, but then demand that he lives in a box.
So very glad you’re back to philosophizing, Mike! Makes my pea brain “hurt so good” from the exercise and all my follow up thoughts and reasoning.