Friday, June 02, 2006

Mathematical Faith

In preparing for my first graduate course in logic, I was halted in my tracks when I happened upon this statement from the author of my textbook:
"Mathematics, which had reigned for centuries as the embodiment of
certainty, had lost that role. Thus we find ourselves in a situation where
we cannot prove that mathematics is consistent. Although I believe
in my heart that mathematics is consistent, I know in my brain that I will not be able to prove that fact
, unless I am wrong."

Why is this way of thinking acceptable when it comes to math, but scorned in matters of religion? I.e., I also believe very strongly that God is real and Jesus is his Son, even though it is impossible to prove such things. Should unprovable beliefs be abandoned?

Note: the author displays a rather confused understanding of belief -- we do not believe some things with our heart and some with our brain (in fact, brains do not believe anything). Either you believe something, or you do not. That belief may be either strong or weak, justified or unjustified, and reasons or sources involved in forming the belief may vary. Additionally, all my beliefs reside in my mind.


Blogger Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

In a bit of a tangent, are you familiar with Alain de Lille's "Plaint of Nature?" He mixes mathematics and faith to condemn unnatural sexual activity. It is a dull read, but an interesting approach counter-intuitive to our culture's understanding of both math and faith.

6:16 PM  
Blogger wiploc said...

Are you putting religion in a class with taste? You prefer theism to atheism in the same way you prefer, say, hamburgers to tacos, as a matter of personal preference rather than of logic?


12:36 PM  
Blogger chris said...

Nokes -- I'm not familiar with that book, but it sounds fascinating. Maybe you could offer a precis on your blog.

Wiploc -- No, and no. I can see how it might sound that way, though. I guess I would say that even on a good day, I'm only 90% confident that Christianity is true, because it can't be PROVEN. I think an outstanding case can be made for it, but not in the same way that I can prove that water is composed of H2O. There is an element of trust that says,"Even though I can't see how it ALL works or how EVERY question will be answered, I'm going to trust that it's true." (That's not the same as saying, "Even though this system is laden with contradictions and inconsistencies, I'm going to take a leap of faith.")

1:40 PM  

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