General Revelation through Mathematics
Sarah E. Lash
You may have sat in many a math class and wondered why. As a child, I would labor over long division, multiplication tables, and algebra, and shake my head at the apparent uselessness of it all. Mathematics seemed not only utterly impractical, but also entirely devoid of anything pertaining to the pursuit of Jesus Christ.
Think again. Remember Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
This verse refers to what we call general revelation in theology. A good way to think of it is the cosmological argument in apologetics. We look at the universe (cosmos), and deduce that there must be something more than ourselves—a Higher Power. In the same way, we look at the world around us, and know that there must be a God.
Note that general revelation, alone, sinply takes us to knowledge of a God. Special revelation leads us to the God, that is Jesus Christ, and salvation through Him. However, general revelation is very important; because, as we know, much of the world (past, present and future) will be judged, not by the law, but by the general revelation of the God of the universe.
All of that to say, we could then say mathematicians have a sort of special knowledge of God through His revelation of Himself in mathematics. This is to be distinguished from special revelation proper, but still a different type of revelation than a typical person may have. In the same way as a lawyer can read the letter of the law, and determine somewhat of the character and the person of the individual that wrote it, a mathematician can look at the laws of his trade, mathematics, and deduce some of the character and the person of the One who placed it into motion. Reading law gives a person an idea of the character and attributes of he who wrote that law.
The principles of mathematics are simple—nearly commonsense; and yet very, very complex. We speak of the problem of the one and the many in philosophy; this is a problem that also plagues math. There is such thing as three apples, three horses, and three cars. These are one and united in that they are all sets of three; yet they are very different things. In mathematics, we have number sets. For example, take the real number set and the integer set. They are unified in that they are numbers; they are distinct in that they are two very different sets of numbers.
You ask, what does this tell us about God? This particular concept is found in the Trinity. God is three distinct persons in one. He is united in Himself; and yet he is distinct. Again, the one and the many.
For another example of revelation of simply a Higher Power through mathematics, we can consider the concept of coherence of thought and rationality. In order for there to be a blanket standard for rational thought and logic (on which stands the whole of mathematics), there must be One that is the Great Logician. If there is not, then there is no standard by which we can judge the correctness, or lack thereof, of a balanced equation, a distribution, or a graph. One man could not be right or wrong; perhaps he simply perceives the natural world differently than another. Therefore, by the inherent ultimate truth in math, we can see the existence of a Higher Power.
Again, general revelation, through mathematics or otherwise, is not meant to bring us to a full knowledge of salvation in Jesus. That is done through the Scripture. Math adds nothing, and takes nothing away from Scripture. It simply gives a small glimpse of the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God”. (2 Cor. 4:6)
Another nerdy ramble combining two of my favorite topics; theology and math.