Math is often called the language of the universe. From the infinitesimally small to the infinitely large, math helps us understand and describe the world around us. But why is math so effective at describing the universe? Is it purely a human construct, or does math have some deeper significance? In this article, we’ll explore the idea that math is actually the language of God – woven into the very fabric of creation. Looking at math from a theological perspective gives us insight into its uncanny ability to reveal truths about the natural world. Join me as we delve into this fascinating concept and its implications.
The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics
In 1960, physicist Eugene Wigner wrote an influential paper titled “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.” In it, he explored a perplexing question: why is math so adept at describing and predicting physical phenomena? By all rights, the abstract equations of mathematics should have no power over concrete reality. And yet, math has proven itself, time and again, to be the most useful tool we have for understanding the universe. As Wigner wrote:
“The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.”
From Newton’s laws of motion to Einstein’s theory of relativity, math has provided deep insights into how the cosmos operates. It’s able to describe everything from subatomic particles to supernovae explosions with stunning accuracy. But why should this be? Wigner could only chalk it up to some kind of mysterious correspondence between math and the natural world.
Others, however, see a more metaphysical meaning in the unreasonable effectiveness of math. To them, it suggests math is more than just a human invention – rather, it reveals an intrinsic rationality built into creation itself. Math is not merely a useful way of modeling reality. On some profound level, it *is* reality.
This perspective is known as mathematical Platonism. It takes its name from the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who theorized that mathematical concepts like numbers and geometric forms have an independent existence beyond the physical world. In Plato’s philosophy, the physical realm is an imperfect manifestation of ideal metaphysical forms. The job of the mathematician or philosopher is to comprehend these abstract ideals.
Modern mathematical Platonists apply this viewpoint to things like sets, functions, and mathematical constants. They believe these entities exist in a non-physical realm of mathematical truth, which humans only partially grasp. When physicists discover mathematical laws governing the universe, they are really uncovering realities that already exist in this mathematical realm.
For the mathematical Platonist, math is the true reality, while physical matter is just shadows and forms imperfectly copying the ideal. Some have compared the physical universe to a computer program, with math as the software code defining the system. Just as code determines what a computer can do, the “code” of mathematics determines the structure of the cosmos.
The Mind of God
Taking this metaphor further, many mathematical Platonists equate the mathematical realm with the thoughts or mind of God. If God is the supreme creator who brought the universe into being, then the perfect mathematical laws that govern reality reflect the divine intelligence. Doing mathematics, then, is an act of glimpsing the eternal mind of God.
The 17th century scientist and mathematician Johannes Kepler wrote: “Geometry existed before the Creation. It is co-eternal with the mind of God…Geometry provided God with a model for the Creation…”
In physics, we have no idea why gravity follows an inverse square law or why the value of pi is what it is. But these mathematical constants clearly play a fundamental role in constructing reality. For the theistically-minded, it makes sense to attribute such universal mathematical truths to the mind of an intelligent Creator.
Einstein also invoked God when expressing awe at the effectiveness of math: “the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” He was amazed that humans could access through math truths about cosmic wonders we could never directly experience.
Math as the Language of God
If math expresses God’s infinitely wise mind, then it functions as a language God uses to shape creation. By revealing mathematical patterns, equations and numerical constants, God sets up the logical structure that allows physical reality to exist and operate rationally. Math doesn’t just describe the universe – it lays the foundation for the universe.
Think of the opening of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” How did God create? With physical hands and tools? Rather, God spoke: “Let there be light!” As a non-corporeal divine mind, it is through language – the articulation of ideas – that God wills creation into being. The Christian John 1 reiterates this, saying “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
If math expresses God’s perfect truths, then it can be viewed as the divine language by which God imagines and speaks the cosmos into existence. The universe operates according to mathematical logic because that logic flows from the rationality of the Creator. Math is not merely a useful tool. Rather, it faithfully reflects the intelligent authorship of God.
Implications of Math as God’s Language
If math is indeed the language of God, this has profound implications:
1. Creation is inherently rational. Since math proceeds by careful reasoning, a math-based creation is intelligible through logical analysis. This underlies the success of science in decoding the cosmos through orderly observation and mathematics.
2. Human math partakes in divine reason. Our ability to “speak the language” of the universe mathematically implies human reason reflects God’s reason. No mere animal could discover calculus or relativity!
3. Math points beyond the material to the metaphysical. If math transcends physicality, then practicing mathematics is a way to access deeper levels of reality – a prayer beyond words. Contemplating infinity or higher dimensions stretches our minds towards the ever-greater infinity of God.
4. Science and religion share common ground. Recognizing the mathematical underpinnings of the universe provides a meeting point for science and theology to engage in fruitful dialogue. They share a common interest in pursuing the rational mind of the Creator.
5. Math unveils beauty and structure in creation. From fractals to symmetries to spinning galaxies, math allows us to glimpse the aesthetic splendor woven throughout the fabric of nature, pointing to the skillful artistry of the Creator.
Of course, viewing math as the language of God is a theological perspective. Not all mathematicians or scientists need adopt such metaphysical baggage to appreciate the effectiveness of math. But realizing that math participates in divine reason provides another avenue through which we can know the mind of God. For the prophet, poet and mystic, math unveils transcendent glimmers of the Divine.
Math’s perplexing ability to describe the universe has led many to speculate about its deeper significance. In the perspective of mathematical Platonists, mathematical truths inhabit their own realm of existence apart from the physical world. For the theologically inclined, identifying this mathematical realm with the mind of God makes sense of the effectiveness of math. Math can then be viewed as the language God uses to rationalize creation into being – weaving a cosmic symphony out of sublime symbols and equations. Practicing true mathematics, then, is more than just useful calculation – it becomes revelatory encounter with the Wisdom behind all wisdom. Math unveils the radiant vestiges of divinity shining through the universe. It expresses, in the ministry of the finite, the infinite Art of the Creator who formed all from nothing.