Why I Love Math and Science

Open all links in this post at your own risk.  That means you, humanities and liberal arts majors.  (In all seriousness, though, some background knowledge is necessary to understand the details of this post.  I think you can understand my point, though, math geek or not.)

As much as I am searching right now, sometimes I find solace in the silliest little things.  Today, it was in the majesty of the created order: one inconceivably weird, the other unimaginably complex and perfect.

I’m in second-year calculus, learning about different types of series and how to identify them and extrapolate information from/about them.  Today’s lesson was on alternating series.  Towards the end of the lecture, this is how the conversation proceeded:

Teacher: “Oh, and this last example here is really weird.  This type of series can converge to multiple values.”

Class: “What?!”

Teacher: [demonstrates on board]

Class: [shock and awe]

Teacher: “I told you, it’s weird.  I don’t even totally understand why it does this.”

Class: “How is that possible?  Could you keep doing it so you get half of that, and then half again, and again?”

Teacher: “Yes, you could do that.  Like I said, it’s very weird.”

Class: [more shocked/confused stares] “But what about graphically?  I mean, if you represented all the points, what would this even look like?”

Teacher: “Go ask your college math teacher.”

Our school is blessed to have a calculus teacher with decades of experience–arguably, one of the best and longest serving in the region.  The fact that he described this mathematical phenomenon (you might even call it a “trick”) as “weird” means that it really is strange.  In a sense, it was like telling us that 1+1=2…and 4 and 6 and 8 and… (not quite that extreme, but you get my point).  But rather than inducing total confusion in my mind (“What?!  I thought math was supposed to be purely black-and-white!  None of those shades of grey!”), my first thoughts were actually, “That is very strange, but very cool, in an odd sort of way.  I wonder why God did that?”

The past couple of days in AP chemistry, we have been slogging through different theories of how atomic bonding works.  It’s interesting, but very confusing at times.  Again, the dialogue in class:

Teacher: “So, up until a few years ago, we thought we understood how the hybridization of octahedral and trigonal bipyramid structures happened, but then scientists did more experiments and now we know that they don’t work the way we thought.  Only problem is, we don’t know how they do work.”

Class: “So we know more, but actually, we know less?”

Teacher: “Pretty much, yes.”

[after a while]

Teacher: “Which do you think is better: the molecular orbital theory or hybridization?”

Class: “Neither?”

Teacher: “Right.  Each describes a different part of the same phenomenon.  Do you think there’s a unifying component?”

Class: “Probably…”

Teacher: “There probably is, but we just don’t know what it is–yet.  But maybe one day scientists will discover something that will give us one theory to explain the whole thing.”

[pause]

Teacher: “So, what does all this information about molecular orbitals and hybridization tell you about God?”

Class: “That He’s bipolar! [laughter]  That He’s not a simple Person.  That His plans are complex.  That He has a really high IQ.”

Teacher: “Every time I study this, I think about how amazing it is that when God was creating everything, He thought of this stuff for the first time ever, and made everything so it worked out.  I can sort of try to understand two theories we have about bonding, but there’s a missing link.  The verse that comes to mind is the one in Isaiah that says ‘Your thoughts are higher than my thoughts.’  God made all this for the first time, and He made it so we could learn about it.”

When the teacher started to say “So, what does all this information…”, I thought she was going to ask about how it connects to some other topic–kinetics or reactivity or something.  Her question about God startled me, not because we don’t talk about God in school (we do, it’s a Christian school), but because I wasn’t expecting it in the middle of a lecture about an apparently purely logical, physical topic.  Sure, God comes up plenty during humanities courses and some of the “soft-er” natural sciences (e.g., biology regarding creation/evolution/intelligent design, the Imago Dei, etc.).  But chemistry?  Well, duh, God created the chemical order, too.  It is the “central science”, after all.

Today is one of those days, which have come much more rarely this year than I would like, where I truly love attending a Christian school.  Though sometimes I hate the forced and superficial nature of the discussion, I love being allowed/able/encouraged to discuss any and all subjects in relation to God.  Even if my own spiritual perspective is in a bit of tension right now, it’s encouraging to see teachers express their own beliefs, directly or indirectly, through their subject and their passion for their subject.

So, after all this talk of math and science, I think it would be most appropriate to conclude with a word from Galileo, written in a letter to the Christina, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, in 1615, during the heat of the Scientific Revolution:

“But I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.”

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