Repost 2014 in honor of today’s feast
I used to have a t-shirt back in college that had this on the back:
I wish I had it again.
A physics professor I had in college once said, “If there is a God, his native language is math.” Adam Drozdek, in his Beyond Infinity: Augustine and Cantor, gave me my first deeper initiation into the frightening idea. He says:
To summarize, there are three important aspects of Augustine’s discussion of the problem of infinity. First, infinity is an inborn concept which enables any knowledge. Second, infinity can be found in the purest form in mathematics, and thus mathematics is the best tool of acquiring knowledge about God. Third, God is neither finite nor infinite and his greatness surpasses even the infinite. Augustine is original in combining these three aspects in his philosophy; some of them can be found in other philosophers and theologians, but also in mathematicians.
God’s infinity is of a higher magnitude, an infinity of different kind. God is able to comprehend [the sequence of all] infinities, as he is above infinity, he is the Absolute. His infinity is above all possible temporal (and spatial) infinity; it is an infinity of infinities, whose magnitude can be dimly imagined by means of mathematical infinity. It is an infinity of infinities also in that, as St. Augustine said in City of God, “all infinity is in some ineffable way made finite to God,” since no infinity is incomprehensible to God — he can count numbers without succession of thought. God is even able to count without numbers, which assumes that there is no number equal to the quantity of all numbers, that is, no number, to use modern parlance, expressing cardinality of integers (which is aleph zero). This is no hindrance to God who is able to see the entire sequence of numbers without looking at these numbers one by one. Infinity of these numbers can be grasped in one act of comprehension.
…The concept of infinity directs our eyes toward God, and in a sense the presence of infinity in us can be considered a proof of God’s existence: we, the finite and mutable beings, could not engender that concept ; who else could do it if not God? Also, infinity in us can be appreciated and known best through mathematics, through analysis of numbers. In that sense the existence of numbers can be considered a more fundamental proof of God than cosmological argument – since the world would not exist without numbers – and teleological argument – since the design and order in the world can be recognized only through numbers, since order and design are due only to numbers. Therefore, although ontological proof, announced already in Psalm 19:1 that “the heavens declare the glory of God,” has always been considered most important, Augustine could consider mathematical proof as the most fundamental: God exists since the number and infinity exist in our mind.
As a friend of mine aptly phrases it, reading Drozdek makes me feel like a dog watching TV: engrossed but uncomprehending.
With an eye to inciting some additional wonder, let me share two videos about math related to theological thinking. The first, about 4 minutes long, posits that the mind of God is mathematically, and so musically, inclined. The second, which my oldest son sent me, is about 9 minutes long and offers a persuasive approach to “falling in love with math.” I could never imagine such a thing. After watching it, I was convinced also that the speaker held a golden key to an effective catechesis seeking to awaken love in a people grown bored with (what they think is) Christianity. In St. Augustine’s Catholicism, faith-thinking is also good thinking that helps us navigate a world rife with fallacious reasonings. Faith opens to us an intelligible world in which faith and reason beat their wings in harmony, allowing our minds to soar in contemplating a world stamped by the mind of God, the divine Logos.
In the beginning was the Word [ho Logos],
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God;
all things were made through him,
and without him was not anything made that was made. — John 1:1-3
My son commented on this last video, “This is totally how the Church should approach its messaging.” Yes.