Can you find God in numbers? Christian apologists like William Lane Craig say yes. Since God is infinite, we can study him through the mathematics of infinity.
Not so fast, says author and mathematician James Lindsay. He offers explanations for why it’s impossible to grasp infinity completely, and what our vague understanding means in the real world, in his latest book, Dot Dot Dot: Infinity Plus God Equal Folly.
In Dot Dot Dot, Lindsay looks at infinity from a mathematician’s standpoint. He then deconstructs the arguments used by Christians who capitalize on their audience’s misunderstandings about science and math and use terms such as infinity to conjure up an argument for the existence of God.
What this book reveals is that even mathematicians do not fully know all that infinity implies. When a term like infinity is widely misunderstood it becomes easier for people to use it incorrectly or to knowingly misuse it to promote their own agenda.
The implication that a God is infinite –and he must be in order for theism to make sense– is actually troublesome to theism when infinity is actually understood, or at least used in a more correct sense.
Apologists such as Craig try to shy away from answering these problems, suggesting that Gods infinity is not “in the mathematical sense” and arguing that infinity means that God is necessary. This is a weak and juvenile argument and shows that Craig, like many others, knows that if his argument were dissected, it would fall flat on its face.
Craig’s argument is based on the universe having a beginning and he often cites the work of Stephen Hawking that shows evidence for the big bang. Craig uses what it known as the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which he believes offers proof that the universe needed a cause to come into existence. Something that even Hawking himself has said is not the case.
One flaw in Craig’s argument is that in order to claim the universe needs a cause is that this would imply his God would also need a cause to come into existence. Craig skirts around this issue by using an infinite God, as a finite God would automatically disqualify his whole argument. Lindsay, throughout the book and specifically in one chapter devoted to Craig levels this whole argument and leaves the reader wondering how anyone has ever taken Craig’s claim seriously.
What we find ourselves left with are two abstract terms: infinity and God. Each is an invented idea, rather than an observed fact. Mathematicians seek to understand infinity and what it means to us, and theologians seek to exploit misunderstandings and abstract ideas to ‘prove’ their preconceived notions.
In Dot Dot Dot, Lindsay teaches you about math and doesn’t put you to sleep. He takes the time to show you the apologist arguments and explains in layman’s terms why they do not work for arguments such as the required existence of God.
The book is about math, but it is also about God, and more importantly it is about properly understanding these two terms in reality, not in an imagined theoretical reality. This is a book that will teach you the role of mathematics in religion. It’s an important topic and well written book by someone who understands how to write for the mathematically challenged.
Dan Arel is a freelance writer, speaker and secular advocate residing in San Diego, CA. He writes on secular and humanist values on subjects such as secular parenting, church and state separation, education reform and secularism in public policy. Follow Dan on Twitter @danarel.
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