Would Math Exist Without Us? Ctd

Dec 15 2013 @ 12:12pm

A reader writes:

I found your post quite interesting. This was a concept that I was first introduced to by my philosophy professor in college. As a matter of fact, I was once again reminded of this concept when I recently read one of your posts titled “The Inevitability in Beauty,” and have been thinking about it ever since. It seems like much of what we may erroneously believe was a work of creation was in fact a work of discovery. Pythagoras discovered the Pythagorean theorem, and Beethoven discovered his Fifth Symphony, as much as Newton merely discovered gravity, as opposed to creating it. I would even go so far as to say that individuals like Nelson Mandela, Harvey Milk, and Susan B. Anthony merely discovered new dimensions of justice. What they fought for would have been just whether or not they actually fought for them, or whether or not they were even born. Finally, as someone who is interested in Islamic Mysticism, and enjoys your Sunday posts because of your interest in Christian and Catholic Mysticism, I will go so far as to say that Jesus discovered grace. God’s grace already existed before the birth of Jesus, and Christ’s genius was in recognizing the immense love that God already had for his children.

Another has a very different take:

You do know that this is an old argument against religion – one used by Hitchens, among others? On the wild chance you were unaware of it, the argument goes like this:

If you wipe out all trace of humanity and a new race of intelligent animals learn to use tools and agriculture and build cities, they will recreate science and math identically to ours.  Maybe not in the same order, but they will discover the same truths that we did.  They will have Newtonian physics and they will have evolution and they will link bacteria and viruses to particular illnesses.  They will come up with geometry and calculus that match ours exactly.

However, there will not be a Christianity; there will not be an Islam; there will not be a Buddha. There may be some similarities between their history of religion and ours – an evolution from nature spirits to pantheon gods to monotheistic religions.  But the specific details would be different.  Things like the trinity seem particularly unlikely to be replicated in this new world even while something as complex as calculus will be.  It is the nature of the differences between the two systems, one that requires evidence and replication and the other that requires none.

But this is not an argument against religion. It is an argument for ecumenism.