The beauty of mathematics is in its ability to model reality. Our ability to do mathematics is equally astounding. Is there a theological aspect to this experience, and does it have its limitations? This is the second part of my interview with Enrique Mota, a mathematician from Valencia, Spain. (Part 1 here)
Mathematics, for me, is beautiful. It shows me that the God I believe in is great. In mathematics we have a tool that models structures and events that are deeply embedded in the fabric of the universe. You can write the problem as an equation, add some constants, and find a solution. It works. You can make predictions and confirm them with an experiment. In the routing problems that I work on, I imagine the situation as points in a space or multispace, and they can be described mathematically through equations. We construct models of reality, and they function. They function wonderfully.
Through my faith I know that the mathematical problems that we are working on can be modelled. We can solve the equations because we have the God-given capability to do so. When we were taught mathematics we worked on problems that had been solved already. We began with a theorem, and the conclusion followed in neat little steps. But as a professional mathematician I can’t tell you how many times I couldn’t find the right proof and had to begin again. I can continue in my search for a solution because I know that there should be an answer. When I am unsuccessful it’s not the fault of mathematics, it’s my fault. In this assurance, I can work.
When we finally find the solution to a problem, when we can prove it and it is well done, it is deeply satisfying. My colleagues and I run our experiments on computers. We have to interpret the data, write up the results, and show the solution. When all that work is completed it’s like reaching the top of a mountain. The sun comes out, you enjoy the view down the valley and you feel refreshed. In describing the problem and showing the solution, you feel at ease because a sense of order has been restored.
Mathematicians try to solve problems, formulating them, investigating and trying to find properties and so on, but we know that what we are using is only a model of reality. The real problem is more complex. This helps me to understand my faith and how it applies to my life, because I think we all use models. The Bible uses different models for God and for how God relates to nature. In doing so, we are not bound to a fixed model that would never fully describe all the facets of our Almighty God. Maintaining a certain distance – not a very big one but a distance nonetheless – between the model and reality is a healthy attitude, because the model may let you down. For example, sometimes the Bible presents God as a craftsman working with his hands, but God is not just the “maker” because he also became one of us.
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