March 29, 2005

The Eigenvectors Declare the Glory of God

Who among us has not, from time to time, felt the need for "Christian devotionals with mathematical content"? Yet who has ever found them? Look no further: Prof. Sharon K. Robbert, chair of the mathematics department of Trinity Christian College has prepared a whole series such devotionals, to accompany courses in single-variable calculus, multivariable calculus, discrete structures, linear algebra, differential equations and statistics. Linear algebra is my favorite, but I also admire the wit which links the idea of sampling a population to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sadly, none of Prof. Robbert's devotionals reference either the natural Wisdom 11:20 ("Thou has ordered all things in measure and number and weight"), or the apt 1 Timothy 6:20-21:

O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.

Joking aside, there is something rather sad about these devotionals, simply in their own terms, because they are so shockingly bad as readings of the Bible, being based on little more than puns. (I guess it could be worse.) At first I thought this must be a joke, like the creationist science fair web page that made the rounds a while ago; but this doesn't seem to be the case. Because I try to maintain a high opinion of my fellow creatures, I still hope that Prof. Robbert is not being entirely honest on that last-linked page, and these things were the result of, say, trying to comply with an ill-conceived order from the college administration that all classes must have a Scriptural component. But I'm afraid it doesn't seem likely. It seems to me that if you were serious about the Bible being the inspired word of the God to whom you will answer at the Last Judgment, you would not treat it in this profoundly shoddy, slapdash way. Yet people like Robbert are evidently both sincere in their faith, and devoid of intellectual conscience in matters pertaining to it. I am left with a psychological puzzle, and a strong desire to read The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

Update, 30 March 2005: Two correspondents write to point to related, and well-traveled, Internet jokes. Danny Yee says he prefers Theological Engineering Exam ("25 grams of wafers and 20 ml of cheap wine undergo transubstantiation and become the flesh and blood of our Lord. How many Joules of heat are released by the transformation?"). Another, who prefers not to admit that he reads blogs, says that "if you're going to make math puns, at least make them lewd", and links to this little story about "pretty little Polly Nomial" (work safe!).

(From Dave Albers, in e-mail.)

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Mathematics; The Running-Dogs of Reaction

Posted by crshalizi at March 29, 2005 11:20 | permanent link

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