Fundamentalist Math

(Update, Aug. 6, 2007: Hey, this post appears in the 51st Philosophers’ Carnival. And I didn’t even submit it. How cool is that?)

I didn’t think it was possible to write a Christian math textbook. I mean, math is math, right? But this comment at Pharyngula pointed to an article in Harpers that purports to give excerpts from just such a book, Precalculus for Christian Schools, published by Bob Jones University Press.

I don’t normally read Harpers, so I don’t know whether they publish humor. And the excerpts they quoted seemed just too wacky to be true. Or would be, if it weren’t for Poe’s Law.

So I decided to be a good skeptic and check it out. One Amazon reviewer quoted the Harpers excerpts, which most likely meant he was copying from them. Then I found that BJU Press has a sample chapter online.


Nothing extraordinary. Just a typical High School math textbook. I was about to conclude that Harpers had made the whole thing up when I stumbled upon this, on pp. 24-25:

Because SSA does not always determine a unique triangle, it is called the ambiguous case. Ambiguous means open to multiple interpretations. Some people say that you can interpret the Bible in any way that you want. However, there is no ambiguity in the Bible. “No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Pet. 1:20-21). Studying the context and comparing Scripture with Scripture, submitted to the Holy Spirit, enables you to determine God’s intended meaning and avoids any private interpretations. That is why you must study and search the Scriptures daily. There is certainly no ambiguity in how to be saved from sin: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Faith in Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation.

p. 34, section 1.7: “Applications”:

A line can be described either by its slope (a ratio) or by its inclination (an angle). These terms describe the deviation from the horizontal, but the word inclination has a nonmathematical meaning also. Without Christ, man is inclined to sin. Thus it reflects our desires and attitudes toward something. There are many things that influence our attitudes about life, but for the Christian, the Bible must be the prime influence on attitudes. Psalm 119:105 says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Proverbs 6:23 states, “For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.” From these verses you can see that the Word of God should shape our attitudes (inclinations).

Wow. It’s like a fundie Eliza, one that notices a word in its vocabulary and spits out a canned script that has nothing to do with the subject at hand.

pp. 40-41 have a section called “Math and Scripture”. I see the scripture part, but the math is a bit of a stretch:

God commanded Moses to count the people so that moses could see God’s blessing. Moses used this math skill to glorify God. God prohibited David from counting the people because David wanted to glory over the size of his own kingdom. Find these two passages.

I would’ve flunked Christian math. I can’t even solve this simple exercise from p. 43:

Explain the mathematical significance of Psalm 8:6.

Unfortunately, they missed some other Bible-related math problems, such as:

Matthew 4:8 says, “Again, the devil taketh him [Jesus] up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world”. Assume that the earth is a sphere 40,000 km in circumference, and that kingdoms exist on all continents except Antarctica. Calculate the height of the mountain.

Or how about figuring out the amount of water it would take to flood the Earth? Or draw the triangle formed by the Earth, sun, and moon, when the sun stood still above Gibeon and the moon above the valley of Ajalon.

Someone, remind me again: why exactly am I supposed to treat religious ideas with respect?

8 thoughts on “Fundamentalist Math”

  1. “Someone, remind me again: why exactly am I supposed to treat religious ideas with respect?”
    When you’re created by a being infinitely more powerful then yourself, I would say that constitutes at least a margin of respect. The principle behind including biblical teaching in a seemingly unrelated math curiculum is that some parents are wanting their children to have principles of respect and trust for God applied to every area of there lives. I don’t expect you to be affected in any way by this reply to your blasphemy. How ever I want you to know that I personally will pray that you come under the influence of some one with a proper understanding of the Bible who will show you about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and its application to you life.
    Sincerely and prayerfully, Kyle Kramer

  2. Kyle:

    When you’re created by a being infinitely more powerful then yourself, I would say that constitutes at least a margin of respect.

    I assume you meant to write “deserves” instead of “constitutes”, and “modicum” instead of “margin”.

    At any rate, when this infinitely powerful being shows up, let me know. Until then, why should I take your magic man any more seriously than any number of other magic men, or indeed the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

    I personally will pray

    Out of curiosity, what do you expect will happen as a result of your prayer? Or is “I’ll pray for you” just a polite euphemism for “fuck you”?

    show you about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and its application to you life.

    Well, as I understand the Easter story, God temporarily sacrificed himself to himself in order to make a loophole in a rule that he created, thus allowing himself to forgive humans for behaving the way he always knew we would, so that he wouldn’t send us to the eternal punishment that he built (through a subcontractor).

    Am I missing anything?

  3. Thanks for alerting me to Poe’s law.

    What I’d like to see is the Christian textbook on transfinite arithmetic. Were Cantor’s initials R E by any chance? :-)

    The way I heard it, it was humans that sacrificed Jesus, not God – but I can’t give you chapter and verse on that. Never could understand how his death was a great gift to us or to God; no doubt someone will be praying for my understanding to become more ‘proper’.

  4. bob Macintosh:

    The way I heard it, it was humans that sacrificed Jesus, not God

    AIUI, God the father sent his son Jesus to Earth specifically so that he’d be killed. So although humans did the actual nailing-up, God masterminded the whole thing, as a sacrifice.

    But of course, according to the doctrine of the Trinity, Jesus is God the father. So God sacrificed himself to himself.

  5. The excerpts what was shown was indeed weird. However I think many problems in that textbook can be related to theomatics. Now I have only heard (read of) this term once (a defining article) before so please I’m no expert. The way I read it, theomatics is theology and mathematics combined, and many anomalies in the Bible can be viewed using this. By all means google it for clarity. One thing I have observed: The math is normal adding, subtracting, multiplication etc. No double integrals, laplace transforms, hidden differential equations (who can remember those?) or any of those fun ways to darken an innocent third years’ semester. It is not cutting edge math if thats what you were after, but hey, new stuffs always interesting

  6. I thought that fundamentalists believe that the earth is flat…and that the word of god, who said “the world is flat” is infallible, but for some reason when performing the trigonometry, it is proper to assume the earth is a “sphere”. Is this an exercise in DoubleThink? Those fundies are crazy.

  7. I thought that fundamentalists believe that the earth is flat…and that the word of god, who said “the world is flat” is infallible

    Naah, that’s what apologetics is for: rationalizing away the parts of the Bible that they don’t like.

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