An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Exploring the World of Mathematics by John Hudson Tiner

Exploring the World of Mathematics
From Ancient Record keeping to the Latest Advances in Computing

John Hudson Tiner
Master Books, 2004 (third printing 2008)
ISBN 978-0-89051-412-2
157pp, pbk

This book is part of a series by Tiner "Exploring the world of ..."; others are on Medicine, Planet Earth, Chemistry, Physics and The World Around You. The book is obviously written for the Christian market and the American market.

In a sense this book aims to do too much. It covers a wide historical period and a wide range of mathematical concepts for 'students of several different ages and skill levels'.

Tiner starts off by looking at measuring the years and then the hours. Measurement is dependent upon number, so I would have thought a better first place to start would be the numerical aspect but that isn't dealt with until chapter 7.

There are one or two math errors: eg 'Every time a number is multiplied by 1,000, three zeros are added, and a new name is given'. Not if the number is 1.3! Such an approach destroys place value concepts - not a great idea in an introductory maths book!

Bible verses are interspersed - sometimes without apparent reason. This approach tends to view Christianity as an icing on the mathematics cake. There are side boxes on topics such as Hebrew and Jewish Calandar of the Old Testament and Cubit in the Bible. Peter's catch of 153 fish (Jn 21:11) is examined - 153 = 1^3 + 5^3 + 3^3. However, little attempt is made to fully integrate Christianity and mathematics.

There are a number of missed opportunities. For example, on the decimal system, Tiner applauds the United States for being the first country to adopt a decimal money system and showed its advantages and yet they haven't embraced full metrification - it would have been interesting to have explored why not. And in the context of decimals how are we, in light of a Christian worldview, to  interpret Tobias Dantzig's assertion in Number The Language of Science (1930):
... man counts by tens, his ten fingers will remind him of the human origin of this most important phase of his mental life. So may the decimal system stand as a living monument to the proposition: Man is the measure of all things."

There is a helpful discussion on the Golden ratio - Tiner noted that the dimensions of Noah's Ark in (Gn 6:15) and the Ark of the Covenant are close to the Golden ratio; but why is 1.618 so prevalent in creation?

Pythagras' absolutisation of number and the Greek rationalisation of proof are not really explored - this would have been a good opportunity to show how worldviews shape mathematics.

The Christian faith of mathematicians is also largely absent. Some mathematicians who are Christians are mentioned, but little is made of their faith and in the portrayal of Newton one could be forgiven for thinking that Newton was an orthodox evangelical rather than a unitarian.

I have perhaps been a little over critical; and it is undoubtably much better than the Christian maths book I haven't written!! There is much of use in this book and it may provide the Christian teacher with some useful ideas. It is well laid out and illustrated with line drawings and photographs. It would make for a good resource for the school library or Christian teacher.

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