“I am a mathematician”

When people wonder what makes me write the way I do, I want to explain it all in four words: “I am a mathematician.”

I want to say this because it explains everything. But it also risks meaning the opposite of what I want it to mean. That is because there are two kinds of mathematician, and they are opposites. 

There are two ways of loving mathematics. One is because it teaches absolute truth and if you remember what you have been taught then you will always be right. The other way is to love maths is because it talks about truth. Truth is truth is truth. No truth is true because mathematics says it is. Mathematics has revealed it and described it: it has not made it true.

This is of course the age-old dichotomy between authority and reason, in slightly different clothes. It works itself out in various ways. If you love authority, you need to memorise what authority tells you. If you love reason, you need remember nothing. You only need to be able to work out truths as and when you need them.

I am the second kind of mathematician. I love reason. When I am told something that is true, I love knowing that it is true for a reason, and I love knowing that if I ever questioned it, I would have a chance of discovering what the reason is, rather than just being told “it is true because somebody says so“.

To examine the Creed with the eyes of a mathematician of the first kind would be strange and a little bit ridiculous. The authority of mathematics is not theological authority and the statements of the Creed are not mathematical theorems. But with the eyes of a mathematician of the second kind, the Creed opens vistas of delight. The Creed is full of truths, and since all truths make sense, these truths must make sense too. 

It is a joy to be able to look forward to seeing what sense they make. The attempt may be successful or it may not be; but it is delightful in itself. Both success and failure are good, because whether one succeeds or whether one fails, one is following the basic principle that the truth of God, like all other truth, makes sense.