Is God a Mathematician?: Book Review
Is God a Mathematician? by Mario Livio © 2009, Simon & Schuster
There are many ways one can describe the doing of mathematics. Here is one. Start with a mixture of ideas that you already know, then create a related but new idea, add it to the mix, stir and discover the consequences.
In other words, mathematics is neither all creativity nor all discovery but a recursive application of both. The created becomes the vector to the discovered. And, metaphorically speaking, the sum of the vectors rarely leads one on a great circle route for the reason that the destination itself must be both discovered and created. There you have this reviewer’s first vector for the journey to an answer to the book’s question.
God a Mathematician?
Let me put at ease any readers who tremble at the very thought of math. This is not a mathematics book. There are no mathematical prerequisites for reading the book. If you have wondered what sorts of things mathematicians think about, why they think about them, and the consequences of their having done so, this book is a good place to go for illumination. The book can be read as a history of the most significant mathematical ideas of the last 2500 years—without the reader necessarily having to understand those ideas.
How we understand and answer the book’s question has theological implications. But the book is neither about theology nor about God.
Why pose the question at all?
The answer lies in the uncanny efficacy of mathematics. It is this topic that occupies a great deal of the author’s attention. That attention alone is sufficient justification for reading this book. What is meant by uncanny efficacy? Why is it so important to humanity? Why is mathematics so uncannily efficacious? Perhaps because God is a mathematician?
For those not philosophically inclined, the historical evidence given for the efficacy is adequate reason to read the book. Philosophically oriented readers will surely enjoy walking in the footsteps of those who—since the time of Plato and Pythagoras—have given serious consideration to, and proposed answers to, the question and its ramifications.
The author is a cosmologist. This quote from his preface gives us his intentions in writing the book:
In this book I humbly try to clarify both some aspects of the essence of mathematics and, in particular, the nature of the relation between mathematics and the world we observe.
That he achieves his objective very well is adequate justification for recommending the book.
Founder of adventistalumni.com, is a retired mathematician, computer scientist, and former faculty of Andrews University.