Math, Truth, and Wonder

Dr. Gaelan Gilbert, Headmaster

It is one of the axioms of classical education that mathematics provides a solid basis for recognizing the reality of objective truth. In a world of competing social and moral perspectives, mathematics offers stability in its reliance on consistent laws and logical principles. Math suggests that there is an inherent order to the created universe which human reason can access and, to an extent, comprehend. Mathematics is the language human beings use to understand that rational order embedded within the created world. 

The ancient Greek mathematicians, like Euclid, Pythagoras, and Archimedes, thought so, too. Like all sciences, mathematics has a history. It is a discipline of knowledge whose advancements can be studied and understood as developments that cumulatively build on the achievements of thinkers in the past. While it is true to say that mathematicians discover truth, rather than inventing it, at the same time there is an undeniable process in the improvement of the linguistic and symbolic tools and methods used in the mathematical discovery of truth. This improvement is part of the adventure of history – and knowledge.

The Math curriculum at Christ the Savior Academy – Singapore Math – is among the most advanced and successful in the modern world. Yet Singapore Math also fits nicely into a framework for teaching math within a classical educational approach. This is no accident: among the seven liberal arts disciplines, two are directly mathematical – arithmetic and geometry – and two others rely on math for the accuracy of observation (astronomy) and composition (music). From a classical perspective, the teaching of math should emphasize four related principles: 

  1. Concrete to Abstract
  2. Part to Whole
  3. Historical development 
  4. The place of wonder and beauty 

A classical/Singapore math approach also recognizes that a robust sense of numeracy is gained through analytic and narrative techniques, which supplement memorized math facts. If students grasp the concrete/spatial aspect and partial aspect of an integer, they are all the more enabled to think in multiple, agile ways about how to calculate and problem-solve. Sheer memorization is vital – but it’s not enough. 

Mathematics provides a solid basis for not only a wide variety of careers, but for an understanding of the created world and its inherent, if mysterious, order. For the ancients, the discipline of mathematics was a preparation for being initiated into deeper levels of wonder and understanding about the beauty of creation. For Christians, who put their faith in Jesus Christ the Logos, mathematics can be a way of not only learning with our God-given reason to use the created world responsibly for improving human lives, but also of searching for and finding the Creator in His works. Nature itself is, as St Maximos the Confessor taught, one of the two “books of God” – the other being Scripture. The better we learn mathematics, the better we shall be able to read “nature” as a book of God, and see in both its complex intricacy and also its colossal immensity, the hand of Him through Whom all things were made (John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-17).