Is the Universe Made of Math?

OK, don’t get me wrong: I love mathematics.  It is a subject I hold near and dear, and in its poetry and its musical lyrics I see the telltale handwriting of the Master Poet and Musician.  I really do like math.  If you’ve read this blog at all in the past, you’ve probably figured that out.

That said, I didn’t know quite what to make of the interview I came across while doing some research on origin-of-the-universe topics.  It was in an issue of Discover magazine from last year (online version published June 16, 2008), and had a title that certainly grabbed my attention: “Is the Universe Actually Made of Math?”

I am reminded of a #2 Spokesman Club speech I gave once in which I fantasized about looking over God’s shoulder as He created the world, only to find that He was writing mathematics in a book.  However, the word picture I was attempting to paint was not meant to be a strictly literal one!

Those of you who don’t mind walks down somewhat esoteric alleys might give the link above a click.  I just want to note here some thoughts that come to mind.

The attempts by scientists to come up with a universe that requires no divine origin — not an endeavor invented in our day, to be sure — have always struck me as humorous.  And I try to stay rather up to date with them: infinite multiverses, branes & bulks, and all that good stuff.  And Max Tegmark’s ideas about a mathematical universe — which he discusses in the interview — have been around for a few years.

Now, when I say humorous, I don’t mean that the concepts are without merit, and I do enjoy reading about them and adding my own meager speculations on their values and insights.  But Mr. Tegmark’s “Level IV multiverse” mathematical universe hypothesis really takes the cake, methinks.  It is hard to imagine a multiverse theory getting any “multi-er” than this one, in which all mathematically conceivable universes — the Ultimate Ensemble — actually do exist and in which mathematics, itself, is the ultimate and fundamental reality.

Don’t get me wrong (have I really said that twice?) — when it comes to mathematics, I am generally of the Platonist variety.  Not that I’m a fan of Plato (Mickey’s dog?); rather, I believe that the truths of mathematics exist objectively and are discovered, explored, and studied by mathematicians (the contrary view being, essentially, that mathematics is an invention of mankind).  Some might view the comments of Max Tegmark in the Discover article to be the ultimate, unavoidable conclusion of such a view, but I do not.  I see mathematics as the creation of God and its existence (and it’s “unreasonable effectiveness” in describing the world) as an expression of the character of God — an orderly and logical God (cf. 1 Cor. 14:33a, 40) who invites us to look into His creation and see His signature there (Rom. 1:20, cf. Proverbs 25:2).

Most scientists these days seem determined to avoid seeing that signature, which is a pity though not to be unexpected in these end times (2 Peter 3:3, cf. Rom. 1:21, 25).

I do look forward to being on the other side of the veil to be pulled back for true Christians at the time of the first resurrection (Rev. 20:5) — finally knowing, just as I am now known (1 Cor. 13:12) — and seeing the real truth about the origin and nature of the physical universe.  Until then, I will enjoy articles such as this one in Discover, watching smarter men than I am coming up with fascinating and fun-to-read-about ideas, all the while seeming to somehow avoid the ultimate conclusion to which their intellectual journeys should take them.

19 thoughts on “Is the Universe Made of Math?

  1. faithsome

    When we calculate we rarely communicate, when we apply calculus we dissect, object, neglect , to understand that the human being needs to be set free from the need to have a justification and move on into the revelation that calculus brings us weapons, not an exact science, brings more questions that answers (and we don’t even have the answers as to where we have been nevermind where we are heading! and at the end of the day is just ahuge wind up. The universe was created by someone who calculted. Why because thats all we see. Wealing and dealing with money, each other, time, effort, etc. etc., etc.,,

    So should you wish to continue to calculate for your daily manner may I suggest that you leave us out of it. WHY.

    To calculate is to apportion and the results of that are seen across the globe, Poverty in the East (leading to a hate of the west) is just one result and so on.

    LOVE IS UNCONDITIONAL Calculus is not.

    It leaves yet more and more conditions behind it to be solved and we need love not science to guide us through the labyrinth of mans calculated inhumanity to man because that is what we have been brought to in the search for more understanding.

    Allow me to annoint your mind and gift you heart, that way at least you will put heart into your calculating.

  2. Hey, faithsome, why all the calculus hate? Math is used to make weapons, sure, but also medicines & music, or baby diapers & basketballs. Hating calculus is like hating a waterfall, or — for that matter — hating a hammer.

    However, I do agree that we need love — if you mean the love of God and all that this entails (1 John 5:2-3). If not, then it is not a love that will last, nor ultimately produce a better world, which seems to be what’s on your mind.

  3. wisdom

    Hi wallacegsmith.

    When you want to go beyond, and you seem to want to then calculus is not the answer love is. They can’t both live in the same place.

    Jesus never calculated anything. He was Lead. That means he was lead in the body mind and spirit, why:

    Because the father was his source, he the EMPTY VESSEL.

    Jesus was the Healer:

    He whooped that spirit that held his people captive. Medicine only goes so far, my father passed over with cancer so thats proof enough for me.

    He was the remedy to all our ills, possessed, poor, ill in both mind and spirit etc., I worked in a mental Health unit so came to know ‘ sickness of the mind’, so to speak.

    He was the love we all need and I knew in the circumstances above that he never created that kind of circumstance, the enemy did and that he has been trying to heal us ever since from his ways.

    So calculus did’nt give me the answer. HE DID.

    Enjoy your maths but at the end of the day it won’t be enough, and thats when you will really find out who he is


    God Bless

  4. wisdom

    I can ‘hear the question.

    So why then didn’t he heal your father and save his life. (Is a question that many of those who love him ask)

    He did, just not in the way I expected. His will not mine.

    He didn’t leave it there though, He showed me why he had ansUwered in that way and I loved him even more.

    To calculate is to have intention and mans intentions are not always in keeping with his. Until they are we are all in danger from mans intentions to …………………………..

  5. The physical universe operates by concrete laws, and a lot of that is discoverable through mathmatics. An expression of God’s design, if you will.

    Since human beings can use math for good or evil, math is neither good nor evil, in and of itself (on a human plane). It’s simply what is.

    Human kind was built to explore the physical surroundings our universe. That does not negate the need for God.

  6. Well, let’s see….

    God is a God of addition. He wants us to add virtue to faith, then add knowledge to that, then temperance and more. (II Pet. 1:5-7)

    God is a God of subtraction. He sent Jesus to take away our sins. (Heb. 10:11-12)

    God is a God of multiplication. He told Noah to do that, after the flood. (Gen. 9:1, 7)

    But I’m not really sure if God is a God of long division. Look at all the church splits.

  7. Richard: Cute! However, God is, indeed, a God of division. Elohim divided the waters from the waters (Genesis 1:6-7) and Christ came to divide (some) families (Matt. 10:34-36).

    faithsome/wisdom: Wow. I do appreciate your apparent desire to enlighten me. But, I’m not sure what in the world you think I was saying, so let me make a few things clear.

    No one here is saying that salvation is available from anyone but Christ or that mathematics is somehow an answer to spiritual need.

    Perhaps you are simply speaking in an exaggerated fashion — like someone saying “I don’t need food or water, all I need is God!” as a means of saying that the need for God is the greatest and most important of their needs. That is, one does need food and water to live (God created us to need these things), but these needs are secondary to one’s need for God (we need Him more). So the first part of the statement is literally false but through its exaggeration it attempts to make a true point.

    OK — that said — yes, it is true that Jesus Christ came to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God, that He died to pay the penalty for my sins and to reconcile me to God, that He was resurrected and is now living His life inside me through His Spirit that I may be saved and born into His Family at His coming. If you are trying to communicate any of this, then you won’t get any disagreement here.

    But if you are also trying to suggest that I am saying calculus provides such things, you have misunderstood the post. If you think that I am saying that my “maths” will be “enough” — I am not. If you are saying that I have suggested calculus gives anyone “the” answer — I am not.

    (And, just in case you weren’t exaggerating for effect, yes, Jesus very likely did calculate a great deal, and not just as the Creator of a universe rich in calculation, but also literally in this realm as the (adopted) son of a carpenter who very likely did not leave such work to begin His ministry until He was about 30 years old.)

    So… I rather suspect that you simply saw an opportunity in this post to express what you believe to be some spiritual thoughts and priorities in a way that either (1) puts down what you (mistakenly) believe to be an inappropriate focus on mathematics, or (2) takes advantage of the topic of this post by using it as a foil for exaggerated statements to be poetically understood.

    In either of these cases, I have clearly devoted more time to your comments than is necessary! 🙂 Still, I’ve appreciated the chance to use your comments as my own foil and to stretch my fingers a bit.

  8. A friend of mine lent me the book “Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty” by Morris Kline last semester. Though it’s almost two and a half decades old now (and I’m not sure you’ll be able to find it anywhere), I’d recommend it as a good history of the interplay between mathematics, philosophy, religion, and science throughout the centuries.. all the way back to the Greeks. Major thinkers in every age have each had their own unique perspective concerning this topic.

  9. Craig

    Hoping you would get on the math bandwagon again soon! I am a long way from your ability to use math, but certainly in the same league for appreciation.

    God has spiritual laws for mankind, which provide order from chaos. Physical laws govern the universe, which bring order out of chaos. Numbers (numb3rs?), math, and geometry describe the physical and possibly the spiritual creation! Hence we see the signature of God the Mathematician all over His creation. Mathematics is only a symbolic notation to describe physical laws.

    God is the ultimate lawgiver and mathematician (Isa. 33:22; Jam. 4:12).

    God is the ultimate numerologist. The numbers 2, 3, 7, 12 are throughout scripture.

    God is the ultimate geometer (Job 38: 5; Isa. 40:12, etc.).

    I know you are a fan of e. Personally I find it is too clinically sterile, hence my favorite is phi. Five (specifically root 5) seems to be the signature of growth in nature. It just blows my mind that the “golden section” is found in everything from our DNA to the Ark of the Covenant which held the 10 Commandments and represented God’s throne! I am also a fan of fractals.

    It is amazing that humans cannot see the signature of perfect intelligent design thought the creation. I think we will have a great deal of fun teaching people about God the Creator during the Millennium.

  10. Howdy, Mr. Marley —

    Clinically sterile? Pish posh! While I greatly appreciate phi (or φ), it still does not hold a candle to e in my eyes. 🙂

    That said, given that you are a fan of the golden ratio, φ, you absolutely must visit if you have not before.

    It mentions the same (apparent) connection between the Ark and φ (I say “apparent” because the ratio of the Ark’s proportions only approximate φ, though it’s as close as you can get with such a simple description, differing only by 3 parts in 100) — noting as well that the same ratio was present in the altar and in the Noah’s Ark, AND noting these two gems:

    1. If one plots the colors of the spectrum by wavelength, the distances between the three colors blue, purple, & scarlet form a golden ratio — these three colors being the colors of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:1, et al.).

    2. The number of the beast? Hey, wouldn’t that be a sign of the beast? And, hey, “sign” sounds like “sine” — as in the Trig function. And, hey, sin(666°) = -0.80901699. And, hey, that is: sin(666°) = –φ/2.

    So, 666 might be the number of the beast. But sin(666°) is apparently the anti-phi. 🙂

    So, if you haven’t been to that website, check it out and have fun! Though something tells me that a φ-phile like you has probably already come across it.

  11. Computers ARE PEOPLE!!! Interesting the wartime efforts in calculating and communicating became the home computer and Internet.

    Math is a tool. The universe is predictable, and math a means of predicting missile trajectories. People wanted weapons and math was a tool to the ends. Math is also useful in agriculture. Self-interest (greed if you rather) can be used to maximize yield, leading to extraordinary precision. Too often, “Wealing and dealing with money” is breaking the 8th commandment. Without profit, there is no motivation to produce, nor means to buy.

    Now that “mathematical universe hypothesis”…

    From carpentry (or any trade really), comes “measure twice, cut once.”

    Now that’s a phunny game with phi there.

  12. Craig

    Well, we will just have to differ on this one. Only a mathematician would love e! But then I said that God is a mathematician so I guess you and He have much more in common that I heretofore realized.

    I was aware of the site you mentioned, but this “anti-phi” 666 nonsense is too much to take. The golden-ratio tabernacle colors are VERY interesting.

    Here is a site for you, by a math. professor:

    Page 2, “The Golden section in Nature” is especially fascinating.

    Good luck on your love of e! LOL

  13. Norbert

    Is the Universe Made of Math?

    A question like that, I can see two possible observations. Some people understanding it along the lines of, ‘creation(the universe) is made of creation(math)’. It perhaps can be a prelude to an attempt that subtley insinuates, ‘there is no God’. While others interpret the question along the lines of, ‘why the very evident relationship between a visible universe and it’s expression in math?’

    The latter is how I see it, pretty much another way of saying “”When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place -” (Ps 8:3) It’simply amazing and awe inspiring how it all could work, even to those who have greater grasp of the mathematical mechanics.

    It reminds me of a Farside cartoon. Where two ants are lying on their backs on top of a mushroom, gazing into huge star studded night sky. Then one of them says to the other,”Doesn’t that make you feel small and insignificant?”.

    But when it comes to that question in practical common sense terms relative to who I am or anyone else as a person. Well… The possiblity for a someone to have huge IQ, understand advanced physics and string theory while still commiting the most heinous of crimes does exist. Bascially by “math alone”, no matter how right it’s reflection, it cannot impart to me or anyone else the righteousness that counts. (1 Corinthians 13).

  14. Howdy, Norbert —

    Great comments! Regrettably, I suspect that the former conclusion you discuss (“there is no God”) seems the more likely thought behind such proclamations. And odd, too — at least to me — since such possibilities suggest to me quite the opposite conclusion.

    I agree with a statement I once read that in belief there is always an element of will involved. Facts, alone, can never be enough — we must also have such a will that is willing to be open to the most reasonable explanations and suggestions. Among most of those, today, who are exploring questions such as these, I fear that the descriptions given by Paul in Romans 1:21 & 28 likely apply: “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God… [and] they did not like to retain God in their knowledge…”

    Thanks for your comments!

  15. Brandon

    Numbers are everywhere…. Numbers and their properties are simply representations of this finely tuned bunch of matter called “The Universe.” It’s a way of measuring and a way of organizing so that we can understand not only numbers…but the essence of everything..and the mind behind it. Which is God, thats my two cents…

  16. Pingback: Question for Atheists: Why something rather than nothing? « Thoughts En Route

  17. Norbert

    Hi Wallace,

    Well I just browsed across an interesting read, strangely enough it involved math, the universe and the Bible. Somehow I remembered this blog entry too. 🙂 Seems an arguement can be made that the universe is no longer expanding as some calculations previously suggest it has to. And the author finishes up using scripture.

    “On the basis of this examination of Scripture, it therefore appears that, from the use of the past time context, God stretched out the heavens at the time of Creation, and that the action was completed then and is not continuing. This implies that the universe is not currently expanding, but is static, in line with the scientific evidence presented above. If this is indeed the case, we need to conform our cosmological modeling to these precepts.”

    I guess if you’re ever twiddling your thumbs and have an hr to spare, the article makes for an interesting, sometimes eye-crossing read that includes calculations and later the use of hebrew! It can be found here.

    Sharpen your pencil, or do mathematicians still use them????

  18. Howdy, Norbert —

    Thanks, again, for commenting. I haven’t taken the time to look at the math (yes, some of us do still use pencils!), but I’ve heard of the possibility of quantized red shift before. However, I’ve never found the connection between the “stretching out” verses and the hypothesis of a Big Bang to be as solid as “creation scientists” tend to state. Not that I dismiss it outright, just that I don’t see it is so “obviously” solid. And it seems to me that many “creation scientists” tend to cherry pick; for instance, I don’t see many of them fixating on these verses comments about the “spreading out” of the earth in the same way (though perhaps I missed it–easy to imagine!), yet the “stretching out” of the heavens and the “spreading out” of the earth seem to be parallel statements that they should give equal weight. (And even if I did connect those verses to a Big Bang, I don’t think that he makes a completely conclusive argument that the verses would entirely preclude further expansion.)

    I’ll have to look at his equations and references later. Thanks for pointing it out!

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