On Mathematical Proofs of God

There used to be a story to the effect that once in Catherine of Russia’s court in the 18th century, during on argument with the French philosopher Diderot on the existence or otherwise of God, the mathematician Euler said something to the effect that [a + bn]/c = d, therefore God exists; and that, unable to decipher the sophisticated symbolism of the eminent mathematician, the nonplused atheist Diderot left the court in embarrassment and humiliation. Historians of science have established that this was merely a story.
In any event, that scene has been repeated in different variations by many people (scientists/mathematicians) since, but with more seriousness than Euler. Riemann tried to establish divine matters through mathematics, as did Goedel. And Tippler, in his provocative “Physics of Immortality,” quoted by Prof Pickover, proved to the satisfaction of most who could not fathom his learned quotations from world-scriptures and technical physics that the soul’s immortality had finally been established beyond a reasonable doubt. What he illustrated in fact was the immortality of the debate and the obsession to PROVE God’s existence.
The statement: “Were theologians to succeed in their attempt to strictly separate science and religion, they would kill religion,” is equivalent to the declaration that if a person forgets his/her spouse’s birthday, that would end their marriage. This may be true in some cases, but it cannot be formulated as a general proposition. The future of religions lies not in hanging on to the coat-tails of empirical science for proof, respect, and recognition, but in appreciating the value and significance of transrational experiences and insights in matters spiritual, and in conceding the fallibility and finitude of the human mind when confronting the Infinite.
Also, to say that “Theology simply must become a branch of physics if it is to survive,” is as profoundly truthful as the statement that music must become a branch of Fourier analysis if it is to survive. Such statements arise from the blind veneration of reason in every dimension of human experience.
Thus, the Proofs of God carefully elaborated by medieval scholastics of the Hindu, Islamic, and Christian traditions, and the likes of Spinoza, Tippler, and Goedel in modern times, may be interesting for a handful of thinkers acquainted with logic, mathematics, cosmology or quantum physics, and also theologically inclined, but they really become laughing stock in the reckoning of those who have experienced God through love and Nature, scripture and compassion, and above all through the faith that resonates in the heart.
I am all for reason and rationality, but when one waves at me axioms and theorems, Heisenberg and quantum electrodynamics to convince me that Moses received the commandments from the Almighty out there in the Middle East, that Brahma’s egg is what hatched the universe, that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, or that the Archangel Gabriel whispered in Arabic to the Prophet, I am uncomfortable, not to say amused.
The aesthetic beauty and spiritual grandeur of mathematics are like the soul-uplifting magnificence of Art, Music, and Poetry. To contrive proofs of God through them is like using Euclidean geometry to enjoy a piano sonata.


About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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