Seeing the World Differently

Discovering God’S Symmetry in Mathematics

Ted Ashton
Seeing the World Differently

I hold degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics and have spent decades as a professional computer programmer. I am not a teacher. I am not a pastor. My friends and I joke that I am a doctor, but not the kind that helps anyone. What have I to offer to God? 

Mathematicians love a universe with which few others are familiar. We explore the mathematical world as a physicist or a biologist explores the natural world, seeking to understand it, fascinated to see the beauty and order we find there. For those of us who know the Creator, we see His hand in the delightful spangling of the primes across the integers, the exquisite beauty of a fractal, the elegance of a well-crafted proof. 

Mathematicians love to find patterns. We notice, for example, that in the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7), 1 percent of the sheep needed to be rescued; in the parable of the lost coin (verses 8-10), 10 percent of the coins needed to be found, and, following the pattern into the parable of the lost son, we see Christ’s message that 100 percent of the sons needed to experience the Father’s love. We see Moses, Job, and Jesus asking God to forgive people who have not yet come to repentance, and we see that we can do the same. We notice that Jesus said that John the Baptist was Elijah (Matt. 17:11-13) and start wondering if, perhaps, there are parallels between Elisha and Jesus Himself. 

As mathematicians we deal in mathematical proof. We certainly take some things “on faith,” but we state those things up front, explicitly. After that, proofs need to follow in logical progression, simple steps, verifiable by other mathematicians. Any proof that includes “Well, I think” as one of the steps fails as a proof, and that viewpoint carries over into our understanding of the God who created mathematics. In the teen Sabbath School that I teach, one of our fundamental requirements is “Show me from the Bible.” 

That view of the world puts us in alliance with other believing scientists in countering a dangerous and damaging idea. An idea has grown in our world that science and faith are fundamentally incompatible. In some cases, that idea seems to be the only common ground that scientists and people of faith have—they agree that science and faith cannot live together, and the scientists reject faith, and people of faith look with skepticism on the truths of science. 

As mathematicians who believe that God created not only reasonable people but reason itself, we believe that, as Francis Collins said: “The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshipped in the cathedral or in the laboratory.”1 We see the love of a God who created us and our ability to think, a God who “desires man to exercise his reasoning powers,” and we thrill to learn from Him and to discover ever new beauties in His world and His word “through the illumination of that Spirit by which the word was given.”2 

1 Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2006), p. 211. 

2 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1956), p. 109.

Ted Ashton

Ted Ashton, Ph.D., is a Sabbath School teacher and Pathfinder Bible Experience coach at the Triadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church in Clarksville, Maryland. He loves to tutor mathematics students, play his cello, and count his blessings.