As a kid, I wanted to be an astronomer, gaze into the heavens, and philosophize about the Crab Nebula and the moons of Jupiter. That youthful wistfulness lasted until, well, opening my first serious astronomy book, I came across no pictures of the Crab Nebula or the moons of Jupiter to philosophize about. Instead, there were pages and pages of mathematics—lots and lots of mathematics and equations that did to my astronomical longings what Agent Orange did to photosynthesis.

Nevertheless, I understand that one of the greatest legacies of the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution was to break the metaphysical stranglehold that notions of quality, of perfections, of natures (rocks fell to earth because it was their nature to love the earth) had on natural philosophy, and replace all that with a quantitative and mathematical methodology instead.

Sure, there was Pythagoras (Pythagorean Theorem) about 600 years before Christ, and rumor has it that this sign—”Let no one ignorant of geometry enter”—was engraved at the door of Plato’s Academy. But it wasn’t until many centuries later with Galileo and Newton et. al., did humanity overthrow this Aristotelian metaphysic and replace it with numbers, mathematics, and quantities, such as calculus (invented by Newton and Leibnitz), which brought such incredible fruitfulness, too—from computers, to rockets, and to (yes) astronomy.

And why shouldn’t math work so well? Natural philosophers (“scientist” was a later term) showed more and more the law-like expressions behind natural phenomena, and what better way than the law-like function of mathematics to describe those phenomena? The history of science abounds with mathematical formulae and equations concocted in some math dorks’ head that years, even decades later, perfectly described what some practicing scientist was then studying.

One of the most famous examples was the creation by mathematicians in the 1800s of non-Euclidean geometries that, though interesting (geometries where the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line or the angles of a triangle are not 180 degrees), were deemed useless until Einstein used them to describe his Theory of General Relativity in the early 1900s.

**Description, Not Explanation**

Notice the verb, “describe,” that I keep employing to talk about how numbers are applied in science. Numbers *describe* reality, at least from a certain angle, and at least as reality appears to our senses, even senses modified by our theory-laden machines. But describing is not explaining, not even close. Describing (for example) a cat chasing its tail simply recounts what the light reflecting off the spinning cat funnels into our brains, which convert the images into subjective and personal sensory perceptions that we interpret as a cat chasing its tail. But it explains nothing. (I am not going to touch the linguistic, logical, and metaphysical quagmire of defining “explanation,” an issue that leaves us chasing our own tails. For our purposes, “explanation” can be whatever you want.)

Now, some of the most famous mathematical formulas in science include E=mc^{2}; a^{2 }+ b^{2} =c^{2}; F=ma; V – E + F =2; e=hf; or dS ≥ 0. Describing aspects of reality, these formulas have changed our world, and yet they explain nothing. Take dS ≥ 0, The Second Law of Thermodynamics (and which might not even be a real law). This formula simply states that as energy is transferred or transformed, more and more of it tends to be wasted. But that formula describes what happens; it does not explain why that energy is wasted. Even E=mc^{2}, or “Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared,” only describes, but does not explain, the relationship between mass and energy. Though these formulae and others, again, have been mind-bogglingly fruitful, the materialist and mechanistic premise upon which they are based is not only wrong but self-refuting.

What do I mean?

**Methodology as Metaphysics**

Again, by the 1600s, the virtuosi were shedding centuries of pagan dogma (Aristotle) and superstition, all wrapped in Roman biblical “exegesis,” for a mathematical methodology that described the natural world well enough to not only make accurate predictions about the natural world but to create technology based on those predictions. The title of Newton’s masterpiece, *Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica * (*The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy* ), kind of says it all. And though his work gave a mathematical description of gravitational attraction, when asked why all bodies attracted each other according to F = (G * m1 * m2) / d^{2}, Newton famously replied, *Hypotheses non fingo.*^{[1]}

So well did this mathematical methodology describe natural law and natural phenomena that it, the methodology itself, eventually came to define all natural law and phenomena. In other words, because numbers latched so snugly onto the mechanistic and materialistic aspects of nature, people soon assumed that nature itself, indeed all reality itself, consisted only of what numbers could so snugly latch onto and describe, that is, only the naturalistic and mechanistic.

“It’s a choice,” wrote David Bentley Hart, “—and only a choice—to view the mathematical, quantitative description of physical events as reality in itself rather than as a very tenuous abstraction”^{[2]} of it. This change could be seen, for example, in La Mettrie’s 1751 *L’homme Machine *(*Man, a Machine*), a title that captured where this logic was going and where it remains to this day.

What began as a method to merely describe reality morphed into the metaphysics that defined reality and its limits. Which meant that whatever didn’t fit within its mathematical, quantitative, mechanistic parameters was, *Voilà!* simply defined out of existence, or at least defined as not “scientific,” a softer way of, if not quite denying its existence, then humbling it to the ontological status of goblins, ghosts and elves.

**Self-Refuting**

For many people, of course, defining out-of-existence goblins, ghosts, and elves, or even angels, demons, miracles, or the supernatural as a whole was just fine. But this dogmatic materialism also rules out consciousness, or even mind itself. What configuration of chemicals, molecules, atoms, quarks, no matter how accurately described by formulae and equations, can latch onto even the crudest subjective conscious experience? I’m not talking about brain waves or knowing the position of every sodium and potassium ion in every neuron involved in each thought. I’m talking, instead, about the subjective and personal experience of consciousness that dominates our existence and that can no more be described (much less explained) by the deepest understanding of brain waves, or by parsing the neuronal activity of each electron in the dendrites, than the deepest understanding (down to the electrons) of the atomic structure —[Ne]3s^{2}3p^{2}—composing the silicon atoms in an integrated circuit chip of a smartphone explains the joy one gets from listening to the device belt out Bach Sonatas or Ozzie Osbourne.

In short, the essence of human reality, of mind, of consciousness, which is not just our subjective and personal experiences of the world but our self-conscious awareness that we are having those experiences—this exists in a realm that, at least according to the materialistic premises undergirding contemporary science, should not exist. But it does, and it’s even more basic than those materialist premises themselves, which—floating about in human consciousness—are just another manifestation of the very thing that the premises deny. (Talk about self-refutation.) The idea that all reality is only materialistic and mechanical is refuted by the idea itself, which *as an idea* exists in non-materialistic and non-mechanical consciousness. Merely thinking about materialism refutes it.

And yet this crass materialism, though false, remains a pillar of modernity, which greatly explains why the dominant intellectual pillar of modernity, evolution, is also false. Numbers, formulas, and equations, though describing the physical world (entropy, the tides, nuclear fission, etc.), cannot, even in theory, touch (much less describe) our consciousness, whose existence points to the God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). And foundational to “our being,” to what radically distinguishes “our being” from the “being” of rocks, or even turtles, is what materialism denies, even if with every denial (each an act of consciousness) it refutes itself.

^{[1]} “I feign no hypothesis.”

^{[2]} David Bentley Hart, *All Things Are Full of Gods: The Mysteries of Mind and Life* (Yale University Press, 2024), 49, Kindle.