Friday, May 27, 2005

God’s Precalculus

About 5 years ago I wrote and published a Precalculus textbook that had sales figures that were off the charts. The charts didn’t go that low. Let’s just say that no one has picked up the film rights yet. The arrival of royalty statements are the occasion for laughter at our house – we’d never dreamed that we’d see numbers so low. So it is with only some authority that I can write about a Precalculus book that I just found out about even though it’s been out a few years. The book is Precalculus for Christian Schools by Kathy D. Pilger, Ron Tagliapietra. It’s published by Bob Jones University Press. I have not actually seen the book but it is on Amazon and one of the reviewers there quoted from it. Here are the quotes:

"Carl Friedrich Gauss first proved the fundamental theorem of algebra. There are many fundamental theorems: of arithmetic, calculus, and so on. These are so fundamental that many other theorems are derived from them. In the Bible, there are also fundamentals, without which Christianity would not exist: the deity of Christ, His substitutionary atonement, and the inspiration of the Bible, to name a few."

"A line can be described either by its slope (a ratio) or by its inclination (an angle). These terms describe the deviation from the horizontal, but the word inclination also has a non-mathematical meaning. Without Christ, man is inclined to sin. The Word of God should shape our attitudes (inclinations)."

"If you are given the length of two sides and the angle measure opposite one of those sides, you can use the law of sines to solve the triangle. However, this does not always determine a unique triangle. As a result, it is called the ambiguous case. Ambiguous means open to multiple interpretations. Some people say that you can interpret the Bible in any way that you want. However, there is no ambiguity in the Bible."

"A person is eccentric if his behavior deviates from normal. Jesus Christ expects His disciples to be eccentric, since living a Christlike life is not normal in this world (Titus 2:14). Likewise, in mathematics, conic sections are eccentric if they deviate from a circle. Eccentricity is a measure of this deviation. The eccentricity of an ellipse (e) is the ratio of focal distance (c) to the length of the sentimajor axis (a): e = c/a. Since c and a are distances and c < a, the eccentricity of any ellipse is 0 < e < 1.

"The concept of limit can be used to illustrate an important truth. Suppose you lived eighty years and there was no life after death; your life on the earth would be 80/80 = 1 = 100% of your existence. Now, let's assume that your life after death was eighty years long: your earthly life would be 80/160 = 1/2 = 50% of your entire existence. If life after death were 720 years, your life here would be only 80/(80+720) = 0.1 = 10%. Now extend it to eternity: (the limit as x approaches infinity) 80/(80+x) = O. In other words, this life is very insignificant in light of eternity. It is no wonder James said that life is "vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."


I’m tempted to just let the quotes stay there without comment since I’m sure that nearly all of my readers will have the same reaction that I did. However, because I don’t know everyone who reads my blog, let me be clear.

I believe that this is exactly the wrong way to integrate faith with mathematics. I would suggest that this is NOT an example of integrating faith – this is an example of tacking on biblical language in a totally unrelated way to the topic at hand. These examples show that the authors do not believe that Math is ALREADY God’s – they appear to believe that they have to make it God’s by concocting ridiculous connections to religious moral lessons.

In my book I attempted to reflect my faith in the types of topics that we covered and the types of questions we had our students think about – pollution, population, debt, and other things that would lead them to evaluate their place in God’s world. I can’t wait to use these excepts in class as a counter example!

Read another blogger's thoughts here.

1 comment:

David S said...

Couldn't agree more. And I cannot imagine that this stuff actually achieves what it's authors apparently hope for - we have used a Bob Jones algebra book with our kids at home that is full of similar strained, inapproriate, far-fetched connections with biblical themes, and our kids find those passages hilarious rather than edifying. And some of the math could be more clearly explained. It also talks in the Bible about seeing things more clearly in the future life....just kidding. ("kid" can also refer to an animal used for sacrifice in the Bible...)