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Mathematicians and Their Gods

Snezana Lawrence and Mark McCartney, editors
Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Megan Sawyer
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In twelve chapters, Mathematicians and their Gods bounces dizzyingly from extensive biographies to thematic discussions around various religions and their followers. The text mostly revolves around subsets of  the “Christian West,” white and male mathematicians; Maria Agnesi does make a token appearance as a female representative. This focused scope was not overlooked by the editors, who indeed acknowledge the lack of inclusion of the rest of the religious world and non-western influential mathematicians (such as Ramanujan or the Chinese Shang Dynasty) through a simple statement about collecting essays which both reflect their own interests as well as demonstrate the depth of such a pointed view.

With this consideration, the essays do tie mystical religions — including the Pythagoreans’ obsession with numerology — and traditional religious beliefs — Christianity, in particular — to mathematicians that we are familiar with. Thematic chapters revolving around a particular concept or era give short vignettes of mathematicians influenced by the topic, and counterpoint chapters illustrate religious influence centering on a particular mathematician. Each essay is followed by a list of (non-standardized) references to enable the reader a starting point for further research. Quoted material is easily discernable from the text via a distinct font change, breaking up the flow of the text to encourage careful reading.

This text has potential to fill the void of accessible essays detailing the relationship between an individual and their god. This reader looks forward to a companion collection comprised of non-western mathematicians across a broad time frame, with significantly more diversity in religion and gender. Such an anthology would provide a base for understanding the impact of many more religions and cultures on the mathematical geniuses that have come before us.

Megan Sawyer is an assistant professor of mathematics at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, NH.

1. Introduction, Mark McCartney
2. The Pythagoreans: Number and Numerology, Andrew Gregory
3. Divine light, Allan Chapman
4. Kepler and his Trinitarian Cosmology, Owen Gingerich
5. The Lull before the storm: combinatorics in the Renaissance, Robin Wilson and John Fauvel
6. Mystical Arithmetic in the Renaissance: From Biblical Hermeneutics to a Philosophical Tool, Jean-Pierre Brach
7. Newton, God, and the mathematics of the Two Books, Rob Iliffe
8. Maria Gaetana Agnesi, mathematician of God, Massimo Mazzotti
9. Capital G for Geometry: Masonic lore and the history of geometry, Snezana Lawrence
10. Charles Dodgeson's Work for God, Mark Richards
11. P. G. Tait, Balfour Stewart and The Unseen Universe, Elizabeth Lewis
12. Faith and Flatland, Melanie Bayley
13. Godel's "proof" for the existence of God, C Anthony Anderson