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October 17, 2009, 2:30 PM

Mathematics and Religion

Participants: Dominic Balestra, Loren Graham, Edward Nelson, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Max Tegmark

Theology and mathematical thinking have influenced each other in a variety of ways throughout history, exemplified in the mystical sect of Pythagoreans, the approach to God through a geometric infinite in de Cusa's work, the geometrical inspiration of Spinoza's philosophy, and the identification of God with "The Absolute" (the set of all sets) in Georg Cantor's new set theory at the end of the nineteenth century. This roundtable will consider these and more recent historical examples, particularly the influence of the mystical sect of Name Worshippers on the new Moscow School of Mathematics at the beginning of the twentieth century.

This event and the preceding talk by Loren Graham, along with the roundtable Mathematics and Beauty on Nov. 14, are made possible by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Dominic Balestra is Professor, former Chair of the Philosophy Department, and former Dean of the Arts and Sciences Faculty at Fordham University. He is the author of Ways to World Meaning, and he wrote the introduction to Catherine Drinker Bowen's Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man. His many articles include "In-Between Science and Religion" in Hermeneutic Philosophy of Science, Van Gogh's Eyes, and God; "Science and Religion" in Philosophy of Religion: A Guide to the Subject; and "Galileo's Unfinished Case and Its Cartesian Product" in International Philosophical Quarterly. He has delivered a number of talks, including "The Rationality of Science: From Logic to Socratic Narrative," a Templeton Funded Lecture at Albertus Magnus College, "Methodological Demarcation: A Waning Wall Between Science and Religions" in Belgium, and "The Battle for Human Nature" at The Fetzer Institute.

Loren Graham is Professor of the History of Science Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is currently a research associate and member of the Executive Committee of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard. His most recent book (written together with Jean-Michel Kantor) is entitled Naming Infinity: A True Story of Religious Mysticism and Mathematical Creativity. Other books include Between Science and Values; Science and Philosophy in the Soviet Union, which was a finalist for a National Book Award; and A Face in the Rock, which is currently being made into a feature film. Professor Graham has received a number of honors and awards, including the Sarton Medal of the History of Science Society. He is a member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Edward Nelson is Professor of Mathematics at Princeton University. He is a winner of the American Mathematical Society Steele Prize for seminal contribution to research and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of Quantum Fluctuations, Predicative Arithmetic, as well as four other books, and numerous articles. He was invited to speak on mathematics and faith at the year 2000 Jubilee for Men and Women of Science at the Vatican, and is the author of "Warning signs of a possible collapse of contemporary mathematics," to appear in New Frontiers of Research on Infinity. Last January he gave a talk on reason, hope, and certainty in science at the Crossroads Cultural Center.

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is a novelist and philosopher. She is the author of eight books, six of them fiction, including the bestselling The Mind-Body Problem. Her last two books have been non-fiction: Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel, which was chosen by Discover Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and The New York Sun as one of the best books of 2005, and Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity, which won the 2006 Koret International Award for Jewish Thought. The recipient of numerous awards for scholarship and fiction, she received a MacArthur "genius" award in 1996 in recognition of her unique talent for "dramatizing the concerns of philosophy without sacrificing the demands of imaginative storytelling." Her newest book is entitled Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, and will be published by Pantheon in 2009. She is a research associate at Harvard University.

Max Tegmark is an Associate Professor of Physics at MIT, having previously taught at the University of Pennsylvania and served as a Hubble Fellow. His research is focused on precision cosmology, e.g., combining theoretical work with new measurements to place sharp constraints on cosmological models and their free parameters. He has received numerous awards for his research, including a Packard Fellowship, a Cottrell Scholar Award, and an NSF Career grant. His work with the SDSS collaboration on galaxy clustering shared the first prize in Science magazine's "Breakthrough of the Year: 2003."

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.


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