Thursday, August 27, 2009

Interview with James D. Nickel on Mathematics: Is God Silent? (Part 2)

This is the second part of an my interview with James D. Nickel, author of a book intriguingly titled Mathematics: Is God Silent? I still have my dog-eared original copy of his first edition with its silver book jacket. Straight up you could tell the theme had been thoroughly researched, and I especially liked the preponderance of illustrative material. But the 400+ page 2001 edition incorporated such a quantity of new information and research that the first, weighing in at a scant 126 pages, almost feels like an outline.

If you are a home school teacher, math teacher or simply someone who has not had your last spark of interest in math crushed out of you by the public school systems, this book is worthy of your attention. You can order it today at

Now, back to the interview.

Ennyman: Who have been your biggest influences?
JDN: As mentioned earlier, Dr. Glenn R. Martin of Indiana Wesleyan University. His life is an example of mentorship at its finest. He took an interest in me in 1979 and, in the subsequent years, he always had a “word” of counsel and encouragement for me. When he passed away in 2004, I felt like I had lost my right arm. Other men of import are reformed theologian and educator Rousas J. Rushdoony (1916-2001) and Roman Catholic historian of science Stanley L. Jaki (1924-2009). Both of these men took the time to answer my personal questions and to encourage and exhort me in my work. Dr. Rushdoony was responsible for getting my book published in 1989. Jaki liked talking to a “Protestant who thinks.”

Authors who have influenced my worldview thinking are Abraham Kuyper, Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaeffer, Vern Poythress, Albert M. Wolters, and Greg Bahnsen. In mathematics, the authors I really appreciate are Morris Kline, Stanley L. Jaki, Harold R. Jacobs, Carl Boyer, Eli Maor, Paul J. Nahin, Howard Eves, Calvin C. Clawson, Jerry P. King, Rózsa Péter, I. M. Gelfand, A. P. Kiselev, Edward Burger, Michael Starbird, and David Berlinski.

Ennyman: What is the biggest challenge for Christians who strive to communicate a Biblical worldview into the secular disciplines?
JDN: The biggest challenge is to communicate the distinctiveness and absoluteness of Truth (i.e., the propositions that conform to the nature of reality). The deconstructionism of postmodern philosophy is infiltrating every aspect of our culture (even the evangelical world is succumbing to it; read any of the “cutting edge” emergent authors for some relevant examples). Although postmodernists retain some form of “truth” commitment (albeit entirely of the personal nature or “we will know it sometime in the future”), deconstructionism dulls the sharp knife of objective truth (trans-cultural and trans-personal) to such an extent that it cannot cut anything anymore. Francis Schaeffer’s analysis in the late 1960s and 1970s has prophetic application today. He said, “Absolutes imply antithesis.” There is thesis and there is antithesis (there is Truth and there is Falsity). Either God is as He has revealed Himself in Scripture (this is the sharp blade of Truth) or He is not. Postmodern emergents reject antithetical thinking by saying, “We really cannot know what God has revealed about Himself, in terms of propositional Truth, because, since you must ‘know’ that everything is radically perspectival, we cannot ‘know’ the objective meaning of Scripture.” Do you see the logical conundrum, i.e., using an absolute to deny an absolute?

Our world today thinks, not antithetically, but in terms of the Hegelian dialectic. There is thesis and there is antithesis. But, Truth (with a capital “T”) is no longer a matter of embracing the thesis and rejecting the antithesis. It is accepting both as valid with the knowledge that truth (lower case “t”) will eventually evolve in some form of synthesis. Unfortunately, for such dialecticians, synthesis produces synthetic seed that will bear no tangible and lasting fruit.

Biblical Christians must start with what the Bible reveals about the nature of Truth, the nature of reality, the nature of knowledge, and the nature of ethics. The Bible answers the foundational philosophical questions: (1) “What is the nature, purpose, and destiny of the cosmos?” and (2) “What is the nature, purpose, and destiny of man?” The answers to these questions, as are the answers to every foundation question (e.g., “Why does mathematics work?”), are theological. Either we start with God as He is revealed in Scripture or we start with man. As the playwright T. S. Elliot (1888-1965) once said, “The end is in the beginning.” Since God is the Alpha and the Omega (and all points in-between), to start anywhere else is the antithesis of wisdom. Biblical Christians must know what they believe and why and what they do not believe and why. Then, as we engage in the disciplines of life (mathematics or anything else), we must seek to master the discipline, master Biblical Christian starting points (called presuppositions), and then seek to reinterpret the discipline under study in terms of Biblical Christian starting points (or Biblical Christian perspectivalism). To quote Dr. Martin, “Reinterpretation is hard work, but a required work of the Biblical Christian scholar.”

Ennyman: Do you have another book you’re working on at present? What’s next?
JDN: Since 2001, I’ve been working on several books (all, unfortunately, still incomplete … the requirements of living sometimes get in the way of writing!). I’ve written nearly 1500 pages that currently form two books, “Mathematics: Building on Foundations,” and “The Wonders of God in Arithmetic.” I am posting quite a bit of this written work on my web site ( as a form of peer review. I am also working on another book to be entitled “Tapestries of the Incarnation.” It is a study of the historical backdrops of Matthew 1 and Luke 1-3.

Ennyman: The new projects sound intriguing. Thank you for your time.

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