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I would like to know if this is a common belief among Christians, and if so, is it grounded in the Bible? Does the Bible suggest that God created mathematics, and that He used mathematical principles to design the universe?

As a bonus, I invite the reader to take a look at the following related ongoing discussion on Philosophy Stack Exchange: Is the (surprising) applicability of mathematics to the physical world a brute fact or something that cries out for a (theistic) explanation?

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    My comment on the Philosophy site question: "Mathematics was invented to describe the universe. For instance, the Titius–Bode law provides a formula that predicts the relative spacing of planets within a solar system. It works quite well for ours; all are within 4% of their predicted values. ¶ The general problem though is that most of the other mathematical approximations to reality aren't within 4%, they are exact. There is no fundamental reason approximations should be exact. It's amazing that they are. That is the point being asked." Mar 29 at 21:09
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    Mark, I really wasn't taking either side. I was saying that the answers are avoiding the underlying issue. ¶ The whole thing boils down to "Why is X?", which seems to have only two answers: "Because of some supernatural agent" and "It's unanswerable". For the vast majority of people, the correct answer is obvious and there's no rational way to convince them otherwise. ¶ "It can be explained only by the existence of God, so God must exist." vs. "Some things are unknowable, and you invented God to explain them.". There really is no rational discussion possible. Mar 30 at 0:17
  • @Mark - The Jewish Rabbis taught that 5 things must have existed before the universe could be created. Stop and think: Mathematic, Laws of Physics, Language (communication skills), and wisdom, etc., must have existed in order for a working universe could function. [Of course, biblical professors also add the necessity of the plan of the slain Lamb prevenient, as well. 1 Peter 1:20, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 1:4, Proverbs 8:22-23]
    – ray grant
    Mar 30 at 22:11
  • The classical philosophical debate in mathematics is whether math is created/invented or whether math already exists and is discovered. I think the answer to OP's question will depend on ones view of this question.
    – Teepeemm
    Mar 31 at 1:22
  • @Teepeemm Food for thought: edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2021/04/what-is-mathematics-about.html
    – Mark
    Mar 31 at 1:26

6 Answers 6

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Does the Bible suggest that God created mathematics?

In the Nicene creed, Christians confess, in accordance with Colossians 1:16, that God Created "all things [....] visible and invisible". One certainly could make the argument that this includes mathematics.

I'm going to argue that it might not. While "things invisible" certainly includes many things immaterial (languages, laws of nature, social order), God certainly did not Create Himself. Thus, we rightly understand "all things [....] visible and invisible" to mean "all Created things".

God Himself is uncreated. Truth, being an attribute of God, would also seem to be uncreated. I would suggest then that there are other immutables, such as logic... and mathematics (which is very closely related to logic, or arguably even a form thereof).

[Did God use] mathematical principles to design the universe?

Certainly!

To see this, one must first understand that all things happen according to God's Will. Why does a rock fall? Because God Wills it. Why does it rain? Because God Wills it. This is what Scripture clearly teaches, and, while it may seem anti-scientific, it is in fact just the opposite. Unlike pagan pantheons filled with gods who were capricious and unpredictable, Scripture teaches that the Christian/Hebrew God is orderly. Thus, while proper science must always allow for the possibility of God acting in an extraordinary (that is, supernatural or "miraculous") way, God's ordinary actions are predictable and repeatable, and thus their underlying order can be studied and predictive rules derived. Thus, while it is True that a rock falls because God wills it, we can also predict that two masses will be attracted to each other according to the formula F = G(m₁m₂)/(r²), because this is the regular, orderly way in which God causes rocks to fall. On even deeper investigation, we can discover that masses follow straight lines in curved spacetime, which provides a basis for deriving the previous formula... but matter still moves, ultimately, because God Wills it.

Already from this one example we can see how mathematics plays an integral role in the ordinary means of God interacting with and sustaining His Creation. Nor is this example isolated, for almost everywhere we look, we find mathematics, often elegant mathematics, underpinning God's normal actions, which we also call the "Laws of Nature". Since these laws are consistent, it follows that they are according to a plan, which is to say, a "design", and since mathematics play such an integral role in the operation of natural laws, it is surely correct to say that, yes, God "used mathematical principles to design the universe".

Other expressions of mathematics are found nearly everywhere you look, from arrangements of flower petals and leaves, to the shape of shells and even galaxies. Everything predictable is predicted, ultimately, by mathematics; indeed, mathematics might be said to be the very language in which Creation is expressed!

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    +1. Perhaps Proverbs 8 also supports this, implying that wisdom is another of what you call "immutables", things that were not created, but instead things that were with God before any "thing" was created.
    – David Cary
    Mar 30 at 2:21
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    Early scientists seem to have agreed with this view.  If it's permitted to quote such a secular source, Isaac Newton's masterwork of mathematics and science, the Principia, starts with an ode by Edmund Halley with the lines: “Here ponder too the Laws which God, Framing the universe, set not aside But made the fixed foundations of his work.”
    – gidds
    Mar 30 at 10:28
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    @Mark Please stop requesting people go look at your questions on other sites. That's not one of the acceptable uses of comments.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 31 at 12:25
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    @Ian, to be clear I don't claim that the equations which map math to physics are uncreated. Math itself however might be. For example, it can be proven using only pure math that 1+1 does equal 2, at least to the extent one permits those symbols to have the usual meanings. Much else in math can be similarly proven. The Pythagorean Theorem, for example, is a likely candidate for something which is immutable.
    – Matthew
    Apr 1 at 17:23
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    @Matthew - Yes, I suppose immaterial created things can be immutable. Angels are like ideas in this way. But the fact that the idea never maps onto the physical world perfectly (IE - there is no perfect triangle and if you put one near a black hole the math is no good), is perhaps a good argument for man being made in the image of God, or else where do our ideals come from? We bridge the material and immaterial; we are priests. I'm sure Plato's forms have something to do with this, but I'm not that well read.
    – Ian
    Apr 1 at 17:38
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God does not have to use mathematics - whatever He does, the natural laws follow.

That being said, Genesis 1 tells us that in the beginning, there was nothing. Whether or not you believe in the metaphorical or literal interpretation, this much can be agreed upon: before God created, there was nothing. What existed before creation? What existed before the Big Bang? Everyone can agree the universe began ex nihilo - out of nothing. There is no math in nothing.

However, we do not know of an alternate system that could replace mathematics, in other words, it is inherent to our universe.

And since we can be sure there is nothing in this universe God did not make - we can be sure He made mathematics as well. Here are some Bible verses to support my claim:

Colossians 1:16:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

Revelation 4:11:

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.

Isiah 24:44:

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself..."

A few notes: The Colossians verse specifically states He has also made all invisible things. I think this is the best example where He gets closest to saying he made mathematics.

Also, according to quantum theory as of right now, a void could contain random bits of matter, called "quantum foam", where a particle and its antimatter counterpart randomly start existing - if God used the Big Bang, He would have likely created this version of nothing - it is separate from an energyless void.

Lastly, I am basing my argument assuming that you presupposed God did in fact create the universe, and that His word is to be trusted.

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  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. Mar 31 at 0:12
  • Genesis 1 doesn't say, "In the beginning there was nothing..." Rather, it says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." You're leaning heavily on a phrase not in Genesis 1. Also, "invisible things" doesn't include concepts. Love, righteousness, and reason are a part of God's nature. Finally, creation ex nihilo means the universe was created from nothing, not that God had no conception of math before the beginning. Apr 3 at 0:11
  • Your final point, I agree with. God, also, is outside of time, thus before and after have no meaning. But the Q was did He use them, not did He make them at the point of creation. Second, "heavens and earth" are the way the Isrealites described the universe. Do you think they had a word for universe or ex nihilo in common use? Third, everything that exists came from Him (In Genesis 1:1, the Hebrew for create, 'bara', implies no preexisting materials, rather than human creation, which is a different word). Continued: Apr 3 at 19:42
  • Continued: Lastly, no, the word nothing or ex nihilo is not mentioned. Neither are furries, or transgenderism. We have to figure things out sometimes based ff of His word. Genesis 1:1 was written in 1400 BC, and a lot of things are either metaphor or have to be expanded. We are talking about the creation of the Universe. Moses likely didn't have a concept of Universe. Finally, what is invisible to Paul if not concepts? Apr 3 at 19:45
  • Creation from "no preexisting materials", doesn't mean God knew of no concepts before the world. To answer your question on invisible things, he was thinking of "thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities". A common interpretation being angelic beings. Apr 3 at 23:25
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That mathematics describes how the universe works is a consequence of there being uniform laws that describe it. In the oldest book of the Bible, God said that there are regularities/laws of the universe, saying to Job,

"Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?" Job 38:33 (NIV)

As far as we can tell, all laws of nature are a consequence of a few fundamental laws. We would say that God is the one who created those laws in the first place. Also, the reason these laws exist still today is because of God's faithfulness in upholding the universe.

God actually has referred to the laws of nature to explain how certain his own promises are and how faithful he is. Through the prophet Jeremiah, it says,

"Thus says the Lord: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.", Jeremiah 33:25-26 (ESV)

The Bible doesn't say anything about God using mathematics to create the universe, but it says a lot about his faithfulness. God's faithfulness is part of the foundation why science is even possible. Science is possible because of a combination of several things:

  • God is faithful and not capricious. (Capricious gods like that of Greek mythology would make science impossible.)
  • God is rational.
  • God created the universe in a way that can be understood. (The laws of nature are both understandable and discoverable.)
  • God commanded humans to "fill the Earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28). Science, engineering, and technology are part of how we subdue the Earth. If God created humans in his image, then that sure would be very good reason to think we have the capacity to understand what God did. Also, if it wasn't possible to subdue the earth, then it would be a pretty odd thing to command.

Does the Bible suggest that God created mathematics?

No, the Bible does not suggest that God created mathematics. Speaking as a mathematician, I find it odd that many Christians think that God did create mathematics, but could God have made 2+2 be anything other than 4? Of course not. Could God have made the Pythagorean Theorem false in Euclidean geometry? Of course not. Theorems are consequences of the axioms upon which math is based.

"All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.", John 1:3 (ESV)

This says that of all the things that are made, they were made by Jesus. It doesn't say that mathematics was created by God.

Some Christians seem to dislike the idea that mathematics is in some sense uncreated, but did God create morality? No, God has been perfectly good and righteous from eternity past; he did not invent or create righteousness. Did God create rationality? No, being rational is part of God's nature. Just as moral goodness and rationality are uncreated and have existed eternally, so also mathematics is uncreated.


To jump into the philosophy of math for just a bit, allow me to state that math is in one sense uncreated and so discovered by humans, and in another sense created by humans. What do I mean?

When you speak in English, are you creating the sentences you speak, or are you discovering them? Either way you answer, you are not creating truth but rather describing it. But back to the question, it at least sometimes is appropriate to say that we create sentences (but not the truth they describe). Mathematics, is closely joined with how it is described. Precisely how math is described is created by humans. But once axioms are set, there are (perhaps limitless) consequences of them, called theorems (and lemmas and corollaries). Mathematicians have a lot of freedom in how they describe the theorems they prove (as well as what to prove), and this freedom is similar to the freedom we have in choosing which words to use when speaking or writing. Since math is so closely tied to the choice of how it is presented, the word "creating" in describing what humans do isn't totally inappropriate. When you speak, if you want to speak truth, you are constrained by external reality. When you describe mathematics, if you want to speak truth, you are constrained by logic itself.

Just as humans create furniture, buildings, and computers, humans also invent ways of describing new mathematics. God has left us work to do in creating many things, and he has also given us the ability do mathematics. Personally, I prefer to say that I discover mathematics than say that I create it. Since 2+2 can't be anything other than 4 though, the one who finds that out isn't creating anything but is instead discovering it. And yet, when I do math research, there are many choices to be made in how the math is described. Math is intimately connected with how it is described. So in that sense, it isn't totally inappropriate to say that humans create mathematics. (Of course, we will never come up with anything that God didn't already know.)


So if God didn't create math, did he use it when making the universe?

God is omniscient; he knows everything. Hence, he knows precisely all the consequences of any possible laws to run a universe by. He knew perfectly well how the incredible properties of water and of the carbon atom would be consequences of the laws he set up. He knew how he could get the entire periodic table of elements from just three parts: protons, neutrons, and electrons. He knew what the properties of light would be, as well as how light would be formed. He knew (and knows) all consequences of any laws he could choose, even when those consequences are mathematical necessities of those laws. So sure, you could say that he used math when he created the world. Of course, one thing he didn't have to do is, once he "considered" possible laws to implement, say to the other members of the trinity, "Wait one second while I work out all the consequences of those rules." He knows everything already.

God is the one who invented the carbon atom (and the whole periodic table). God invented electromagnetic radiation (including visible light).

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  • "He knew how he could get the entire periodic table of elements from just three parts: protons, neutrons, and electrons"... except these are in turn made of even smaller "things" which come in slightly greater variety. 🙂
    – Matthew
    Apr 2 at 16:03
  • @Matthew True, but that doesn't change the argument, and most people (including me) don't know too much about quarks and leptons (besides the electron) etc. Apr 2 at 22:38
  • Nice argument and references. Good point about the inherency of the axioms. Apr 3 at 19:47
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The Creator certainly both comprehends and creates mathematics.

For one, Jesus is both man and God, so any human facility for mathematics also touches on God the Son.

Next, we have God's omniscience. He cannot plan the future, opposing the wicked and giving grace to the humble, if those wicked people (like Nazi physicists) and Christians (say Galileo and Newton) think and act and plan according to mathematical principles. To understand friend or foe, you must know how they think.

“Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
    Do you observe the calving of the does?
2 Can you number the months that they fulfill,
    and do you know the time when they give birth,
3 when they crouch, bring forth their offspring,
    and are delivered of their young?" (Job 39:1-2)

God surely uses numbers to comprehend biological processes, for that is how he spoke to Job.

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God didn't use mathematics to create the universe. Mathematics is actually something created by humans (in the mind of humans) to understand and manipulate what we observe in nature which is made by God i.e., it is our trial to grasp the complexities found in nature which was already put there by God.

I don't think you understand how much you are anthropomorphizing God when you say He uses mathematics to design the universe. God is truly beyond comprehension and our use of human terms to discuss him actually falls very short, but after all we are humans and that is the only thing we can do.

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    Mar 31 at 3:02
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God does not operate by human laws. He doesn't have to use mathematics, as His will created all things. His knowledge is infinite - 1 John 3:20 says: "...God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything[.]" All knowledge stems from God: "For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding" (Proverbs 2:6).

God is beyond our understanding, thus, we cannot comprehend His thoughts nor will.

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  • @Marvel - Thanks for your input on this question. However, your answer seems to assume (without warrant) that mathematics was a human invention. Rather, mathematics was created by God, and discovered by humans. In the same sense that Newton did not create Laws of Gravity; he only discovered them. Truly "all knowledge stems from God," as you wrote! But before there could be an orderly Universe, God had to create the Laws to create and maintain its orderliness. Einstein saw all the equations that were inherent in the universe and declared there must be a "Great Mathematician!" Keep studying.
    – ray grant
    Apr 1 at 20:19

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