Unlike physics, mathematics has managed to remain immune from efforts to promote pseudo-scientific agendas, financed with the goal of mixing up science and religion. I don’t see any reason to believe this is going to change, but I just noticed that the Templeton foundation is funding a program here in New York later this month on the topic of Mathematics and Religion.
The program will take place at the Philoctetes Center, which is run out of a townhouse on the Upper East Side and supports a variety of activities that you can read about here. The organization ran into serious trouble with its funding recently since its investments were managed by Bernard Madoff. A year before the scandal broke, Philoctetes sponsored a panel discussion (accessible here) on The Future of the Stock Market, which featured Madoff as a panelist. Because of these losses, the Center has had to look for funding elsewhere, and has found some from the Templeton Foundation.
One notable thing about the Mathematics and Religion panel is that it doesn’t include much at all in the way of mathematicians. Of the six participants, one is Max Tegmark, a physicist prominently involved in Templeton-funded multiverse studies, but the only mathematician is Edward Nelson. Nelson is quite far from the mainstream of mathematics, with a religion-infused recent paper entitled Warning signs of a possible collapse of contemporary mathematics, available here. Unlike the case of multiverse pseudo-science, which has drawn support from leading figures in the physics community, this sort of point of view about mathematics has attracted zero interest among mathematicians.
The Mathematics and Religion panel isn’t any threat to mathematics, and is part of a larger and much more worthy program about mathematics at Philoctetes funded by Templeon. In November there will be a panel discussion on Mathematics and Beauty that sounds interesting, I might even try and make it over there to see it (last year I did attend a talk at Philoctetes given by Barry Mazur). The Mathematics and Religion panel is associated with something more serious, a talk by Loren Graham on his book Naming Infinity. It’s a book I read earlier this year, but don’t think I ever got around to writing about here on the blog. I wasn’t completely convinced by some of the claims it makes about the relation between religious practices and the work of certain Russian mathematicians. The story it tells about the religious sect of “Name Worshipers” and the history it recounts of one part of the Russian mathematical community are quite fascinating.
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