Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fundamental Theorem

I remember in high school, sitting in my pre-calc class listening to Mr. Whatwashisname? try to teach us about the fundamental theorem of algebra. Something about the whole story seemed fishy to me, and I raised my hand and told him that I didn't believe it. Not that I didn't understand it, or anything (although, to be honest, I'm sure I didn't), but I just did not think it was true.  I didn't believe it could be true.  My poor teacher.  With my limited understanding of mathematics, even though I felt so advanced sitting in my pre-calc class, there was no way he could actually prove to me the fundamental theorem of algebra. He had to keep repeating the basic elements of it over and over, trying to force me to accept it on faith.  Because really, that's what we had to do. We had to take his word for it that it was true, and do our homework accordingly.  Finally, because I wanted to get a good grade in his class, I suspended my disbelief and did my work quietly with the rest of the class.

Since moving here to Lincoln we've met a lot of great people. Most of them are graduate students that go to our church studying animal science, law, marriage and family therapy, and in one case, mathematics.  I told him this story about my problem with the fundamental theorem of algebra. I thought he might laugh,  I thought he might think I was crazy, or even stupid.  He looked at me for a minute, and he then went on to tell me that actually, there was no way that my teacher could have proved to me the fundamental theorem of algebra, because it requires math knowledge that he himself didn't learn how to prove until his last semester in graduate school.

Sometimes I think it is funny that I had such a problem with the fundamental theorem of algebra, when I have no problem at all with other faith based ideas, such as religion and a belief in many things that I cannot see or even fully understand at times.  I think there are a lot of people in the world that are sitting in their proverbial front row seat, raising their hands, trying desperately to find the teacher that will explain to them in a way they can understand, about Jesus Christ, and prayer, and repentance.  The problem is, like me with the fundamental theorem of algebra, sometimes you just have to suspend your disbelief until you have enough "math" under your belt to understand the explanation.  My teacher could have explained to me what I wanted to know, but it would have been Greek to me at that point and I would have gone on no better than I had been.

There are many things in this world that we have to take on faith.  The platypus for example.  I have always wanted to see one, but I may never get to see one in this life.  Critics could argue that I should know they exist simply because so many other people have seen them.  That's true, but I still have to take their word for it, and that it isn't one giant hoax.

Let's talk about gravity.  No one has seen that.  We know it exists because of the effect it has on all of us and everything around us.  I know God exists because of the effect He has had on my life, and all the world around me.

Sometimes we have to take certain aspects of this life on faith. And sometimes, if we want to get a good grade, we have to suspend our disbelief.  Because to my surprise, even after all these years since my math class, the fundamental theorem of algebra has never let me down.  So give Christ a try, see what he can do for the "math" problems of your life.  It's your choice.  As for me, I choose to believe.  After all, God made the platypus.  And someday, he'll be like my friend the graduate student.  He'll take me aside, and tell me all about gravity and that it was ok I didn't understand it in this life.  I just didn't know enough yet.

And, maybe while He's explaining gravity to me, I can ask Him a few questions about the fundamental theorem of algebra too.  I look forward to that.


  1. Thank you for sharing that, Ames. I completely agree. :) There were definitely many topics in my science classes in college that I had to take on faith, because no amount of reading my textbook or listening to lecture got me to understand them.

  2. And I love how you compared gravity with God. Very apt.

  3. Ames, I love it. I wish I was half as eloquent as you are right now.

  4. Okay, I'll post a brain-tickling comment:

    So, when should we and when should we not suspend our disbelief? Just in the church/religion we grew up in? Should Muslims suspend theirs when they encounter Mormonism? Or Mormons Islam? Or Judaism? You'll find people from every other faith on the planet have just as many heartwarming, faith-inspiring stories as Mormons do. Ones that indicate to them that their faith is true and correct just as ours tells us ours is. So, who's right? Or is it all good as long as we believe in God? Or as long as we are simply good people?

    The difficulty with religion is that our results are subjective and vary from person to person. So, how do we say what's true for us is true for someone else if everyone gets different results? Algebra, on the other hand, has given tangible results that have been independently verified with exactness and total precision by people of all cultures all over the world.

  5. First of all, Erin, thanks for your comment - Devin and I had a great conversation this evening. My thoughts are that of course people have heartwarming, inspiring stories of all walks of faith. God loves all people, whether they recognize and love him in return or not. And you are right that truth is truth, I think there is truth to be found in every good thing, and every religion has some bits of truth, and thus goodness, and thus God can be found in it whether or not they know that that is what it is (Did you ever take a Religions of the World institute class? Awesome stuff). He is patient, and if we - all people, any people, lead good lives and try to be the best people we can be, we will all be able to recognize Him when it is time, whatever our beliefs are now, because we will have built that goodness inside of us, and truth recognizes truth...

    And those are some of my thoughts.

  6. Amy, you are just so smart, thoughtful, and articulate! How DARE you ever think you aren't talented!

  7. While we accept the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra (FTA) as fact now, this has not always been the case. All of these things, whether it be the FTA, calculus, chemistry, etc. were developed over time and not always widely accepted.

    I think about how we know that someday "every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him. Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God" (Mosiah 27:31).

    Just as it took time for the FTA to be proven, it will take time before all people see Christ and know Him as He is. Nevertheless that day will come, when, like the FTA, all people, of all cultures, races and beliefs will acknowledge who He is and what He has done for them. Whether or not they are willing to accept Him, they will have to recognize Him.