Calvin and Hobbes: Math Is a ReligionSome good clean humor to start the day, direct from one of my favorite comic strips via a tweetmeme.

For those who can’t easily read the word bubbles, a transcript:

First frame
Calvin: You know, I don’t think math is a science. I think it’s a religion.
Hobbes: A religion?

Second frame
Calvin: Yeah. All these equations are like miracles. You take two numbers and when you add them, they magically become one new number! No one can say how it happens. You either believe it or you don’t.

Third frame
Calvin: This whole book is full of things that have to be accepted on faith! It’s a religion!

Fourth frame
Hobbes: And in the public schools no less. Call a lawyer.
Calvin: As a math atheist, I should be excused from this.

Share Your Reflection



Mario Livio, "Is God a Mathematician". I hear that the answer is, "maybe". I'm looking forward to reading it

All humor aside, the classical philosophers considered math (and music) the only pure language, approaching the transcendent. Meditating on numbers and particularly arrangements of them was a mystical experience. Is there not a certain sublime unexplainable beauty to pi, imaginary numbers, primes, Pascal’s triangle, etc.?

Counting is prayer... Especially if taxes are evaded utilizing the Holy Land.

Thank you, SOF, for printing this. Calvin and Hobbes is my favorite all time comic strip, and besides that, as a former math teacher and current theology student, I can totally relate. Plus, SOF is my favorite radio program, so, you have made my day. What wisdom!

Excellent! Teaches one not to overthink either religion or math.

I LOVE this cartoon -- clipped it years ago and still have it handy. Our oldest son
(math-phobic) still swears that Calvin and Hobbes was(were?) his lifeline thru elementary school, giving him confidence that he wasn't crazy just because he processed the world differently than his teachers. Thank God for the amazing wit
and wisdom of C & H!!!

Math as a religion...hmmm

Bravo! As a "heretic" in every religion - while still believing in all faith traditions - I enjoy this type of humor. Doug Ewing

Bill Watterson needs to come out of retirement, he was as good for this society as was Plato to the Greeks

love this! It's like multiplying by does THAT work? If theology can be studied as an empirical science anything is possible.

I,too, was a math atheist---until I took a required course in college algebra. There were 14 other guys in the class who
shared my religious belief. The first quiz that we were given, we all flunked gloriously. Our professor was a sweet little old lady with snow white hair. When she walked into class the next day, her cheeks were burning red. Like Moses, descending from Mt. Sinai, she had a message for us from God: YOU...WILL...NOT...FAIL...MY...CLASS!! There a only a few simple theorems to learn and YOU'RE...GONNA...LEARN 'EM! So much for atheism. I buckled down and got a "C" for the course since failure was not an option.




I do string games in schools a lot, and kids often ask me if I do magic. I say no, these are tricks, there's only one piece of real magic that I've encountered in my 68 years: cutting a Moebius strip in half down its middle. The visible demonstration that you can cut something into two pieces but end up with one longer thing instead of two halves is astounding, and truly magical. It's also a crucial part of the most interesting area of mathematics, topology.

I miss the imaginative world of Calvin & Hobbes greatly.

It doesn't add up. All things being equal, Calvin is my God.

This reminds me of a PEANUTS Comic Strip where Snoopy tells Charlie Brown he (Snoopy) is writing a book about Theology. To which Charlie Brown tells Snoopy he will have to have a REALLY GOOD title for a book about Theology, and asks Snoopy if he has one. To which Snoopy replies "Yes." To which Charlie Brown asks him what it is. And Snoopy says "Have You Ever Considered, That You Might Be Wrong?"

Yes I love Calvin and Hobbes. Very funny and insightful.
Hooray for you,

Nancy Pearcey's excellent apologetic "Total Truth" has a fascinating analysis of faith. Theists and naturalists don't agree on much, she says, but what they DO agree on is, unlike math (sorry Calvin) faith is SUBJECTIVE, believed not on the basis of rational thought process but based on one's feelings or emotions. Peacey laments the fact that the theists (mostly Christians) have abandoned the world of religion to the "upper story" of society and have not defended the faith as being as empirically demonstrable as any math equation.

Could the nature and existence of God be as objective as a math equation?

little bro & big cat.

The truth of American society likes this kind of humor that leads directly into the grain ... The math is indeed a religion.

Math Atheist.....hahahahahah

Profound insight comes from the most unlikely places; namely a comic strip! It truly is not hyperbole to consider Math a religion. It’s a magnificent belief system that explains the universe, facilitates our day to day doings, implements our civilization, inspires beauty, reveals Truth and yet is infinitely mysterious, as Calvin points out. Since God, the ultimate Mathematician, is the coherence behind the all-pervasive ether of knowability we call Mathematics, it’s wholly appropriate that Math is considered on On Being.

An equation for me has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God."
-- Srinivasan Ramanujan, Mathematician

Ramanujan was the greatest Mathematician who ever lived

From an anthropological perspective, religion always focuses on specific sacred objects. These objects range in type from holy relics, sacred books, or just sacred ideas, such as the Trimurti, the Eucharist, or the divinity of Christ. In mathematics, the sacred objects are the axioms. But a further characteristic of religions is that they are grounded in entrenched beliefs that cannot be denied by the believer without rejecting the religion. The axioms of a particular religion are its articles of faith. The mathematical attitude towards its axioms is not so reverential. In mathematics there is a whole industry of undermining axioms, called reverse mathematics.

Counting systems were probably invented 10,000 years ago to keep track of one's goats. Numbers were an abstraction from the start, as in a herd of 20 goats no two were exactly alike. So in what sense did they comprise the number, "20"?
Ten millennia later we learn that you can't combine many protons and neutrons without adding some mass as "Binding energy". So these things, which ARE thought to be identical, can't be associated into a "herd" which comprises the sum of the individual masses. Maybe math can't ultimately describe reality.