It is fitting that the failed California doomsday prophet should have his formal education in engineering rather than theology, since his contorted interpretation of the Bible relied on a hermeneutic that would make mathematics theologically informative. While it is easy to ridicule his particular belief, the mentality that created it is quite widespread, and can be found even among the most eminent scientists who profess no religious faith. By this mentality I mean the fallacy that mathematics can determine ultimate questions of reality.

Camping’s unwavering certainty in his prediction (“The Bible guarantees it”) was grounded in the appearance of remarkable mathematical coincidences that pointed to May 21, 2011 as a Biblically significant date. Given the premise that the Bible is absolutely true, *and the additional premise that his inferences are mathematically certain*, we can appreciate why Camping would present his particular interpretation of Scripture to be as authoritative as Scripture itself. Mathematics allows no room for interpretation, so it seems, as the numbers speak for themselves.

This mathematical absolutism disregards the role that subjective choices play in developing a mathematical model. Just because our model accounts for all the data, that does not mean we could not have constructed another model that works equally well. In general, it is impossible to prove theoretical uniqueness. Camping, for example, found it astounding that the same date that was seven thousand years after the Flood was also after the Crucifixion by a number of days equaling the square of the product of three numbers with significance in Hebrew Gematria. He ignored the fact that his dating of the Noachic Flood in 4990 BC was highly idiosyncratic, as well as the more obvious fact that any number of arithmetic operations could have been chosen. Further, why must the end date be determined by the square of the product rather than the cube? In short, he made some deliberate subjective decisions, consciously or unconsciously, which led to the desired result that the Rapture would occur in his lifetime.

Lest we think that such mathematical idolatry is confined to elderly fundamentalist preachers, let us take a look at the opposite end of the spectrum. The famed physicist Stephen Hawking has recently proffered his view that it can be proven – through abstract mathematical theorizing, of course – that heaven does not exist and God is unnecessary. The basis of this claim is his construction of a theoretical model whereby the universe “creates” particles with mass, and the universe is self-enclosed with respect to temporal causality. As with Camping, this model is cleverly constructed to confirm *a priori* convictions Hawking has held for decades. He already suggested in *A Brief History of Time* that the need for a beginning of creation might be elimintated by “rounding off” the light cone so there is no causally “first” event. “What need then for a creator?” Such a manipulation was highly tortured, as it would contradict a plain interpretation of general relativity by allowing effectively superphotonic expansion, and generalizes the notion of temporal causality to the point that it is no longer an effective constraint on physical theorizing. Such liberties are part and parcel of the “anything goes” approach to modeling the early universe.

The point is that Hawking had many options available to him, but he did not take the most “obvious” option (in light of relativity’s causality postulate and observed expansion from a single point). Just as Camping *wants* the Rapture to occur in his lifetime, Hawking *wants* the universe not to rely upon a transcendent God. He ignores the significant role that his own subjectivity has played in the formation of his mathematical model.

Even if Hawking’s recently proposed theory should someday prove to be an accurate mathematical model of physical reality, it would not accomplish the theological aims he intends for it. The universe does not create massive particles out of nothing, but (theoretically) from a vacuum field or some other construct with definite quantifiable properties. However you want to characterize such an entity, it certainly is not “nothing” in a strict philosophical sense. Modern physicists play fast and loose with philosophical concepts in order to make their mathematical models appear to sanction their metaphysical predilections.

A universe that is self-enclosed with respect to temporal causality does not thereby find itself without need for a creator. To take a simple example, take a universe with one particle that has two states, A and B, where the event of being A causes the event of being B and the event of being B causes the event of being A. (I assume the physicist’s error that events cause events.) In this chicken-and-egg universe, our one particle goes back and forth between being A and B. Does it follow that it needs no creator? Not at all, for there is still no logical necessity that such a universe should exist at all, and we should have to ask ourselves why this particular universe with its causal structure and laws is actually existent, while some other equally mathematically valid universe is not. No natural order is absolutely necessary, in which case we must appeal to some higher cause to account for the natural order as a whole.

Hawking’s physical theories, like all mathematical models of physics, contain determinate assumptions that are not tautological. Since they are not logically necessary, and mathematical principles have no power *qua* mathematical principles to actualize themselves as physical reality, it follows that we need something beyond physics to account for why this particular natural order was granted reality rather than another. Most physicists overlook the need for metaphysics because they unconsciously ascribe to mathematical principles an almost mystical power to result in physical actualization. This poorly thought out Platonism is rarely formally declared, but is implied in the way physicists speak of their theoretical constructs, particularly when dealing with the early universe or attempts at “theories of everything”.

We might try to make the natural order logically necessary by declaring that *every* mathematically valid possibility comes into existence. This make nonsense of Occam’s Razor, as it postulates an unfathomable infinity of universes just to account for this one. Further, it does not solve the problem of logical necessity, as it is not logically necessary that every possibility should become actual.

Lastly, one could decide that the natural order needs no cause, and is just a brute fact to be accepted without explanation. This is irrational in the true sense of the word, as it declares everything to be without a reason. It is also profoundly inconsistent to insist that everything that happens within the universe, no matter how insignificant, must have a reason or cause, yet the entire universe with its natural order can come into being *and be sustained in being* (physicists generally ignore this metaphysical problem) for no reason whatsoever. Logical cogency ultimately requires grounding in a metaphysically necessary Being, and none of our physical theories, by virtue of their mathematical contingency, can meet this requirement.

To the philosophically literate, it is no surprise that mathematics is incapable of serving as natural theology. In our society, however, mathematical ability has become practically synonymous with intelligence, since it is most easily quantified (naturally), and it is positively correlated with other mental abilities. It is a mistake, nonetheless, to make mathematical ability the defining characteristic of human rationality, since computation and spatial reasoning are easily replicated by computers that have no subjective thought processes. Although Professor Hawking and Brother Camping have both done their math correctly, that is no substitute for authentic wisdom and understanding, which requires a more subtle grasp of concepts and an awareness of one’s own subjective assumptions.

See also: Causality and Physical Laws