Neocalvinism — By Joe Carter on November 7, 2005 at 4:07 am
Reductionism and Religiously-Based Explanations
[Note: This is the third post in a discussion on the role of religious beliefs in theory-making. The other two can be found here and here.]
In ancient Greece a religious controversy once broke out over the square root of two. The Pythagoreans, a Hellenic organization of thinkers who believed that all things were essentially reducible to numbers, had an irrational aversion to irrational numbers. Because they believed that numbers represented a realm of invisible mathematical entities upon which the visible world depended, the Pythagoreans insisted that there could be no genuinely irrational numbers and attempted to keep such knowledge a secret. Legend has it that Hippasus of Metapontum, a disciple of Pythagoras, was at sea when he discovered that the square root of 2 is irrational. His fellow Pythagoreans, outraged by the finding, threw him overboard.
Today, of course, we are more enlightened and rarely drown mathematicians who disagree with a theory (instead he ‘