While criticizing Andrew Hacker’s book on math education, Evelyn Lamb wrote:
I am a mathematician, thinking about math brings me great joy, and I want more people to have joyful experiences with mathematics. Of course I think many of Hacker’s conclusions are incorrect. Most troubling to me is the idea that mathematics is important only insofar as we use it in our careers, and therefore anyone whose job path doesn’t involve math shouldn’t have to take math classes beyond basic numeracy. Education isn’t valuable simply because we use it in our jobs. Literature, music, and art enrich our lives and nourish our spirits. History and political science can make us more informed citizens. Science can help us understand why research is rarely conclusive. I reject Hacker’s idea that mathematics doesn’t help us understand other areas of life and enhance our experience of the world. In her recent Slate piece on Hacker’s book, Dana Goldstein described how her husband sees concepts such as derivatives as connecting the concrete to the abstract, of helping us understand the world. He’s right.
I loved the honesty in this paragraph. Sure Lamb used evidence and reason to rebut Hacker. But her argument ultimately depends on aesthetics and beauty. Math brings her joy, and she wants to share it with everyone. I–and most of my scientist friends–can identify with Lamb’s feelings. At times we’ve all felt joyous about science.
I bet we’d still identify with Lamb even if she were writing about music or photography or French literature. We may not share her enthusiasm. But we get that taste is subjective, that people find all sorts of things interesting, and they often want to share that love with others. To each his own, right?
This sort of live-and-let-live attitude would disappear if Lamb had written: ‘I am a Christian, thinking about Jesus brings me great joy, and I want more people to have joyful experiences with Christ.’ Faith, and especially Christianity, doesn’t fit into our existing norms. It is treated differently. This disparity is partly because many liberals–disproportionately represented in science and the media–have an anti-faith bias.
But I’m starting to think religious Christians share some of the blame. They want religious faith to be viewed as a special type of belief, unlike any other. But if faith is special, then we should expect it to be treated differently. Sometimes that special treatment will work out for religious Christians, and sometimes it won’t. You can’t insist on one without the other.
I’m starting to feel that it would be better for religious freedom if it lost its special status. If it were viewed almost like any other belief out there. If that happened, then evangelicals could talk about Jesus like Evelyn Lamb does for math: as something that brings them great joy.