On mathematical beauty

John Lennox considers how God may or may not be perceived in his creation.



John Lennox considers how God may or may not be perceived in his creation.


Beauty is, I would go so far as to say, an essential part of mathematics. Paul Dirac, who won the Nobel prize, brilliant mathematician, theoretical physicist, said if an equation isn’t beautiful it’s probably wrong. And there is that sense, even at the lowly levels of mathematics that I did, of sensing that there is a beauty here. And it evokes in you a sense there’s something more around here.

We shouldn’t get carried away with this, because the Bible’s very realistic, you see. It says that there are certain things that can be read off about God from the creation, but they’re limited – that there is a God, that he’s powerful, is about as far as it goes. And that he’s interested in aesthetics. Because we often find in mathematics it’s the elegance, it’s the beautiful description that fits. And you take things like Newton’s second law, his laws of motion in general, the law of gravitation – I mean, they’re exquisitely beautiful, that here you have an equation with eight symbols in it and you can deduce from that the motion of the planets around the sun, elliptical orbits. I find that exquisitely beautiful.

And of course, in many other branches of mathematics there is a sense of real beauty and aesthetics that points to something bigger. And many people share this experience. I suppose the number of mathematicians and physicists who actually believe in God is greater than the number of biologists – but it’s interesting, actually I only discovered this recently, and if the statistic is correct (I’ve no particular reason to doubt it), but in the 100 years between 1900 and 2000, 65 percent of Nobel prize-winners believed in God. That’s a fairly surprising statistic for those people who say it’s impossible.
And I’m passionate about science, and I think one very important thing for scientists to do is to explain their fields with passion, that they evoke wonder in young people. Because wondering about creation and asking questions about it is part of the path to the Creator himself.