I am a math atheist.
A student's mathematical frustrations spell doom for his destroyed pencil. (Baconian Online photo by David W. Reynolds)
I realized I was one when hearing students discussing infinity . . . and negative infinity. What? How can there be such a thing?
It doesn't make sense, and lacks imagination otherwise! But no, they were dead serious.
Let me relate to you the transcript of the conversation:
“The square root blah blah, stuff minus blah. However, the word word word, blah blah, equals three point blah.”
That's exactly what I heard, or at least comprehended.
It might be more correct, however, to say I am a math agnostic. An atheist does not believe in God altogether; I admit math exists, and can be useful when adding how many dimes I have, for instance.
On the other hand, an agnostic holds God's existence and the essential nature of things as unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.
Mine has shown I have never needed to know algebraic equations, but I must learn them as a college freshman.
Doctors say that there is such a thing as "math dyslexia," technically called "dyscalculia."
The term dates back to 1949. It can be a neurological or developmental inability making even basic math-related concepts, such as reading analog clocks, difficult.
Now before you scream either “cop-out!” or “You are dumb!” two things: dyscalculia really exists, just as much as dyslexia.
It also seems most afflicted are paradoxically very intelligent people; many happen to be writers.
So, a born agnostic.
To calculus enthusiasts, negative infinity is an obvious working concept. It is a ludicrous mystery.
What to do? Refuse to take courses based on my beliefs? No. That's silly.
Do I ask for special allowances due to my apparent disability? I'd feel odd, since it's not exactly being in a wheelchair.
But is it a disability or a difference? We all have differences. Most of us are broken in some way. I just can't understand numbers.
They're Greek to me. For another person, basic writing is simply beyond them somehow.
If you have a problem like this, you probably feel plain stupid sometimes.
Try not to feel that way. You're simply different, and we have to work harder than many. Is it fair? No. Is it a challenge? Yes. One to be taken up.
The next time a classmate fails to grasp something obvious to you, please remember: don't judge. Help. Understand. It can make a religious person out of the most cynical atheist.