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What Does ACMS Stand For?

What Does ACMS Stand For?

By Robert L. Brabenec

In the early seventeenth century, Johannes Kepler believed that in doing mathematics, he was thinking the thoughts of God. Was he right? Does such a question even make sense in 2005?

Like all other academic disciplines, mathematics has a core of concepts and methods that are independent of the world views of individual mathematicians. In fact, some mathematicians have regarded that core as the entire discipline. For example, writing in 1927, David Hilbert articulated his vision that mathematics could become a ?presuppositionless science.? Hilbert?s vision, though, seems to require a very narrow assignment of the boundaries of mathematics, one that includes formal axiom systems, definitions, and deductive reasoning, but not much else. Other mathematicians have preferred a broader definition of the discipline, one that incorporates the philosophy and history of mathematics, mathematics education, its role in contemporary culture, its connections with other disciplines, and much more.

Scholarly work in these broader areas, though, is often influenced by world views. One group of mathematicians that has embraced these broader aspects of mathematics and sought to explore how world views might impact scholarship in these areas is the Association of Christians in the Mathematical Sciences (ACMS). Some of the questions ACMS members have explored include the following.

  • What is the nature of mathematical objects? Are they social constructions? Do they exist in the mind of God? Are these perspectives reconcilable?
  • Mathematicians often describe their subject as ?beautiful.? What is the concept of beauty used here? How does it relate to other concepts of beauty including the theological notion of the ?beauty of God??
  • How did Enlightenment thinkers see the role of mathematics in human culture? Are we as mathematicians comfortable with such an understanding of mathematics? Now that the Enlightenment perspective has fallen out of favor, how may our culture?s perspective on the role of mathematics change? What responsibility do we as a mathematics community have in shaping this perspective?
  • Does a theological perspective provide any helpful insight into the issue of the ?unreasonable effectiveness? of mathematics?

ACMS was organized in 1977 and now has more than 300 members. Many ACMS members are mathematics faculty at Christian liberal arts colleges, where integrative questions such as those listed above are encouraged. There are also members from secular colleges and universities, high schools, and industry, as well as graduate students and a growing number of teachers of computer science. ACMS members do not believe that there exists a distinct Christian mathematics, but rather that dual knowledge of faith issues and mathematics enriches and informs both areas. A familiar analogue is the way that the separate disciplines of geometry and algebra supplement each other in analytic geometry.

The main activity of ACMS is a four day conference, held every two years from Wednesday evening until Saturday noon of the week following Memorial Day. The 15th conference was held in May 2005 at Huntington University in Indiana, and the 16th conference will be at Messiah College in Pennsylvania from May 30 until June 2, 2007. These conferences offer a chance for about 100 delegates to share several days together. Activities include invited talks by featured speakers, shorter papers by ACMS members on a wide variety of topics, many opportunities for informal discussion, and a time of common worship.

The following list of past featured speakers and their topics illustrate the diversity of interests within ACMS. Donald Knuth (at Calvin College in 1987) spoke on the writing of his book Surreal Numbers and his efforts to develop a book on Bible study, while Tom Banchoff (at Messiah College in 1989) spoke on his involvement with students in computer representations of four dimensional space and on the background of Edwin Abbott Abbott, the author of Flatland. Joseph Dauben (at Westmont College in 1993) presented material from his books on Georg Cantor and Abraham Robinson, and Owen Gingerich (at Wheaton College in 1997) spoke about his special interests in the history of astronomy, arising from his joint appointment at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Harvard University. Bill Dunham (at Gordon College in 1999) spoke about some of Euler?s results, including geometry in addition to the more usual topics from analysis and algebra, while Paul Zorn (at Point Loma Nazarene University in 2003) presented examples of material he encountered during his time as editor of Mathematics Magazine.

The Proceedings from every conference have been published and are available for purchase. The tables of contents may be perused at the website (, where one may also find directions for ordering a copy of the Proceedings or for becoming an ACMS member. The organization recently began an online journal for articles dealing with the integrative issues mentioned earlier. The texts of twenty six papers from previous conferences are also included on the website. In addition, several ACMS members authored the book Mathematics in a Postmodern Age, published by Eerdmans in 2001. (It was reviewed in the MAA?s Read This online book review column; see /reviews.) Another publication is the Bibliography of Christianity and Mathematics (1910?1983), which was compiled in 1983 and is presently being revised and enlarged by Gene Chase at Messiah College.

Every January, in conjunction with the Joint Mathematics Meetings, ACMS sponsors a dinner followed by a talk of a general nature. In Atlanta in 2005, Tom Banchoff spoke about his involvement over a period of ten years with Salvador Dali on the use of computer graphic systems to enhance artistic representation of multidimensional images. When the Joint Meetings include a Sunday, as they will in San Antonio in 2006, ACMS also prepares an early morning non-denominational worship service for interested participants

ACMS members are also involved in the general program of the MAA. David Lay (University of Maryland) played a leading role in the reform of the linear algebra curriculum and the writing of an influential textbook on this topic. Wayne Roberts (Macalester College) has long been involved in calculus reform, serving as editor of the 5 volume Resources for Calculus publications. Charles Hampton (College of Wooster) is active as an officer in the SIGMAA for the Philosophy of Mathematics. Robert Brabenec (Wheaton College) and Al Hibbard (Central College) are MAA authors. Francis Jones (Huntington University) was chosen for a MAA section teaching award. Judith Palagallo (University of Akron) serves on the editorial board of the MAA series Classroom Resource Materials and began the Mentoring Women in Mathematics program. Fernando Gouvecirc;a (Colby College) is, among other things, editor of FOCUS. Andrew Simoson (King College) has published a dozen articles in MAA journals and Francis Su (Harvey Mudd College) has served on the editorial board for the Spectrum book series.

The website mentioned above contains additional information about the ACMS organization. Anyone interested in its programs is welcome to participate in its activities.

Robert L. Brabenec is Professor of Mathematics at Wheaton College in Illinois. He was one of the founders of ACMS.