<em>Pi</em> in the Sky by Anthony Esolen
*Pi* in the Sky

*A Sidebar in Jonathan Witt’s “The Gods Must Be Tidy”*

The one thing I’ve noticed that most knocks my students out of their
secure evolutionism is a question on the status of mathematical objects. I ask
them, “Have you ever seen a circle?” They respond that they have,
poor unsuspecting students. “You mean you’ve seen a set of points
of no dimension, equidistant from a given point, on a plane of infinitesimal
thinness?” Well, no, now that I put it that way, they’ve never seen
one of those.

“So you’ve never seen a circle?”

“Um, no, I guess not.”

“In fact, you could never see a circle, because circles are not material
objects.”

“I guess not.”

“But you know things about circles.”

“How can I know things about circles, if I’ve never seen one?”

“Good question. But you do: You know that the ratio of the circumference
to the diameter is a number called * pi.*”

“Yes, 3.14.”

“Well, actually the number is the limit of any number of infinite series.
But would you say that *pi* exists, and that people discovered what it
was, or that *pi* didn’t exist until someone invented it, and that,
if there were no human beings, there would be no such thing as *pi*?
Be careful: *pi* shows up in equations dealing with electrical current,
number theory, the probabilities of coin tosses, you name it. Was *pi*
discovered, or was it only invented?”

At this point they are trapped. They will say what any mathematician without
a philosophical ax to grind will say. They will say what Archimedes said when
he discovered the law of displacement of fluid. They will say that * pi*
was discovered.

“Then * pi* exists?”

“Yes.”

“But * pi* is not material.”

“No.”

“Then at least one immaterial object exists, namely *pi.*”

“Yes.”

“How can an immaterial object evolve?”

I think * pi* was there in the beginning, when the sons of morning
sang for joy!

—**Anthony Esolen**

**Anthony Esolen** is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, and the author of The Ironies of Faith* (ISI Books), *The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization* (Regnery), and *Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child* (ISI Books). He has also translated Tasso's *Gerusalemme liberata *(Johns Hopkins Press) and Dante's *The Divine Comedy *(Random House). He is a senior editor of *Touchstone*.*

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