[asa] BBC documentary on International Mathematics Olympiad

From: Iain Strachan <igd.strachan@gmail.com>
Date: Sun Oct 21 2007 - 15:26:47 EDT

I was rather struck by a presenter's question on a recent BBC documentary on
the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO)

The documentary followed the fortunes of the candidates to be in the UK team
for the International Maths Olympiad in 2006. The program was of special
interest to me, because though I did not study mathematics (I took Natural
Sciences), I was contemporary at Trinity College, Cambridge with the UK's
most successful contestant ever at the IMO, John Rickard, who competed three
years in a row, and got a gold medal on all three occasions, two of which
were perfect scores. (You get a silver medal with around a 50% score, which
shows how hard they are).

The most brilliant mathematicians are a bit of a strange breed - two of the
people on the program had Asperger's syndrome, and all agreed it was a
liberating experience to meet in training camps with other kids who wanted
to do not much else than talk about mathematics! Apparently various forms
of Autism can mean an extraordinary ability to focus the mind on a narrow
subject, and this is advantageous if you want to do mathematics at the

One of the youngest British contestants (and most normal sounding), turned
out to be a Christian. It was good to see him declare his faith. He was
shown at a choir practice, and later the interviewer asked him "Are you
religious, Jonathan?". He replied very straightforwardly "I am a
Christian. I believe Jesus Christ died for our sins, and that he will
return". Then came the question that made me take notice. The interviewer

"That's interesting, especially as you are a man of science?"

It is saddening to hear this - as if the automatic assumption of the media
is how can you be religious if you're a scientist? Perhaps this is a
reflection of the way things are in the UK? Or is it the influence of people
like Dawkins?

Initially, Jonathan seemed put out by the question, and said "Well ... yes
.... and??". But then he went on to say "I don't take the Bible literally
in all places. I believe in evolution. I believe the universe came into
existence with a Big Bang 15 billion years ago. I do not believe the world
was created in seven days".

I think this presented a really positive message, that you can be a strongly
committed Christian and still accept what mainstream science tells us.

He went on to win a Silver medal at the IMO.


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Received on Sun Oct 21 15:28:00 2007

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