Re: [asa] BBC documentary on International Mathematics Olympiad

From: Michael Roberts <>
Date: Sun Oct 21 2007 - 16:32:26 EDT

I dread to think what I would get - do they give minus marks?

I identified with Iain's comments about the media, though this reflects the public at large and those who would call themselves educated.

I recently contacted the local press as they had published an article about John Mackay - calling him a geologist. I wanted a different side to things but all the reporter wanted to ask was how I could accept science and be a Christian. It was hard work.

The same happened in a local primary school - a Church of England school and some of the staff could not see how I could hold my views (left of centre ASA and centre CIS!) and science and the bible. This was despite going to an Anglican teachers training college and being a church member.

One has a long way to climb Mount Probable!

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Iain Strachan
  To: AmericanScientificAffiliation
  Sent: Sunday, October 21, 2007 8:26 PM
  Subject: [asa] BBC documentary on International Mathematics Olympiad

  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 super-level.

  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 asked:

  "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 16:51:53 2007

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