To the editor:

Is God a mathematician?

I was a graphic artist for 36 years and after retiring had an opportunity to teach with the Springfield schools. My old life certificate was in art and social studies, but it had been a while since receiving it so was not sure whether I could or should. But I prayed, and the day I was to sign up, my Bible was on the table, and I flipped it open, looked down and read, “Go ye therefore and teach.”

At the end of most classes we almost always had time to kill so talked about a very unusual irregular number. The Greek mathematician Euclid in “Elements” referred to dividing a line at the 1.618-point as dividing a line in the extreme and mean ratio. From this irregular number we derive the golden rectangle, the pentagram as seen in a starfish, the logarithmic spiral as seen in the nautilus and the spiral phyllotaxis as seen in a pine cone and sunflower.

In the 12th century, Leonardo Fibonacci discovered a simple numerical series that is the foundation of a relationship to this irregular number. In this series of numbers each number is equal to the sum of the two numbers immediately preceding it. 1,2,3,5,8,13 and so on.

The sunflower illustrates the use of this irregular number in this way. The fruit sockets of a flower head form a series of intersecting curves. A large head has 55 curves crossing 89 curves. The number of curves is of the Fibonacci series, and when you divide 55 into 89, we get 1.618181818 … which goes into infinity.

After explaining to the class how we are mathematically proportioned according to this irregular number, I would ask if this was an accident. The answer was always no. In a chemistry class we viewed a film about Stephen Hawking, and after the film with some time left, I laid out the logarithmic spiral on the board and added one line. I then ask what they thought it was. One of the students immediately recognized it as an embryo. I asked the same question and got the same answer.

Much of this I found in an old geometry textbook used by the schools in California. There is also a book, “The Golden Ratio” by Mario Livio, a Jewish astrophysicist with a doctorate who asked the question in the last chapter of the book: “Is God a Mathematician?”

I had fun with this irregular number and hope it made the students think. I enjoyed my teaching experience and learned that many teachers teach in more than one school. One art teacher I substituted for several times taught in two schools that were 25 miles apart. I was in a lot of different schools in the Springfield system and met a lot of great teachers who are dedicated and love what they are doing.

Jim Payne


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