This is me, Eccles

This is me, Eccles
This is me, Eccles

Saturday, 25 July 2015

2+2=4: is it a matter of faith?

Although it seems to provide the answer to many questions of life, and although many holy witnesses have testified to its truth, we have to admit that in the end the assertion "2+2=4" is simply a matter of faith. There is a powerful counter-argument, used by atheists, which goes something like: "There are innumerable answers to the question 'What is 2+2?', including '4', '42', and 'a banana'. Why should I believe any of them? I'm only disbelieving in one more answer than you do! Ain't I clever?"

In fact many atheists do believe that 2+2=4 and are very angry with this, pointing out that it does not provide an easy solution to all the evils of the world (war, disease, famine, John Bercow, etc.)

grumpy Dawkins

An atheist, angry with the number 4.

On the other hand, Christian leaders have been accused of silence over the question. Although the pope's encyclical Laudato Si' does quote Christ's words "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?" it says little about the obvious corollary "Are not ten sparrows sold for four pennies?" which has been a fundamental tenet of Catholic teaching right from the start.

Worse than this is the general "Don't care" attitude of such as Cardinals Dolan ("Just give me 24 blackbirds baked in a pie") and Nichols ("Are they gay sparrows? If not, then I don't care how many there are.")

Certainly "2+2=4" is a matter of faith. Whitehead and Russell wrote a big book with no jokes in, called Principia Mathematica, in which they proved that 1+1=2, but for them the fundamental question of 2+2 was something unknowable.

Principia Mathematica

Of course, this could just be one big joke.

The Sola Scriptura types tend to believe that 2+2=4, on the basis of holy writ alone. They point to the King James Shakespeare, with its dogmatic assertion "Two of both kinds make up four" in A Midsummer Night's Dream. However, this is post-reformation writing, and not universally accepted as holy writ.

Still, Dawkins does have a point about there being other possible answers, some of which are absurd. For example, the Muslims have their own answer to 2+2, which generally involves fighting anyone who disagrees with them. Moreover, they regard the number 4 as "unclean".

Imam Jack

"2+2=DRINK" says Imam Jaq.

Then again, climatologists tell us that 2+2=4, but predict that it will rise to 4.5 within a few years, dooming us all to destruction. In fact, this theory is not all that different from the Christian viewpoint that Jesus will come again in glory to tell us the answers to all our sums. Once again science and religion come to broadly similar conclusions....

five beans

Another theological question that stumps atheists: how many beans make five?


  1. Dear Eccles. I know that you are already "Saved" (it says so in your Banner Headline), but, have you got something against "Bananas" ?

    I think we ought to know.

    1. No, I'm very fond of bananas; however, 2+2=banana is definitely a heresy.

  2. I've seen the first draft of Pope Francis's next encyclical. Following on from his triumphant foray into the world of science, he will tackle with equal confidence the field of mathematics. Consequently, it will be Catholic doctrine that 2+2=2. The proof goes like this:

    Let a = b = 2
    ∴ a² = ab
    ∴ a²−b² = ab−b²
    ∴ (a+b).(a−b) = (a−b).b
    ∴ a+b = b
    ∴ 2+2 = 2

    Seems pretty unarguable to me!

  3. Blimey. I always learn something on this course (thank you OU).

    I knew already that atheists are bananas, , but fourcasting was new to me. It seems two's company but four armed is half an octopus,

    It seems the degree I can get on this course depends on my leaning.

  4. It was, of course, the First Council of Constantinople which determined that, as applied to the Godhead, 1+1+1=1. They don't appear to have shown their working – maths exam papers weren't as rigorous in those days – but it can be established by a corollary to the Holy Father's proof (above) that 2+2=2. Which goes to show that (1) the Church's teaching is consistent across the ages, and (2) Bertrand Russell was just having a laugh.

  5. Wynn,

    The Second Council of Constantinople denounced the First Council after they saw a multiplication table and figured out that God is 1x1x1=1.

  6. Okay, here's my proof. Suppose you have some beans. Now if there is a bean all on its own, you call that number "one" . Then if you move next to it another bean all on its own, you call the resultant number "two". Repeat that exercise in a different corner. Now you have two sets of beans, each numbering two. Now move them all together. Call the result of that move, "four".

    Somewhere (he didn't believe in Heaven or Hell, let alone Purgatory), B. Russell is reading this and tearing his hair.

  7. How does that work for things that are not beans? Try moving hippopotamuses around.

  8. Thank you very much for providing some fraternal relief for the suffering remnant. It is great to have a little chuckle now and then. God bless you and keep you strong in the Faith always.

  9. You mean hippopotami, possibly.

    I would try bribing them with beans, or with hippos of the opposite sex, as per Flanders and Swann's immortal refrain:

    A bold Hippopotamus was standing one day
    On the banks of the cool Shalimar
    He gazed at the bottom as it peacefully lay
    By the light of the evening star.
    Away on a hilltop, sat combing her hair
    Was a fair Hippopotami maid;
    The Hippopotamus was no ignoramus
    And sang her this sweet serenade:

    'Mud, Mud, glorious mud
    Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood!
    So follow me, follow
    Down to the hollow
    And there let us wallow
    In glorious mud'