Note: This was a research paper I wrote for a class last semester – usually my blog posts aren’t quite this long!
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be…” John 1:1-3. This opening to the Gospel of St. John gives a glimpse of the order and structure with which the world was created. God Himself is orderly. As a work of art naturally reflects the mind of the artist who created it, so also God’s creation will reflect His Divine and orderly Nature. God Himself is imprinted on His creation so irrevocably that His fingerprints can be seen in even the most basic elements. This is revealed in a variety of ways; this paper will explore the concept of God being reflected in the properties and characteristics of zero. As the properties of zero are examined, discussed, and compared to the characteristics and attributes of God the Father, the traces of His Omnipotent Fingers will become evident.
Zero is an integral member of the Arabic number line. It is the source and origin of all other numbers; without zero, 1, 2, 3, and so on would have no value or meaning. It is a number’s location relative to zero that gives that number either a positive or negative value. Zero as a number itself is poorly understood, and has been a source of controversy among mathematicians and philosophers for centuries. It has also been said that zero is not a number at all, but is merely a reference point. (This opinion held by John Wallis (1616-1703), a mathematician who made significant contributions to the world of trigonometry, calculus, and geometry and George Berkley (1685-1753), an Irish philosopher and Bishop in the Anglican church). John Wallis believed that it was possible to divide by zero, and the result was infinity, no matter the number being divided. German mathematician Martin Ohm (1792–1872) believed that division by zero was undefined, and it is this theory that is still taught in American schools. If early mathematicians were correct, one could deduce that counting begins and ends with zero, or that zero is the beginning and the end.
The idea of a point of origin being vital in understanding what encompasses it is not unknown to other great minds in other fields of study. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Philosopher, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church, wrote extensively about another vital Reference Point in his work “Summa Theoligica,” written 1265–1274. He theorized that in order for a being to be considered more or less good, true, noble, etc., there must be something or someone that is all good, perfectly true, and irrevocably noble. If something is “hotter,” it is only in relation to that which is “hottest.” In order for there to be being, there must be an origin of being, or a point from which being may be derived. This source of being is God. These characteristics of God, captured so beautifully in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, are also reflected in the properties of zero that we have discussed. Zero must be used as a reference for the numeral 1 to have a positive value, or for -1 to have a negative value. Without God as a moral reference, there is no good, and there is no evil. In contrast to zero, God is not a neutral source point that is neither good nor evil. He is the “all Good, perfectly True, and irrevocably Noble” to which may be compared better, truer, and nobler.Whether or not zero is a number, or if division by zero is possible, it is an invaluable reference point. Zero is not positive or negative, but must be used as a source for any other number on the number line in order for it to have a positive or negative value. If zero was removed from the number line, the number line itself as we know it would cease to exist. Even though zero is not understood, it must be in place to understand what is around it. The number line would be meaningless without zero as the point of origin.
Modern Catholic writer and professor of philosophy at Boston College Peter Kreeft explored another aspect of the mystery of God that is reflected in zero. In his book “Jesus-Shock,” he wrote, “[God] changed history, splitting it open like a coconut and inserting eternity into the split between B.C. and A.D.” This is a perfect reflection of the simple number line, with zero being the mentioned insertion. The infinite, unsearchable qualities of zero lend themselves as a type of the incomprehensible and unfathomable Nature of God. It is also God that gives meaning to actions. Using the moral compass He gave us in His Law, an action may be accurately classified as good or evil. Another Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church, Saint Augustine, wrote on the nature of good and evil, and theorized about what exactly good and evil are. Gregory Koukl explored Augustine’s thoughts in his article “Augustine on Evil.” God created all things good, so good they must be. Evil was not created by God, therefore, evil not a thing. Evil is merely a lack of good. To choose evil is merely to choose the lesser good, or to choose the opposite of good. Like dark is the absence of light, so evil is the absence of good. It could be said of negative numbers that they do not actually exist either, but are merely the absence of a positive value. There must have been an object present at one point in time in order for it to be missing in another. However the ‘missingness’ or absence of the object cannot be an object itself.
Like God, zero has no beginning and no end; zero simply is. There is no way for zero to have ever been created, nor is there any means for it to be removed or destroyed. It must always be, or all numbers cease to exist along with it. Zero is also the beginning and the end. It is the beginning of positive, and the end of negative. Similarly, God always was, is, and always will be; He is the beginning and the end. He is the creator, the source, and the sustainer of all creation.
Obviously, God cannot be contained into one idea – He is uncontainable. However, it behooves the believer to explore different aspects of the mysterious nature of God. When God created the world, He left His unmistakable fingerprints on everything. The order of the universe, the natural world, and the interaction of the elements are a few such examples of His Divine Fingerprint. Zero, and its relationship to numbers, is another. Although all of the attributes and qualities of God cannot be contained by anyone or anything, His reflection can be seen in His creation. Like an artist’s interests, style, and sometimes even personality is reflected in the art they create, so too is God reflected in His creation. Because He is the creator, and we are His created beings, His creatures, we cannot understand Him. That is one of many ways that we know He does indeed exist, and is our Source – He cannot be understood. It is this attribute that He left reflected in the theory of zero, and its relation to numbers. No one ever has debated that 2 comes after 1, or that 4 plus 4 equals 8, but as scientists and mathematicians attempt to define, explain, and understand zero, they are left more and more perplexed, and controversies abound. Perhaps it would benefit the world of science to address the theory that some things are not problems to be solved, but beautiful mysteries to be admired.