Philosophy and Fun of Algebra by Mary Everest Boole

Because Philosophy and Fun of Algebra is a non-fiction work, I decided to see what information I could obtain on the author. Here are a couple of fun facts:

  • Her uncle, Colonel Sir George Everest, was the cartographer who mapped his namesake mountain.
  • Her husband, George Boole, developed Boolean algebra which has become a foundational element of modern computing.
  • She worked and taught at Queens College.
  • Mary Everest Boole had quite the background by the time she began writing books.

Boole’s husband influenced her thinking and it appears that she turned away from the teaching of her childhood. I spent a few moments here exploring her biography and was unable to determine whether or not her father was a true believer. Either way, by the time that she died Mary Everest Boole had rejected any belief in the God of the Bible. This is evident from her writing in the Philosophy and Fun of Algebra.

The positive aspect of the book is simple and straight forward. Yeah, there is only one good part to this short book “children’s” book. She argues strongly for clear logical thinking skills. She does not confine algebra to a branch of math, but to a way of life. According to Boole, algebra requires that one recognize ones ignorance. Until one realizes that they are ignorant and then factor that ignorance into the equation, they can never solve any problem with certainty. The first several chapters efficiently explain logical thinking and reasoning. As this capability has been nearly lost by most of our society… it makes for a good review.

The negative aspect of this book is also simple and straight forward. Boole has rejected the God of the Bible. Her god is one of reason and logic. Therefore, I find it ironic that she uses the Bible as her primary source of examples of good logic and algebraic thinking. If she actually read the Bible at face value, she wouldn’t have sounded so ridiculous. In her rationalism and rejection of God, she reinterprets all of the spiritual aspects of the Bible and uses her reinterpretation as the “facts” in her algebraic equation. Then she applies algebraic thinking to the Scripture and ends up with concepts and ideas that are completely contrary to the text. When Bible teaches in Exodus 20 that God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, Boole reads this and arrives at a quite different destination. Apparently, Moses recognized the basis of algebraic thinking and determined that everyone in his country should think in the same manner as he did or leave. Moses set up a system based on the Ten Commandments to enable simple management.

If you are going to teach logic, at least use examples that don’t require massive reinterpretations before they are useable. It’s not logical to do otherwise. Actually, this could lead to an intriguing conversation about faith and reason applied to the Bible, but I will leave that for another day. Suffice it to say, God did not intend for the Bible to conform to man’s reasoning. If the Bible conformed to man’s reasoning then man would not need faith; and if man could reason and understand God, then God would be equal to man.

I recommend this book to adults as a refresher on logic. It might assist a parent attempting to assist their child with critical thinking skills, but I wouldn’t recommend this book for children. Boole attempts to undermine Scripture too much for me to be comfortable with that.


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