Database: What Do History’s Great Mathematicians Think About God?

There is very often debate about whether science and religion are in conflict. I know from my own studies and will continue to affirm that these are not at all in conflict. There are quite a few ways to go about this, and I plan to take on every angle that I can. Since I am studying to be a mathematician, I thought I’d start there. For if Christianity is anti-science, then you wouldn’t expect to see very many Christians among the greatest mathematicians. Therefore, I thought it would be informative to do a sort of statistical study of the greatest mathematicians of history.

My aim here is to take a subset of the greatest who have ever lived in my professional field of mathematics – where I have the background knowledge to confirm the greatness of these mathematicians. I have used a website that has an all-time top 200 list of mathematicians (for this list of mathematicians and their accomplishments, see https://www.fabpedigree.com/james/mathmen.htm). This list is obviously not sectioned to bias any particular religious worldview, and so I figured I’d do a skim through it and do some considerations of what these great men and women believe about God.

To be properly balanced, I ought to say plainly that nothing can be totally proved from such a list, one way or another. This is purely statistical, and so nothing can be demonstrated beyond doubt. However, this can serve as evidence that can be evaluated in a ‘scientific’ way. Because the two opinions involved – the opinion that Christianity is anti-science at its core and that Christianity is compatible with science at its core – make different predictions about how many scientists and mathematicians embrace Christianity. Thus, while not conclusive, it ought to provide at least some insight into the questions at hand.

Over time, I hope to fill in more of the listings that I have put as ‘unclear’ or as ‘likely’ something-or-other. Turns out, this kind of biographical research isn’t always easy, as many people keep their beliefs about religion/God private. There are times that I have made educated guesses, and in those situations I have listed as ‘likely’ the conclusion. If I didn’t put ‘likely,’ this means that I found something that I found convincing (although I may well still be wrong). In any case, errors and inability to find information should approximately balance out.

The Top 200 Ranking, along with Views on God

  1. Isaac Newton – Christian
  2. Archimedes of Syracuse – Likely polytheist
  3. Carl F. Gauss – Christian
  4. Leonhard Euler – Christian (Calvinist)
  5. Bernhard Riemann – Christian
  6. Henri Poincaré – Atheist
  7. Joseph-Louis Lagrange – Agnostic
  8. Euclid of Alexandria – Likely polytheist
  9. David Hilbert – Agnostic
  10. Gottfried Leibniz – Christian
  11. Alexandre Grothendieck – Theist
  12. Pierre de Fermat – Christian (Likely Catholic)
  13. Évariste Galois – Unclear
  14. John von Neumann – Likely Agnostic
  15. René Descartes – Christian (Catholic)
  16. Karl Weierstrass – Likely Theist
  17. Srinivasa Ramanujan – Hindu
  18. Hermann Weyl – Deist
  19. Peter Dirichlet – Christian (Catholic)
  20. Niels Abel – Likely Christian (Lutheran)
  21. Georg Cantor – Christian (Lutheran)
  22. Carl Jacobi – Christian (from Judaism)
  23. Brahmagupta – Hindu
  24. Augustine Cauchy – Christian (Catholic)
  25. Arthur Cayley – Unclear
  26. Emmy Noether – Likely Jewish
  27. Pythagoras of Samos – ‘Pythagoreanism’
  28. Aryabhata – Likely Hindu
  29. Leonardo ‘Fibonacci’ Pisano – Christian (Catholic)
  30. William Hamilton – Unclear
  31. Appolonius of Perga – Unclear
  32. Charles Hermite – Christian (Catholic)
  33. Pierre-Simon Laplace – Agnostic
  34. Carl Siegel – Likely Theist
  35. Johannes Kepler – Christian
  36. Diophantus of Alexandria – Unclear
  37. Muhammad ibn al-Khwārizmī – Muslim
  38. Kurt Gödel – Likely Christian (Lutheran)
  39. Richard Dedekind – Unclear
  40. Felix Christian Klein – Unclear
  41. Bháscara (II) Áchárya – Likely Hindu
  42. Blaise Pascal – Christian (Catholic)
  43. Élie Cartan – Unclear
  44. Archytas of Tarentum – ‘Pythagoreanism’
  45. G.H. Hardy – Atheist
  46. Alhazen ibn al-Haytham – Muslim
  47. Jean le Rond d’Alembert – Atheist
  48. F.E.J Émile Borel – Unclear
  49. Julius Plücker – Unclear
  50. Hipparchus of Nicaea – Unclear
  51. Andrey Kolmogorov – Unclear
  52. Joseph Liouville – Unclear
  53. Eudoxus of Cnidus – Unclear (student of Plato)
  54. F. Gotthold Eisenstein – Christian (Protestant)
  55. Jacob Bernoulli – Christian (at least some ministry)
  56. Stefan Banach – Likely agnostic (possibly Catholic)
  57. Jacques Hadamard – Atheist
  58. Giuseppe Peano – Unclear
  59. Panini of Shalatula – Hindu
  60. André Weil – Agnostic (with heavy Hindu influence)
  61. Jean-Pierre Serre – Unclear
  62. Jakob Steiner – Unclear
  63. Marius Sophus Lie – Unclear
  64. Gottlob Frege – Christian (liberal Lutheran)
  65. François Viète – Christian (probably Protestant Huguenot)
  66. Christiaan Huygens – Christian (Protestant)
  67. M.E Camille Jordan – Unclear
  68. Joseph Fourier – Christian (Likely Catholic, considered becoming a monk)
  69. Bonaventura Cavalieri – Christian (Catholic, Jesuate monk)
  70. Hermann Grassman – Unclear (but I think Christian)
  71. Albert Einstein – Agnostic (maybe pantheist)
  72. James Clerk Maxwell – Christian (Evangelical or Presbyterian)
  73. Girolamo Cardano – Christian (Likely Catholic)
  74. Aristotle – Theist
  75. Galileo Galilei – Christian (Catholic)
  76. Michael Atiyah – Unclear
  77. Atle Selberg – Unclear
  78. Alfred Tarski – Atheist (yet also formally a member of the Catholic church)
  79. Gaspard Monge – Atheist
  80. L.E.J Brouwer – Unclear (I’d guess atheist, but am not sure)
  81. Liu Hui – Likely Taoist or Buddhist
  82. Alan Turing – Likely Theist (maybe atheist – a bit hard to tell)
  83. Jean-Victor Poncelet – Unclear
  84. John Littlewood – Unclear
  85. Shiing-Shen Chern – Unclear
  86. James Sylvester – Jewish
  87. Henri Lebesgue – Unclear
  88. Johann Bernoulli – Likely Christian (Protestant)
  89. Ernst Kummer – Unclear
  90. Johann Lambert – Christian (Likely Protestant)
  91. George Pólya – Agnostic
  92. Felix Hausdorff – Likely Atheist
  93. George Birkhoff – Unclear
  94. Pafnuti Chebyshev – Unclear
  95. Adrien Legendre – Unclear
  96. John Nash – Atheist
  97. Siméon-Denis Poisson – Unclear
  98. John Wallis – Christian (Clergyman)
  99. Omar al-Khayyam – Agnostic/Atheist
  100. Thales of Miletus – Likely Theist
  101. Hermann Minkowski – Jewish
  102. Simon Stevin – Likely Christian (Calvinist)
  103. Nicolai Lobachevsky – Atheist
  104. Andrei Markov – Atheist
  105. Daniel Bernoulli – Christian (Protestant)
  106. Mikhail Gromov – Unclear
  107. Paul Cohen – Likely Jewish
  108. John Milnor – Unclear
  109. Robert Langlands – Unclear
  110. John Conway – Likely Agnostic (Maybe Christian?)
  111. Pierre Deligne – Unclear
  112. William Thurston – Unclear
  113. Edward Witten – Likely Jewish
  114. Saharon Shelah – Likely Jewish
  115. Terrence Tao – Unclear
  116. John Thompson – Unclear
  117. Simon Donaldson – Unclear
  118. Vladimir Arnold – Unclear
  119. Stephen Smale – Unclear
  120. Timothy Gowers – Unclear
  121. Pappus of Alexandria – Unclear
  122. Sofia Kovalevskaya – Likely Atheist
  123. Leopold Kronecker – Christian (late-life convert from Judaism)
  124. Thabit ibn Qurra – Muslim
  125. Siméon Denis Poisson – Unclear
  126. Paul Erdős – Agnostic (maybe atheist)
  127. Jean Gaston Darboux – Unclear
  128. Nasir al-Din al-Tusi – Muslim (Shia)
  129. Ferdinand Georg Frobenius – Likely Christian (Protestant)
  130. George Boole – Christian (Unitarian)
  131. Hippocrates of Chios – Unclear
  132. James Gregory – Likely Christian (Protestant)
  133. John Napier – Likely Christian (Protestant)
  134. Norbert Wiener – Likely Jewish
  135. Lennart Carleson – Unclear
  136. Emil Artin – Unclear
  137. Ptolemy of Alexandria – Unclear
  138. Tullio Levi-Civita – Likely Jewish
  139. J. Müller ‘Regimontanus’ – Christian (Catholic)
  140. Abu Rayhan al-Biruni – Muslim
  141. Girald Desargues – Likely Christian (Catholic)
  142. John Tate – Unclear
  143. Alfred Clebsch – Unclear
  144. Oliver Heaviside – Christian (non-practicing Unitarian)
  145. Alexis Clairaut – Unclear
  146. Oswald Veblin – Unclear (maybe Christian, Lutheran)
  147. Colin Maclaurin – Christian
  148. Qin Jiushao – Unclear
  149. Henri Cartan – Unclear
  150. Henry J.S. Smith – Unclear
  151. Lars Valerian Ahlfors – Unclear
  152. Rafael Bombelli – Christian
  153. Michel Chasles – Likely Christian (Catholic)
  154. William Clifford – Likely Theist (?)
  155. Samuel Eilenberg – Likely Jewish
  156. Maurice René Fréchet – Unclear
  157. Lars Hörmander – Unclear
  158. Kunihiko Kodaira – Unclear
  159. Edmund Landau – Likely Jewish
  160. Peter Lax – Likely Jewish
  161. Leonardo da Vinci – Christian (Catholic)
  162. Augustus Möbius – Unclear
  163. Nicole Oresme – Christian (Catholic, Bishop of Lisieux)
  164. Roger Penrose – Agnostic
  165. Grigori Perelman – Unclear
  166. Plato of Athens – Theist (or at least close)
  167. Lev Pontryagin – Unclear (maybe atheist)
  168. Waclaw Sierpinski – Unclear
  169. Yakov Sinai – Likely Jewish
  170. Isadore Singer – Unclear
  171. Thoralf Skolem – Unclear
  172. Evangelista Torricelli – Christian (Catholic)
  173. S.G. Vito Volterra – Likely Jewish
  174. Zhu Shiejie – Likely Shamanism
  175. Jamshid Al-Kashi – Muslim
  176. Eugenio Beltrami – Unclear
  177. Bernard Bolzano – Catholic (priest)
  178. Raol Bott – Likely Catholic
  179. Luigi Cremona – Unclear
  180. Max Dehn – Likely Jewish
  181. Paul Dirac – Atheist
  182. Eratosthenes of Cyrene – Unclear
  183. Gerd Faltings – Unclear
  184. Michael Freedman – Unclear
  185. Marie-Sophie Germain – Unclear
  186. Vaughn F.R. Jones – Unclear
  187. Kazimierz Kuratowski – Unclear
  188. Jean Leray – Unclear
  189. Benoit Mandelbrot – Jewish
  190. Yuri Matiyasevich – Unclear
  191. Eliakim Moore – Likely Christian (Methodist)
  192. David Mumford – Unclear
  193. G. Personne de Roberval – Unclear
  194. Claude Shannon – Atheist
  195. Goro Shimura – Unclear
  196. Endre Szemerédi – Unclear
  197. Brook Taylor – Unclear
  198. Jacques Tits – Unclear
  199. Karen Uhlenbeck – Unclear
  200. Oscar Zariski – Atheist

Given this list, it would be interesting in light of the question of a “science/religion conflict” what the overall statistic of this group are. If, say, Christianity is anti-science at its core, we should expect to see very few Christians on this list. The totals will only be accumulated for those figures I feel confident that I have reliable information on.

Statistics on Beliefs

Total Counted: 116 (Uncounted: 84)

Theist / Atheist + Agnostic / Other: 79 / 26 / 11

Christian: 49

Atheist/Agnostic: 26

Jewish (religiously): 15

Uncommitted Theist/Deist: 9

Muslim: 6

Hindu: 5

Other: 6

Notes for the Reader

  • As in all of my database articles, this article may be updated from time to time. I will update this database both in accordance with new information that I learn as well as with any information that seems reliable provided to me by any of my readers.

2 thoughts on “Database: What Do History’s Great Mathematicians Think About God?

  1. Something that I feel like should be noted (but maybe not) is the cultural pressure to present as Christian in a large chunk of European history. I would think saying you weren’t Christian would be bad for your career prospects and relationships with other people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Given the number of publicly held “heretical” views I encountered, I have serious doubt that this is really any sort of significant contributing factor, although I don’t doubt it may affect some instances.

      Regardless, there is a bigger point involved. Often the claim is made that Christianity writ large is anti-science. If this were so, you would expect that “Christian dominated societies” would produce few or no scientists/mathematicians. But in fact, such societies produce a large number of scientists and mathematicians, and so this serves as one piece of evidence that Christianity (and religion as a whole for that matter) does not oppose the advancement of science. Really, that is my main takeaway from the time put into this. (I am also working on a scientist version and philosopher version of this. So far, the statistics are fairly similar, although there are interesting variations)

      Like

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