What Number Is God?

Metaphors, Metaphysics, Metamathematics, and the Nature of Things

By Sarah Voss

Subjects: Religion
Series: SUNY series in Western Esoteric Traditions
Paperback : 9780791424186, 214 pages, July 1995
Hardcover : 9780791424179, 214 pages, July 1995

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Table of contents

List of Figures



Chapter 1 Meta-View






Chapter 2 Image-ination in Mathematics and Religion

Blurred Boundaries

A Continuum


Literal vs. Metaphorical


Mathematics and Metaphorical Language

Chapter 3 Holy Mathematics


Number Symbolism


Computers and Chaos


Chapter 4 God the Definite Integral and Cantorian Religion

Towards Two Metaphors

The One and The Many

God the Definite Integral

Towards a Structure of Judgement


Towards a Cantorian Religion

A Strange Metaphor


Religion of All Religions

Metaphor Muddles



Appendix A. Understandings of Sign, Symbol, Metaphor,and Model in Religion and Mathematics: Summary of an Empirical Study


Reference List


This book uses modern mathematical metaphors to better understand religion and philosophy.


The ancient Greeks held that "number rules the universe" and that "God ever geometrizes." Here author Sarah Voss explores the historical connection between mathematics and religion in her provocative book, What Number Is God? Citing many examples, she shows that humankind has long used mathematics metaphorically to understand and make sense of life's most fundamental questions.

As Voss shows, contemporary society also uses metaphors of mathematics to investigate such issues, though in a fashion that is frequently overlooked or denied. The intentional use of contemporary mathematical ideas as metaphors for metaphysical notions can have a dramatic impact on modern society, in part by providing new symbols to replace old religious language which has lost its power to excite.

Sarah Voss, a Unitarian Universalist minister and former mathematics professor, is Director of the Nebraska Eastern Regional Math and Science Coalition. She has also written Voice to Voice and Heart to Heart: A Story of an Interim Ministry and Out of Our Prayers, Hope.


"Voss's work is probing, suggestive, easy to read. She's done masterful work of bringing together disparate fields—a nice blend of science, philosophy, and religion. It shows extremely good use of a wide-range of significant sources. Original. Sincere." — Peter A. Pav, Eckerd College

"The focus on science and religion alone would place this book into an arena of perennially significant works. The focus on mathematics, so widely misunderstood by both the initiated and the uninitiated, makes it all the more significant. The author also addresses the problem of metaphor in science, a topic of great concern in both literary theory circles and in the field of science and technology studies." — Sal Restivo, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute