Marvin Bittinger

My story consists of two roads. Separate and parallel for some time, they eventually come together in a plan God had for my life that both mystifies and humbles my heart. Each road is paved with paradox. The first road of my story leads to my career as a math textbook author. Indeed, as a student you may know me from having studied from one of my books. Someone once described me as "The guy you love to hate when you go to the bookstore!" People who write your textbooks are real people. My life's work has been dedicated to your learning. I often wish that I could have each and every one of my textbook students in the classroom. I grapple with finding the best way to convey mathematics to you in hopes that you can use it to fulfill God's dream for your life. Born in August of 1941, in Akron, Ohio, I was raised by my grandparents. My grandmother was the dominant person in my upbringing. I shall be forever grateful to her to for raising me in a Christian home and for teaching me the value of college. There was never an issue of whether I was going to college - it was only where and how. I made $5 a week delivering groceries to a nursing home for children who had polio. I remember being taught to save $3.00, spend $1.50, and give $0.50 to the church. Later, I delivered newspapers and used the income in the same proportions. I wish I could weave a glamorous story of my passion for mathematics as a child. Math was a favorite subject, but I never considered becoming a math major, or a professor, let alone a math textbook author. There are two "math events" that I recall vividly. The first occurred when at age 10 I worked out an informal, simplistic, proof that there could not be a largest number: Suppose there is a largest number. Then add 1 to that number and you have a larger number. But that contradicts that we just said there was a largest number. Thus, there is no largest number. The second "math event" occurred in 11th grade in high school. I received a D as my 6-week grade in algebra. I know now that my teacher was teaching me a lesson, because she saw how fast I was handing in my tests. She wanted me to go over my work carefully. My high school transcript does not show this D; only semester grades appear. Yet, it may have foreshadowed my interest in math education. I have warned my students to take all the time they are allowed for tests - work problems repeatedly to avoid mistakes. Math authors can have bumps in the road. I went to college planning to major in engineering. This was at the urging of my uncles, both of whom were in scientific fields. I took chemistry and had to work hard to get Bs. When I was a sophomore, I took physics and struggled to make C's. The thought soon came vividly to mind, "How can you be an engineer with these science grades?" Some people assert that God speaks to them. I won't answer how that happens for others, but I think God speaks to me when a thought comes to mind that is creative, worthwhile, and unequivocal. While pondering my major I think God spoke to me asking: "Marv, what subject do you like the best?" I answered, "Math." "What subject do you get the best grades?" "Math." "Then, why don't you major in math?" With great joy, I promptly changed majors to mathematics education. My life changed so dramatically because now I was submitting to God's plan for my life. I am often asked the question, "How did you happen to go into math education?" The most succinct answer is, "Because I had such a remarkable string of wonderful math teachers." I can name them all the way from 7th grade through graduate school. I have always been a careful, if not demanding, observer of my teachers, especially my math teachers. Because I was fortunate to have such a string of great role models, they inspired my interest in the field. How did I become a math textbook author? I had the utmost respect for my math books. I never sold them. While at Purdue University, 1965-1968, working on my doctorate in mathematics education, I took a course in advanced geometry with a professor who was a very successful author at the time. Upon leaving his office, I summoned the courage to ask, "How does one get started writing math textbooks?" He responded, "The best way is to associate with someone who has already written. I have a manuscript for a trigonometry book. Though three or four people worked on it, none had the desire to finish it. Would you like to try?" It was like raw meat had been thrown to a wolf. I seized the opportunity with all the vigor I could manage and wrote that book while I was finishing my Ph.D. dissertation. While that book was not particularly successful, it paved the way for others that were. Now, 48 years and 197 books later, I marvel at God's plan for my life. Ever try to figure out how the turtle got on top of the fencepost? Only God could get me to that place through His plan. The second road of my story focuses on the spiritual side of my life. The two roads ran together when God led me to write a book which integrates mathematics and Christianity, The Faith Equation: One Mathematicians Journey in Christianity (FEQ). September 23, 1998 is my heart attack "birthday." That evening, my precious wife and I went for a walk. I became aware of a feeling of tightness in my chest. It bore little resemblance to what I thought chest pains should be; it was not like being hit with a baseball bat, or having a cement block placed on my chest. Instead, I seemed to want to push my chest out to relieve the tightness. When we got home the tightness went away. I went to bed and slept well until about 3:30 AM when I got up to go to the bathroom. The tightness was now back, but this time I was in a cold sweat. I woke Elaine and told her that we should drive to the ER. I told Elaine to stop, look left and right, and then run the lights. I knew I was in trouble. To our amazement when we got to the ER, there were no other patients. I had the attention of all the doctors and nurses. They infused IVs, and connected me to an EKG. Shortly, the doctor patted me on the shoulder and said, "I have bad news, and good news! The bad news is that you are having a heart attack. The good news is that it is on the right side, and that gives you a better chance for recovery." I looked over at Elaine sitting nearby, pointed my finger up, and she did as well. The unstated implication was that we were both praying. My life really did flash before my eyes. I thought of all the times I had resisted God's will, pursued my passions instead of his, and thought I was always going to be in control. My prayer went something like this, "God, you finally have my attention! I know you are in control of whatever happens from here. If you want to take me, I'll accept that. If you want me to live, it is my preference to stay. I would love to see my grandchildren (at that time none existed)!" A certain peace came over me that I can never explain. Elaine commented later that in similar situations, I would normally panic - but not this time. I think it was because I had turned everything over to God. It was not 30 seconds later that I went into cardiac arrest - I coded. I have an absolutely clear memory of that experience, at least until I passed out. I soon returned to consciousness, hearing the doctor casually say, "He's back now." He had resuscitated me with the defibrillating paddles. I left the hospital three days later after receiving two stents for the blocked arteries. It was a blessing to be treated with the stents, instead of undergoing bypass surgery. It is paradoxical, that I had been exercising for several years, watching my diet fairly well and had even passed a treadmill test with flying colors only five weeks before. My blockage was some combination of bad genetics and poor eating habits from my youth. Following my recovery, I asked God what he wanted from me for the rest of my life. The paradoxical message came through, "Marv, look at all the passions you have had in your life - your sports, bowling, softball, baseball, Purdue University athletics, baseball camps, hiking in Utah, efforts at career advancement, and moving up the academic ladder, all of a self-centered nature. Why don't you give me the same passion?" I heard the message. It initiated intense reading of the Bible and other theological materials. I had never read the Bible, rebelling in my youth against the "Thees and Thous" of the King James Version. Now it was like having a straw in a milkshake of wisdom. I couldn't slurp up the knowledge fast enough. I studied the Bible intensely, but from the more readable New Living Translation. I started finding mathematics. Could God give me spiritual wisdom and mathematics at the same time? I couldn't be that blessed! The first mathematics I saw was frequent references to the number 7. It turns out that the words "seven" or "seventh" are mentioned in the first 21 out of 39 books of the Old Testament. The first occurrence is in the second chapter of Genesis, and the last appearance is in the next to last chapter of the New Testament book of Revelation. This began an 8-yr journey to another book, The Faith Equation. It was my goal in the book to integrate theology and mathematics as evidence of the Christian faith. A topic was considered only if it could be presented in a framework of mathematics. Because mathematics is the handmaiden of the sciences, there are inevitable references and examples from science, but in FEQ mathematics is in the forefront. The audience for the book is anyone who seeks to explore the Christian faith in a mathematical framework. There are excellent books that manage to bring what seem like advanced physics topics such as quantum physics, string theory, and relativity within the grasp of the ordinary reader. My goal was to bring topics like college algebra, probability, statistics and a slight amount of calculus, within the grasp of the ordinary reader in an examination of Christian theology. In situations where the math level may seem high, I encourage the reader to who is not particularly math skillful "to read around the mathematics" to get the ideas and results. Indeed, many of my readers have found meaning and encouragement from the book by reading in this way. The following topics are considered: '¢ Faith Axioms, '¢ Paradox and Psycho-Spiritual Growth, '¢ Probability and prophecy, '¢ Modeling the Growth of Christian Evangelism, '¢ The Power of Prayer, '¢ Higher Dimensions '¢ Numerical applications of mathematics in the Bible, and '¢ Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem as a metaphor in faith. The topic of paradox integrates mathematical logic and theology to create a cornerstone for the rest of the book. For more information check out the website [][/link], which includes sample chapters, as well as questions for research and discussion such as might be used in a Bible Study or a senior capstone course. Skeptics and those with a math background will be quick to ask what the faith equation is - I would. A person who becomes a follower of Christ inevitably comes to a faith decision of the mind, the heart, and the will. I define the faith equation to be Faith = (Mind) + (Heart)+ (Will). The faith equation is more allegorical, like a memory device, rather than an equation involving mathematical expressions, though these tools are used throughout the book. My mind is engaged with the equation as it gathers evidence for the decision. My heart is engaged in the equation when, despite even some intellectual hurdles, I feel the need for something to fill a void in my life by God or by faith. My heart is involved when I know within me that there is some disconnect that life is not providing an answer for. In heart tells me I hurt, I feel, I need, I long... The will is engaged as I choose to come to faith ' it is a choice that seems to be directed by a commitment and a bias to action. In FEQ the evidence for the mind is presented primarily in a framework of mathematics, though admittedly there is an immense amount of evidence that lies outside the realm of mathematics. Numerous theologians implore Christians to admit the mind into their faith. J. P. Moreland writes, "'¦ it is clear that something has gone desperately wrong with our modern understanding of the value of reason and intellectual development for individual discipleship and corporate church life '¦ faith is built on reason. We should have good reasons for thinking that Christianity is true before we dedicate ourselves completely to it." Accordingly, I coined the following motto for my book: God says, "I gave you a brain! Use it my defense! I know I can stand the test!" To my knowledge, no absolute mathematical proof of the worth of the Christian faith exists. But, mathematics can provide evidence along a journey that brings one closer and closer to that marvelous leap of faith in Christ. In FEQ the journey intersperses day-to-day spiritual struggles of the author amid situations where mathematics can be brought to bear in defense of the faith. As an author of mathematics textbooks I'm often like a cat on the prowl looking for applications. It was inevitable that applications of mathematics would find its way into my studies of the Bible, theology, and apologetics (defense of the faith). Millions of people study mathematics in high school and college. The least amount of mathematics needed to encounter the book is a course in college algebra. Even those not particularly in math skillful can grasp the effect of a very large exponent in a denominator, or the intersection of two graphs, or imagine the idea of a higher dimension. In short, it is possible to gather lots of meaningful Christian apologetics in this book by "reading around the math." Yet, there is enough mathematics to satisfy or entice those blessed with skills of higher mathematics. * * *

My Life

Favorite Quote

I don't have all the answers, but I have most of the questions.

Friends describe me

Using gifts God gave him to make the world a better place.

My hobbies

Hiking in Utah, baseball, women's softball, Purdue sports, Indianapolis Colts, reading.

Fantasy dinner guests

My mother, who I never knew because she died when I was 10 days old; God, M. Scott Peck, C. S. Lewis, Kurt Godel, Peyton Manning

Best advice I ever received

From college go right to grad school and try to finish before having children.

My undergrad alma mater


My worst subject in school


In college I drove

1951 Chevy with a hole in the floorboard through which snow blew on Elaine when we were dating.

If I weren't a professor, I would

Be an architect because you can see the result of your labors.

Favorite movies

Waterloo Bridge, Giant, Alien, Big Country, Schindler's List, Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Thing, On The Beach, Picnic, plus one hundred more (write to me.)

Favorite city

Moab, Utah

Favorite coffee

Rainforest Nut by Green Mountain

Nobody knows I

Once when changing clothes to go out for the evening, I put on my pajamas instead of my suit.

My latest accomplishment

Writing the book,