IDIS150-12 Infinity and the Christian Mind
Interim, 2007


Course Description and Objectives

Developing a Christian Mind (DCM) is a first-year interim course that introduces students to the central intellectual project of Calvin College, the development of a Christian worldview and a broad, faith-based engagement with the ambient culture. Employing a mixture of perspectival readings, films, and class discussions, we will consider basic Biblical themes in the scope of life in the modern world on our way to formulating a Christian frame of reference for pursuing a vocation. As with other sections of DCM, some of our time will be devoted to exploring a particular topic — infinity — as a rehearsal of how academic study can be informed by Christian faith.

A.W. Moore has well said that infinity “must raise questions of the most fundamental kind about the world, about us, and about our place in the world.” It is a concept that has intrigued not only mathematicians, philosophers, and theologians, but also musicians and artists. This section focuses on the development of the concept of infinity in mathematics and philosophy, beginning with the Greeks (Plato, Aristotle) and medieval philosophers (Aquinas). Students consider how the discovery of the Calculus (Newton, Leibniz), the introduction of rigor leading to transfinite set theory (Cantor), and the reactions to the paradoxes involved have further developed the notion of infinity. The interplay among mathematics, philosophy, and theology is particularly important as students reflect on the significance of infinity, not only in relationship to intellectual history, but also in relationship to our lives of faith.

Required Texts

Course Elements

  1. Attendance and Participation. In this class it is expected that you attend all the class and plenary sessions, attend all required films and January Series sessions, that you come to class each day, having read, outlined (taken notes), and thought about the day's reading, lectures and films, and are ready to contribute and benefit from class discussions, and that you have completed the night's assignment. Absences from class will be excused, at the instructor's discretion, only in cases of illness or family emergencies.
  2. Concerning Readings, Assignments and Discussions. On most evenings there will be reading assignments of upwards of 50 pages. These are listed in blue on the course calendar, and an entry on a given day means you are to read it that night for the following day. If a reading is available on-line, then the course calendar entry will be a link taking you to the article. Do not be surprised if reading assignments change prior to the date they are assigned; you should always visit the calendar on the day of the assignment to get the "final" version. Not everything you are assigned will be easy reading; you should expect to have to re-read passages from time to time. One handout I will provide to the class offers suggestions on how to get the most out of your reading; I recommend you consult page xii of the “Preface” to the DCM Reader for further suggestions.

    Class discussions will take place both in small groups and in the larger class setting. Please be respectful of each other as you and your classmates express opinions. This includes carefully listening to, thinking about, and even seeking out what others have to say. Try to take a person's words at face value, adopting (for the length of the discussion) whatever definitions that person wishes to use, and avoiding placing a label upon anyone. A salve for feelings of dislike toward a person is the reminder that God “has made us (each one of us here), and we are his.” (Ps. 100:3). At the same time, we will not all agree on every issue discussed. Our learning is a communal activity, and withholding your considered opinion denies us all the chance to grow. So, I implore you to speak truth to each other in love (Eph. 4:15). What is desired is productive discussion of ideas, without monopolization or belittling of another participant in that discussion.

  3. Homework. Most nights, along with a set of readings to complete (a film to watch, etc.), you will have some sort of writing assignment. Often these will take the form of a 1-page (typed, double-spaced) journal entry, written as a response to some question. The goal of such assignments is to convince the professor you have read the assigned readings, that you understand them, and that you have given some thought to how the ideas presented therein might (or might not) apply to your life.

    Assume your audience (me) has some background, but needs brief reminders about the meanings of concepts you pull from the readings. Assume also that your reader will be skeptical of your assertions and require an example or supporting data.

  4. Final essay and exam. The course will have just one exam, given on the final day of class. At this time you will submit an integrative essay of 900-1500 words, typed and double-spaced, which serves as the take-home part of the final. The in-class portion will be closed-book.


Your attendance and assignments (generally informal writing) will count as 50% of your overall grade. One or two “check-minuses” that are counterbalanced by the same number of “check-pluses” will be considered a B, as concerning the writing component of that. A significant leaning towards “check-pluses” will be considered an A, but a predominance of “check-minuses” may result in something worse than a C on this part of your grade. The rest of your grade will be determined by your final exam, consisting of an integrative essay (20%) and an in-class portion (30%). The essay will be assigned on the last Friday of the term, and will be due at the time of the in-class exam.


Reasonable academic accomodations will be made for individuals with documented disabilities. Any student who this concerns should notify one of the Coordinators for Services for Students with Disabilities located in the Student Academic Services office, HH 455. That student should also meet with me during the first two days of class to discuss academic accomodations.

This page maintained by: Thomas L. Scofield
Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Calvin College

Last Modified: Tuesday, 02-Jan-2007 15:48:24 EST