When I speak to others about the connection between faith and science, one of my FAVORITE topics to share is famous scientists who were Catholic. Throughout the years there have been quite a few, and when I talk about it I almost always include examples of great scientists of today who are Catholic. But because I’m a big fan of math, one of my favorite Catholic scientists to talk about is Blaise Pascal. Long before I knew he was Catholic, I actually made a school project in elementary school about him and his life.
He lived in the 1600s in France, and was a very famous mathematician, theologian, and physicist. He was a bit of a child prodigy; he published his first paper on geometry around the age of 17. Pascal’s inventions and discoveries have been instrumental to the fields of mathematics, physics, and computer science, and yet, the idea of his that sticks out the most to me is “Pascal’s Triangle”.
Pascal’s Triangle is a triangle where each square is the sum of the two squares above it, with the exception of the first one.
At first glance this might seem unremarkable, but when you start to look at it there are a LOT of patterns inside this thing. Here are just a few…
The sum of the nth row is 2n, starting with the 0th row.
20=1, 21=2, 22=4, etc.
The nth row of Pascal's triangle contains the coefficients of the expanded polynomial (x+y)n.
One of my favorite patterns is the “hockey stick identity”. Start at any of the "1" elements on the left or right side of Pascal's triangle. Add up each of the squares diagonally in a straight line, and stop at any time. Then, the next element down diagonally in the opposite direction will equal that sum.
I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent staring at this triangle, trying to find new patterns that I’ve never found before (even though there are much smarter mathematicians out there who have definitely found those patterns before). I know, I know, nerd alert! But most recently I was thinking of this triangle because it resembled another triangle/chart that I had seen.
The reason I have seen the chart above is because the R0 number for COVID-19 is 2.2. That means for every person infected, they will on average give it to 2.2 more people. This is how it continues to grow so rapidly. I feel like this is pretty simple math and science, but maybe that is because I have a doctorate in math and science. I don’t know. But because I understand this idea, I have been staying at home, far away from the rest of the world so that I don’t get infected, so that I don’t infect those 2.2 others.
I think this last sentence is important when trying to understand the mentality people are taking towards this dangerous virus. Many people are only thinking about the first half, “I’m staying home… SO I DON’T GET INFECTED”. They are focusing on whether they will get infected and how that affects them personally. If they are even a fairly healthy person, they then think that they can do whatever they want because the worst that could happen is that they get the virus and then feel like they have a cold because they have a healthy immune system. Even if that were true, which the numbers are starting to show otherwise, they forget the last part of my previous statement, “I’m staying home… so that I don’t infect those 2.2 others.”
One of the main traits of Christianity is self-sacrifice and love of our neighbor. There’s even a silly earworm of a song about it: “And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yeah they'll know we are Christians by our love.” (I apologize for getting that stuck in your head) The song doesn’t say that they will know we are Christians by how we look out for ourselves.
Jesus speaks to this point many times throughout the gospels, but one of the times that sticks out the most to me is the parable of the goats. (Matthew 25:31-46) Jesus speaks of the final judgement when the Son of Man returns in glory. On that day He will separate the saved from those who are not saved. He goes on to list the good things the saved people had done, one of them being “When I was sick, you looked after me.” A man speaks up asking when they had ever seen Him sick and Jesus answers “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
This is one of those times he was talking about. This is a time when our brothers and sisters are sick. They are older or have other underlying health risks. This is the time to look after them. We must see the face of God in each and every one of them and act accordingly. This can be difficult. There are so many wonderful things in this world that we want to do, but right now we must show strength of will and hold back. We must show the world that we are Christians by restricting ourselves to our homes as much as possible. That is how we can show love. That is how we can reflect the love of Christ. This is the challenge that we are called to today, every single one of us.