George Bernard Dantzig had just received his Masters Degree in mathematics in 1937 and a short time later was accepted as a Doctoral candidate in mathematics at the University of California.
His Doctorate would be interrupted by World War 2 and Dantzig, who died in 2005 at age 90, would finally receive it in 1946.
But one day in 1939, he was late for a Doctorate statistics class. When he arrived, his college professor, Dr. Jerzy Neyman, had written two statistical problems on the black board.
Believing these were class assignments, Dantzig wrote them down and took them home. In an 1986 interview with College Mathematics Journal, he said the two questions proved quite challenging and it took him a few days to complete them.
After finishing, he sheepishly approached Dr. Neyman apologizing for having taken so long. When Dantzig asked if he still wanted the assignment, the professor told him to throw it on his desk cluttered with paper.
Six weeks later, on a Sunday morning at about 8 AM, while Dantzig and his wife were still in bed, there was a pounding at the door. When they opened the door, Professor Neyman was excitedly standing before them with Dantzig’s assignment in his hand.
Neyman said he had written an introduction to Dantzig’s paper and wanted him to check it over. Once done, his professor would then send the paper off for publication.
Dantzig said he initially had no idea what Neyman was talking about.
Neyman then explained that the two problems that he had put on his blackboard weeks earlier were examples to the class of unsolvable statistical problems that had plagued mathematicians for years.
But Dantzig unaware of this had solved both.
Christian Televangelist Robert Shuller would later use Dantzig’s story in one of his books on the power of positive thinking. Dantzig said though Shuller exaggerated the story a bit, it was essentially correct.
“The moral of his theorem was this: If I had know that the problems were not homework, but in fact two famous unsolved problems in statistics, I probably would not have thought positively, would have become discouraged, and would never have solved them.”
Essentially if Dantzig had first realized that other great mathematicians had failed to solve these questions he would have doubted his own ability to complete them. He would thought the answer was impossible.
I think there is a lesson on faith for us here.
Jesus and the disciples were walking down a road. Hungry, Jesus saw a fig tree. When He approached it and found no fruit, Jesus rebuked the tree.
“May no one ever eat fruit from you again,” Jesus said (Mark 11:14 NASV)
The next day, as they were walking down the same road, they came across the tree, but this time it was withered from the root up.
When Peter excitedly pointed to the tree, Jesus replied:
22 “Have faith in God. 23 Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. 24 Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. (Mark 11:22-23 NASV)
Notice what Jesus says. If people believed they could say to a mountain be cast into the sea and it would happen.
But notice the catcher. Jesus adds that you can not “doubt in your heart.” It is not what we say or claim, it is what is happening in the deep recesses of our heart that determines the outcome of our prayers. That is where faith resides.
Doubt and unbelief are faith killers. We can talk all we want, but it’s doubt and unbelief that kicks our faith out from beneath us. It is unbelief that stops us from moving forward.
Some people like to get around this problem by saying we just need more faith. It almost sounds spiritual. They look at faith as a thermostat. The more we turn it up, the hotter it gets. The more faith we have, the more miracles we perform.
The reality is faith is like a light switch it is either on or off. You either believe or you don’t believe.
“Then He [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27 NIV)
- What does it mean to have great faith?
- A strange answer to the disciples’ plea for more faith
- What really sunk Peter?