Monday, January 09, 2006

The Bible Implies that Pi is Three. Deal With It.

Update: January 9, 6:33 pm I have slightly revised the third paragraph of this essay.




I realize I'm on blog vacation right now, but I couldn't resist responding to this little math lecture from David Heddle.

Answers in Genesis front man Ken Ham has a standard stock speech on the age of the Earth; I've heard him deliver it more than once. In one of his best lines he ridicules poeple who try to interpret the days of chapter one of Genesis as anything other than literal twenty-four hour days. He says something like: Some people say that day means a general period of time or that day refers to a long age of time or that there was a gap between the first and second day. Maybe. But sometimes day means day.

I don't say this very often, but I think Ham has a point. The clear and simple meaning of the text is that “day” refers to a standard twenty-four hour day. To interpret it any other way is to suggest that God laid out a creation story riddled with obfuscation and ambiguity.

I was thinking of that as I read Heddle's heroic and imaginative attempt to deny the obvious: that certain Bible verses unambiguously imply that pi equals 3. In particular, we look at 1 Kings, 7:23. The King James Bible presents it this way:


And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.


The New American Bible is even clearer:


The sea was then cast; it was made with a circular rim, and measured ten cubits across, five in height, and thirty in circumference.


The term “sea” here refers to a large circular tank, but that is not the interesting part. Rather, it is the part about the tank being ten cubits across and thirty in circuferemce. Every high school geometry student knows that the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter gives you pi. In this case, we have a cricumference of 30 and a diameter of 10. That implies that pi equals three. But, actually, pi doesn't equal three.

Thus, what is being described here is a logical impossibility. Even God can't construct a circle with a diameter of ten and a circumference of thirty, just like He can't build a rock so heavy even He can't lift it. Especially in the New American version the text is so clear that you wouldn't think there'd be anything to argue about.

But Heddle is determined to convince us that the plain meaning of the text is not the correct one. So he offers up a variety of reasons for why, in this case, day doesn't mean day.

Heddle writes:


The underlying assumption is that the ancients were morons. (This assumption is usually reserved for ancient Hebrews alone. The Aztecs, for example, are assumed to be cultural and scientific geniuses who knew the secrets of the Super String landscape, which they enjoyed discussing over high protein meals derived from their own species.)

Any civilization building anything circular would have known that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter is slightly greater than 3. The Mesopotamians of a much earlier era used the approximate value of 25/8 = 3.125. The Egyptians may have had a much better value long before Solomon’s Temple. Here we see the assumption of stupidity: The Hebrews either didn’t know what their neighbors knew or they did know but didn’t bother to put accurate information into their sacred writings, in spite of its potential effect of weakening claims regarding the veracity of the holy words.


Of course, the Hebrews were not some Borg-like monolith in which things known to one were suddenly known to all. To believe that the Biblical writers erred here is simply to assume that one or a few particular Hebrews were unaware of a fairly obscure mathematical point. It is true that many ancient civilizations made impressive strides in mathematics. But it is equally true that most of the people alive at those times would have been unable to tell you about them.

The fact is, if basic geometry and the nature of pi really were common knowledge, the writers would surely have known that it is redundant to provide both the diameter and the circumference of a circle. The mere fact that they provided both suggests that either they didn't know about this redundancy, or did not assume their readers would know about it.

After all, the situation is hardly different today. Do a man on the street interview and I suspect you'd find a depressingly small percentage of people who could tell you pi to two decimal places. And it's only a tiny percentage of those who could tell you that pi represents the ratio of the circumference to the diameter.

So Heddle's snideness about the relative intellectual achievments of the Hebrews and the Aztecs is simply uncalled for.

But back to business. Heddle writes:


Not that any of that matters, because what is provided in the Bible is a description (“He made”), not a blueprint (“Makest Thou”).

There are several possible explanations—each one could stand alone but all may contribute to a certain extent.

The simplest explanation is technological. It was not possible to cast a brass object of such size in the shape of a perfect circle. So if one intended, roughly, to give its size using the (redundant) parameters of a circle—circumference and diameter, there would already be built into the description an error—given that the object was only approximately circular.

So the simplest explanation is that we are being given a rough description in terms of approximate dimensions of an imperfect shape. (Emphasis in original.)


For some reason this argument reminds me of a scene from the television show Newhart (the one in the Vermont inn, not the one where he played a psychologist). In the show Bob Newhart played an author of do-it-yourself books. He wanted his handyman George (played by Tom Poston) to build a bookcase of the right dimensions to fill a particular space along a wall. As it happened, Newhart had written a book discussing how to build such bookcases, and he wanted George to use it.

George was insulted. He gestured to the wall and said, “You want a bookcase yay tall and yay wide. I don't need a book to tell me how to do that.” Newhart replied, “Yay tall? Yay wide? My book gives you exact measurements.” George rolls his eyes and says, “Oh, I'm sorry. You want a bookcase exactly yay tall and exactly yay wide.

Heddle tells us that despite the plain statement of the text, the writers were only giving us approximate values. But the fact remains that they didn't say they were providing rough estimates. They could have. Would have been the easiest thing in the world for them to throw in a “roughly.” But they didn't.

Heddle also finds it significant that this is a description and not a blueprint. Indeed it is. So what? Rather than being told to do something impossible (build a circular structure with circumference thirty and diameter ten), we read simply that the impossible has already been done. Big improvement.

Now, as it happens I don't think it is unreasonable to conclude that the writers were simply giving round, ballpark numbers. But I'm not the one claiming that every word in the Bible is divinely inspired and infallible. Please don't tell me that on the one hand the Bible is reliable in everything it says, but on the other I have to first learn math and science from some independent source before I can know how to interpret it properly. There is no reason, outside independent knowledge that pi, in fact, is not three, to interpret those measurements as approximations. And even if you do interpret them as approximations, you're still left with the fact that the plain meaning of the Biblical text can lead you astray on matters of math and science.

But Heddle isn't done:


However, even if we assume that the sea was a perfect circle, there is no problem. For even if it was perfectly circular, it was not infinitely thin.

The figure on the left shows a scale drawing, assuming the precise measurements as provided. To put things in everyday perspective, we have converted from cubits to feet using the relationship that 1 cubit is about 18 inches. The problem is that the given diameter of 10 cubits (or a radius L of 5 cubits) extends beyond a circle with circumference 30 cubits, which has a radius of R = 4.77 cubits, by, as shown, an amount ?. A simple calculation shows that ? ? 4.1 inches.

But what if the sea had some thickness? And what if, as in the artist’s conception shown below, it was even flared at the rim? Then the 10 cubits could refer to the “outside” distance across, giving us information on its total size, while the circumference could be the inner circumference, telling us about the sea’s capacity. (See the original for diagrams)


Ingenious! But sadly ridiculous.

Under this interpretation we are supposed to view the rim of the tank not as a circle, but rather as a pair of concentric circles. A circle with a diameter of ten (leaving aside the units) would have a circumference a little larger than thirty, different from what is described. Heddle suggests that the ten refers to the diameter of the larger, outside circle, while the thirty refers to the circumference of the smaller, inside circle.

So now we are asked to believe that the circle being referred to at the end of the sentence is different from the circle being described at the beginning of the sentence. No writer in the history of the universe has ever written in such a way, and that goes double for the writers inspired by God. Again, no one would dream of interpreting the verse that way unless he was desperate to rescue the Bible form this obvious contradiction.

Heddle also suggests that the reference to the circumference of the inner circle is intended to tell us about its capacity. But had that been the intention, surely it makes more sense simply to tell us the volume of the tank.

Heddle has one more line of defense:


Finally, although it need not be invoked in this case, it is also known that eastern writing of the time was numerically imprecise—we often see this in biblical writings through the use of rounded numbers—for example in discussing Job’s possessions. This potential mitigating factor, that the writers of that era (biblical or not) treated numbers differently than we do, along with the fact that they also treated quotes differently (as faithful to the content of someone’s statement but not necessarily the precise wording) are two inconvenient (for our critics) established truths that they label as copouts. As I mentioned in the previous post, other off-limits methods to counter their claims include arguing on the basis of figure of speech, hyperbole, translation error, or proper context. For their claims regarding biblical inconsistency with science to hold water they cannot relax their unspoken assumption that the ancient Hebrews were idiots and their demand that all contested passages be evaluated, not just hyper-literally, but also as if they were written using modern style and practices.


Of course, using round numbers is standard practice today as well. But something more than round-off error is going on here. The verse describes two quantities which are related as a matter of logic. The relationship described in the verse is wrong. You can't just sweep that under the rug. No convention of ancient writing can change the fact that what is described here is plainly wrong.

A commenter to Heddle's post offered this link to an even more comical attempt to circumvent this point. Here's a taste:


The key to an alternative reading of the verse 1 Kings 7:23 is to be found in the very ancient Hebrew tradition (see, e.g., [Britannica 1985], [Banon 1987, pp. 52, 53]) to differently write (spell) and read some words of the Bible; the reading version is usually regarded as a correct one (in particular, it is always correct from the point of view of the Hebrew grammar, and this is why it could be easily either remembered or reconstructed from the written version), whereas the written version slightly deviates from the correct spelling. (Another approach, involving the comparison between written forms of the same words in 1 Kings 7:23 and Chronicles 4:2 is cited in [Posamentiern, Gordan 1984]; see more about this version of the exegesis in 4).

Such a disparity is a common feature for all Books of the Hebrew Bible; and in any such case there exists (or existed: some of this knowledge was definitely lost) a Rabbinical folklore (in fact, strict Rabbinical hermeneutical rules [Steinsaltz 1976, part three: Method], [Britannica 1985], [Banon 1987]) of interpretation of the difference in question. (Emphasis omitted)


They go on to point out that Hebrew letters have standard numerical equivalents. If you then look at the difference between the written, and reading version of the Hebrew word for “line” you get that the written version comes to 111 and the reading version comes to 106.

In light of this, they argue that the correct value of pi should be obtained by taking the three implied by the text, and multiplying it by the fraction 111/106. The result comes to 3.1415094...! A very respectable approximation (though still, I would note, not the correct value).

Do I really need to point out why this is silly? This procedure where you take the implied value of pi and multiply it by the fraction you get from dividing the written version by the reading version (I'm assuming, incidentally, that the authors of this essay are correct in making this distinction), where did that come from? I'll tell you where. It came from the realization that this is what you have to do to transform those numbers into a decent approximation for pi.

It is straight numerology. The essay talks about the strict Rabbinic rules for interpreting such situations, but that is hogwash. The answer came first. The arithmetical manipulations came later. They have no justification for their procedure beyond a desire to make everything work out the way we know it is supposed to.

So is this important? No. I address the point only because Heddle thought it was important enough not only to write about it at length, but also to heap snideness and stereotypes on people who might disagree with him on this point.

Verses like this are a useful antidote to people who would tell you that the Bible is infallible on any issue it addresses. But there are far better reasons for rejecting the idea that the Bible is divine in origin.

For example, there is the fact that the Bible describes things that are patently absurd. After reading the Gospel accounts you can conclude either that roughly two thousand years ago one dead body behaved in ways that no dead body before or since has ever behaved, or you can conclude that the Gospel accounts are inaccurate. Which do you really think is more likely?

There are also the contradictory creation stories in Genesis one and two. There is no way to reconcile the two different sequences of events with each other (and no way to reconcile either one with the fossil record).

And what about Genesis 1: 6-9 (NAB):


Then God said, &ldquol;Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters, to separate one body of water from the other.” And so it happened:

God made the dome, and it separated the water above the dome from the water below it.

God called the dome “the sky.” Evening came, and morning followed--the second day.

Then God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, so that the dry land may appear.” And so it happened: the water under the sky was gathered into its basin, and the dry land appeared.


Now tell me, can you point to any familiar context in which something other than a flat surface is described as residing under a dome? If someone were describing a spherical Earth floating in an ocean of mostly empty space, would it have occurred to them talk about domes (or firmaments, if you prefer the KJB)? Of course not. And this is only one of many verses that plainly imply the Earth is flat. The question isn't whether you can contrive some meaning of the text to make it fit with modern science. It is whether anyone reading the text without a scientific background would come to the correct conclusions on the scientific questions the Bible addresses.

And there is also the fact that the Bible is completely unreliable on questions of morality. Everyone agrees on this, whether they admit it or not. After all, everyone is embarrassed by the Bible's numerous, non-condemnatory references to slavery. Likewise for its advocation of sadistic methods of execution for minor offenses. Not to mention its strange antipathy towards homosexuals.

When Heddle can find a remotely plausible way to explain these points I'll start taking him seriously again.

199 Comments:

At 4:07 PM, Blogger David said...

Jason,

I won’t argue tit-for-tat, but I’ll make a couple of comments.

You wrote:

“No one who wasn't specifically trying to reconcile the Bible with modern science would interpret the days of Genesis as anything other than twenty-four days”

This is demonstrably false—since it is well documented in the writings of the post-apostolic church fathers that a very common (if not the majority) view in the early church was that each day of Genesis was a thousand years. I can provide references if you like. They did not take the view that 1 day = 24 hours, even though (obviously) they were not trying to reconcile Genesis with modern science.

Furthermore, Augustine believed creation was instantaneous. Mathematically, 1 day (Hebrew yom, actually) = 0 is the most radical possible departure from the 24 hour view. And he wasn’t trying to reconcile the bible with modern science.

So, on this point, you are quite wrong.

Also you wrote “the writers would surely have known that it is redundant to provide both the diameter and the circumference of a circle.” Yes, but so what? Redundant information is often provided, for convenience, when describing something.

You also wrote

“Now, as it happens I don't think it is unreasonable to conclude that the writers were simply giving round, ballpark numbers.”

But that is a sufficient (but not necessary) concession. To demonstrate that the Bible is compatible with science, I do not have to show that any interpretation that results in inconsistency is false—I only need to show that there exists at least one plausible interpretation that preserves consistency.

 
At 4:20 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Isaiah 40:22 (New King James Version)

22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.

They seem to know that it is round.

Mark

 
At 4:27 PM, Anonymous jc said...

FANTASTIC!

 
At 4:44 PM, Anonymous J. J. Ramsey said...

"There is no reason, outside independent knowledge that pi, in fact, is not three, to interpret those measurements as approximations."

You mean other than the book of Kings is a text purporting to be a history of kings, and not a mathematical treatise? Other than there was no great necessity to be precise? If the book of Kings weren't someone's sacred text, the numbers given in 1 Kings 7:23 would still have been taken as approximate.

I'm far from an inerrantist, but the whole "Bible sez pi is 3" has always struck me as classic village atheism.

 
At 4:47 PM, Blogger Mark said...

And:

Job 26:7 (New International Version) He spreads out the northern skies over empty space;he suspends the earth over nothing.

 
At 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Job 26:7 (New International Version) He spreads out the northern sk

 
At 5:02 PM, Anonymous jc said...

Heddle,
Leave it to you to attack one of the most innocuous statements by Jason after he completely tore you a new one & throw all the rest aside.
By the way, as to this comment,..."Also you wrote 'the writers would surely have known that it is redundant to provide both the diameter and the circumference of a circle.' Yes, but so what? Redundant information is often provided, for convenience, when describing something..." The "so what" is that having both parameters is only helpful, or harmless, if they compliment each other...but here they don't. Which parameter are we to follow, the one for the diameter or the one for the circumference?

 
At 5:08 PM, Blogger Jason said...

David-

Now who's being hyperliteral!

I have no doubt that the practice of torturing the text of Genesis to make it refer to something other than 24-hour days has a long history. So, fine, there may be reasons for such interpretations outside of a desire to reconcile the Bible with science. But the fact remains that the text of Genesis strongly implies 24-days.

There is likewise no scritpural justification for interpreting the numbers in 1 Kings as approximations. You have to bring in something that is neither stated nor implied in the text to interpret things that way. As I said, it would have been the simplest thing in the world to state that these were approximate numbers. They did not do so.

I believe that the Bible is an entirely human creation. So of course I think it is reasonable to believe that the writer of this verse was simply using round numbers. That is something people often do when they are writing.
But you're the one who is claiming that the Bible is the inspired word of God, infallible on any point it addresses. And all your contorting can not change the fact that the verse, as written, is clearly impossible. If you read that verse without knowing that pi was not equal to three, what reason would you have for intepreting the given numbers as approximations?

As for the bit about redundant information, you were the one who was saying that you must think the Hebrews were morons not to know the correct value of pi. But obviously the person who wrote this verse believed it was important to state both the diameter and the circumference. That does not supprt your contention that the correct value of pi was common knowledge in those days.

Incidentally, what did you think of that numerological explanation your commenter linked to?

mark-

A circle is a two dimensional figure. Furthermore, the verse you cite talks about God spreading out the heavens like a tent for people to dwell in. One does not usually place a tent over a sphere. One places a tent over a flat surface.

So this verse sounds to me like another one in which the biblical writers are implying the Earth is flat.

 
At 5:23 PM, Blogger Jason said...

jj ramsey-

I see. So when the Bible is addressing questions of history it is no longer infallible? When there is no need for precision it's okay to include outright logical contradictions?

And your last paragraph has it completely backward. The main reason for thinking the numbers are not approximations is that people claim the Bible to be the inerrant word of God. At the risk of sounding like Ken Ham again, sure it might be that the numbers were just approximations. But sometimes ten means ten and thirty means thirty.

I'm not sure what you have against village atheism, but let me remind you that I am not the one who brought this up. David Heddle was the one who thought this was important enough to make two arguments about it - one that had zero scriptural justification and one (about concentric circles) that was clearly absurd. Heddle's commenter points to two scholars who felt this important enough to concoct a preposterous numerological explanation for this. I'm simply following their lead.

And I said quite clearly that this is not the reason to abandon your faith in the Bible. But I stand by my statement that the natural intepretation of this verse is that pi equals three. They could very easily have phrased things in a way that would have removed all ambiguity. If their words were inspired by God, why didn't they do so?

jc-

Excellent point. Thanks for the support.

 
At 5:30 PM, Blogger David said...

Jason,

If you have no doubt that interpretations of Genesis 1 other than 24 hours have a long history, you couldn't tell it from your post.

I don't support hidden bible code sort of information.

I'll just add that in modern common language we give approximate information and redundant information without qualifying it. The absence of the biblical writers informing us that they were about to give approximate information does not rule out the possibility--especially if seemed clear enough that they were not making a precise, scientific statement.

Of course on top of all that, the description of the sea, with its flaired rim, allows for all sorts of possibilities.

The concentric circle argument, as you call it, is not absurd. The sea had thickness as well as a rim, plus it was imperfect. Without a lot of unnecessary info about where the measurements apply and documenting irregularities the writers are clearly implying: its about thirty cubits around and about 10 cubits across.

JC,

Please disagree with me, but avoid phrases like "Jason ripped you a new one", it makes you look sound like such a lapdog. As for which redundant parameter we should follow-either. Since the sea was almost certainly a not a perfect circle, there is no need to make the redundant parameters perfectly consistent. Both were imprecise, but to a degree that is not important to the truthfullness of the account. If I tell you a room in my house is 10 x 12 and it is actually 10.1 x 12.2, and not even truly rectangular, I have not lied.

 
At 5:47 PM, Blogger Jason said...

david-

Your concentric circle argument is abusrd because you are asking us to believe that the writers changed the circle they were referring to in mid-verse. You can not possible justify such a conclusion from anything in the Biblical text itself.

 
At 5:51 PM, Blogger Jason said...

david-

One more thing. You keep analogizing what the Biblical writers were doing to what other writers do. But the Bible is supposed to be inspired by God. Given that, I don't think it is unreasonable to conclude that when numbers are given, and there is nothing in the text to tell me they are approximations, I should assume that the numbers are correct.

 
At 5:56 PM, Anonymous J. J. Ramsey said...

Jason: "So when the Bible is addressing questions of history it is no longer infallible?"

I don't care about infallibility. The point is that the book of Kings is not in a genre that would require the precision that you demand. If it were not considered a sacred text, there would be insufficient evidence from the book of Kings to conclude what the Hebrews knew about pi.

"When there is no need for precision it's okay to include outright logical contradictions?"

It's only a logical contradiction if you insist that the author of that passage in Kings could not have been approximating.

"I'm not sure what you have against village atheism"

See here for what I mean by "village atheism":

link

More generally, I tend to use the term to describe a brand of dogmatic and sloppily defended atheism.

 
At 6:07 PM, Anonymous King Itzcoatl. said...

Mr. Heddle,

Please, you are requested and required to appear at a dinner given by me and my people and my gods. I believe that we have a bone to pick with you...

I am sure that you will reaaly put your heart into this one, and believe me when I say that EHECATL, the God of Wind is looking forward to gettting to the bottom of what you are all about.

I do believe that even that peasant Cortez will thank me later for taking care of you.

Urp,

King Itzy

 
At 6:08 PM, Blogger Jason said...

j.j. ramsey-

You may not care about infallibility, but David Heddle does, and he was the one I was responding to.

I am not demanding precision. I am saying we were given explicit numbers with nothing in the text to suggest those numbers were approximations. If you want to stipulate that the book of Kings was a purely human creation, then I am happy to acknowledge the likelihood that the writers were just giving round numbers.

But once you tell me the book is the inerrant and infallible word of God, I think the assumption should be that the text means what it says. You keep hypothesizing about how we would interpret the text if it were not regarded as part of a holy book. But since it is so regarded, I don't see the point of your hypothetical.

And, to repeat, what the verse says is a logical contradiction. You have to add something that neither stated nor implied in theverse to get something that is not a contradiction.

Also, let me remind you that I said explicitly in my original post that this is not a reason for rejecting the divine authorship of the Bible. And my more general arguments for why you should reject divine authorship are not themselves arguments for atheism.

 
At 6:24 PM, Anonymous Fred said...

Question for Heddle: How many other numbers in the Bible are approximations and round-offs? Was everything really created in 6 days or is that an approximation too? How are we supposed to know what's supposed to be literally accurate and what's not?

Or is it simply that anything in the Bible that is clearly wrong is just an approximation and the things that are right are literal? I wish I had you as my math teacher in school. I'd have gotten an A+, because it would have been impossible to get any answers wrong. "That's not wrong sir, it's an approximation. The Bible does that all the time."

An to Mark who quoted the "northern sky," that doesn't imply that they were talking about a sphere. Nor is it odd for the Bible to say "the circle of the earth." A circle is round and FLAT. As for why they thought the world was a circle, it's probably because as you look around at the sky you don't see corners.

 
At 6:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure the bible can be made consonant with modern knowledge. Just as it was 200 years ago. And just as it will be in 200 years. Zealots are infinitely capable of special pleading.

steve s

 
At 6:45 PM, Anonymous J. J. Ramsey said...

"I am saying we were given explicit numbers with nothing in the text to suggest those numbers were approximations."

You also live in a time and place where exactness is more valued, and the technology and standards make it feasible to do exact measurements with relative ease. The author(s) and original audience of the book of Kings did not. Consider the size of a cubit. It is the distance from the tip of one's finger to one's elbow. Gee, real precise. Assuming that your cultural expectations of exactness apply is a mistake.

"And, to repeat, what the verse says is a logical contradiction."

And, to repeat, it can only be a logical contradiction if the author expected the audience to assume his numbers were exact.

"Also, let me remind you that I said explicitly in my original post that this is not a reason for rejecting the divine authorship of the Bible. And my more general arguments for why you should reject divine authorship are not themselves arguments for atheism."

True enough, but the "pi = 3" argument is still a poor argument that gets circulated in atheist/skeptic circles, which is why I dubbed it an example of "village atheism." I tend to find such arguments annoying for the same reason we both find arguments like "evolution violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics" annoying. It's wrong, and it's sloppy.

 
At 6:50 PM, Blogger David said...

Fred,

I believe the universe is ~15 billion years old, and the earth ~4.5 billion.

As for your sarcasm, it doesn’t hold water. Your argument, so tiresome, goes something like this:

1) Here is where the bible is in disagreement
2) Oh, you reconcile it by avoiding a strictly literal interpretation—well gee, in that case you can claim anything is consistent, just interpret as you will.

But it is never that strict literality can be avoided willy-nilly, but only when a plausible case can be made. If the text from 1 Kings was exactly as it is with the one exception that it said the circumference was 90 cubits, there would be no appeal to approximations or poetic language that could reconcile it—there would be a genuine, irreconcilable error. Of if the bible actually stated that the earth was at the center of the cosmos, there would be a true error. Or if the bible, like early 20th century cosmology, stated that we had a steady state universe. But it doesn’t. There are translation errors. Sometimes the bible uses figures of speech. Sometimes the ancients wrote differently than we do. And sometimes those are the explanations. Too bad.

If I were inclined to champion for scientific errors in the bible, I would agree with j. j. ramsey. This particular one is so weak I'd ignore it--it really is analogous in strength to "the second law of thermo violates evolution" argument. There are much more substantive charges that can be brought.

 
At 7:44 PM, Blogger Jason said...

j.j. ramsey-

I'm going to keep at this until I make you see the light. :)

Let me make an analogy. According to the story in Genesis the Noachian deluge lasted forty days and forty nights. I know of no one who says those are just round numbers and that actually the flood lasted somewhere between 38 and 42 days and nights. Why does nobody interpret things that way? Because there is no reason to. In other words, the text provides a number, there is nothing in the text to suggest it means anything but what it says, so we take it at face value.

The Bible is filled with numbers in a variety of contexts. Most of these numbers do not lead to contradictions, and everyone simply takes them at face value. In many Christian circles, the numbers provided in the Bible are taken so seriously that it is believed you can accurately assess the age of the Earth merely by examining the geneologies in Genesis.

So as fred asked a few comments back, please explain to me the biblical principle that allows me to distinguish between the numbers that mean what they say and the ones that are mere approximations.

Now, back to pi. I'm sorry, but the text as it is written is a clear logical contradiction. It says you have a circular tank with a diameter of ten and a circumference of thirty. Impossible!

To get around this, you want me to assume that the author of this verse did not mean what he said, and that actually the numbers were mere approximations. You have given me one reason for making that assumption: the fact that it was written at a time when people were not so obsessed with precision as they are today.

As I have already said, that is a fine argument if you stipulate that the Bible is a purely human work. But if you are going to tell me the Bible is God's inerrant and infallible word, the situation changes. Now the burden of proof is on you to show that the text doesn't mean what it plainly says. What other people at the time thought or did is of no interest to me. They were not divinely inspired.

I would also point out that not everyone is hitching his wagon to the “approximations” argument. David himself felt the need to offer up his pathetic concentric circles argument in addition to it. The scholar David's commenter linked to argued that the numbers given in the text are, indeed, accurate (in direct opposition to what you are arguing), and that we must simply interpret them carefully in light of this business about written vs. reading versions of words. They obviously think this is a serious enough objection to use some serious intellectual firepower in combatting it.

david-

You have a lot of nerve complaining about fred's sarcasm when you were considerably less than polite yourself in your initial post.

As I have said repeatedly, I do not regard this as important. I think there are other, far graver, objections than this to the idea that the Bible is divinely inspired. I listed some of them in my initial post, and you have not responded.

But the fact remains that you were the one who did a lengthy post, complete with diagrams, on the topic. And you didn't just say, “They were approximations, for heaven's sake!” You went on to suggest that when the writer discusses the diameter of a circle in one clause of his sentence, and then discusses the circumference of a circle in a different clause, I am not allowed to assume that's the same circle. And the person your commenter linked to gave a more complicated argument still, and one that explicitly assumes the numbers in this verse mean exactly what they say.

It sure looks to me like what you are saying is that first you must go learn your math and science someplace else, and only then come back to the Bible and find some way of interpreting it so that things that seem like contradictions really aren't. That's an amusing intellectual exercise but I'm afraid I don't see the point of it.

But while we're at it, perhaps you could tell me how to reconcile the clear sequence of events described in chapter one of Genesis with the history of life as recorded in the fossil record.

 
At 8:25 PM, Anonymous J. J. Ramsey said...

"Let me make an analogy. According to the story in Genesis the Noachian deluge lasted forty days and forty nights. I know of no one who says those are just round numbers and that actually the flood lasted somewhere between 38 and 42 days and nights. Why does nobody interpret things that way?"

First, there are so many other problems with the flood myth that arguing over whether it was supposed to be exactly forty days is pointless. Second, the number "40" is one of those stock numbers in the Bible, like "12" or "7", so it's pretty much a given that they should be taken with a few grains of salt, since these numbers were probably used because they were "pretty" or symbolic, rather than exact.

If we are talking the not-so-pretty numbers, like in 1 Kings 7:32, where the height of the wheel is given as a cubit and a half, no one really cares whether it's off by a few inches, so no one discusses it.

 
At 8:40 PM, Blogger David said...

Jason,

What's the issue? The fossil record is not in disgreement with the order of creation found in Genesis 1. If Genesis 1 had man coming before sea life--well that would be a problem.

 
At 8:52 PM, Blogger Jason said...

j.j. ramsey-

Okay. But I know a lot of evangelical Christians who would not agree with your style of biblical hermeneutics.

It's getting late, so how about I sum up the argument as I see it and then we call it a day.

We are presented with a verse in the Bible which, taken at face value, clearly implies that pi is three. Three arguments have been offered for why this is not a problem for the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

The first is David's argument about concentric circles. I have argued that this is ridiculous because it forces us into an unreasonable interpretation of the Bible's clear words. We are expected to believe that the circle whose diameter is referred to at the start of the sentence is different from the circle whose circumference is referred to at the end of the sentence. Nobody writes like that. David has not responded to this argument, and you have not tried to defend it.

The second argument is the one linked to by David's commenter. In this argument we are, indeed, supposed to take the numbers ten and thirty literally. But as a result of a clever numerological argument, what appears to be a contradiction actually is a vindication for the Bible. I have argued that this is absurd because it is totally ad hoc, and that no justification can be given for the bizarre arithmetic argument that was used. I note that neither you nor David have tried to defend this argument.

The final argument is that the numbers are mere approximations. This is plausible. But the fact remains that you are introducing something into your interpretation of the Bible that is neither stated nor implied in the text itself. You are free to do that, I suppose. But then you are forfeiting your right to claim that the Bible is infallible on any point it addresses. You have not defended that view, but David has.

I am arguing simply that in reading God's word you are entitled to conclude that ten means ten and thirty means thirty. It is you and David who are arguing that since the Bible's clear words lead to a logical contradiction in this case, I should discard the words and introduce extraneous factors into my interpretation, factors that are not justified by anything in the text itself.

That's it for me. Reply if you'd like.

 
At 9:07 PM, Blogger David said...

I have responded to that argument. You have taken what I wrote:

"Then the 10 cubits could refer to the “outside” distance across, giving us information on its total size, while the circumference could be the inner circumference, telling us about the sea’s capacity."

and portrayed it in a much stronger sense that intended, as if I had not placed words "could" in the text, and that I was presenting this as the one and only way out of the dilemma. This is just one from a family of possible explanations--what I really was alluding to when I wrote:

"either or both of these effects (the thickness and the brim) renders the criticism, which is based on a infinitely thin perfect circle, meaningless."

There is a range of interpretations consistent with the "slop" introduced by the thickness and the brim. It could easily just be the the combination of the brim, the thickness, and the irregularities made anything beyond approximate dimensions silly.

And they are justified by the text--you have ignored the further description in v. 26.

 
At 9:09 PM, Anonymous J. J. Ramsey said...

"But if you are going to tell me the Bible is God's inerrant and infallible word, the situation changes. Now the burden of proof is on you to show that the text doesn't mean what it plainly says."

If you are arguing against inerrancy, you've still picked a pretty bad example. If there is enough historical context to make it clear that the author of Kings never intended for the given dimensions of the sea to be exact, then pressing the issue by saying that text itself doesn't say that the numbers are approximations just shows that you are being foolish for reading a Bible translation like it's a newspaper. You've just broadcast that you think "plain meaning" = "naive reading".

If you want a better example of errancy, try looking at the differences in Mark and Luke regarding when the women bought spices for Jesus' body. But the "pi = 3" thing, no. You are actually putting Heddle in the rare position of him being right and you dead wrong, and that takes some effort, Mr. Rosenhouse. I even have a tough time seeing out Heddle's first post was impolite; he pointed out where you were wrong, and actually used facts to refute you.

 
At 9:14 PM, Blogger Jason said...

David-

You slipped in your comment while I was replying to the last one.

But surely you're joking? In chapter one of Genesis the plants are created on the third day. Animals are not created until the fifth day. If the fossils are to be believed, flowering plants didn't even arise until after the Cambrian.

Meanwhile, if we let some astronomy into the game, we have the Bible telling us that plants appeared on day three, but the Sun appeared on day four. That clearly contradicts any notion that the Sun preceded any life on Earth.

There are other problems. Day three seems to suggest that dry land formed from an initially liquid mass. According to every theory of geology and planet formation, the reality is that the dry land appeared first, with the ocean coming later.

And then there's the general point that the Genesis account gives the clear impression that the various forms of animal life developed more or less spontaneously in discrete packages, and did not have a four billion year history of gradual development, occasionally punctuated by mass extinctions, that continued even after humans appeared on the scene.

And that doesn't even mention the fact that in Chapter Two of Genesis man does indeed appear before the animals.

That's the issue

 
At 9:24 PM, Blogger Jason said...

j.j ramsey-

I've said all along there are better examples of Biblical error. I even unloaded a whole bunch of them in my original post, and have mentioned more in these comments. Did you miss that part?

I specifically said this point is unimportant and that I am addressing it only because David thought it was important. I have pointed out that two additional, ridiculous arguments have been offered in defense of this verse, but you have chosen not to discuss any of that.

I was referring to David's intial blog entry as being rude, before I had written anything. Go read his last paragraph and tell me if you would consider that polite.

I have accepted David's criticism that I shouldn't have said the only reason for reinterpreting the days of Genesis was a desire to reconcile the Bible with science. I changed my essay accordingly. It looks to me, though, like he has not responded to most of what I have said.

As for you, what historical context have you presented? As far as I can tell it is only the assertion, that, like, people didn't care about precision in those days. Pretty skimpy context for rejecting a perfectly clear statement.

 
At 9:24 PM, Anonymous JDog said...

j.j: You must be a newbie... I think Dr. Rosenhouse is just fine here. There is no need to stipulate Heddle is being smarmy, snide or mean.... this IS what Heddle is all about.

Dr. Rosenhouse is working off a "Heddle History", so I think you can cut him some slack.

Dealing with Hedle is so bad IMO, that the next time I am chatting with Pope B, I will receommend the cannonozation of Dr, Rosenhouse, and hopefully convince the Popester to authorize an exorcism for Heddle.

Say 3 Our Fathers, and 20 Hail Mary's, go and sin no more.

HTH

 
At 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.purplemath.com/modules/bibleval.htm

 
At 10:13 PM, Anonymous Kevin from NYC said...

Jason you are a man of infinite patience and fortitude to argue with David Heddle.

He does not hear. He does not see. He knows the truth, directly and will argue forever.

Some nice bear-wrassiling here I tell ya. I'm waiting for Carol C to show up!

The bible is a book of myths and philosophy written by men for other men. It has spawned wars and oppression for 2,000 years and continues to do the same.

At the same time certain members of the species have found it to be a survival aid and it appears to be an evolutionary adaptation to be able to believe in gods and spirits.

We can only hope that rational thought will prove more valuable than myths in the future.

 
At 10:15 PM, Anonymous J. J. Ramsey said...

jdog: "j.j: You must be a newbie..."

Oh, I've seen Heddle be smarmy before. That's why I pointed out that Heddle was in the rare position of being right. Heddle's history is no reason not to give credit where due.

jason: "I've said all along there are better examples of Biblical error. I even unloaded a whole bunch of them in my original post, and have mentioned more in these comments. Did you miss that part?"

No, but none of those examples were as clear-cut as you made them out to be.

"I have pointed out that two additional, ridiculous arguments have been offered in defense of this verse, but you have chosen not to discuss any of that."

The numerological argument was silly, but to be fair, it was a commenter's, not Heddle's. Heddle's argument about the brim was, as he noted himself, was justifiable by verse 7:26. It's unnecessary, which is why I didn't bother with it, but not as ridiculous as you made it out to be.

"I was referring to David's intial blog entry as being rude, before I had written anything. Go read his last paragraph and tell me if you would consider that polite."

Not polite, but this time around, he's mostly on point in that many of his critics don't know what they are talking about when it comes to Bible interpretation and do insist that "all contested passages be evaluated, not just hyper-literally, but also as if they were written using modern style and practices." I suspect that this is because his critics know their science better than their Bible, while Heddle knows his Bible better than his science.

 
At 11:26 PM, Anonymous Fred said...

I still say it's darned convenient that when something wrong is found in the Bible the excuses start to pile up. We're told over and over again that the Bible is infallible, but when we find something that's clearly wrong we're told that we're stupid for taking it at face value.

And I still find it doubtful that the pi thing is just an intentional approximation, because in giving two measurements it's presented as so specific; if it was just a casual approximation that seems like a very strange way to put it, since it gives the impression of precision.

And again, if it IS an approximation, how do we know which numbers in the Bible are approximations or roundings as opposed to ones we're supposed to take at face value? And what other things in the Bible besides numbers are just approximations? Did water cover the entire earth during the flood, or is that just a figure of speech and they really meant that it covered a specific area? How many days did the Creation take place in? Was the size given for Noah's ark just an approximation? (Frankly, THAT'S one that I'd expect to be rounded off or approximate.)

Fred

 
At 11:31 PM, Blogger Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

For the sake of argument, I'm going to propose a defense of the passage.

Specifically: Did ancient Hebrew have a word for "ellipse"?

It seems to me that if the "circle" was really slightly elliptical, then it could be ten across (the long way), and thirty around, and we don't have any silliness about referring to two separate circles or the like.

 
At 2:07 AM, Anonymous Fred said...

Pi fight!!!

 
At 5:04 AM, Blogger David said...

Jason,

Please--first of all don't mix in cosmology when you first asked about the fossil record. And don't bring in Genesis 2--Genesis 2 is not inconsistent with Genesis 1--but that can and should be treated separately. (I must say, before this I would have expected more sophisticated complaints from you.) What Genesis teaches is this order for living things:

plants
swarming sea life
birds
mammals
man

Furthermore, it doesn't say all plants, then all sea life, then all...

This very broad ordering is not inconsistent with the fossil record.

you can, for example, look at the chart Hugh Ross made:

look here

As for my last paragraph being rude--puh lease--to whom was I being rude? In and of itself it wasn't rude, let alone given it was generic. You have posts about me that are entitled things like, if memory serves "Heddle's Twaddle"

fred,

All you are really saying is that it's no fair for me to explain apparent discrepancies unless I adhere to a strictly literal translation--which is often the source of the problem. Sorry, not reasonable.


kevin,

Your argument is: the bible is wrong because it is wrong (a myth.) Do feel that you have actually contributed anything of substance?

 
At 7:31 AM, Anonymous J. J. Ramsey said...

fred: "And I still find it doubtful that the pi thing is just an intentional approximation, because in giving two measurements it's presented as so specific"

It looks specific to you because you are used to assuming that a number is exact if no one says otherwise, and you assume that the author(s) of the text that you are reading share(s) those assumptions.

 
At 8:17 AM, Blogger Ginger Yellow said...

" The fossil record is not in disgreement with the order of creation found in Genesis 1."

Bullshit. Here's the KJV:

" And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. 12: And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 13: And the evening and the morning were the third day. 14: And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: 15: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. 16: And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. 17: And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18: And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. 19: And the evening and the morning were the fourth day. 20: And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. 21: And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 22: And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. 23: And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. 24: And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. 25: And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 26: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 27: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. "

So the grass grew and the trees yielded fruit before there was any light for them to photosynthesise or any seasons to govern their growth, let alone a sun to warm the earth above absolute zero. Whales were created before cattle (artiodactyls) rather than evolving from them as the fossil record shows.

 
At 8:21 AM, Blogger Ginger Yellow said...

"It looks specific to you because you are used to assuming that a number is exact if no one says otherwise, and you assume that the author(s) of the text that you are reading share(s) those assumptions."

No, it looks specific to him because the creationists insist that when the Bible suggests the earth is 6000 years old, it really means it. And when it says that Noah took two of all the animals on to the ark, it really means it, even the brontosauri. Jason has acknowledged repeatedly the likelihood of a human author rounding the numbers - that's the whole point. The numbers are "wrong" because the Bible was written by humans, not God

 
At 8:58 AM, Blogger David said...

Ginger,

Same-old same old. I must abide by (in this case) the KJV translation (which is probably the least scholarly translation, at least compared to the NASB, NIV, ESV, none of which use "whales") It doesn't matter that what was translated as "whales" should have, or at least could have been translated as "great sea creatures" as it is in other translations. Nope--it must be interpreted as whales, the mammals, because the KJV translation says so, and especially because if one must take this particular translation literally, it renders your claim irrefutable. Your tactics are exactly what I expect and what I warned about in my post. Of course, if in the next argument, the NIV better serves your purpose, then in that case I'll be required to live or die by that translation.

As for plants before there was light--that is dealt with as well in what is called the day-age interpretation, and is a subject of an upcoming post in my series on the consistency of science and the bible. I won't address that here because what Jason asked about was the fossil record. You bring in another point, a valid one, that people for centuries have claimed shows scientific error (the critcism about the sunlight) but it is not a question of the fossil record.

You also make claims about "creationists" and what they believe, and yet I don't agree with anything you attribute to them. I don't believe the earth is young, or that Noah took dinosaurs on the ark. Nevertheless on PT I am constantly called a "creationist". You guys complain, with merit, about people using "darwinist" without defining it, but you use the undefined "creationist" all the time.

 
At 9:10 AM, Blogger Jason said...

david-

I apologize for not being expansive enough in my critique by only referring to the fossil record, when I should have mentioned other branches of science as well. But that hardly absolves you from having to reconcile the points I made.

Concerning the fossil record specifically, here is verse 11 of the KJB:

“And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.”

This is on Day Three, well before the animals. But fruit-bearing trees did not appear before animals. In fact, the only sorts of plant-like things that pre-date mammals are simple algal mats. No grasses or trees of any kind.

And no kind of plant appeared before the Sun, which is not created until Day Four.

Here is verse 21 of the KJB:

“And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good”

So the Bible does refer to all forms of sea life and all forms of winged fowl being created on Day Five.

Also, the oldest mammals in the fossil record date to roughly 225 million years ago. The oldest birds are a mere 140 million years old. So the fossil record does not support the idea that birds came before mammals.

Meanwhile, Chapter Two clearly describes animals being created after humans. In fact, it suggests that the reason for creating the animals at all was to find a help-meet for Adam. That seems inconsistent with Chapter One to me.

And I don't object to rudeness when it is in the service of a good point. I do object to being rude on the one hand, and then protesting when someone is sarcastic in reply.

 
At 9:40 AM, Anonymous J. J. Ramsey said...

"Jason has acknowledged repeatedly the likelihood of a human author rounding the numbers - that's the whole point. The numbers are "wrong" because the Bible was written by humans, not God"

The catch is that this argument centers on the premise that rounding the numbers and leaving the reader to understand is an error in the first place.

"No, it looks specific to him because the creationists insist that when the Bible suggests the earth is 6000 years old, it really means it. And when it says that Noah took two of all the animals on to the ark, it really means it, even the brontosauri."

These are both non sequiturs. Even if you allowed for imprecision, they would still be false because the errors involved are so gross. That's not true in the case of the "pi=3" argument.

 
At 10:37 AM, Blogger David said...

I am not going to answer all your criticisms here--partly because I don't have the time but mostly because I am preparing a post on the day-age view, which addresses in detail the consistency between Genesis 1 and science.

I will mention two simple things:

You wrote:

"In fact, the only sorts of plant-like things that pre-date mammals are simple algal mats. No grasses or trees of any kind."

To which I'll refer you to:

this link

or if you prefer

this google search on archaeopteris

Archaeopteris is a tree very similar to modern trees that predates dinosaurs (and mammals) by ~100 million years.

As for Genesis 2, that sort of falls under the "too trivial" category. You can find explanations all over the place, including my blog, so I won't repeat them here. Instead I want to point out that this particular criticism does fall under the "ancients must have been morons" category.

You corrected your post--which is certainly fine--and added a note that you had made a correction. Fair enough.

But you want to argue that Genesis 2 is somehow trivially in conflict (at least in the English) with Genesis 1--and yet it never occurred to the ancient Hebrews, who were constructing these "myths", to make them self consistent. They would have had every opportunity to, as you did, make a correction. Now that does not constitute a proof that there is no conflict--but I think it should make one pause before claiming an obvious error--especially one that the ancients could have corrected. Usually things that sound like juicy showstoppers (e.g., "What good is half an eye?") are, in fact, easily dismissed.


The Genesis 1 vs fossil record complaint is much more substantive, because there the ancients had no basis to correct a mistake. But surely, if the actual texts state that in one case (Gen. 1) animals came first and in another (Gen 2) man came first--this, don't you think, they would have noticed?

 
At 10:38 AM, Blogger Mark said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 10:40 AM, Blogger Mark said...

As far as when to say that something in the Bible is an approximation and when it is not, you need to look at the context in which it is written and who the intended readers are.

Jason, Your statement below validates the approximation argument:

Now, back to pi. I'm sorry, but the text as it is written is a clear logical contradiction. It says you have a circular tank with a diameter of ten and a circumference of thirty. Impossible!

You make the point for those that are saying that it is an approximation. The text in Kings is not an instruction to craftsmen but a history to be read. Can it be built to those exact measurements? No. Other explanations not withstanding. These were not instructions to craftsmen, but a history of what was built. There is no need for exactness in the same way as you would in a drawing for the craftsman that was to build it. If you gave those dimensions to the builder they would quickly see the flaw and ask question or make corrections. This would hold true whether they knew the value of Pi or not.

As for your other questions they are outside my expertise, for now.
As a note I do believe that the Bible is the infallible word of the Living God!

Mark

 
At 10:59 AM, Blogger Jason said...

David-


I misspoke in my previous comment. I meant animals when I said mammals. The only plant-like things that predate animals are algal mats. Animals predate most sorts of plants, in particular grasses and fruit-bearing trees, by hundreds of millions of years. That is in direct conflict with the Genesis account.

Also in direct conflict is the fact that mammals long predate birds.

And both long postdate the Sun.

If the dates of first-appearance of, say, birds and mammals were sufficiently close, I might buy the argument that the fossil record is not sufficiently complete to draw firm conclusions. As it is, however, the dates of first appearance are not close. Mammals have over one hundred million years on the birds, while most sorts of plants don't show up until nearly two hundred million years after chordates and arthropods were roaming around. They show up about 100 million years after jawless fish turn up.

The creation accounts in Genesis One and Genesis Two were surely not written by the same person. That there are conflicting accounts suggests not that the writers were morons, but that the Bible is not one continuous narrative written by a single author to tell a single story. Rather, it is an amalgam of ancient myths and stories.

 
At 11:01 AM, Blogger David said...

Jason,

Your blog--you get the final word. Cheers.

 
At 11:38 AM, Blogger Ginger Yellow said...

" I won't address that here because what Jason asked about was the fossil record."

Well, given that plants have fossilised, and that we know plants need sunlight to grow, I put it to you that the fossil record indicates the presence of sunlight before that of plants. Again, this is before we get into the larger question of the total lack of heat pre-sun, which would have prevented not only growth but also fossilisation.


David, if you insist the problems are only in the KJ English, feel free to substitute whichever translation you prefer. But you're not going to get around the fact that a) plants need sunlight, b) animals preceded trees, c) land animals preceded birds.

 
At 2:20 PM, Anonymous Kevin from NYC said...

"kevin,

Your argument is: the bible is wrong because it is wrong (a myth.) Do feel that you have actually contributed anything of substance? "

David, I didn't say the bible was wrong. I said it was written by men for men. I did say that the bible has been an excuse for war, oppression and misery throughout the ages.

And the main point was to award Dr. Jason the He-Man BS Spotter Medal, with a cluster-#$%%.

 
At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reminds me of how someone I know excitedly presented his revolutionary new idea to me. He claimed that God is outside of time, so the Bible (God's word) account of Creation may say "day" but might simultaneously mean "day" and "ages."

My response was that if the Bible is, as he claimed, the word of God, it nevertheless was written for man. If God wants to know the history of the world, he doesn't have to look it up in a book he wrote; and it would have been silly to write a book for men using terms that mean something else for God.

Anyhow, it's all a matter of going through incredible convolutions trying to match a simple reality to an inconsistant literature.

 
At 9:31 AM, Blogger Steven Thomas Smith said...

Great post Jason.

For a truly entertaining "reconciliation" of 1 Kings 7:23 with the value of ?, look at the sites that do hidden number codes involving the the Hebrew word "qav" (???) for circumference. This one asserts that the Bible's value for ? in 1 Kings is really 3*111/106, which is good to one part in 10000, after adding that tricky Hebrew heh (?) and assigning its proper numerical code. Great stuff.

Here's the original Hebrew for you scholars:

7:23 ????? ? (The Westminster Leningrad Codex)

23 ?????????? ??????????? ??????? ??????? ?????????? ???????????? ????????????? ?????? ? ??????? ????????? ??????????? ????????? ??????????? ??????????? ?????? ?????? ????????

At least this explanation, unlike the one you discuss, has the advantage of being plausible if you accept the existence of hidden numerical codes within the Bible.

 
At 9:35 AM, Blogger Steven Thomas Smith said...

Hmmm, apparenty one must look at the "Post a comment" page to see these Hebrew encodings.

 
At 11:39 AM, Anonymous darthWilliam said...

Mark -
You said "I do believe that the Bible is the infallible word of the Living God". I just wonder why you hold this curious belief? A billion others hold that same belief for the Koran - what makes you right and them wrong? Not even all Christians believe this. In 8 years of Catholic schooling, I was never taught that the Bible was "the infallible word of God". Also can you please clarify which Bible is correct, original text only, King James, New American, etc. And what about the other books that didn't make it into the Bible, like The Gospel of Thomas and so on, and who decided which were included and which weren't?

 
At 2:02 PM, Blogger Mark said...

darthWilliam

I would have to answer your question this way. For me it is a matter of faith. I have not always believed the way I do now. I was 30 before I excepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. Since then I have seen my own life as well as the lives of many others change through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I wish that I could answer your question about which Bible is correct, but in truth I can't. I know that there are many Bible scholars that can't always agree on that matter and I in no way could answer it better than many of these. Nor can I answer why some books were left out. I would have to say that I must trust God to keep His Word intact.

I know that my answers don't provide evidence or proofs, but as I said at the start for me it is a matter of faith.

Mark

 
At 9:44 PM, Blogger Don T. Know said...

And I still find it doubtful that the pi thing is just an intentional approximation, because in giving two measurements it's presented as so specific; if it was just a casual approximation that seems like a very strange way to put it, since it gives the impression of precision.

And while we're at it, maybe the Bible does have PI right, but its God-inspired author(s) did, in fact, approximate 3 and/or 10. Maybe 3 really was actually 3.1415 or 10 was really 10.47xxx.

Heh! Why not? I'm not an inerrantist by any means, but if there is no limit to could-have-been explanations, this is just as good as any other. If not, why not?

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous anne theist said...

don t. know:
Since you are an inerrantist then, sure, there is no reason why you can't have it your way (if that satisfies you). But Heddle is not of your ilk.

 
At 11:30 AM, Anonymous JASEN M said...

The Hebrew cubit was about 45 centimetres (18 inches). It is obvious that a man’s forearm does not readily lend itself to the measurement of fractions of a forearm. In the Bible half a cubit is mentioned several times, but there is no mention of a third part of a cubit or a fourth part of a cubit, even though these fractions of ‘a third part’ and ‘a fourth part’ were used in volume and weight measurements. THEY ARE NOT GENERAL SIZES. ( http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/494.asp )

Next....if something is CIRCULAR it does not mean it is a perfect circle. The human skull is described as circular, as are flight patterns, hockey rinks and ovals, yet nobody questions this fact because they are not digging for a reason to discredit their opponents or add evidence to their bias. Circular means, according to dictionary.com, shaped like or nearly like a circle. ( http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=circular )
Finally, lets assume that it is meaning a perfect circle, which Kings does not claim, but lets say it did....Have you ever dug a hole in the sand? Are the walls of the hole completely vertical, or do they angle outward. The length at the bottom would be different than the length at the top. So what you are doing is assuming that things that are not said are meant to be true.

As for your dome theory, I'm sorry but Jesus knew the world was round. This was spoken of in Matthew. Most thought it was flat, but Jesus knew better. He knew that when He returned the sun would shine on one side of the world and the moon would shine on the other. He said, speaking of future happenings around the second coming, that the sun shall be darkened. When the Lord comes the sun will black out. The moon then would go black, because it receives it light from sun and Jesus knew this....can this happen on a round planet? Jesus said "All will be dark"

The problem here is that if you want to prove your bias, you will try anything. Even if God were bound by the laws of mathematics, you could not do anything but specualte, which is what you are doing, and that's cool, but you need to look at both sides of the coin, and stop presenting opinion as fact. The Bible states that Jesus walked with the diciples, but it does not say they walked on the ground, maybe they floated. Maybe they walked on their knees. Stating this would be silly, the same as trying to rationalize something far beyond the smartest human beings ability. But if you have no faith, then you must, I suppose, try to justify your lack of faith by any means necessary.

Keep trying though....

 
At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Jasen M said...

Darth William; you wrote to Mark

"You said 'I do believe that the Bible is the infallible word of the Living God". I just wonder why you hold this curious belief? A billion others hold that same belief for the Koran - what makes you right and them wrong? Not even all Christians believe this. In 8 years of Catholic schooling, I was never taught that the Bible was "the infallible word of God'"

MY REPLY - The catholic church conforms at will to the liberal mindset, and they always have. catholics have very little to say about anything, and the things they do say are very different from the Bibles word, i.e. not worshiping idols, yet catholics pray to Mary. i.e. saying a few confessions is all you need to do to be cleanesd, when the Bible claims otherwise. Dont compare catholism to Biblical Christianity, they are different.

The Koran and other religious books all come after the Bible. You can argue however you want, it is based on faith. If you are wrong, or I am wrong, we will find out soon enough....again, FAITH is the soil in which Christianity is planted, without it, it dies.

 
At 1:13 PM, Blogger Stephen said...

Galileo argued with the Vatican that when the Bible contradicted common sense, it was usual to assume that the Bible was being allegorical. The Catholic Church came around to his way of thinking eventually. It is strange that there are Protestants that have not. It seems that Luther would not be pleased.

I've met people who know the Truth, that pi is exactly 22/7, because that's what was taught in school.

I expect that at least half of what I've learned from this week's AAS meetings will be shown to be wrong within the decade, and continue to eagerly learn it. I understand that I'm not the normal one.

 
At 11:09 PM, Anonymous Mike Hopkins said...

This is really stupid and just plays into the hands of the fundamentalists.

It is an approximation -- deal with it.

If I said a road was "100 km (60 miles) long", no one would assume I was not approximating because I gave two redundant figures. And if I said a church steeple was 100 feet high, no one would assume that I meant exactly 100.00 feet.

And one needs to look at context. Read something of that book besided the measurements of that circle. One will find loads of indisputably rounded figures. For example "And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen." There is no text that explicately says that this is an approximation. So by the reasoning you use, one must conclude that the scribe really meant exactly 12,000 horsemen! This is utter nonsense. It is clearly rounded. (Yeah these figures are very likely exagerations, but that is another subject.)

Finally note that the measurements are all integers. That would seem very unlikely even without circles. unless the figures are approximate.


In the end, the use of pi=3 by non-fundamentalists is nothing more than a demonstration that fundamentists don't have a monopoly on brain-dead literalism or long-winded attempts to justify such literalism.

The Bible has loads of real falsehoods. Please concentrate on those.

 
At 10:09 AM, Blogger Jasen M aka The Staple said...

mike

boy you really pulled an old nWo steel chair to the back on this one....

"The Bible has loads of real falsehoods. Please concentrate on those."

Example....

 
At 10:22 AM, Anonymous J. J. Ramsey said...

"Finally note that the measurements are all integers."

Not all. In some places, half a cubit is mentioned. This doesn't refute your basic point, though, because the half a cubit tends to mentioned as part of measurements that don't involve that many cubits, i.e. two and a half or five and a half. Larger measurements don't have that half-cubit, probably because it stops being a significant proportion of the length. Also, we don't see smaller fractions of a cubit than a half. We are not dealing with a huge amount of precision.

 
At 12:52 PM, Blogger Jasen M aka The Staple said...

jj is right,

cubits are based on the length of a mans forearm. that length varies on the man making the measurement. i wonder if 2 men ever combined on a measurement with a big difference in arm length, you know, manute bol and mugsy bogues....they could really mess up a blueprint....

 
At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a very simple explanation for the value of pi.

It is that the molten sea was not a cylinder; the base was smaller than the rim.

The cirucumference was measured at the base, and the diameter was measured at the rim.

Specifically, the length of the rim diameter was 1.04719 times the length of the base diameter.


Michael Ejercito

 
At 7:28 PM, Blogger . said...

.

 
At 12:28 AM, Blogger Anonymous said...

The common word for circumference is qav. Here, however, the spelling of the word for circumference, qaveh, adds a heh (h).

In the Hebrew Bible, the scribes did not alter any text which they felt had been copied incorrectly. Rather, they noted in the margin what they thought the written text should be. The written variation is called a kethiv; and the marginal annotation is called the qere.

To the ancient scribes, this was also regarded as a remez, a hint of something deeper.

Either way if the precice radius was given than any attenpt to measuse the circumfrence would give you an error in the 7 or 8th decimal place assuming you used a tape measure that was say in the tens of nanometers thick. Atomic radii interactions would give you error in the 10th decimal place.

In addition we are assuming the thing was a perfect circle, (which we all know does not exist). So lets say the thing was only slightly oblong, (1e-4m out of round five times better than toyota engine parts). Then its perfactly reasonable if they measured the longest ray to get a diameter error in the first or second decimal place.

 
At 2:23 AM, Blogger Maximum Advantage said...

Circumference measured around object at flat sided point.
Diameter measured from rim to rim
No contradiction!

 
At 10:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I don't believe there's any reason to take the bible as anything greater than any other story, the implied value for ? doesn't suggest anything.

Even if a cubit had been a precisely defined standard of measurement, and even if it were possible to realize a "sea" to similarly precise dimensions, the authors would have had to round, since ? is an irrational number.

 
At 12:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is only an issue if a literal interpretation of the Bible is attempted, as the author has clearly stated repeatedly.

In attempting to maintain the fabric of a literal interpretation, its defenders have repeatedly admitted the impossibility.

Each time numeralogical manipulation was required, a variation of spelling versus pronunciation, or approximations are argued as implied; it only underscores the inability to literally interpret the Bible.

The Bible is a book of Faith. It teachs how to live. As long as that is your focus, the rest is inconsequential. But, if your focus is to advocate a viewpoint on interpretation, i.e. literal, then you must be prepared to be wrong. Which, as I understand the author, is exactly what he said in the first place.

The attempts to explain why Pi is 3, is a classic case of the more you protest, the weaker your case becomes.

 
At 1:27 PM, Anonymous That New Guy said...

I feel bad for the poor sucker who had to measure the sea with forearms..

 
At 2:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In hebrew the word "line" is spelled with two letters, the first has a numeric value of 100, the second 6. In 1Kings7:23 "line of thirty cubits" line is spelled with an extra letter valued at 5. 111/106x30=31.41509 a difference from true pi of about .015" on about 45' this would be less than the coefficient of expansion when a cloud passed between the brass and the sun.
Something else to ponder, I haven't run these numbers personally but I've heard if you enter the "known" mass of the universe and 15 billion years into Einstien's relativity formulas you get roughly six days.
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At 1:34 PM, Blogger Lee said...

Jason, you are conflating a lack of precision with fallibility. Pi = 3, if you're rounding to the nearest integer. It's 3.1, if rounding to the nearest tenth. It's 3.14, if rounding to the nearest hundredth. Some folks have carried it to hundreds of places to the right of the decimal point, but it still does not mean I'm wrong if I say pi = 3.14. I'm only being more precise than the Hebrews, and less precise than Richard Feynman.

 
At 6:32 AM, Blogger Karol said...

Suppose real dimensions were: diameter - 9,666 = around 10
circumference - 30,3666 = around 30
30,3666/9,666=3,141589075
It's all about approximations.

 
At 5:44 PM, Blogger immedesimarsi said...

I won't comment too much on the \pi=3\ controversy (personally I can understand that the values given are approximate, esp. since the scripture is written by men for men), although I do chuckle when I see the "Teach the controversy: pi =3" shirts.

My favorite part of these comments is the following:

"I was 30 before I excepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior."

No doubt the author of the above statement has no idea what he just said ("except" (tr. v.) vs. "accept" (tr. v.)). Priceless.

I except the Bible as divinely inspired. For that matter, I except everything as divinely inspired in the sense that I accept nothing as divinely inspired.

 
At 5:04 PM, Anonymous Susan Mellott Dolan said...

Your brother in law was right. Mine argue as this one had with Pi being 3. I intend to bite a nose, too yet with all myth, had thought, too, that Pi was discovering it with The Twins falling or those art projects, cylinical, in New York could fall having explosions set in them and those that do not see this work coming to see Creation, does here, with ascent. Good article! Susan Mellott Dolan

 
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“No one who wasn't specifically trying to reconcile the Bible with modern science would interpret the days of Genesis as anything other than twenty-four days”
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his is demonstrably false—since it is well documented in the writings of the post-apostolic church fathers that a very common (if not the majority) view in the early church was that each day of Genesis was a thousand years. I can provide references if you like. They did not take the view that 1 day = 24 hours, even though (obviously) they were not trying to reconcile Genesis with modern science.
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At 6:06 PM, Blogger liew dow said...

hat 1 day = 24 hours, even though (obviously) they were not trying to reconcile Genesis with modern science.

Furthermore, Augustine believed creation was instantaneous. Mathematically, 1 day (Hebrew yom, actually) = 0 is the most radical possible departure from the 24 hour view. And he wasn’t trying to reconcile the bible with modern science.



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At 2:38 PM, Anonymous deva said...

A circle is a two dimensional figure. Furthermore, the verse you cite talks about God spreading out the heavens like a tent for people to dwell in. One does not usually place a tent over a sphere. One places a tent over a flat surface.

So this verse sounds to me like another one in which the biblical writers are implying the Earth is flat.

 
At 1:33 PM, Blogger Xi Huitl said...

Hi
Hope you don't mind some input.

What people tend to forget is that a cubit is a straight measurement. The 30 cubits is the perimeter of a square on the outside, each side 7.5. The 10 cubits is the diagonal of a second square on the rim. So each side is 7.07. That makes the thickness of the thing 0.43 cubits, the hands breadth. (A cubit was a measurement from tip of middle finger to the elbow; your hand is about 0.4 of that, so that fits)
10-0.43 = 9.57 so that is the diameter on the inside: 9.57 x pi = 30.06.

I think that can be rounded to 30 can't it?

But wait, we started with a square with perimeter 30 and ended with a circle of circumference 30!

:)

So, the text is quite accurate. The object is 10 cubits from side to side and 30 cubits round with a hands breadth thickness.

Hope that helps.

 
At 7:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First The Bible does not say Pi is 3, you merely assume that from not understanding the text.

Secondly, the original hebrew measurements were given in cubits (length of distance between fingers and elbow) and hand (size of palm) all of which differ from human to human. You have no idea and neither do i as to the size of the subjects hand or cubit, though it can be guessed close.

Third and final This article neatly disposes of your argumentative claim of inaccuracy showing that indeed accuracy is possible with this measurement - reference real world mathematical equations at the bottom

http://www.purplemath.com/modules/bibleval.htm

 
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