Monday, April 12, 2010

Biblical Mathematics

For a good laugh, look at this website, which claims to find the values of the mathematical constants π = 3.14159... and e = 2.71828 ... hidden in the bible.

Needless to say, such numerology is not considered very highly by most mathematicians. It depends too much on the choice of passage, and the method of calculation. In this page, the author decides that the proper measure is the number of letters times the product of the letters divided by the number of words times the product of the words, but on what basis? And even then, he must remove powers of 10 to get his desired result, and cheat in other ways, such as considering a comma as a letter for one calculation, but not another.

Sad to say, this kind of foolishness is the one area where devout Jews and Muslims find agreement. Numerology has wide currency among many Jewish people, where it is called gematria, and among Muslims such as Louis Farrakhan, who says things like, "What is so deep about this number 19? Why are we standing on the Capitol steps today? That number 19 -- when you have a nine you have a womb that is pregnant. And when you have a one standing by the nine, it means that there's something secret that has to be unfolded."


isohedral said...

I suppose it's timely that I was just reading up on the "scientific" numerology of Mohamed El Naschie, former editor of Chaos, Solitons & Fractals. He has written a bunch of papers that relate constants of physics to each other with no apparent justification.

Diogenes said...

Doesn't Dembski also believe in "The Bible Code"?

And seriously-- what is it about religion that makes people believe this gobbledygook? Is it a kind of "Beautiful Mind" thing, where you just see patterns everywhere and think you're reading God's mind?

These people--hell, some of them are rabbis--waste their brain power on this gobbledygook.

How is this different from the homeless guy who thinks the CIA is beaming messages into his brain? Apart from more frequent bathing.

Catherine said...


Letting Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam symbolize "Muslims" in making your point is painting with a very very wide (American?) brush, indeed.

I know you are trying to make a specific point about numerology, but shouldn't we all be trying to do better when making generalizations, even if they are only by implication?

Jeffrey Shallit said...


Farrakhan is a Muslim, and he has a wide following in the US. I wasn't implying anything more than that.

Catherine said...

While we're talking, I'm sure you noticed Michael Specter's TED talk on The danger of science denial

Anonymous said...

"Nation of Islam" certainly think they're muslims but so far as I can tell they're about as far from normative islam as mormonism is from the Nicene creed. Of course from a suitably long distance away all religions start to look the same.

Frank said...

Didn't the Bible Code get peer reviewed in Statistical Science?

Jeffrey Shallit said...


Yes, it did. But it turns out that the errors that the authors made were rather subtle, and it took a while for them to be exposed. The work of Brendan McKay has now definitively debunked the claims of Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg.

Frank said...

Diogenes asks:"Doesn't Dembski also believe in "The Bible Code"?"

Dembski's article says:

"Although it’s too early to decide whether the Bible Code is genuine,..."

Frank said...


jason said...

I used to think that among fundamentalist Christians, this kind of nonsense was confined to the pentecostal/charismatic wing. Then I saw a sermon from the late Dr. Adrian Rogers, a leader in the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, in which he went through the spiritual significances of various numbers < 50. He hinted that there was much more to be taught, if only he had the mathematical abilities to explain it all.

The material he presented was nearly identical to what you get from Paula White or the Paul and Jan Crouch/TBN bunch. I thought Baptists usually shy away from this stuff, in favor of straightforward Christian nationalism. Has pentecostal nuttiness crept into the SBC?

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

Robert Marks listed among Most Brilliant Christian Professors

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Robert Marks is co-author of an infamous ex-colleague of mine, Gary Wise, who is now in jail. His office was next to mine in Austin, Texas, and used to threaten me and others that we were going to be shot.

He was insane.

But the university, for years, didn't care about Wise's threats, neither did the police: he was a good Texas Christian boy, conducting, among other stupidities, Bible Studies.

To make a LONG story short, he flipped out completely and started threatening the dean of engineering too. And then they made sure to fire him. He is now in jail, accused for several murder plots.

There is a greek proverb going like this: "Show me your friend and I'll tell you who you are."

fermaton le code d'einstein said...

Il y a quelque chose de contradictoire dans ta démonstration de l'absurdité des nombres biblique.
Étant moi même mathématicien et scientifique de carrière, je me pose la question suivante:
Comment un individu mets autant de génie et d'énergie à prouver l'absurde ?
La plupart des intellectuels (j'en suis un) souffrent de ce que j'appelle le syndrome de aikido !
Un maître d'aikido sais de quoi je parle. Plus tu frappes fort plus ton ennemi plus il est fort !
Je te dis ceci en toute amitié; moi même j'ai lutté très longtemps pour me détacher de ce complexe.
Le phénomène religieux est quelque chose qui est en dehors de la portée humaine.Ce que les athées n'ont pas compris et ils ne le comprendront jamais: Ils sont hors sujet ! C'est très simple !


Dr Clovis Simard,phD

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Merci, mais je ne suis pas du tout d'accord.

1. J'ai a peine passe un quart d'heure sur ce post. Ce n'est pas une question de "autant de genie".

2. Si personne ne repond a ces conneries, alors les auteurs peuvent pretendre qu'ils n'ont jamais ete refutes.

phil said...

I came to this blog post with a Google search for the "Pi and e in the bible"-thing.
I was also looking for some "cheating" in the calculations, but found nothing so far - apart from the "ignored" powers of 10. Where have you found a comma that was counted for the calculation?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Phil, do the first calculation where he counts the total number of letters. You only get 52 if you count an inserted comma in one place, but ignore the other comma.

phil said...

Thank you for your reply. I think its not the comma, but the last letter of the second word, which includes a iota subscript. I have no idea if it is valid or common to count it as two letters.

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

With reference to Jeff Shallit's post on April 14, 2010

I remember when the article "Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis", Statist. Sci. Vol. 9, No. 3, 429-438, 1994, by Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips, and Yoav Rosenberg, was first published in a journal of the IMS.
It is still amazing to me how it is possible for perfectly rational people in their fields (like, e.g. E Rips) to hold irrational beliefs such as bible codes and to be willing to put these beliefs above mathematics and all in order to "prove" them.

Rips has even published a book, Torah Codes: A Glimpse into the Infinite, with co-authors, in 2005, on his favorite topic. I searched MathSciNet and saw that he has published no math books. So his only book is on religious insanity.