Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pi = 3

I've been beating the drum recently that we shouldn't worry so much about evolution as part of atheism. For one thing, there were plenty of atheists before Darwin came along. Really we should worry about, as the (pagan) philosopher Aristotle put it, how to live.

On that count, you would think all the helpful guidance about slavery and stoning in the Good Book would put to rest any idea that it's a worthy moral guide - unless you discuss slavery and stoning in context, as Christians like to emphasize the Bible must be read; apparently there's a proper context for slavery. It turns out there are not just horrendous "moral" claims but also directly, every-day-usable facts directly contradicted by the Bible. Forget the six days of creation and the talking snake - we have Biblical guidance on geometry. In 1 Kings 7:23, we are given the measurements of Solomon's Temple:

He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure round it. (That's the NIV text, but take your pick here.)

In other words, this verse tells you that the circumference is 30 cubits, and the diameter is 10. The ratio of circumference to diameter is called pi. If you're an engineer or builder or landscaper or construction hobbyist of any kind, chances are you've had to use this number at some point. Pi is 3.14, but the Bible says it's 30 cubits/10 cubits = 3. If you want, get out a protractor right now to see.

There appears to be a big problem here. Don't worry about descent with modification millions of years ago. A fact - an observable, demonstrable fact that many people do have to frequently use and that you can check right now with a protractor as you sit at your computer - directly contradicts something in the Bible.

Of course I'm not the first cowboy to this rodeo. This cat had even more fun with this than I did, and the fact remains that there's a glaring problem in Scripture. Possible explanations range among the following:

- The Bible is wrong.

- Pi has changed since then.

- Math and measurement don't work. (If this one explains it, don't tell anyone before I get back from the bank.)

- There are secret codes.

- A cubit doesn't equal a cubit, or they weren't measuring something round; that is to say, the Bible is only approximately true (this is actually argued by Answers in Genesis!) Good idea, except then the Bible isn't literally true. Answers in Genesis is interpreting and assuming. Is this book the literal word of God, or not?

So, literalists: do you believe the value of pi is three? Why or why not? If you're worrying about intelligent design, why not also introduce a bill to support the academic freedom of young Earth creationists AND Pi3.0ers? And Flat Earthers and anti-germ-theorists? Why would you ever drive a car built by people who actually believe that pi is 3.14? At the very least, Christians owe it to themselves to understand why it's okay to throw out certain parts of the Scriptures. Fortunately, most Christians are smart enough to do that, and I'm glad for all our sakes that they do and can only hope they continue the process.

The bottom line is this. Who even cares what 1 Kings says? When you're building a circular fountain for your backyard garden, why would it even occur to you in the first place to dig through volumes of dusty arcana instead of consulting a math book and a measuring tape? We should ask ourselves the same kinds of questions about moral decisions as well.

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