Value of Pi in the Bible

Value of Pi in the Bible
It may not appear that the passage below would cause a major question of biblical infallibility. However, atheists and skeptics try to make an issue of the value of pi in the Bible.

Also he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about. 2 Chronicles 4:2

In several lectureships recently, I have been challenged to explain why the passage is not in error. The point is that it gives the diameter of the top of the circular bowl and its circumference. If the bowl’s diameter is known, one can calculate the circumference by the formula we all learned in elementary school, which says that C=2πr (the circumference is equal to two times pi times the radius). If we know the circumference, we can calculate the value of π, which would be C divided by 2r. In this case that gives the value of π as 3.00000. We all know that π is twenty-two sevenths or 3.142857142. Obviously, according to the skeptics, the value of pi in the Bible is in error.

My first reaction to hearing this challenge was that it was nit-picking in the first degree. I have seen it repeated so many times by so many recently that I need to answer it again. It may also be that this passage is actually a positive proof of the integrity and accuracy of the biblical narrative.

The first point that I need to make is that one must observe significant figures when making any measurement. In my physics laboratory, the balances measure things to a tenth of a gram. If you wish to measure the mass of something to a hundredth or thousandth of a gram, you have to use another balance. Every year, I have a student who wants to record a mass accurate to a millionth of a gram. On their lab sheet, they will give me a number like 28.6581432 grams—on a balance that has no marks or calibrations beyond a tenth of a gram!

In the case of the biblical record, the unit is the cubit. A cubit is the distance from the elbow to the tip of the finger. It should be evident that the length of the cubit depends upon the size of the person whose forearm you measure. My wife’s cubit is about three inches shorter than mine. This is no factor in the kind of measurements that the cubit was used for, but it does mean that the cubit was only accurate to the nearest whole number—three. Obviously, the value of pi in the Bible is accurate to the number of significant figures to which the cubit can be measured.

It is also possible that the 30-cubit measurement was around the inside circumference of the bowl since that is what held the liquid. The 10 cubits may be the outside diameter since that would be what the bowl was forged from and the space it occupied. In that case, the outside circumference would be 31.43. If we assume the same man made both measurements and was accurate to two decimal places (which is unlikely), we can calculate the thickness of the material of which the bowl was made. Since C=2πr, then:

r(outside) – r(inside) = C(out) – C(in) =.18 cubits

That is about 3 inches which would mean the thickness of the bowl would be 1.5 inches, which is very reasonable. I made this point at a lecture recently and had an atheist respond with, “I don’t care what’s reasonable, the fact is, the Bible says pi is 3.00 and that’s wrong!” The idea she was advancing was that if there was any possible way she could interpret a biblical passage that would make it look ridiculous, that is the way she would interpret it. No amount of discussion about significant figures or possible measurement parameters would change her mind. She insisted the value of pi in the Bible is 3.000 and that is wrong!

The same person became incensed when I would not accept the dubious possibility that volcanoes produced the layers of iridium found in the dinosaur remains. This idea, which deals with evolution, has a mountain of other evidence which indicates that volcanoes did not produce these layers, but that they came from an astronomical catastrophe.

I have had the same kind of experience with religious people when their pet religious tradition was called into question by the available evidence. Certainly, this discussion points out some questions about approaches. Perhaps we have to get to the realization that putting pearls before swine is an exercise in futility. (See Matthew 7:6.)
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Wreck of the SS Cedarville

Wreck of the SS Cedarville
Between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan, there is a stretch of water known as the Straits of Mackinac. (Pronounced mack-in-awe) This narrow channel connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Nearby is a museum which tells the story of shipwrecks in the Straits. One of those was the wreck of the SS Cedarville in the early morning of May 7, 1965.

The Cedarville was carrying a heavy load of limestone and traveling through the straits in dense fog. In spite of low visibility Captain Martin Joppich kept the ship moving at top speed. He even ordered the wheelsman to cut corners off the official shipping channel to save time. Radar detected two oncoming vessels. One of them was identified as the Norwegian freighter Topdalsfjord. Captain Joppich ordered the crew to reduce speed and steer starboard to pass the Topdalsfjord on the port side. In doing that, the Cedarville steered directly into the path of the Topdalsfjord. The Norwegian ship sliced a large hole into the side of the Cedarville.

Captain Joppich ordered the crew to stop the engines and drop anchor. The crew prepared the lifeboats, but no order was given to abandon ship. The ship was starting to list to port, so the crew began to fill the starboard ballast tanks. The captain then ordered the crew to raise anchor and steer the ship to shallow water six miles (10 km) away. By the time they had gone just over two miles (3.3 km), the ship rolled over and sank.

Of the 35 crew members, ten of them died in the wreck of the SS Cedarville. What mistakes did the captain make? The Cedarville was going too fast for foggy conditions. The ship steered the wrong way into the path of another vessel. The crew was not given orders to abandon ship. There was another area of shallow water only two miles (3.2 km) away that they might have reached before sinking. All of these things were caused by the captain making bad decisions.

A plaque at the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum says, “To some degree, all wrecks in the Straits of Mackinac were avoidable. Someone exercised bad judgment or performed their duties incorrectly. In many instances, several people made many small errors, each individually, but momentous when combined with others. As a result, ships went down while passengers and crewmembers died.” The wreck of the SS Cedarville is only one example.

The plaque says the real cause of wrecks is people. How often do people cause wrecks and destruction to their own lives or the lives of others and then blame God for the pain? Does God allow us to make bad choices? Yes, but when we make those bad choices, we should put the blame where it belongs, and not on God.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Belief in God

Belief in God
This ministry has existed for 50 years with the fundamental purpose of showing those willing to look at the scientific evidence, that God does exist and that the Bible is His Word. Various religious people have frequently told us that what we are doing is useless because everyone really has a belief in God. Data that shows that 40% of Americans say “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. But the critics argue that even people with no church connection still have a belief in God.

One of the more reliable organizations that gathers demographic data on religious issues is the Pew Research Center. The June 2018 issue of Christianity Today published a report from Pew Research in which 4700 adults were asked if they “believe in God as described in the Bible.” Almost half, 44% of the respondents, said they did not. The obvious devil in the details is whether what they think the Bible describes is actually the way the Bible describes God. (If you think the Bible describes God shown in the picture above, you are mistaken. We have a video that deals with that point and you can watch it HERE.) It is evident that a growing population in this country have faith issues with belief in God as the essential starting point.

We maintain that there is a tremendous need to educate people on the evidence for God’s existence, and what the Bible actually says about God. We have a free correspondence course available on our doesgodexist.org website. There is absolutely no charge or obligation of any kind. The course is written at a college level and is graded by John Clayton, the director of the Does God Exist? Ministry. We also have other written courses available through the mail with postage paid envelopes provided. Join us in learning and growing.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Buzz Aldrin and UFOs

Buzz Aldrin and UFOs
An article in the British tabloid Daily Star on April 8, 2018, claimed that new tests on Buzz Aldrin confirm that he contacted an alien on his trip to the Moon in 1969. The story supposedly came from an Ohio scientific group called “The Institute of BioAcoustic Biology and Sound Health.” That group claims to have a “top secret” test to determine what the subject actually experienced or saw. They gave no explanation of the test or why it overrules what the subject says.

The reason we even mention this is because atheist journals and even in major newspapers like USA Today have cited it. NASA has pointed out that four panels separated from the Apollo 11 spacecraft in flight, and they would have followed the same general trajectory as the spacecraft. Buzz Aldrin said in a Reddit chat session, “I feel absolutely convinced that we were looking at the sun reflected off of one of these panels.” He has denied having any contact with aliens. The BioAcoustic group claims that audio tests have shown hidden truths in Aldrin’s speech.

We have repeatedly pointed out that the question of whether there is life on other planets, is not a biblical or apologetic issue. The Bible doesn’t say that this is the only place where God has chosen to create life. However, it has become increasingly obvious that if there is alien intelligent life in space, it is too far away to be of any consequence to us. In spite of that, the media continues to push the idea that life in space somehow contradicts the Bible and supports atheism.

There is an adage that when a person doesn’t believe in something they will believe anything. That seems to apply here. Our focus needs to be on solving Earth’s problems, not attempts to divert attention to poorly supported scientific claims of alien intervention.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

How Many Atheists?

How Many Atheists?
How many atheists are there in America? This ministry has existed for 50 years, and throughout most of that time, Church members have told us that there is no such thing as an atheist. They have said that we are wasting our time trying to convince people that God does exist.

Atheists claim that as people become better educated they realize that “God” and religion are just products of ignorance. This ministry was begun by a man who came to faith in God through science and did so late in his scientific education. Because of that, our approach has been different from what most Christians can relate to and understand. That difference has its advantages, but it also makes us a lightning rod for some denominational leaders.

In the April 2018 issue of Scientific American (page 77), Michael Shermer devoted his regular column to the subject of how many atheists there are. He concludes that in America alone there are 64 million atheists. Shermer is an atheist himself, even though he graduated from Pepperdine University where he studied religion. We might be suspicious about his claims, but the article quotes a variety of valid data-gathering sources including a Harris Poll, a Pew Research Center poll, the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, and the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Shermer ends his article by saying that the number of atheists in America is:

“…a staggering number that no politician can afford to ignore… we should be thinking about the deeper implications for how people will find meaning as the traditional source of it wanes in influence. And we should continue working on grounding our morals and values on viable secular sources such as reason and science.”

Some of us have already tried reason and science as a source of morals and values. It didn’t work and led us to realize that only Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). I would not wish that rough road of experience for anyone.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Virtual Faith

Virtual Faith - Cat with Mirror
Atheist virtual faith reminds me of virtual images. I am an old physics teacher. One of the fun discussions that I used to have with my students was when we got into optics and began talking about virtual and real images. Real images are actually formed by light rays. When you take a convex lens or a concave mirror you can project an image of a candle onto a screen. The image is inverted, but it is there. You can block sections of it with your hand, and you can enlarge or reduce the image by changing the distance from the object to the projecting lens or mirror.

The other type of image is a virtual image, which is an illusion. When you look into a plane mirror, you see an image of yourself. The image is not real. It is not actually formed by the light rays, and it cannot be projected. Watching an animal see itself in a plane mirror is always interesting because the animal can be fooled by the realistic virtual image. We all know that magicians can fool us with virtual images as well.

When atheists want to get around questions concerning the existence of God, they frequently bring the word “virtual” into their discussion. Stephen Hawking in his book A Brief History of Time evaded the logical consequences of the second law of thermodynamics by inventing something he called “virtual time.” Lawrence Krauss in his book A Universe from Nothing claims that empty space is actually “a boiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles that are popping in and out of existence on a time scale so short that you cannot see them.” This new definition of “nothing” is based on virtual particles.

Like the virtual image in a plane mirror, all of this is unreal! It is an unscientific proposal because it cannot be falsified or scientifically tested in any way. It is invented purely to justify the rejection of God as the creator. Krauss is fond of saying that there is no need for an intelligent being to will anything into existence because the means for this was already there and available. If you want to invent a religion that believes in unreal particles popping into existence, you are certainly free to do so. That gives the atheist a virtual faith. The problem is that he or she has to believe that from the “boiling bubbling brew” everything necessary for stable matter to exist came about by chance.

We have a booklet “Evidence for Design In the Universe” available on our doesgodexist.org website or from us on request. It contains a list of 47 physical design features that must be present for a planet like ours to exist. We would claim that all of this makes our faith real, and the rejection of God’s existence virtual faith.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Grand Design and Stephen Hawking

The Grand Design
In our March 15 article on this site, we mentioned the death of Stephen Hawking. We noted some of the amazing things that Hawking accomplished. We have received some mail about Hawking and his role as an atheist. How much Hawking’s battle with health issues affected his view of God is hard to answer, but his resistance to believing in God is undeniable as shown in his book The Grand Design.

In his otherwise excellent book A Brief History of Time (Bantam Books, 1988), Hawking did a masterful job of explaining the second law of thermodynamics. He even intimated that the second law was supportive of the existence of God. That was something Hawking didn’t want to do, so at the end of the book he invented something he called “virtual time.” He couldn’t define virtual time, and it is not testable and therefore is not science. By accepting virtual time, Hawking was able to deny that there was a beginning and that the beginning had to be caused by an entity outside of space/time.

Hawking’s first wife was a believer in God and expressed concern about the integrity of the virtual time argument. Many have suggested that Hawking’s belief system was all that the last chapter of the book was trying to defend.

In his 2010 book The Grand Design, Hawking declared that God is not needed to explain the existence of the universe. In an interview, he said, “There is no heaven or afterlife… that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” That was a statement of faith based on the imaginary concept of virtual time. Virtual means unreal. A grand design based on virtual time is not real.

Hawking was an outstanding thinker in cosmology, and he overcame enormous challenges to continue to live a productive life far beyond what was expected. It is sad that he allowed bias to shadow his thinking in areas outside of his specialty. A friend of mine with a Ph.D. in physics says, “My Ph.D. in every-day life really stands for post hole digger.” Like Richard Dawkins and other popular atheists, Hawking was incredibly ignorant in spiritual matters, but a genius in his own field of expertise. Let us admire and praise his professional accomplishments, but not attach much significance to his religious opinions. Tomorrow we will examine “virtual faith.”
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Stephen Hawking’s Death

Stephen Hawking's Death
On the morning of March 14, news media carried the news of Stephen Hawking’s death. His family announced, “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.”

Hawking was a brilliant physicist and cosmologist and probably the best-known living scientist. He wrote the book A Brief History of Time which was published in 1988. That book holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for being on the Sunday Times (London) bestseller list for an amazing 237 weeks. The book has sold ten-million copies and has been translated into 40 languages. Along with Roger Penrose, Hawking devised the theory that the universe began with a singularity in what has come to be known as the “Big Bang.” In his 2010 book The Grand Design he declared that God is not needed to explain the existence of the universe. In an interview, he said, “There is no heaven or afterlife… that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

Stephen Hawking lived a remarkable life for a person with a form of ALS, a motor neuron disease. He was diagnosed at age 21, and the doctors gave him two years to live. He survived until age 76 but spent most of those years in a wheelchair unable to move. He could only talk with the aid of a computerized voice.

We are saddened to know that Hawking was never able to accept the Christian faith of his first wife. In the announcement of Stephen Hawking’s death, his three children said, “We will miss him forever.”

We have recently published two postings about Stephen Hawking, and we encourage you to read them by clicking here and here.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Anatomical Bible Words (Part 2)

Anatomical Bible Words
Yesterday we began to examine anatomical Bible words. We talked about what it means to take the Bible “literally.” We said that taking it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it. We looked at the Hebrew word for “kidneys” which is kelayot.

Another anatomical Bible words example is the word leb, which occurs 853 times in the Old Testament. It means “heart,” and that is the way it is translated even though it doesn’t refer to the physical organ. We all know that the heart is the organ that pumps blood through our body, but the word leb is seldom used in that way. First Samuel 25:37-38 says that Nabal’s “heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.” The word “heart” is used in many different ways in the Bible. Psalms 27:14 tells us that God may strengthen one’s heart–meaning to give courage. Proverbs 23:17 tells us that mood or temperament arise in one’s heart. First Samuel 27:1 and Genesis 17:17 tell us that the heart is a place for thinking and inner reflection.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek term for heart is kardia. That word is used in the New Testament to refer to various intellectual activities. (See Romans 1:21, 1 Corinthians 2:9 and 4:5, 2 Corinthians 3:15 and 9:7.) Jesus uses “heart” in the same way in Matthew 15:18-19 and Mark 11:23. In Luke 5:22 Jesus accuses the Pharisees of “thinking these things in your hearts.”

Also in the New Testament the Greek word splagchnon, translated “bowels” is used to refer to the intestines in Acts 1:18 and to the seat of emotions in many other passages. (See Colossians 3:12; Philemon 7, 12, 20; Philippians 1:8, 2:7). It is translated “bowels” in the King James Version but usually heart, mercies, or emotions in newer translations.

These biblical passages were written to common people in an ancient time, not to cardiologists or other medical doctors living in the twenty-first century. But let me ask you a question. Have you ever referred to someone having a “broken heart?” Have you talked about sadness as “heartache?” Did you ever refer to having a “gut feeling?” I am sure that you know these emotions do not come from those organs of the body. Did you and those who heard you understand what you were saying? How can we criticize the Bible authors for using language that people in ancient times could understand when we use the same expressions today?

Robert Branson in an excellent article in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Volume 68 Number 4, December 2016, page 229-236) says it this way:

“…God accommodates His message of salvation to the ability of humans to understand. Cultural factors such as language, view of the physical world, and political practices are not overridden or corrected.”

The Bible is the perfect guide for how to live and how to have a restored relationship with God. We have to spend some energy making sure we understand its message, and we have many tools to help us do that. In today’s world, it is easier than ever to read and understand the Bible. There is no need for us to get hung up on anatomical Bible words. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) involves “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), and that means understanding the intent of the passage.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Anatomical Bible Words (Part 1)

Anatomical Bible Words
One of the most ambiguous words used by believers and atheists alike is when they say they are taking the Bible “literally.” It is ambiguous because of the underlying assumptions people make about the biblical translations. Word meanings can change over centuries and sometimes over decades. We can think of words, such as “gay,” which have changed in meaning in our lifetimes. Sometimes believers get confused by the meaning of Bible words in the King James Version. Skeptics especially like to criticize anatomical Bible words for being inaccurate.

At one extreme, some Bible fundamentalists insist that the King James Version was given by direct revelation from God to the translators in 1611, and that it is 100% correct. There are massive difficulties with that view. There are both translation mistakes and antiquated vocabulary in the KJV. Many words used in the KJV have gone out of use or have different meanings today.

A translation error we have mentioned before is in Genesis 6 where nephilim is translated “giant.” That mistranslation was a carryover from the earlier Latin Vulgate translation. In the Vulgate, the Latin scholars translated nephilim as gigantus which means “giant.” The KJV translators didn’t go back to the true meaning of the word nephilim which is “fallen ones.” The Hebrew word nephilim is derived from naphal which means to fall, fall away, or be cast down.

At the other extreme, atheists, skeptics, and biblical minimalists have claimed that the Bible is full of errors. They say that anatomical Bible words show a lack of understanding of basic science. The Hebrew word for kidneys is kelayot and it was used by the ancients in the sense of “mind” or “interior self.” We find it used eleven times in the Old Testament in reference to humans. In the KJV it is usually translated “reins.” We all know that the kidneys filter our blood and remove wastes, but the Bible never identifies the kidneys with that function. In Job 19:27 kelayot is translated “heart” or “mind” in most translations. In Proverbs 23:16 most translations read “innermost being.”

So does this mean that the Bible is not the word of God because our creator should have understood that kidneys are not the seat of our inner self? We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. We have stated before that we must understand the Bible literally. To take it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it.

The biblical passages we have referred to were written to common people in an ancient time in words that they could understand. If they could not understand it, they would never have passed it on to us. Our knowledge of human anatomy is far beyond that of the ancients. We can understand what the Bible is saying and so could those who lived in ancient times. The Bible is God’s word for all time, not just today. We will continue with more on anatomical Bible words tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018