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Science Proven God?
Faith and reason are no longer compatible! This may be the banner that distinguishes such an "enlightened" generation–a generation that has completed its journey to the far side of ignorance and into comforting arms of science and rationalism. Yet as the crowd cheers, there is a cloud of uneasiness that is settling in, and the shouts of arrival are subdued by a new voice in the crowd..."science has discovered God"! As incredible as this sounds, this outlandish introduction may, nonetheless, aptly illustrate the strange quandary of many in the scientific community today.
It is recent discoveries by a couple of eminent Israeli mathematicians that has precipitated this strange controversy between science and religion. The claim is made that encrypted behind the surface text of the Bible information is encoded that validates the supernatural authorship of the Bible itself. These discoveries have come to be known as "the Bible-codes".
The Bible-codes came into the public limelight back in August of 1994, when an article published in Statistical Science affirmed the reality of the phenomenon. Skeptics have since been unrelenting in their attempts to refute the codes. Objections to the Bible-codes have arisen with regard to both methodology and the assertion that similar codes can be found in other texts. Yet
contrary to the voice of the critics, the codes have survived the scrutiny of many prominent scientists, and the objections of the critics have been answered. Accordingly, in the estimation of the writer, evidence for the codes is compelling, and confirmation of the codes through probability testing nearly rules out chance as a rival conjecture.
Jeffery Satinover, a psychiatrist who has attended both MIT and Yale Universities, possesses a broad background in both physics and religion and has recently written a comprehensive analysis of this subject in a book entitled, Cracking The Bible Codes. According
to Dr. Satinover, the Bible-codes find their roots in ancient Jewish tradition. This tradition claims that the first five books of the Bible, known in Judaism as the Torah, were not only inspired by God, but that the very letters were in fact dictated in a letter by letter sequence (1). In his book Dr. Satinover quotes an eighteenth century Jewish rabbi by the name of Elijah Solomon that gives an intriguing analysis of the Torah–in this quote Solomon makes the following declaration: "All that was, is, and will be unto the end of time is included in the Torah"(2).
The concept of encoding secret messages behind a surface text goes back thousands of years (Satinover 8). Today such encryption techniques find their application in the modern day science of cryptography. In the case of the Bible-codes the technique of encryption used is commonly referred to as equidistant letter sequencing. This particular technique follows a design in which letters of equivalent distance from one another form meaningful words or phrases. For example, if we should choose to search for codes at intervals of seven, we would connect every seventh letter of our surface text to see if there is a hidden message. In reality the design can be much more complicated, forming complex matrices that end up resembling a sort of crossword puzzle.
Claims by codes researchers are, to say the least, startling. Michael Drosnin is a former investigative reporter for the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal and author of the best selling book known as The Bible Codes. In his book Drosnin states that he spent several weeks with an Israeli mathematician by the name of Eliyahu Rips (14). Rips is the modern day founder of the Bible-codes and is considered one of the worlds foremost authorities in group theory mathematics (13). Drosnin goes on to recount how he acquired the Bible-codes program to perform his own independent research, in the course of which he discovered the name Yitzhak
Rabin and the words "assassin that will assassinate" intersecting one another. He then relates how that on September 1, 1994, more than a year before Rabin’s assassination, he personally flew to Israel and hand delivered a letter to a close friend of Rabin’s in which he warned Rabin of this discovery (13). Codes skeptics have attributed this to coincidence; however, the account itself is not disputed (Thomas, 30-31). We could continue in this vein; however, for the sake of credibility, we will instead turn our attention to a more scientific study.
The study we will examine is commonly referred to as the "famous rabbis experiment". In his book Dr. Satinover recounts how this experiment was originally conducted by Eliyahu Rips, previously mentioned, physicist Doron Witztum, and Yoav Rosenberg, who was responsible for designing the necessary software for the experiment (199). The experiment design was one in which the names, and dates of birth, and or death, of thirty four famous rabbis in Jewish history were selected. All of the rabbis lived between the ninth and eighteenth centuries, and the method of their selection was determined prior to testing (Satinover 199-200). According to Witztum and company, specific measuring techniques were employed in which they located the names and dates of the rabbis through ELS searches in the book of Genesis, measured the distance between the correlating pairs, and then determining the significance of their tendency to be located near one another by comparing them to 999,999 permutations of incorrect matches (Witztum, Rips and Rosenberg 431). In addition to the foregoing six control texts were used to further verify the results (433). The experiment found that the probability of chance in regard to nearness in the correlating pairs was less than one in sixty two thousand five hundred– their conclusion: "The probability of ELS’s with related meaning in the book of Genesis is not due to chance"(433-434). Robert Kass, now chairman of the department of statistics at carnegie-Mellon University and former editor of Statistical Science, made the following comment: "Our referees were baffled. Their prior beliefs made them think the book of Genesis could not possibly contain meaningful references to modern-day individuals, yet when the authors carried out additional analyses and checks, the effects persisted. The paper is offered to Statistical Science readers as a challenging puzzle" (qtd. in Jeffrey, Kass 269-270).
Shortly after the publication of the famous rabbis experiment the debate was ignited. Skeptics have since attacked the codes with a zeal that seems somewhat uncharacteristic of traditional scientific objectivity. In an article published by Skeptical Inquirer, David E. Thomas, president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason, makes the following assertion: "hidden codes can be found anywhere, provided the seeker is willing to harvest the immense field of possibilities" (30). In this article Thomas proceeds to demonstrate that words and sometimes even words with related meaning can be found in other texts apart from the Bible (31-32). However, Witztum concedes that some degree of this phenomenon is virtually certain to happen within the probabilities of random occurrence (5). Additionally, Satinover points out that the distinguishing Characteristics of the famous rabbis experiment are that the list of words was quite lengthy, the correlation of word relationships was well established, and the content of the search was predetermined (199-200). In this respect, the famous rabbis experiment may be somewhat like a batter who steps up to the plate, points toward the fence, and then proceeds to knock the ball over the fence in the very direction of which he pointed; had he pointed after he hit the ball the gesture would have been meaningless.
Maya Bar-Hillel, Dror Bar-Natan, and Brendan Mckay, published an article in Chance entitled: The Torah Codes: Puzzle and Solution. These are all highly qualified mathematicians and probably the most vocal of the codes skeptics. In rebuttal to the famous rabbis experiment this group succeeded in performing a test of their own using the Hebrew text of Tolstoy’s War and peace. This test was designed to closely parallel the famous rabbis experiment, and did in fact produce significant results (15). It is, however, quite interesting that the War and Peace text employed in this experiment, was also used as one of the control texts in the Statistical Science experiment, in which they found no indication of codes (Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg, 433). It is also clear that this experiment was conducted with the assumption that the original experiment by Witztum, et.al, could not possibly be true. Accordingly, the test on War and Peace was admittedly contrived, justified by the assertion that the famous rabbis test was also contrived (Bar-Hillel, Bar Natan and Mckay, 17). Interestingly enough, this conclusion appears to betray an apparent level of frustration on the part of the critics. Moreover, the concluding remarks of this article in Chance may in fact lend support for the codes. The statement goes as follows: "To be sure, the proximity of ELS’s with related meaning in the book of Genesis is not due to chance. It must therefore be due to design. The design, however, may well be human, not divine"(19). It is in the light of these accusations, that is, that the test was contrived, that we will examine the gauntlet of scrutiny through which the rabbis test traversed before accepted for publication, in so doing, we will demonstrate that such an assertion is not supported by the known facts.
In regard to the integrity of methodology employed in the famous rabbis experiment there are a number of points to be made. For starters, Witztum points out that it was not the original experiment that was used in the final acid test on the road to publication (4). Also, the initial article submitted by Witztum and his colleagues was subjected to peer review by six "famous statisticians", all of whom were members of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(4). Furthermore, of these reviewers, it was Persi Diaconis of Harvard, one of the worlds leading statisticians, who devised an alternative statistical method for testing the validity of the famous rabbis experiment(4). According to Witztum, Professor Diaconis and his colleagues were so confident that this new testing method would invalidate the original results that they required Witztum to sign a contract allowing the results of this new experiment to be published along with the original paper (4). Clearly, for Diaconis and his associates the outcome was unexpected–the results were again highly significant. It was the results of this paper that were ultimately published (4).
Though the forgoing may be impressive, it was only the beginning of the review process. Witztum states that the article was subjected to eight years of investigation before it was published (4). Satinover comments that during this period of time the article was scrutinized by a number of qualified referees and mathematicians, and that some of these reviewers, including professor Diaconis, were aggressively opposed to the conclusions (216). Clearly, any suggestion of data tampering is a formidable position to justify. However, to further challenge this notion of data manipulation, we will examine the conclusions of yet one other source–one that is both highly qualified and independent in its evaluations.
Harold Gans had been a senior crypto logic mathematician for the U.S. Department of Defense for more than twenty years when he came across the bible-codes research. According to Satinover, Gans’ initial response was immediate disbelief (Satinover, 191). In a public statement Gans relates how he conducted an independent investigation of the famous rabbis experiment in which he confirmed the results. He goes on to recount how he performed a new experiment, adding the names of the cities associated with the rabbis dates of birth and or death (1). According to Gans the statistical significance achieved in this experiment exceeded that of the original. Gans further emphasizes that there has been a "concerted effort by many" to locate some flaw in the experiment, but that none have been found. Gans concludes his statement with the following declaration: "After exhaustive analysis, I have reached the conclusion that the only information that can be derived from the codes discovery in Genesis is that they exist, and the probability that they are mere coincidence is vanishingly small" (1).
In regard to the human elements in this controversy Rips makes an interesting observation, stating that he repeatedly asked critics "what standard of proof would you accept as an indication that the phenomenon might be genuine?" By far, Rips recounts, the most common reply has been, "there is no standard. I will not believe it regardless" (qtd. in Satinover, 206). There seems to be a strange irony in the idea that the search for truth should first have to pass the test of philosophical bias, before the evidence is fairly considered.
In all candor there is no question as to the human elements involved on both side of this debate, and the issue of bias is indeed a two edged sword. According to Rips the majority of people that are introduced to the Bible-codes are prone to either immediate acceptance, or precipitous rejection of the codes, aptly illustrating the problem of bias as an all too human weakness (qtd. in Satinover, 207).
Admittedly, the whole idea of hidden codes in the Bible foretelling of future events stretches the imagination and a degree of skepticism is understandable. Moreover, it is not our intent to imply that the case for codes is closed, and the phenomenon is unequivocally real. It seems that only time and further research will lay this enigma to rest. Is it possible that the codes are merely a product of chance? Are the considerations of human error or intentional fraud valid concerns? Certainly, to totally discount these considerations would betray our own bias. However, as is evident though the stringency of testing, and expert testimony, evidence for the codes is both substantial and compelling. Perhaps this corporate statement, signed by H. Furstenberg of Hebrew University, I. Piatetski-Shapiro of Yale, D. Kazhdan of Harvard, and J. Bernstein of Harvard, all of whom are full professors in mathematics, represents a good summation– it states: "The present work represents serious research carried out by serious investigators...The results obtained are sufficiently striking to deserve a wider audience and to encourage further study" (qtd. in Satinover, 195-196).
It should be noted that the famous rabbis experiment represents only a small fraction of the overall Bible-codes phenomenon. There are a multitude of other discoveries by codes proponents that have not been addressed. We have focused primarily on the famous rabbis experiment because it constitutes the center of the controversy. It has been the most scientifically validated of the codes, as well as the most scrutinized by the skeptics. Moreover, it is this experiment that evoked this astounding conclusion by a nationally recognized scientific journal: "We conclude that the proximity of ELS’s with related meaning in the Book of Genesis is not due to chance" (Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg, 434). Interestingly enough, in the minds of many, this conclusion has become the basis for a new age of enlightenment–one that places faith and reason back on a common footing.
Works Cited BIB – Bible Codes
Drosnin, Michael. The Bible Code. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Jeffery, Grant R. The Signature of God. Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 1998.
Satinover, Jeffrey. Cracking The Bible Code. New York: William Morrow, 1997.
Witztum, Doron, Eliyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg. "Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book
of Genesis." Statistical Science Vol. 9 (1994): 306, 429-438.