Written: June 3, 1997
On the face of it, Michael Drosnin's book `The Bible Code' seems like a great embarrassment to mathematics and mathematicians. Even when you subtract the journalistic hype, and the author's both intentional and unintentional lies, there still remains a lot to be embarrassed about. For one, that a great group-theorist like Eliyahu Rips signed his name on the `refereed' paper in Statistical Science, and that such great mathematicians like Kazhdan and Piateski-Shapiro seemed to endorse it.
But we mathematicians are also human. As humans we have to survive in this seemingly meaningless, cold, and hostile world. There is nothing wrong in having some mystical and religious warmth to keep us going. Newton did it, Kepler did it, and lots of mathematicians and scientists are deeply religious. The logical contradiction is only apparent, since after all, modern science is just another religion, and the apparent contradictions and `paradoxes' would hopefully all be resolved (at least when the Messiah comes.)
Besides, a little dose of embarrassment may be good for our collective psyche. We deserve our own Cold Fusion, and in some sense, Fleischmann, Pons, and Rips are martyrs and visionaries. I am sure that asymptotically we would be all equally right (or more precisely, equally wrong.)
There were some brilliant rebuttals to the Bible Code (see Website on Bible Codes ), and the great Graph-theorist and Ramsey-theorist Brendan McKay, together with the great Knot-theorist and Quantum-Field theorist Dror Bar-Natan are preparing a very poignant and watertight rebuttal of the `Bible-Code Nonsense'.
(Added Jan. 21, 2000: John Kahila kindly pointed out that the site is now complete, see http://cs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/dilugim/ .)
The main point of the various rebuttals can be summarized in the 4-word-summary of Ramsey Theory, due to Theodore Motzkin, and used as the motto of Chapter 2 of the definitive treatise on this subject by Graham, Rothschild, and Spencer:
`Total Disorder is Impossible'.
The Genesis phenomenon is just a cousin of the fact proved by McKay and Radziszowski, that if you made a party with 49 people, then you are GUARANTEED to find Either 5 people who ALL LOVE EACH OTHER or 5 people who ALL HATE EACH OTHER. (49 may be reduced (perhaps to 43), but this is still open).
The Genesis phenomenon is even more closely related to the van-der-Waerden Ramsey theorem that any sufficiently long string on an alphabet of 22 (or 26 or any size) has Unavoidable regularities: i.e. ELSs that have one of the sacred words: (aleph)^10, (bet)^10, ..., (tav)^10. For example it is known that ANY 0-1 string of length 178 MUST have an ELS of the form 00000 or 11111. If we replace MUST by PROBABLY, then 178 could be drastically reduced.
(As an amusing aside, Rips's colleague at Jerusalem, Shaaron Shelah, made a great breakthrough in this area a few years ago.)
But rather than using Ramsey theory to say that the Witztum-Rips-Rosenberg proof that `God Exists' is flawed because it is tautologous (detecting an inevitable regularity), let's say that it is only an independent rediscovery, of a special instance of Ramsey-Theory at work: that Harmony, Regularity, and perhaps even God do EXIST, and are inevitable. It is too bad that they are surrounded by so much evil chaos.
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