Statistics Crack Bible Code
Theory Postulated Hidden Modern Facts in Document
By Richard N. Ostling of The Associated Press
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(source: http://www.abcnews.go.com/sections/science/DailyNews/biblecode990910.html )
N E W Y O R K, Sept. 10 - An international team of statisticians is debunking the controversial Bible code, which claims the Old Testament has hidden references to 20th century events that can be revealed by a computer.
Searching for further meanings in the Bible has spurred some popular books.
Proponents of the code claim that names and events were hidden in the Bible as written thousands of years ago and can be found through computer searches of the Hebrew text. Television documentaries, fast-selling books and numerous articles have popularized the theory, first published in the academic journal Statistical Science.
Now the same journal, published by the Institute of Mathematical Statistics based in Hayward, Calif., is offering an article challenging the technique it reported in 1994. The article will be published in the quarterly next week.
Stringing Through the Hebrew
Believers in the Bible code theory treat the Hebrew Bible as a string of letters without spaces, looking for words formed by equidistant letter sequences. For instance, computers might select every ninth Hebrew letter and register a hit when a coded word intersects with a Bible verse containing related words.
Five years ago, three Israeli scholars published the results of their search in the journal. As they explained, they took names of famous rabbis from a reference dictionary, applied letter sequences and found the names near the rabbis dates of birth or death.
Using the same technique, others have claimed the Bible contains secret predictions, including everything from the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 to a Los Angeles earthquake in 2010.
No Real Original Bible Anyhow
Major Bible scholars ignore the code because, they note, no one has a letter-by-letter version of the Bible as originally written. The oldest surviving manuscripts include slight variations, any of which would throw off computer test results.
In the upcoming edition of Statistical Science, the new study authors Dror Bar-Natan, Maya Bar-Hillel and Gil Kalai, professors at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, and Brendan McKay of the Australian National University combine expertise in mathematics and computer science to debunk the theory.
Using other spellings and assumptions, they ran hundreds of tests that repeated the experiment with different variations and applied it to more biblical books.
Despite a considerable amount of effort, they write, we have been unable to detect the codes.
More Tests Needed
This is significant, Bar-Natan said in a Thursday interview, because truth in science is never based on the results of a single experiment. A significant requirement is repeatability.
Their results were no more successful with the Hebrew translation of Tolstoys War and Peace. Such letter configurations can be found in any long text, they say. The trick is to find letters in close proximity that form significant words more often than by chance.
But Eliyahu Rips, an Israeli mathematics professor who was co-author of the 1994 article, said in a statement that evidence for the code is stronger than ever and said a detailed reply to the new criticism would appear soon.
His ally Michael Drosnin, author of The Bible Code, said the critics told a lie.
Expected to Remain a Puzzle
Robert Kass, head of the statistics department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, edited the journal when it published the first article and said it was reviewed by other experts. He is disturbed that people perceived publication as a stamp of scientific approval. That first article, he said, merely presented a puzzle one that has now been explained. The new study shows there were many, many choices, particularly for things like the names of the rabbis, that involved a lot of latitude. It was only for special sources that the results appeared, he said Thursday.
He said such studies must avoid statistical tuning, just as medical research projects follow strict protocol. Bar-Natan says that procedures in the 1994 project had enough wiggle room to produce whatever you want.
Authors of the earlier article could not be reached for comment.
Statistics scholars renew debate over "Bible code"
September 13, 1999
Web posted at: 2:45 PM EDT (1845 GMT)
NEW YORK (AP) - An international team of statisticians is attacking "Bible code" theory, which claims the Old Testament contains secret references to 20th century events.
Television documentaries, fast-selling books and numerous articles have popularized the idea, which originated with a 1994 article in the academic journal Statistical Science.
Next week the same journal, published by the Institute of Mathematical Statistics based in Hayward, Calif., will publish a study by three researchers challenging the theory.
"Despite a considerable amount of effort, we have been unable to detect the codes," the study stated.
According to Bible code proponents, the Hebrew text of the Old Testament refers to events that were thousands of years away when the text was written.
The hidden references are revealed by turning the text into a string of letters without spaces and looking for words formed by equidistant letter sequences. For instance, computers might select every ninth Hebrew letter and register a "hit" when a "coded" word intersects with a Bible verse containing related words.
The technique has been used to claim encoded biblical predictions of everything from the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 to a Los Angeles earthquake in 2010.
Major Bible scholars have ignored the code, noting that no one has a letter-by-letter version of the Bible as originally written. The oldest surviving manuscripts include slight variations. The new article makes the same point.
The theory was put forward in a 1994 article in the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, in which three Israeli scholars reported on tests using the Book of Genesis that produced intersections between names of famous rabbis and their birth or death dates.
That experiment is re-tested in a new article in the same journal written by Dror Bar-Natan and Gil Kalai, who teach mathematics at Jerusalem's Hebrew University; Maya Bar-Hillel, a psychology professor at the same school; and Brendan McKay, a computer scientist at Australian National University.
Such letter configurations can be found in any long text, the article says.
They repeated the 1994 experiment, using other spellings and assumptions and applying the rabbis' names to other biblical books.
Comparison tests using the Hebrew translation of Tolstoy's "War and Peace" were just as successful as those with the Bible.
Bar-Natan said the 1994 article was based on research that offered "enough wiggle room to produce whatever you want."
But Michael Drosnin, author of "The Bible Code," stood by the theory. He said a retired code-breaker for the U.S. National Security Agency has proven the code works.
Eliyahu Rips, a co-author of the 1994 article and professor in the same department as Bar-Natan and Kalai, issued a statement promising a "detailed reply" soon. He called the new article's examples "mathematically meaningless."
Robert Kass, head of the statistics department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, edited Statistical Science when it published the 1994 article. In a recent interview he said that the 1994 data "involved a lot of latitude" and skewed the findings.