The Bible Codes

In 1994, the peer-reviewed journal Statistical Science printed an article by Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips, and Yoav Rosenberg (WRR) claiming discovery of a meaningful code hidden in the Hebrew text of Genesis. WRR defined an equidistant letter sequence (ELS) as a meaningful word that can be formed in a text by sequentially extracting letters separated by equal intervals, or skips. For example, look at the title of this section. Ignoring spaces, we write it as THEBIBLECODES. The first, fifth, and ninth letters of that string form an ELS (with a skip of 4) for the word TIC. WRR noted that Genesis contains a large number of ELS's. Their claim is true. The same, though, is equally true of any sufficiently long text in any language. With a suitable computer program, thousands of ELS's with various skips can be instantly identified in every text—in the Manhattan phone book as well as in the Bible.

Although WRR did not mention intelligent design, the problem they faced was very similar to examples discussed by ID advocates (Behe 1996; Dembski 1998a, 1998d, 1999, 2002b): they wanted to determine whether the ELS's in Genesis could be attributed to chance or whether design had to be inferred (see chapter 9 in this book).

WRR conducted a computerized statistical experiment. They compiled a list of famous rabbis who lived between early medieval times and the eighteenth century. Their computer program located ELS's that spell the appellations of those rabbis, with various skips, as well as ELS's that spell the dates of birth and/or death of the same rabbis. (In Hebrew, dates are expressed by letters of the alphabet.) They estimated the statistically averaged distance within the text between the ELS's for the appellations and for the dates of birth and/or death of the same rabbis. Then their program created one million permuted lists of appellations and dates; the appellations for individual rabbis and their dates became mismatched in these permuted lists.

WRR calculated the statistically averaged distance between ELS's for appellations and dates for all the permuted lists and compared those distances with the distances in the original list. They concluded that the ELS's for the appellations and for the dates of the same rabbis in the text of Genesis are situated statistically much closer to each other than the distances between ELS's for appellations and dates if found for different rabbis. They estimated that the probability of such an "unusually close proximity" happening by chance did not exceed 1 in 62,000.

Since the rabbis in question all lived much later than Genesis was written, the unusual proximity of the encoded rabbis' names to their encoded dates of birth or death means the text's author must have known the future. In other words, WRR's article alleged scientific proof of a miracle.

If we believe the ID advocates, the scientific establishment, represented by the editorial board of Statistical Science, should have rejected WRR's paper out of hand because it dealt with the supernatural. On the contrary, they published WRR's paper, although the referees had expressed serious doubts about WRR's statistical procedure.

A number of experts analyzed WRR's procedure and found that it suffered from a number of irregularities. Gradually, specialists in statistics and related fields came to an overwhelming consensus that WRR's data were unreliable. Statistical Science published a paper that decisively showed WRR's methodology to be contrary to the requirements of scientific rigor; hence, their results could not be trusted (McKay et al. 1999). Additional critiques of WRR's work appeared elsewhere (Simon 1998; Perakh 1998-2000, 2000; Hasofer 1998; Ingermanson 1999; Cohen 2000).

The results claimed by WRR were rejected not because the object of their study violated methodological naturalism but because of the faults in their procedure. If WRR's data had been statistically sound, then there would have been sufficient reason to consider a nonchance origin of the code in Genesis. Further, once chance is dismissed as the cause of the "close proximity," all sorts of alternative explanations become legitimate alternatives for a scientific discourse. Among possible alternative inferences, for example, are time travel, psychic prediction of the future, and extraterrestrials as the authors of Genesis (Rael 1986) as well as, yes, inferring the existence of a disembodied intelligent designer.

If WRR's data were statistically sound, scientists would include the inference to intelligent design as one among many possibly legitimate explanations. No naturalistic philosophical predispositions would prevent the inference to the supernatural. Scientists rejected such an inference only because WRR's data were found unsatisfactory, for both statistical (McKay et al. 1999) and extra-statistical (Perakh 2000) reasons. An inference to the supernatural has not yet been accepted in any other case either—again only because no evidence for such superhuman intelligent design has been demonstrated. Until such evidence is unearthed, the supernatural will not become a part of genuine science.

Science is neither based on methodological naturalism nor restrained by it, and likewise it is not restrained by any other metaphysical principle. It is restrained by one and only one requirement: it requires evidence.

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