RE: Seely's Views 2

From: Glenn Morton <>
Date: Fri Sep 03 2004 - 22:41:36 EDT

> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> [] On Behalf Of Roger G. Olson
> Sent: Friday, September 03, 2004 7:20 PM

> Interesting analysis, Glennn -- muchly appreciated! I'm
> aware of your recent engagement with a YEC ("Jezz") on
> on the subject of information theory. That
> is a very interesting thread.

Thanks for the extra n!

> I'm wondering what the analog of informational "noise" is in
> the system of divine communication to humanity via scripture?

The best analogy I have is to the seismic signal to noise ratio. I will
be a bit more specific and correct than I was with signal to noise this
time. A seismic trace is a sinusoidal sequence of numbers. The digits
have a broad spectrum of frequencies added together an the numbers look
something like (successive time samples going down; time samples usually
.002 seconds.


Now, in this recorded signal is noise. If the signal to noise ratio is
10 then the numbers we record are correct to within +/-10% on average.
That on average is important. In this case, even if I can't know the
metaphysical true value for the reflected sound energy, I can know that
it is a compressional (positive number) or rarifaction(negative number)
part of the sound wave.

As the signal to noise ratio approaches 2, I really have little
knowledge of the reflection energy from any given reflector. I can
improve it by taking lots of measurements at a given spot on the earth
an adding them up. This improves the signal to noise content by the
square root of N, which is the number of measurements. But sometimes
the signal to noise level is so bad that even doing that I might only
get a Signal/Noise ratio of 2. with a 2, I can usually tell if the
sound wave is compressional or rarifaction with a large certainty. That
means, I am only able to detect what is called the sign bit (the part of
the signal that indicates a positive or negative number).

But when the signal to noise ratio gets to 1, I know that 1/2 of the
sign bits are wrong. I know that half are right. I just don't know
which ones are right and which ones are wrong. This is the case in
Shannon's noisy channel discussion. If the information you are trying
to elicit or extract from the message has only a 50-50 chance of
actually being transmitted with fidelity, then the truth is the message
is not getting through no matter what you do, you can't correct the
message and figure out what it was. That is the problem with a signal to
noise ratio of 1.

Now with the Bible, there is a simple case. The parts are either
historically true or historically false. They are (independently and
separately) theologically true or theologically false. In my mind these
are orthogonal measurements. A historical truth may or may not have any
theological significance. And a theological statement may or may not
have any historical reality. God is love, is theologically true but
lacks historical content and thus historical truth. Jesus died on the
cross for our sin is a statement which has both theological and
historical truth. George Washington was a president of the US is a
statement with historical truth but lacking any theological truth.

Now for both of these orthogonal measurements one has to ponder which
statements are true, both theologically and historically. We must
consider this to determine how reliable the message God commucates is.
What part of the Scripture is historically true, what part is
historically false. Similarly, we must decide what portion of the
Scripture is theologically true and theologically false. If we ever
decide that the relation is 50-50, then we have no reliable
communication. If we decide it is some percentage less than that, we
tend to have more and more reliability as the probability of fidelitous
transmission of any individual part rises towards 1. At 1 we have
everything true (in the approriate category, at .5 we have absolutely no
communication occurring, no matter how much we want to believe that God
has communicated, belief doesn't matter--mathematics does. Even a with
25% error rate, only 64% of the message is getting through, if I did my
math right. If I thought you could only tell me the ruth 64% of the
time, I would suspect you were a politician. By suggesting that Genesis
1-11 is not historical, according to the noisy channel theorem, they are
saying that about 22% of what was communicated in Genesis is false. And
that works out to God only able to get across 78% of his message. So
which 78% of the bible is true and which 22% is as false as Grandpa's

Now, if one wishes to avoid this conclusion, then one would be doing
what the YECs often do--ignore the science in order to maintain their
viewpoint. This theorem will apply to any communication channel, and any
means of communication.

> Do you mean that Bronze and Iron Age yuman beans
> misunderstood direct inspiration from God? Or can't this
> "noise" be equated with an accomodation of God to the (very
> limited) knowledge of the people to whom He spoke 2.5+ Ka?

Noise is anything that limits effective communication. If I say a word
school, what did I mean? Did I mean a school of fish? A school where
kids learn? My unabridged dictionary lists about 16 different meanings
for that word. There is abiguity, that is noise.

Noise is the infinite God having to write in a finite language. Noise
is our misinterpretation. But before those who have not liked my
viewpoint jump on this as support for their position, if the system gets
too noisy then there is no communication taking place.

> Too bad I'm such an ignoramus on this subject, I'd like to
> contribute more to this discussion. All I care about is
> trying to the best of my ability to understand the Truth,
> which, alas, in toto evades us all this side of Glory.

Absolute and complete truth will evade us, which is why I get so upset
when I am accused of claiming that there must be absolute and complete
truth in order to have any truth.

The point of my complaint is that I do not expect it to be too much to
expect from God that he communicate a simple but true story. This does
not require communictating the locations and velocities of every proton
and electron in the universe as is often claimed by those unwillng to
actually represent my position correctly. My suspicion is that the
application of communication theory to this issue will have as little
impact on this side of the issue as presenting geological pictures has
had on the YEC side of the issue.
Received on Fri Sep 3 22:58:31 2004

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