Re: Small probabilities

From: Iain Strachan <>
Date: Fri Dec 02 2005 - 13:52:26 EST

> In the case of a particular algorithm that gives one transcendental
> number from one passage and another when applied to a different passage, you
> and I come to different conclusions. I don't see it as even coming close to
> the gray zone while you see it as beyond coincidence.

As someone who works in probabilistic modelling, I'm a bit uneasy about your
statement "beyond coincidence". One can only give a certain confidence
level to things. As I explained in the other post, the probabilities of
getting pi or e by any given formula are around 1 in 10^5. But an arbitrary
formula might be rigged to get pi. But if it happens a second time, then
the probability means something, because it is like the repeat bridge hand.
So at a probability of 1 in 10^5, I'd say I was 99.999 % confident that it's
a real effect. Statisticians regard a 99% confidence level as "highly
significant". (OK so it's actually 99.998 because the second one could give
pi or e. If one allows 10 "favourite famous irrational numbers" then it
still becomes 99.99 %. 99.99% confidence is pretty dark gray! Can you think
of 10 famous irrational numbers as famous as pi and e? Let's think,
sqrt(2), phi (Golden ratio), sqrt(3), ln(2) , .... and I'm beginning to run
out of choices.

What would it take to convince me? I'm not sure, but some factors that
> would go a long way would be if the algorithm as well as the resultant
> transcendental numbers had some *a priori* significance, especially in the
> context of the passages.
> Could you also clarify how you feel that option 2 is viable? If the
> scenario is deliberately inserted by human authors, wouldn't the author of
> John 1:1 need to be aware of the algorithm and its result when applied to
> Gen. 1:1? Perhaps John was educated in mathematics, but we have no record
> of that. In other words, if you've ruled out option 1, the coincidence
> version, why don't you go directly to option 3, the divine intervention?

I personally don't think option 2 is very viable for much the same reasons
that you've suggested, but others on this list have suggested that the human
authors of these texts did put a lot of stress on numerical significance. I
showed the Gen 1:1 patterns (concerning triangular numbers and all the
multiples of 37) to a Prof. of History of Maths (Ivor Grattann-Guinness),
who is an atheist, and he was perfectly convinced that the patterns were
deliberate, and said "Oh! So they were at it in old testament times as
well". In fact it was Grattann-Guinness who first pointed out to me the
long-time historical fascination of mathematicians (starting with Plato I
believe) with the number 37 - this was before I met Vernon, that
Grattann-Guinness told me that New Testament Gematria were full of examples
of multiples of 37 (e.g. "Ihsous" = 888, "Cristos" = 1480). Frankly I
didn't want to believe it was true - the thought that the human authors
invented the names of Jesus, and manipulated the text to get multiples of 37
was pretty distasteful to me. As an atheist, G-G HAS to accept that option
(2) is the only outcome, because apparently he sees it as "beyond
coincidence" (or deliberate with a high degree of confidence). The "Jesus"
= 888 phenomenon was first noted by St. Iraneus in the first century AD, I
believe. But I pushed Grattann-Guinness's assertions to the back of my
mind, hoping they'd go away till I stumbled on Vernon's web-site.

One of the reasons I don't subscribe to option (2) is that I've seen
deliberate examples where humans have tried to do "gematriac poems" where
each line summed to a biblical number total like 2300. This was a popular
thing to do in the 18th Century. The resultant "poems" were largely
meaningless doggerel, barely qualifying as literature, and the distortions
of spelling, grammar, and meaning that the writers had to resort to to get
the right target were very obvious. Contrast that with the obvious meaning
and relevance of texts such as John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1, and you'll see why
I'm skeptical of option (2). But in the interests of scientific fairness,
one ought to include it.

Hope that answers some of your questions.


> What I said was that by itself, the fact that a seemingly arbitrary
> mathematical formula applied to the numerical values of the letters of Gen
> 1:1 gives a reasonable approximation to pi is nothing remarkable in itself,
> because of the vast choice of possible formulae that could be applied.
> However, just as in the Laura Buxton scenario, what made me sit up and take
> notice, was that precisely the same formula was applied to the letters of
> John 1:1 to give an equally good approximation to e, the other well-known
> transcendental number in mathematics. The description length the second
> time is much shorter, because you don't need to re-specify the formula.
> Does that now make it clear what my position is, and why I don't accept
> option (1)?
> ....
> Regards,
> Iain

After the game, the King and the pawn go back in the same box.
- Italian Proverb
Received on Fri Dec 2 13:54:07 2005

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