Re: Evolution's Imperative

Kevin O'Brien (
Thu, 25 Mar 1999 17:05:49 -0700

>3 is also the closest whole number to PI. I think you will have difficulty
>demonstrating the use of decimal fractions in ancient Hebrew culture.

The cubit system of measurement was ubiquitous throughout the Middle East
for several millennia; it's still used even today in some places. As I'm
sure everyone knows the cubit was the length of the forearm from elbow to
fingertips. There were, however, two other lengths used as well, the names
of which I have forgotten. One was based on the length of the foot and was
half the length of a cubit. The other was based on the width of the hand
and was one-quarter the length of a cubit. The Hebrews may not have known
about decimal fractions, but they would have used the "foot" and "hand"
measurements in addition to the cubit.

So let's imagine that a group of Hebrew priests inscribe a circle on the
floor of the temple that is exactly 10 cubits in diameter, then they proceed
to measure the circumference. They would not get exactly 30 cubits, no
matter what value they gave to pi; they would get 31.4 cubits. Of course,
the way they would say it was 31 cubits and one "foot" (roughly 31.5), but
they still would have measured a circumference between 31 and 32 cubits. Do
you deny that?

Now, imagine instead that they drew a circle exactly 30 cubits in
circumference, then proceeded to measure the diameter. Again, they would
not get exactly 10 cubits, but 9.6 cubits. Of course, the way they would
say it was 9 cubits and one "foot" (roughly 9.5), but they still would have
measured a circumference between 9 and 10 cubits. Do you deny that?

Now, I will admit that if the Hebrews had a concept of and a value for pi
(the priests almost certainly did, in their duties as mystics), they would
have said it was 3. The Egyptians certainly used that value, but they also
knew that it was inaccurate. Most of the time this inaccuracy was of no
consequence, but in those cases where it was vital to have exact
measurements they measured their circumferences and diameters by hand,
rather than relying on their value of pi. I'm sure that the priests did
much the same.

My point, however, as always is that if Vernon is right that his
super-literal, face-value approach to Scripture is the only correct way,
then we have no choice but to conclude that a circle of 30 cubits
circumference must have a diameter of 10 cubits, and vice versa. Regardless
of whatever value we choose to give pi, we KNOW that cannot be true, because
we can draw our own circles and see for ourselves that it is not true. Yet
Vernon should tell us that it must be true, otherwise God's word is wrong.

>I thought that too, until I read an article years ago in the CNRS entitled
>"Do rabbits Chew their Cud?" In the article the authors points out that
>rabbits do indeed chew their cud, but they do so by a rather devious
>process. The lagomorphs ingest vegetative material that would yield no
>more nourishment to them than it would to us. THe rabbits then sequester
>the material in the caecum where it is mixed with chyme and protozoa that
>digest cellulose, that apparently live there. At a specific time each day,
>the rabbits void anally a special pellet from the caecum which is this
>digested material taken in fresh (grass, etc.). These pellets are then
>ingested, masticated, and swallowed, whereupon they bypass the caecum, and
>digestion is completed via the rectum in the normal manner.
>Apparently science has finally caught up with what has been known for
>centuries, not only in the Bible, but rabbit owners know that if these
>pellets are lost to the rabbit (as by a wire cage floor), the rabbits will
>not flourish.

I left all those details out because they were not germaine to my point: a
fecal pellet is still not a cud, no matter how much it might resemble one
(and believe me, they don't look anything like cuds; they look more like
regular rabbit stools and the only way to tell the difference is to examine
them microscopically). Once again, a cud is food regurgitated from the
first stomach of a ruminant directly back to the mouth while a fecal pellet
is anally excreted, then reingested. There are also important differences
in structure, in composition and in microflora content between a cud and a
fecal pellet. I don't care how much rhetorical torture some creationists
use, they cannot make a fecal pellet into a cud.

Now, I will agree that this is no significant critique of Biblical accuracy.
The ancient Hebrews who developed these dietary laws did so on the basis
that they believed that animals that split the hoof and chew the cud were
part of God's created order; such animals were deemed clean to eat. As
such, pigs were unclean because they split the hoof but did not chew the
cud, whereas rabbits were unclean because they appeared to chew the cud but
did not split the hoof.

Now, the Hebrews almost certainly knew what a cud was, because ruminants
sometimes loose it when they regurgitate it, and most farmers find them in
stalls or pastures, or watch as the animal reingests it. They assumed that
rabbits chew the cud because they saw rabbits often just sitting and chewing
as a cow, sheep or goat would do. Had they known what the rabbits were
really chewing, I doubt they would have called it cud, because it would not
look like a cud and it would come out the wrong end. In fact, it would
probably give them one more reason to consider rabbits unclean, since no
other animal known to them routinely reingested its own stool (or so it
have appeared).

Once again, however, the point is not whether this is a serious challenge to
Biblical veracity, but that Vernon's super-literal, face-value approach to
Scripture would have us believe that God is telling us that rabbits chew the
cud, which we know is not correct. That would either make God mistaken, or
Vernon wrong. Which choice do you prefer?

Kevin L. O'Brien