Sunday, February 01, 2004

Reality Breaking Through? The Torah Codes

"Here's how I got involved in the whole thing. [My cousin] went to Israel for a mathematics conference. There he met an old friend from college: Daniel Michaelson from UCLA - a confirmed atheist. Lo and behold, he sees that Daniel Michaelson is now wearing a yarmulke. So, my cousin goes over to him and said, 'Danny, is that you? What happened to you?'

"He says, 'Well, they showed me the codes.' Everyone in mathematics in Israel knew what 'the codes' were, apparently. ..."

- Harold Gans, senior cryptologist in DoD, as told in "Cracking the Bible Code"

The phenomenon of the Torah Codes - improbable statistical features found only in the Bible, specifically in the Books of Moses, the first five books in the Old Testament, the Torah - is causing sleepless nights for first-class mathematicians the world over. Also known as ELS (equidistant letter sequences), the most disturbing (or exciting) aspect is the virtual impossibility of producing such a code today, let alone thousands of years ago. In fact, the discovery of ELS was only possible with the advent of computers.

"The phenomenon is real; what it means is up to the individual."

- Professor David Kazhdan, chairman of Harvard's Dept. of Mathematics,
1996 newspaper interview, as cited
in "Cracking the Bible Code"

No attempts at refutation have succeeded to date, less rigorous (and, in hindsight, perhaps facetious) versions such as the "War and Peace" "discoveries" notwithstanding. These attempts, along with the history of ELS, are considered in the best treatment of the Bible Codes phenomenon to date, by Satinover (who, as a young man, discussed physics with Richard Feynman), although his attempts to explain the codes in light of quantum theory seems a little over the top.

"Indeed, even as I write, a semisecret project examining the codes is under way at one of the world's major academic centers. Involved in it are some of the world's most eminent names in mathematics, computer science, and statistics. Most of the participants in this project are skeptics grown irritated -- some even angry -- at the worldwide and rapidly growing interest the codes are attracting. Their aim is once and for all to lay such absurd propositions to rest by demonstrating a flaw at the heart of the research. That this flaw has not yet been found is for them serious evidence of nothing: The unreality of the codes is self-evident in principle to many ... But some of the outstanding intellects behind the project are not skeptics; and a small number of some of the very most outstanding scientists have become convinced from long study that the codes quite possibly are just what they seem."

- J. Satinover, Cracking the Bible Code, 9 (1997)

  • Intro to the Torah Codes at Aish
  • BBC page with links to both sides of the debate
  • Doron Witzum's site, where Brendan McKay's scientifically sloppy "refutations" are carefully and calmly ripped to shreds, in embarrassing detail
  • My review of Satinover's Cracking the Bible Code

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