56 thoughts on “Pi is exactly three!”

  1. You nailed ‘em, Waldo! Just like you did with those ne’er-do-wells at the Creationist Museum. Ha! What idiots.

    But another thought occurs to me amid this orgy of Christian-bashing. Might we take a moment to reflect on how Christianity played a major role in getting the West to where we are today with democracy and equality of the sexes and all that? Might your aspersions be more profitably cast upon those faiths that seek to subjugate women, justify the murder of civilians, and turn back the clock to the 7th century? Or maybe they had a better handle on pi.

  2. Please. Just as the Earth was created in seven days. “Days” could be thousands of years. Clearly “three” was a wee bit longer in those times than “three” is now.

  3. Might we take a moment to reflect on how Christianity played a major role in getting the West to where we are today with democracy and equality of the sexes and all that?

    Oh, please do!

  4. These are the things that I read in the Bible, briefly puzzle over, and then promptly forget about. I require people smarter than me to remind me about them. :)

  5. “My problem is only with those who rely on faith in lieu of facts.”

    Some of us don’t like the facts. They’re too…factual. Some of us prefer to “feel” what pi may be equal to, a la Stephen Colbert. 3 is truthier. ;)

    This is unrelated, but if I put in “Democrat” on your anti-spam question, will my comment get rejected?

  6. This is unrelated, but if I put in “Democrat” on your anti-spam question, will my comment get rejected?

    Damned straight. Only a spambot — or somebody who doesn’t know anything about politics — would believe that the party’s name is the “Democrat Party,” so I figure it’s a safe word to use. Perhaps not coincidentally, I noticed that several conservative Republicans who had commented here regularly stopped as soon as I added that test. The only logical conclusion is that they are, in fact, bots.

  7. Good grief, that post has over 500 comments. Did it get Dugg, Slashdotted and Boing-Boinged at the same time?

  8. hmmmm, Judge . . . I know an Indian muslim family where the mom is a high powered lawyer and brings in a good chuck of the family money, I know a rural evangelical family where the mom stays at home and dad has the final say on everything.

    Obviously we all know Christian families where the former is true as well.

    But you keep wanting to assign some inherent evil to Islam . . . if you want to give credit for the Enlightenment to Christianity; you must also realize that without the Muslims, the barbaric Christians of the Middle Ages would have been successful in destroying pretty much all of the Greek and Roman canon of philosophy.

    Culture rules society, culture is the foundation, religion takes its form.

    An example; women played an early and important roll in the early Christian church, I think there is even evidence that there were women bishops. But as the church grew and became a public enterprise, it left the home and the commune were early Christians gathered, women were relegated back to the bottom of the social pecking order. Why is this? Well because in the ancient Hellenic world, women ruled the domicile, but had absolutely no rights in the public square.

  9. Thanks for that anecdote about the Indian Muslims and the evangelicals. And let’s not forget Muslims invented algebra (TM).

    But in the midst of a fatwa-inspired frenzy which has Muslims the world over seething at Western impertinence (I’m talking about the Rushdie affair, not the cartoons – that was last year) and threatening murder and retribution, it seems a little churlish to single out Christianity for mockery.

  10. But in the midst of a fatwa-inspired frenzy which has Muslims the world over seething at Western impertinence (I’m talking about the Rushdie affair, not the cartoons – that was last year) and threatening murder and retribution, it seems a little churlish to single out Christianity for mockery.

    And yet it seems like a perfectly good time to single out fanaticism for mockery.

    For me, the only Christians deserving of mockery are those who’re intellectually disingenuous, and those who’re blinded by their belief in their interpretation of scripture. I personally don’t take the above article or the link to the creationist museum to be an attack on Christianity, just the application of Christianity in an absurd manner.

  11. Good points Ben C.

    Judge again and again you miss the forest for the trees. Again why this neo-con clash of civilization policy is so dangerous. You refuse to try to suspend your own perception, to try to understand how other cultures actually function and understand that to problem underling all conflicts is human nature.

    By the way, didnt Martin Scorsese get death threats because of “The Last Temptation Of Christ”? And, oh there was that event where French Christian fundies threw molotov cocktails in a theater showing the film, injuring 13 or 14 people. I know, I know, not as intense as Khomeini fatwah, but then we are only speaking in degrees arnt we? But they did also throw sheep’s blood on some movie screens, that was pretty exciting.

    Anyway, Culture, Culture, Culture. If you think modern commercial society is giving our own cultural conservative fits, imagine what it is doing to cultures that are even more conservative more traditional, and tribal!

    Judge did you ever stop to notice that there is one branch of islam that is also trying to destroy the rest of islam? The rest of Islam which is becoming more an more Westernized everyday. When you read about suicide bombs and terrorist attacks, who are usually the ones getting killed? Simply, if there is a war it is an Islamic civil war, both literally and figuratively. The conservative reactionary elements of Islam are reacting against what they see as the westernization of their culture. We of course are stuck in the middle of it, being the source of westernization, always being there right in the middle of modern middle eastern politics, so on and so on.

    Kind of reminds me of the conservative reactionary elements in our own country (both parties by the way) reacting to the “Spanishization” of our country . . . If you dont think that this issue has the potential to become extremely violent you are missing something.

  12. It’s looking increasingly likely that Muslims may well have invented rather little in the way of math but, rather, they kept alive knowledge developed by the Greeks while the rest of the world went to shit. (See John Seabrook’s brilliant New Yorker article on the Antikythera Mechanism. It blew my mind.) Islamic culture was the only civilized culture in the western world, and they were able to recognize the most important scientific developments that preceded them, make sure that they were widely taught, and passed them down through the generations. When, at last, the rest of Europe, the Middle East and West Asia emerged from living in bronze age squalor, they were able to pick back up the knowledge that otherwise would have been lost.

  13. I’ll be worried about “conservative reactionary elements” in this country when they begin running airplanes into buildings and pointing to verses in the Bible for justification.

    You’re playing the old left-wing “equivalence” card. Yesterday, it was that the West was just as culpable as the Soviets for the Cold War. Today, it’s that radical Islam and fundamentalist Christianity are just 2 sides of the same coin, all evidence to the contrary. Sure, you mention the “intensity” levels are different, but you give it pretty short shrift, mentioning it almost in passing.

    Did you see the reaction of the Muslim “leaders” in Great Britain to the Rushdie knighthood? It was the same old song-and-dance justifying the rage in Pakistan and elsewhere and issuing thinly-veiled threats. Where were the voices calling for calm and condemning any violence? Where are the Muslim “Not in Our Name” groups so popular in the West?

    So when a bus is blown up in England killing dozens to avenge the knighthood of Rushdie, please have the courtesy not to compare it to some quack throwing sheep’s blood (?) on a movie screen.

  14. Quick prediction: Wait ’till tomorrow when the mullahs, imams and whatnot get hold of the Friday prayer crowd in Muslim countries. They’ve had a week to prepare their “sermons.” It oughtta be something.

  15. Smails,

    I understand your claim of equivalence (though I think you’re seeing the argument you want to see, and not the argument being made), but you’re still in the unenviable position of complaining about criticism of some Christians on the basis that they aren’t as bad or at least as numerous as some Muslims.

    Fundamentalist Christians don’t need to fly planes into buildings to be deserving of criticism and ridicule, and to insist that they do is ridiculous. You’re acting as if someone here is arguing that Islam is better than Christianity, but in actuality, the argument being made is that Fundamentalist Christians in this country are not being self consistent, and that to be self consistent would have absurd results. Therefore, perhaps they should reconsider their interpretation of the bible. Islam and how its adherents act really has no bearing on this.

  16. I’ll be worried about “conservative reactionary elements” in this country when they begin running airplanes into buildings and pointing to verses in the Bible for justification.

    Do not those bombing of abortion clinics invoke biblical scripture as their justification?

  17. “I’ll be worried about “conservative reactionary elements” in this country when they begin running airplanes into buildings and pointing to verses in the Bible for justification.”

    Yeah… the problem I have with that logic is that we should let it get THAT BAD before we start with the criticism.

    Ben C. already covered that though.

    I wrote this awhile back. Perhaps it will help some Judge.

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/3bhx56

    To me it is about fortification of integrity. Military force alone will not defeat radical Islam. Like the soviets it will need to implode by its own follies. We have to win the philosophical war as well. America, as its adversary and greatest superficial threat, must stand as a force of reason. We cannot begin to challenge Islam on that level though without first taking on the absurdities at home. Laws and legislature cannot be bent on the underlying principle that God said so, or told us to. If we give fundamentals power, when we do not question them when they demand absolutism and justify it with obscurities, inconsistencies and approximations, we allow westernization to collapse and crusade-ideology to replace it. Al-Qaeda wants this to be a holy war, but we should make it a battle between reason and blind corrupted faith. With Iraqi refugees flooding Europe, Islam is only going to become a greater influence on the shape of the world. We must be able to present ourselves as an example of where that influence should gravitate, by gravitating there ourselves.

  18. I don’t know how I painted myself into the corner of defending Christian fundamentalism. Other than weddings and funerals, I haven’t been to church in 20 years. I honestly don’t know what book comes after Deuteronomy.

    I guess my point, which is really pretty hard to get many on the left in America or Europe to acknowledge, is that of all the literalists, fundamentalists, radicals and extremists in the world, those devoted to Christian theology are pretty low on the great totem poll of dangerousness. And, as I noted above, at a time when Islamists are killing people (wait ’till tomorrow) over some silly knighthood, or some paragraph the Pope quoted, or some editorial cartoons, it seems particularly foolish to focus one’s attention on biblical foibles. That’s all.

  19. I don’t know how I painted myself into the corner of defending Christian fundamentalism. Other than weddings and funerals, I haven’t been to church in 20 years. I honestly don’t know what book comes after Deuteronomy.

    *Laugh* I was waiting for that. :)

    I suspect we can agree that fundamentalism in all of its forms can be dangerous, because it takes minor tenets of belief and makes them dominant over all other logic, norms, and reason. Fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalism Muslims, fundamentalist open source software developers and fundamentalist environmentalists. All of ‘em scare me.

  20. “I guess my point, which is really pretty hard to get many on the left in America or Europe to acknowledge, is that of all the literalists, fundamentalists, radicals and extremists in the world, those devoted to Christian theology are pretty low on the great totem poll of dangerousness.”

    Judge Smails:

    I have acknowledged that, and explained the method to my criticisms under your terms. But as Ben C said, “I think you’re seeing the argument you want to see, and not the argument being made.” This was not set out to be a comparison of Islam to Christianity (or Judaism, as that is where the story originates) but simply a critique of literalists. Yes Christian literalists to be specific, but one does not need to address Islam to debate Christian theology! Christianity has a huge sway on politics in this country, on our society as a whole. On a scale of “dangerousness” does radical Islam outweigh radical Christianity? In terms of violence, yes, I’d agree with you (though senseless violence is not excusable no matter what scale it is committed on), but in terms of political influence on the rights and health of people in this country? No. In the arena of politics, simply electing a Muslim senator is about as easy as performing a root canal on a fully conscious lion. There are reasons to debate fallacies of Christian literalist logic beyond national security and foreign policy. It is influencing our educational system, the way people approach ethics, and ultimately our legislature.

    I appreciate that there are times when comparisons between Islam and Christianity are made on this and other blogs, and that they are appropriate places for debate of the kind you’ve made. However, this is not about Islam, or even violence for that matter, and is thus not the place for it.

  21. I think I made it pretty clear that I was juxtaposing bibilical foibles with Islamist murder. I appreciate your opinion, but, if it’s all the same to you, I believe I’ll keep my own counsel on what is and what is “not the place for it.”

  22. Pardon, I’m not meaning to police anyone. But it feels somewhat strawman-ish in this context, then again, without a clear statement from Waldo, there wasn’t any layed out direction for this to go. Still, I’ve made my points and you yours.

    As for the topic of the entry, I’m wondering if any possible confusion could have come from early hebrew texts not having punctuation, or even spaces between the characters? Could a decimal here or there or something else of that nature make a difference? I haven’t really explored the idea beyond thinking of it and am not even sure if 1 Kings was a part of the texts that were in that form. Just wondering.

  23. And I suppose I could juxtapose Smails’ nonsequiturs with pedophilia. But I’m not sure what the point would be, and folks would properly wonder what in the hell was wrong with me.

  24. As for the topic of the entry, I’m wondering if any possible confusion could have come from early hebrew texts not having punctuation, or even spaces between the characters? Could a decimal here or there or something else of that nature make a difference?

    I suspect that any confusion arising fromt this text is simply the result of approximate units (cubits) being used to measure an approximation of a mathematical constant (pi). Remember, after all, that every value of pi is an approximation.

    Futhermore, I think the author’s point — that biblical literalists have an inconsistent hermeneutic because they don’t define pi as exactly three — is not valid. I could likewise claim that the literalists are at fault for not believing the mountains and the hills will literally shout with joy (Isaiah 55:12), but that would just betray my own confusion with regard to the interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures. Plus, it’s always more fun to point and laugh than to have thoughtful discourse.

  25. Plus, it’s always more fun to point and laugh than to have thoughtful discourse.

    Note, this is directed toward the content of the linked post, not at the stimulating and insightful discourse taking place here. :)

  26. What I find peculiar is the notion “fundamentalists” need or deserve to be criticized. As demonstrated by the switch from Christian to Muslims, this term tends to be broadly applied by some folks to people they don’t like. Do we have to dislike people just because they do not think like us? Is that not rather primitive behavior?

    Are you certain you even know who you criticized? What does it mean to be a Christian fundamentalist or a Christian literalist? Would you include Mennonites, Quakers, and the Amish or just Southern Baptists?

    Before you criticize people for relying on faith, please try to understand what the word “faith” means. Consider how C. S. Lewis defined what it means to have faith. See this link. http://www.crossroad.to/Excerpts/books/lewis-mere-christianity.htm

    You may come to realize that relying on faith is not such a bad idea.

  27. Nobody criticized relying on faith, Tom. The fault lies with those who rely on faith (what they feel to be true; “truthiness”) instead of what they know to be true. That practice is basically a textbook definition of being delusional.

  28. Ahh, but that is the point of faith Waldo. Those afflicted with truthiness have insufficient faith.

    What we know to be true is that we should not judge others. Yet all too often we do. When we know it is wrong, we feel it to be right.

  29. If somebody tells me that pi is three because they “believe” it to be so, there is no rational premise by which I should respect that. Likewise if somebody tells me that they “believe” dinosaurs never existed. We all have a right to our own opinions, but not to our own facts.

  30. Waldo, actually we do have a right to our own facts. What freedom of religion is about is the freedom to believe what you want to believe. While I rather doubt most Christians think pi equals 3, how would it bother you if they did? Does the mere fact that someone maintains what you think is a wrongheaded belief threaten the order of the universe? Have you considered that in spite of a loose approximation of pi, Solomon still managed to build a beautiful temple?

    What we do not have the right to do is force our own definition of Truth onto someone else. The fruit of those who force others to believe and practice what they believe is hatred and havoc. Their monuments are concentrations camps and mass graves. From such people we must defend ourselves.

    When our government operates public schools, we put politicians in the position of choosing which “truths” to teach children. Such a system is obviously ripe for abuse, and so we fight over what should be taught. Rather than force our beliefs on each other, might it not be wiser to allow parents to choose for themselves who teaches their children?

  31. Waldo, actually we do have a right to our own facts.

    Tom, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one. It is obvious that, so long as you believe this, it is quite literally impossible for either of us to persuade the other of anything.

  32. “While I rather doubt most Christians think pi equals 3, how would it bother you if they did?”

    If they taught architecture and the architects of their school started designing supports for bridges and skyscrapers. It might effect me when their faith cost me my life.

  33. But God will save you, Cory. Unless he doesn’t. Mysterious ways and all that.

    ~

    What I don’t understand here is the respectful engagement that a repeat loon like Tom gets. Here he is, advocating the position that there is no such thing as truth when it comes to basic mathematical concepts. And in fact, that it’s an awful abuse of government power that we dare teach children that 1+1=2. And yet there’s a respectful engagement of of this lunacy. Which, to my view, gives a creeping and damaging legitimacy to this crap. If Tom stuck to his own daydream world, I’d not give a damn if he spent all of his time erecting FSM monuments. But he doesn’t. He’s out trying to drape his veil of ignorance and know-nothingness as widely as he can. To which the only appropriate response, I think, is mocking. I’ve never seen Tom shift (even the slighest bit) away from a point of ignorance in any online conversation, and yet he gets engaged as if he will, over and over again. Why?

  34. Waldo, what is wrong with agreeing to disagree? What if I am trying to persuade you to agree to disagree. Isn’t agreeing to disagree a compromise? Conflict occurs when people will not tolerate a difference of opinion.

    Cory, long before people understood the value of pi, they built bridges and buildings. Nonetheless, I concede the point. No one should license an architect who does not understand the fundamentals of geometry.

    Let’s go back to context, Waldo’s reference. How many Christians actually believe the Bible is a book about math? What is the point of going out of your way to bash someone else’s beliefs? There is not any point — unless your personal beliefs require such a thing. Unfortunately, some people do not seem to know how to agree to disagree.

    The rudeness of some and foolishness of others leaves us in a pickle. We must balance each individual’s freedom against the rights of others. For example, consider Cory’s architect. If an architect does not understand the basics of geometry, his designs pose a danger to others. At that point, we have no choice except impose restrictions on the freedom of this want-to-be architect. Resolving such conflicts is why we need judges and juries. The mere fact we disagree, however, is of no consequence.

  35. Resolving such conflicts is why we need judges and juries. The mere fact we disagree, however, is of no consequence.

    Except that in your world, the judges and juries have no basis of fact to judge by. Was the architect wrong? Who can say? Professor A says yes, pi is obviously 3.14159… and all the math for the bridge is wrong. Professor B says no, the plans are all perfect.

    Likewise, when someone in the community gets multiple antibiotic resistant TB, I don’t want them to be treated with penicillin and then just go about their day infecting people because TB doesn’t evolve. Is the Bible a book about biology? Yes, apparently it is to people who deny evolution.

    What is the point of going out of your way to bash someone else’s beliefs? There is not any point — unless your personal beliefs require such a thing. Unfortunately, some people do not seem to know how to agree to disagree.

    We’re talking about arguing against things which are logically very shaky and which have vast repercussions to society as a whole if people were really to believe them. Understanding evolution is very important in this age of antibiotics, and understanding basic math such as the ratio of a circle’s radius to its circumference is important to any number of things, architecture included.

    I’d also like to point out that accepting things which are factually incorrect and on logically shaky grounds very quickly leads to arguments such as holocaust denial, and other alterations of history.

  36. What I find curious is the notion that we shouldn’t criticize it. That it is exclusive from criticism in some way?

    When I get into an ethical debate with someone and they back into a corner and say it’s what the bible tells them, or Allah wills it, or any other faith-based get out of jail free card where it’s expected that it should be left at that, I do criticize. I ask questions where I see inconsistencies, because when you’re dealing with liberty, life and death, “because I said so” is not going to cut it for me.

    Let’s consider the word criticize for a moment.

    From M-W dictionary:

    1 a : the act of criticizing usually unfavorably b : a critical observation or remark c : CRITIQUE
    2 : the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature; also : writings expressing such evaluation or analysis
    3 : the scientific investigation of literary documents (as the Bible) in regard to such matters as origin, text, composition, or history

    And, to be precise, let’s also look at what it means to criticize.

    1 : to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly : EVALUATE
    2 : to find fault with : point out the faults of

    Now, again I ask, with utmost curiosity, why shouldn’t we criticize the bible? Or those that follow it in their approaches? How can anyone, including the great C. S. Lewis, engage in serious theological debate without some degree of criticism towards a contending view or a seemingly paradoxical observation in the text?

    You raise the question “Do we have to dislike people just because they do not think like us?” and between this and the former question I’ve just addressed, there is a tone of naiveté to context that seems wickedly deliberate. No, it is not even a matter of like or dislike. If someone’s differing views are left at that, then there would be little left to make of the matter, beyond dissatisfaction perhaps in the answer. You bring up Mennonites, Quakers, and the Amish, yet none of these groups have actively interfered with my life of liberty in anyway that’s come to my attention. As is such, I more or less philosophically disagree with communes as a concept, and when faced with Quaker pacifism, find it rational that they shouldn’t be sent to war as they would only endanger their squadron by not fighting. All and all, these groups mostly keep their ways to themselves.

    When a Christian group (call them fundamental or otherwise) starts pushing for legislature that will not pertain to only members of their faith, but to any citizen, damn right I’m going to criticize them! Laws should be written for reasons, rational reasons that can be explained beyond a variation of BECAUSE I SAID SO. I’ve already gone over this many times though.

    Furthermore, one does not have to form a lobby to force their beliefs on me. All they have to do is vote with their beliefs as the primary reason. At which point, I want an explanation for the workings of those beliefs. I want to ask questions and point to things that appear to make no sense and ask those people, what are the implications of this? Because if things are being decided, democratically or otherwise, not because they will save lives, or make something easier that seems it ought to be looking at all available variables, but simply because your text or your pastor tells you it ought, I think that should be addressed and we should consider what we are choosing over rational weighing of the evidence at hand.

    You address my example of the architect by a reliance on judges and juries, to which I’m left to wonder, what if the judge or jury also believe Pi is 3?

    I’ll get back to that in a moment.

  37. MD, with all due respect, you don’t strike me as a patient person, nor as one who gives a great deal of consideration to four rather important rules of debate.

    1. Maintain a respectable tone, so that only you opponent can appear disrespectable.

    2. If you make a good point and then follow it with an insult, the insult is all that is heard.

    3. If you don’t answer a question, to many, you’ve answered it.

    4. Even though you may not be able to turn your opponent, you can still influence any spectators.

    You make great points, but more often than not you don’t give them the chance to be heard. Which is a shame. I see that a lot on the other side of the political fence (often with out the great points even) and think, gee, now we’ve got them! But then I see it on this side as well.

    Not trying to put ya down, just saying you’re a better blogger than you sometimes let yourself be. Like a lot of us, actually.

  38. ^ *your* opponent ^

    Meh, necks acting up. Back to bed with me.

    Ben C. Covered the judge bit anyway.

    Maybe something more on faith later. I did address some similar coments of yours directly, Tom, from the evolution debate, back on my blog. They are still up if you wern’t aware. Secong most recent post I think.

  39. Waldo, what is wrong with agreeing to disagree? What if I am trying to persuade you to agree to disagree. Isn’t agreeing to disagree a compromise? Conflict occurs when people will not tolerate a difference of opinion.

    Again, Tom, a difference of opinion is fine. But one may not have a difference of facts. Pi is not 3. No amount of faith will make pi equal to 3. Anybody who believes that pi is 3 is wrong. Anybody who believes that public education is wrong because it forces Christians to accept a pi = 3 world view is likewise wrong.

    So when I say “let’s agree to disagree,” what I really mean is that, because you admit that you refuse to accept that facts are factual, there’s simply no point in continuing to discuss the topic. Anybody who has their mind made up, who declares that they have no interest in the facts, is not somebody with whom any further discussion will be fruitful.

  40. Ben – You make two pertinent criticisms: one related to the use of objective facts and the other related value of criticism.

    Point one: while there is such a thing as objective fact, there are very few objective people. That is why we have judges AND juries.

    Point two: unless those people set out to hurt you because of their beliefs, there is no excuse for treating the beliefs of others with hostility. Even when someone does set out to hurt you because of their beliefs, a hostile response tends to end the possibility of compromise.

    Obviously, the purpose of the article Waldo referenced was ridicule. Ridicule does not provide a useful way to exchange information. I refer you to the advice Cory provided MB.

    Ironically, the author of the “Gospel of Reason” post does not know much about math himself. The Bible text the author references (1 Kings 7:23-24) provides the circumference (30 cubits) and the diameter (10 cubits) with an accuracy of one significant digit. With only one significant digit, what is the value of pi? Do you understand that pi is an irrational real number (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pi)? You could keep calculating the value of pi with greater accuracy for all eternity. Fortunately, God had mercy on those hardworking people who painstakingly copied the Bible for centuries. He only required one significant digit.

    God, it seems, has more mercy on us than we have on each other.

    Cory – Sorry to hear about your neck. I hope the rest helps.

    With respect to criticizing the Bible, I think you largely answered your own question. None of us should be trying to impose our beliefs on each other or on other people’s children, yet people on both sides of the evolution debate, for example, have set out to do exactly that.

    Waldo – When we honestly disagree about “objective fact”, what is the issue? Does freedom of religion mean we have to settle which beliefs are correct? What do you think?

    Why not make the issue about protecting people’s rights? Why not make the issue finding a way to peacefully disagree?

  41. because you admit that you refuse to accept that facts are factual, there’s simply no point in continuing to discuss the topic. Anybody who has their mind made up, who declares that they have no interest in the facts, is not somebody with whom any further discussion will be fruitful.

    Which is a much nicer way of saying what I said earlier. Cory, I’ll admit you’re quite correct in seeiing me as sometimes lacking patience with certain people in my participation here. And with the exception of where that impatience leads me to make some assumptions that I ought not, I’m quite comfortable with it. There are some folks, who by the nature of the claims they make, have already given the finger to the conventions of reasonable or useful interaction that the rest of us operate by. Why, then, they deserve the further courtesies of those conventions is a bit beyond me. Sure, a cursory pat on the head and “that’s nice, dear, now run along” probably does no harm. But to treat them as a legitimate part of the larger substantive conversation? That *does* do harm. Both to the pursuit of the truth of the subject at hand, and to the very notion of conversation itself.

    Look at what has happened to our political and social discourse in recent years. By treating the proponents of torture as something other than the ridiculous people that they are, we’ve come to a point where it’s *actually up for debate*. Instead of spending our time actually trying to figure out effective means of fighting and defending ourselves against terrorism, we’re invoking Jack Bauer in the Senate and presidential debates. I don’t know about you, but I’d much have preferred a good public humiliation of the first few people who started advocating it in the first place, cutting it off before it took up too much time.

    Or, for example, instead of talking about the proper role of public versus private funding of stem cell research, what should come of solutions that are publicly funded, and how to best ensure that the most people possible benefit from stem cell research, we’ve come to a point where this joke of a president vetoes crucial public funding for it because promotes the “deliberate destruction of human embryos.” This ridiculousness doesn’t call for a patient and thorough explanation of what embryos are or how untold numbers are already destroyed through IVF processes every year, it calls for a song.

    Sure, if the appearance of polite debate is what’s important to you, you can ignore all history and take everyone at face value and engage them in an honest and earnest way, but you’ll never get 100 feet down the hallway of the Russell Senate Office Building if you do that. Liars and charlatans and quacks ought to be treated as such.

  42. Tom,

    Point one: while there is such a thing as objective fact, there are very few objective people. That is why we have judges AND juries.

    There are of course NO objective people, however, if we don’t vigorously challenge incorrect ideas, we will lose the ability to recognize objective fact. If we no longer teach that the circumference of a circle is pi, or if we teach a compromise that it is 3.070796 (the mean of pi and 3), then how will juries tell the objective truth when they see it?

    Point two: unless those people set out to hurt you because of their beliefs, there is no excuse for treating the beliefs of others with hostility. Even when someone does set out to hurt you because of their beliefs, a hostile response tends to end the possibility of compromise.

    First, I make it a point to be hostile towards harmful beliefs, not towards the people who hold them. I don’t always succeed, but you seem to be confusing the two. Furthermore, you assume that compromise is desirable, but it is of course NOT. I don’t want to compromise that microevolution occurs but macroevolution doesn’t; I don’t want to compromise that the holocaust happened, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought, and I don’t want to compromise that pi is 3.070796. To do so would be fallacious. Instead, I will counter reason with reason, and as is unfortunately usually the case when discussing pseudoscience issues from biblical literalism, I’ll counter emotion with emotion. If I can find a better way to win the argument, I certainly will, but someone suggesting that pi is 3 DESERVES to be ridiculed because that person is either being intellectually disingenuous, or else the person is simply in over their head, but acting like an authority on the subject. Same for ID. Same for holocaust denial. Same for heliocentrism.

    Finally,

    When we honestly disagree about “objective fact”, what is the issue? Does freedom of religion mean we have to settle which beliefs are correct? What do you think?

    Freedom of religion means that the government has no place regulating what religion its people can practice. That doesn’t mean that all people must respect all religious beliefs of all other people.

    Why not make the issue about protecting people’s rights? Why not make the issue finding a way to peacefully disagree?

    We are peacefully disagreeing.

  43. the circumference of a circle is pi

    I should’ve of course stated that the circumference of a circle is pi multiplied by the diameter (just in case there are any pedants out there).

  44. Funny, 8 Craziest cults just popped up in my RSS reader, an account of the most ridiculous, far-out religions groups to exist in recent history. Perhaps I’m supposed to respect the views of The Creativity Movement, who holds that all non-Whites, non-Christianians should be exterminated from the earth? Or perhaps I’m to meet them halfway, and only exterminate them from the northern hemisphere?

    I choose to conclude that these people are factually wrong, and I will neither respect nor tolerate their views. I think that’s best.

  45. Ben –

    Compromise: Compromise does not always involve splitting the difference. Sometimes splitting the difference is a very poor compromise. If some people believe something you think is merely stupid, and they are willing to suffer the consequences of their actions, what is the point of stopping them. Won’t they learn of their stupidity soon enough from personal experience?

    Respect for the beliefs of others: In our society, we respect the beliefs of others by allowing others to practice their beliefs. Those beliefs which involve depriving others of their rights or involve permanent self harm we fight tooth and nail. The rest we consider a matter of individual choice.

    Consider the old order Mennonites and the Amish. They live a life style that does without modern technology. Would you choose to live that way? Would most people choose to live that way? Apparently not, and most governments would not tolerate the old order Mennonites and the Amish. Most would consider the beliefs of the old order Mennonites and the Amish harmful. However, without adopting their beliefs or feeling threatened, we tolerate these people and their practices.

    Peacefully disagreeing: Apparently, I misled you to think I thought we were not peacefully disagreeing. That is not the case. I was referring to the larger context. Consider the Creationism/Evolution debate. With respect to the education of children, as the situation is now structured, only one side wins. There is no compromise, one where each side is allowed to make its own choice.

    I suspect you have heard the expression “peace process”. This expression usually comes up in the context of Israel and Palestine. Seeking peace in that part of the world seems to be a never ending and hopeless process. What I think we forget is that we must also constantly seek the path of peace here at home too.

    The corporate memory of a society is about 80 years, roughly a lifetime. The American Civil War ended in 1865. Since the Civil War, perhaps the greatest civil strife we experienced came as the result of racial conflict. Fortunately, it appears we have mostly resolved that conflict.

    Our society is I hope not as polarized as it was in 1861, but our peaceful debates do sometimes get rather nasty. Change is the norm, and new conflicts result. War occurs when compromise is no longer an option.

  46. <sidenote>It actually should be “The two major political parties are the Republican and the Democratic Parties.” or “The two major political parties are the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.” :-D</sidenote>

    I’m glad you posted this link. It was interesting reading. It’s also dead wrong on the simplest of mathematical grounds. Here’s a comment I left on the linked post:

    3

    Also known as 3.00 or 3.0.

    There you made a very fundamental, simple, high-school mathematical mistake that forms the basis of your erroneous conclusion.

    There is a basic mathematical principle of precision. The precision of the calculation’s result cannot exceed the precision of the calculation’s least precise starting variables. This equation’s variables have a precision of only a single decimal place because decimal places are calculated going left to right and ending with the first zero which is followed by nothing but zeros (unless zeros are explicitly enumerated past the decimal point). For example:

    30 = 1 significant decimal place
    3001 = 4 significant decimal places
    38700 = 3 significant decimal places
    329.23 = 5 significant decimal places
    30.000 = 5 significant decimal places

    The calculation in question is 30/10. 3 is the correct answer. Since the equation has a precision of only one significant decimal place, the correct answer is indeed 3. 3 is not the same as 3.0 or 3.00. 3.141592654 (with a precision of 10 significant decimal places) is the same as 3.14 (with a precision of 3 significant decimal places) which is the same as 3 (with a precision of 1 significant decimal place).

    Without precise measurements (such as 30.49582934 cubits/10.02348238 cubits) you cannot assert that the Bible is saying anything about digits on the right side of the decimal point because it makes no assertion to that level of precision.

    My ruler asserts to be 12 inches long not 12.00 inches long. In fact, if it was measured by a highly accurate instrument, it would probably be found to measure 12.01 or 11.99 inches long. However, it is still entirely mathematically accurate to say that it measures 12 inches long because such a statement does not assert a precision beyond two decimal places.

    In fact, it is quite a simple matter to see that given the asserted precision of numbers in this passage of Scripture, one is forced, if one wants to perform calculations on those numbers while being mathematically accurate, to round to the proper number of significant decimal places:

    30/3.141592654 = 9.549[...] cubits. If one follows standard mathematical principles of precision (The result of a mathematical equation cannot have a greater precision than its least precise variable.), one is forced to round 9.549[...] cubits to 10 cubits. So even if the object had an exact circumference of 30 cubits (not a given since a cubit is a relative/approximate measurement depending on a person’s arm), we see that the diameter is indeed properly rounded up to 10 cubits, the asserted precision in Scripture.

    In conclusion, if one uses your fallacious mathematical methodology, one can say that your blog has error in its assertion of Pi being 3.141592654 because actually Pi (to a precision of 4 million significant decimal places) is 3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592307[...] (non-truncated version found here). However, if one uses correct mathematical methodology, one sees that you are correct in saying Pi is 3.141592654 because you are not asserting a precision greater than 10 significant decimal places. In the same way, if one is careful to use standard mathematical methodology, the Bible’s figures are not shown to be in error because the figures given are accurate given the stated precision.

  47. Beyond my argument of precision, another person left a comment on the post giving the calculation that shows that even if one takes the measurements given as being more precise than their stated precision, one comes out with a correct and very precise result if one takes into account the handbreadth thickness of the bath.

  48. So I suppose your definition of “literally” would not include the way one performs high school math? One does not take the questions or answers “literally”? I’m afraid you’re changing the definition of literally. Taking something literally doesn’t mean you ignore basic rules and methods of communication.

    Just today there was a headline in the Bangkok Post that said something like, “Military requests 7bn baht to battle Muslim insurgents”. The first sentence of the article said something like, “The Thai armed forces have requested an additional appropriation of 6.7 billion baht to battle the increasingly bloody Muslim insurgency in the south.” Did I take the headline literally? Of course I did. Was the headline truthful? Of course it was. Taking something literally does not mean that you ignore basic rules of human communication (whether it be linguistic, mathematical, idiomatic, cultural, body language, whatever).

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