Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Random Show of Skepticism

` I know! I've been too busy to write any 'Noci-Notes' - which I have started - so I thought I owed my readers something. And preferably, a lot of it to make up for the past nine days.
` I figured, why not point out to you the fun-loving side of my skeptical personality?
` Now, many of you probably think that my being a skeptic means I am extremely incredulous, as the word is commonly (mis)used in this way.
` As this is an annoying side-effect of culture, here is my own brief definition:
` Skeptical inquiry is the methodology of making sure whether or not something is true - in fact, it is essentially the whole process behind science, from paleontology to electronics. The philosophy of skepticism is basically that it is not advisable to accept a claim or idea without first checking it out.
` Simple enough. A post entitled What IS Skepticism, anyway? goes into more detail if anyone is interested.

` So, what's the 'Random Show'? Merely an informal online forum discussion - involving several people - which I thought was somewhat amusing.
` You see, I normally do start (or join) these debates in forums such as
Skeptic, though I don't hesitate to do so in other online communities. On the third of January (22 days ago), such an opportunity presented itself in the Zebra Girl forum when someone unexpectedly made a post entitled; General: BIBLE CODE: Nuclear Holocaust!!!2006!
` Needless to say, none of us were about to be taken in by such an outlandish proposition. I display to you here an abridged version of what was exchanged - oh, and take a wild guess as to which one is me:

` Shortyland05:

Hey, i watched this program on tv about codes in the book of Genesis in the bible. events like the assasination of President Kennedy, world war 2, and more in the original first written bible... i dont know how really to explain it... but all of this is true! heres a site about it.
THeres a prediction of an Apocoliptic Nuclear Holocaust in 2006! THIS YEAR!!!!
WHat do you think about it?

` Skippy the Neandert(h)al:

` Shorty.... seriously. I don't know where to start, but I think it may be helpful if you were to read this article here:
` I like the ending: 'Thomas also did an ELS analysis on Drosnin's Bible Code II: The Countdown (2002) and found the message "The Bible Code is a silly, dumb, fake, false, evil, nasty, dismal fraud and snake-oil hoax."* Does this mean that God put in a code to reveal that there is no code?'

` Also, have you ever heard of the famous assassinations as foretold in Moby Dick?
` It's all here:

` How about Princess Diana?

` ...or Michael Drosnin's own death!

` I could go on, but I think you get the point!

` Truly, if there was anything remarkable about the bible in this way, it would have to be the only book without words 'hidden' in it!

` Remember, Broadshoulderskateers: Television is for entertainment, first and foremost... just like comic strips!
fan comic reference]

` THIS HAS BEEN A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT, and not a cover-up for any schemes I may be planning to carry out in the near future! Go ahead and search me! You'll find nary a weapon of mass destruction anywhere!

` Ljnen:

...The code I found in this keyboard here tells otherwise. Hand 'em over.

` Skippy the Neandert(h)al:

` You know as well as I do that your keyboard doesn't say anything about WMDs! And don't try to blame the CIA for your mistake!

` Shortyland05:

Hey, Im Christian... if you didnt know... and i still believe the code. Theres also the big issue on wheather God exists. but if they did scientificly proove god, then wheres room for faith?

` vole-in-hand:

Since when did faith and logic become opposites? Faith is the bricks but logic is the mortar. And I think there's a verse in the bible somewhere about God keeping no secrets. After all, there's Revelation, surely there's no need for *other* prophesy.

Except that there are Pterodactyls in New Zealand. That is irrefutable.

` BrianJ:

Skippy the Neandert(h)al wrote:
` THIS HAS BEEN A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT, and not a cover-up for any schemes I may be planning to carry out in the near future! Go ahead and search me! You'll find nary a weapon of mass destruction anywhere!

Oh, really Skippy? Hmmm....

I wrote a quicky program to evaluate for hidden messages based off Equidistant Letter Sequences (ELS) and ran some tests on your above post (minus all spaces and punctuation). Here are the results:

Skippy the Neandert(h)al wrote:
(*Broken into 50 char chunck for easier reading*):

Start = 8, Offset: 336 = "EVIL"
Start = 1159, Offset: -175 = "PLOT"
Start = 14, Offset: 229 = "LEAD"
Start = 158, Offset: 187 = "REBEL"
Start = 263, Offset: -4 = "ARMY"
Start = 978, Offset: -92 = "CAUSE"
Start = 825, Offset: -155 = "CHAOS"
Start = 846, Offset: 40 = "MASS"
Start = 259, Offset: 83 = "RUIN"
Start = 34, Offset: 25 = "ALL"
Start = 93, Offset: 21 = "PLAN"
Start = 834, Offset: -260 = "RULE"
Start = 140, Offset: 182 = "IRON"
Start = 61, Offset: 153 = "FIST"
Start = 24, Offset: 452 = "WMD"
Start = 121, Offset: 242 = "HAHA"

(Start = starting letter. Offset = how many letters to skip, either forward if positive or backward if negative)

It's so obvious! You have an evil plot to lead a rebel army to cause chaos and mass ruin to all. You then plan to rule with an iron fist. And as you can see, I DID find your hidden WMD, and you even laughed about it!

` Skippy the Neandert(h)al:

` !!!!

` I love a man who can use computer programming to outsmart me. Will you be my first-in-command?

` ...or will I have to kill you for knowing too much?

` Also:
vole-in-hand wrote:
And I think there's a verse in the bible somewhere about God keeping no secrets. After all, there's Revelation, surely there's no need for *other* prophesy.

` I agree [that, for a Christian] there is no reason to believe that supposed prophetic words that some swindler teased out of a book is true just because that book happens to be the bible.
` Believing in the 'code' has nothing to do with being a Christian. A lot of people confuse the two, although most Christians I know just roll their eyes at the whole thing.

` BrianJ:

I would be happy to be your first-in-command! Who better than a programmer to lead your legion of robot soldiers to victory!?

Just remember the old saying:

Right now, I've decided to see if I can find my first and last name in ELS code in the book "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". It's a hobby.

Also, there is no verse in the Bible about God not keeping secrets. In fact, it states rather plainly that God DOES keep some things secret, like the day/hour of the end of the world (so if anyone ever tells you they've figured out exactly when the world will end, don't believe them, as the Bible states that no one but God knows).

` Skippy the Neandert(h)al:

` Yes! My robot soldiers could use your help! And so, they will spare you, Commander BrianJ, as they lay waste to most of the human population!

` Have fun word-searching with book text! Tell me if Douglas Adams reveals how this all turns out. Do we succeed? Or do we die a fiery death? Or both?

` Shortyland 05:

Hey theres even some Christians who dout the Creation theory... which is one of the key elements of being christian. I mean the probablility of the Big Bang is a paper works exploding and creating a Dictionary! amazing odds.

` Skippy the Neandert(h)al: [With my hands full at the time, thinking: 'Do I really feel like going into LWM (Long-Winded Mode)?']

` I don't know very many Christians who believe that Genesis is literal, but there are some I know who think that everything was created in six days and that the earth is flat and everything (no, I'm not kidding!).

` Soap.:

Oh zealots D:

Shortyland05 wrote:

THeres a prediction of an Apocoliptic Nuclear Holocaust in 2006! THIS YEAR!!!!

Are you sure it's not some other 2006? Like 2006 B.C. or something?

` MCWagner: [Taking the plunge and going into LWM.]

Shortyland05 wrote:
Hey theres even some Christians who dout the Creation theory... which is one of the key elements of being christian. I mean the probablility of the Big Bang is a paper works exploding and creating a Dictionary! amazing odds.


OK, shorty, the view from 200,000 feet.

Numeric interpretation of the Bible and other religous texts has been going on for literally thousands of years. The best known is the Kabbalistic system of Torah interpretation deriving from the fact that in the Hebrew written language, each letter also has a numeric interpretation.
` This led to a lot of interesting intellectual exercises that ranged from hedge to ritual magics (example: the "number" for "life" is 18, so words whose Hebrew letters add up to 18 are thought to have life-giving properties) based on the emphasis that both the Torah and the Bible put on God "speaking" the world into being, thus implying the force and power behind words to affect the universe around us. Kabbalistic theory postulates that God or the early Jewish writers (or, most amusingly, aliens) hid secret magical knowledge in the books through a variety of "codes." Equidistant lettering is just the latest.

Kabbalistic tradition gave rise to a Christian equivalent that is an equally interesting mental exercise, but has vastly more problems due to the Bible's recognized scattershot origin. How is one to interpret the three hundred years of verbal tradition that carried the Bible around before it was collected? The volumes of Apocrypha?

But, outside of Kabbalistic circles, they are just clever mental exercises. Various Bible codes have managed to predict the Apocalypse about every other year that I've been paying attention since 1989. Once the date passes, all of the hyperventilating codists sorta shrug and go back to the codes until they get another hit. It's essentially another version of Astrology wherein a large, overly complicated system used to predict the future is always complicated enough to explain away its misfires after the fact by some obscure "misinterpretation". As with astrology, these codes are not endorsed by any of the mainstream churches. Don't you think that if the Bible code was so convincing to the Biblical scholars, that the Catholic church would have made an official announcement? Ask a real biblical scholar about "Bible codes" and they'll roll their eyes and walk away.

The real stinger in this particular instance is that the prediction of a Apocalyptic event in the year 2006 does not originate with the Bible code, but with the prognostications of Nostradamus, who, for reasons clear only to himself, considered centuries to start on the fifth or sixth year following the actual turn of the century, and proclaimed the twenty-first century a "time of strange happenings."
` Amusingly, this has already been revised five or six times because of "faulty translation." It's fairly easy to suppose that the Bible coders, immersed as they are in various prophetic literature, conciously or unconciously sought paralell predictions with that famous old madman.

The real point, however, is that, as Brian J pointed out, the Bible explicitly states that the time of the second coming is intentionally kept secret even from the faithful. Do you really think an omnipotent God is incapable of keeping his secrets, or would "hide" the truth of the universe in a crossword puzzle?

Like the silly DaVinci Code, these sort of pseudo-magical historical exercises are fun story ideas and neat mental exercises. Anything else is just constructed drama. Frankly, I'd prefer more coding-attention be directed at stuff like the Voynich Manuscript. Now there's a book that might be deciphered by mechanisms like this.

Also, your "explosion in a paper factory" is a false and rather facile comparison. Yes, the current theory of the Big Bang appears to be wrong, but it was formulated when much less of the universe was known, and is always being revised to account for new information. It's less like an explosion of random factors (paper) that resulted in an ordered whole (book), and more like an unfathomable machine (physical laws governing actions like the Big Bang) that was run once (creation) and produced only one outcome (book).
` The way you dismiss theories about how the machine worked implies that you know everything about how those laws work, which no one does. Much like in a coalescing polymer solution, there is only a tiny, tiny, minute chance that the atoms will line up in a particular order to assemble the polymer chains... an absurdly tiny chance that monomer #86578 will attach to #12546 and attach to #88957, etc. etc. .... but that's the same tiny chance for ANY assembly sequence, and one of them HAS to occur.
` Your "Dictionary" has but a tiny, tiny chance of being assembled... but something HAS to be "assembled" by the explosion (machine of physical laws), bumper-sticker philosophy to the contrary. If life had cropped up in a completely different section of the universe, had six eyes, tenticles, and read words consisting of colored pebbles glued on bedsheets, they would still talk about the unlikelyhood of your "explosion" assembling their version of a "dictionary."

Lastly, setting aside what authority you might posess to determine what "essential beliefs" one has to have to be a Christian, let us not forget that Jesus was foremost a storyteller in his teachings... why can not the story of Creation be another parable? I mean, how much use is a history of millions of years of giant lizards to helping one find faith?

` GameSageZB:

Shortyland05 wrote:
Hey theres even some Christians who dout the Creation theory... which is one of the key elements of being christian. I mean the probablility of the Big Bang is a paper works exploding and creating a Dictionary! amazing odds.

The odds of YOU being born are worse than that, if I'm correct.

Doesn't mean things don't happen.

I mean, seriously, look at our "known" universe. We live in a solar system inside ONE galaxy, which is one of quite a large number, and that's all contained in a universe, an expanse so big, that we can't even begin to comprehend it because we have no object of comparison for something of that size.

And as for hidden stuff in the Bible, for one, read the above post.

Second off, let's try not to head to "Interpreting" the Bible. Anyone who says they take the Bible literally ought to be slapped. The Bible contradicts itself at almost every turn.

` BillyGoat:

MCWagner, that's a lot of words. I prefer to work with quips.

1. Everything I've read about the Bible Code, only uses the Hebrew Torah. So technically, the Bible Code is a Jewish thing, not a Christian thing.

2. It looks, to me, a lot like a form of fortune-telling. The Bible explicitly forbids fortune-telling.

3. The Bible says there are false prophets running around, claiming to speak for God. Also, "the devil can twist the words of Scripture to his own ends." So be very very picky about trusting the supernatural. Skepticism is good, in a world full of deceivers.

4. The universe is expanding. Predicted by Einstien, confirmed by observation, so you can't deny it. It's bigger today than it was yesterday, and yesterday it was bigger than it was last week. And so on. Logically then, at some point in the past, it was the smallest. At that point , it started getting big. And apparently, it got very big very fast. Thus, "The Big Bang". What's so controversial about that?

5. Yes, it's extremely unlikely for life to appear in the universe without supernatural help. It's also extremely unlikely that you will win the lottery. And yet, every week, someone, somewhere, wins a lottery. How can something so unlikely happen so often? Think about it. Besides, as far as we know, life has only happened once, on one planet, out of all the millions, billions, Sagans*, of planets out there. So, it had billions of chances to happen, but it only happened once. Sounds about right. No coincidence necessary.

* 1 Sagan = "billions and billions"

` GameSageZB:

Quick note, before the devil gets brought into this in any way:

The devil, if you looks, has actually never truly LIED. The devil will twist words and such, but never lies. [Oh, like bible codesters?]

Completely irrelevant, but nonetheles...

` Shortyland05:

ive got to remember not to make threads like this... IT MAKE MY HEAD SPIN!

` BrianJ:

...Oh! By the way, Skippy: I didn't really have a lot of extra time for extended searches, but Douglas Adams "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" does have the word "SUCCESS" starting at letter 42 with an offset of 30,006 letter skip. There! The Great Douglas Adams has spoken!!

` Skippy the Neandert(h)al: [Finally having found a computer after returning from the hideout.]

...` Good work, Commander! I salute you. Expect a mechanical henchman to pick you up sometime tomorrow.

` Wear hockey armor.

` Ah, yes. So... what parts of skepticism did this display? I know, it looked as if everyone straight-out tackled Shortyland05, and that's because there was a great deal of thought and knowledge behind each point before it was brought up.
` Alas, Shorty represents the ultimate non-skeptic here; he saw something on television and just believed it like that. Didn't even seem to consider that perhaps, Michael Drosnin might be going out on a limb. In fact, this is just what careful investigations have turned up.
` Furthermore, the totally unfounded 'Bible Code' pattern is an inevitable side-effect of normal, everyday writing -
as BrianJ has humorously demonstrated.

` Well, as posting this does not imply that I am still not busy - which I am
- I'll only say one last thing:
` To be perfectly clear, I am not actually planning to incite the Great Holocaust of 2006, nor to attempt an iron-fisted dominion over the world.
` ...or am I?


Galtron said...

Sure you're not! I believe you!!

You know what else about the 'bible code'? Not only can you find 'codes' in anything, Drosnin really had to stretch in order to get a lot of these things to make sense.

Mathematicians and whatnot haven't been able to reproduce his results unless they include anything that really could be interpreted as anything they wanted. A lot of it has to do with just how loosely the Hebrew characters were read.

In other words, you can find these things anywhere, and yet he was still pushing it!

monado said...

When people were going on about the mystical number 5 in Egyptian pyramids, some nice skeptic pointed out that "there's considerable fiveness about the Washington Monument." If you make enough measurements and accept any coincidences as deliberate and mystical codes, you can find them anywhere. The mystic isn't going to say, "Well, it's not 3-ness or 7-ness so it doesn't count."

If psychics or prophets can predict, why don't they? Where was the mystical or divine warning of the deadly tsunami of Dec. 25, 2004, mudslides, floods in Bangladesh or China, or other natural disasters?

Conclusion: they can't.

monado said...

Sorry, typo: I meant Dec. 26th!

dm said...

Now that's a long post. Perhaps we should discuss "abridged" next. ;)

I love the line "this is an annoying side-effect of culture".

S E E Quine said...

` Alas, abridging is not my forte!
` Though, I'm glad to know someone appreciates my occasional wit. ^^

` That's interesting, Galtron, that Drosnin had to cheat in addition to what I'd written.
` In addition, even the original work by Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg has been called into question. Several mathematicians have used their model, and been unable to reproduce the results. Also, others have stated that their model is faulty.
` Strangely, I think I remember reading about this at some point - though I don't know where.

` Mmheh! You know, Monado, I was just reading an old Skeptical Inquirer article on Sylvia Browne, FPCE (Fantasy-Prone Crackpot Extraordinaire!!), and it mentioned that she couldn't even predict her own criminal conviction.
` On top of that, she claims that her 'spirit guide' had given her some information about the Shroud of Turin - which had clearly been lifted off of another of the author's articles!
` Sweet, sweet irony.

monado said...

Heh, heh! The trouble is, they never make those "predictions" beforehand.

You could run a newspaper ad: "Psychics! I've got the cash in a brown paper bag. Call me! You know the number."

S E E Quine said...

` Bwaa haaa! I might try that sometime, actually!