9/22/2007

THE FAITH EQUATION!

I get letters and other unsolicited materials all the time from sincere creationists who think that if they can just get this or that source into my hands that I’ll suddenly see that the Bible really is a science textbook and that my defense of science education is misguided. This one’s a new one on me, though: the Bible, apparently, is also a math text, and the fellow who makes this claim is also, intriguingly, something of an expert when it comes to the statistical analysis of one of my passions....baseball! Weird, huh?

Anyway, the author, one Dr. Marvin L. Bittinger, seems to be quite an interesting fellow. Bittinger:

  • is a retired professor mathematics education at Purdue University
He has a web site for his book here. The book in question (“The Faith Equation”) was marketed to me with a letter signed by one Bryan Gambrel, who professes to be the Marketing Director of Literary Architects. They can be found on the web here. The letter I received carried an endorsement from the creationist engineering professor (Baylor) Walter Bradley, and also from pop psychology guru M. Scott Peck, who writes (amusingly) that Bittinger’s book is “the kind of wacky genius one is lucky enough to encounter but a few occasions during his or her lifetime.”

(Less amusing is the fact that M. Scott Peck has been dead nearly two years as I write this, and the book in question was only published in July of this year. So, presumably, he commended a draft of the present work but might not have actually approved the work as published. It's border-line dishonest to enlist the dead post facto as a positive 'review' of an unpublished work, and obviously seeks to trade on Peck's modest celebrity)

I can't add more to that, but I bet a lot of you (particularly Zeno, or Jason Rosenhouse) can, and will.

7 comments:

Jason Rosenhouse said...

The publisher was kind enough to send me a review copy of The Faith Equation. I've only read the introduction so far, but somehow I am not optimistic. I expect to read it fairly soon, but I've just started volulme 6 of Harry Potter, and that has to come first!

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

Man, where are your priorities? You should have read HP6 in the summer of 2006, like me!....:)

Zeno said...

I've used Bittinger's texts in the past and found them adequate. It has, however, been a while.

The book's website indicates that Bittinger spends a good chunk of his time rehashing tired probabilistic arguments often advanced in the past by Christian apologists. The main argument is simple: The Bible is full of prophecies about a messiah. Jesus fulfills those prophecies. What are the chances that could happen by accident? Very, very small. Hence Jesus is the messiah, Christianity is true, and you are going to hell.

Bittinger has the mathematical knowledge to present the probabilistic argument with nice equations and without the pratfalls that are so common in the hands of non-mathematicians (or non-statisticians). The problem, however, is this: The validity of the math does not imply the validity of the conclusions. You must also have valid assumptions. Arguing that Jesus could not have fulfilled the prophecies "by chance" shockingly ignores the actual language of the Bible, wherein you find such telling passages as Luke 24:44: He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."

How chancy is it when the purported messiah makes a point of checking off the prophecies like a to-do list? It sure narrows the odds.

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

Excellent point, Zeno. It's one thing to say that the outcome of chance is in the Lord's hands (Prov. 16:33) but another for a 'selective filter' to be applied, either by the would-be Messiah or the editor of the texts in question.

In all seriousness, I would hope you mathematically-adept types would post at greater length on this topic when you've had a chance to digest Bittinger's actual work.

Thanks for your reply....SH

VFXJoshGemmell said...

There is also a blog at Sb called Good Math, Bad Math, the writer of which might be inclined to rip into this.

Also, for those of us outside academia, the phrase "actually had a chair named after him" is laugh-out-loud funny sounding.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Thanks for blogging about this. Here's my take:

http://recursed.blogspot.com/2007/09/faithmb-ignorance-intellectual.html

Zeno said...

Also, for those of us outside academia, the phrase "actually had a chair named after him" is laugh-out-loud funny sounding.

So true! Here is one area where academicians just can't win: our vocabulary is just too weird. Would it sound any better to say "he is the honoree of an endowed chair"? I don't think so!