Speaker: Robert Charles (R.C.) Sproul
Date of Original: 1985
Location: Ligonier Ministries
When it comes to the history of calculating Pi (π) tribute is often made to the accuracy of the ancient builders of Egypt and Babylon. As far back as 2,000 B.C. they had approximated its value with amazing accuracy. Petr Beckmann speculates that “…even before the invention of the wheel, man learn to identify the peculiarly regular shape of the circle … and [thus] grasped the concept of a ratio…”
Rumor has it that the Christian church found these calculations threatening the faith. Beckman mocks the clergymen (“mediaeval bishops” and “crusaders”) who supposedly set the torch to scientific libraries because they condemned their contents as “works of the devil.” Beckmann nowhere cites his source so I am unable to substantiate the claim, and since the doctor is now dead there is no way he can defend himself and his wild speculations. Perhaps he made the whole thing up. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I know of no Christian clergymen burning libraries of science; on the contrary I do know that during the Renaissance –Reformation era Christians were leaders in preserving the classics, advancing science and the arts, and had more or less saved western civilization from the Dark Ages. Perhaps Beckmann is confusing the Christian faith with Islam, whose caliphate burned the great library in Alexandria.
Dr. Beckmann was an independent man. He despised authority of any kind. He was a regular critic of the Catholic Church. He was a libertarian who loved Ayn Rand. He claimed to have debunked Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
Also, he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.
Beckmann comments that “…The molten sea, we are told, is round; it measures 30 cubits round about (in circumference) and 10 cubits from brim to brim (in diameter); thus the biblical value of n is 30/10 = 3 … At that time, n was already known to a considerably better accuracy, but evidently not to the editors of the Bible…” He goes on to claim that “…the inaccuracy of the biblical value of π is, of course, no more than an amusing curiosity.” Here, he reckons, science and religion drifted apart. How so?
What is being said is that the ancient Babylonian and Egyptian texts, written for the sole purpose of teaching and sharing mathematics, are superior to the Holy Scripture. The pagan books calculate π more accurately.
In case the reader is unaware, let me be the first to point out that the Bible is not interested in teaching its readers how to calculate π. The Bible’s intent is to reveal God’s purpose for our lives (Click here for more information). It intends to introduce us to the Savior and Sin-bearer, the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you want to learn how to calculate π more effectively, then you can read math books. If you want to know about eternal life through Jesus Christ, then read the Bible.
Next, I’d like to point out that 3 is an acceptable rounding of π. Therefore the Bible is completely reliable in what it states. Who among us has not rounded 3.14159 blah blah blah to the number 3? I can recount numerous incidences when my calculus professor did exactly the same thing.
If Dr. Beckmann had ever in his career rounded π to 3.14, then he himself is inaccurate too. All calculators and even the mighty Microsoft Excel round up in similar fashion. Are these devices and programs wrong in doing so? What is more, mathematicians argue among themselves whether or not π is an irrational number; therefore if the Bible’s computation is “an amusing curiosity” then so is every calculation of π that was ever made, for no one (but God) truly knows if the series ends or not.