Would you like some Pi?

Monday Musings for June 22, 2020

Good morning, Musers,

My favorite pie is apple pie. But I’m fussy about the type. I like old-fashioned recipes that have an understated filling and two crusts — a top and a bottom. These crusts should be substantial enough to hold their own against the filling... and they should be flaky, salty and buttery. If you put a pie like that in front of me, I’m a happy man.

My least favorite pie is the Pi that some people claim to have found in Scripture. The most famous of these (arguably) is astrophysicist, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson... of whom, I happen to be a fan. But if you present me with a Pi like the one Tyson found in the Bible, then I’m a sad man... and I’m a disappointed man on several levels.

You see, I follow science as an interested layman, and I’ve engaged with Tyson’s writings and videos. In my opinion, he’s a top-notch communicator and a great representative of America’s scientific community. My question is, why would such an accomplished man — one who demonstrably understands communicative nuance — weigh in on Scripture in such a ham-handed way? Furthermore, why would he bother with a topic that was so off-topic for a scientist?

Tyson is an agnostic. He is not convinced that the universe evidences a beneficent God. As such, the Bible is nothing more than a culture edifice to him. So, why did he pick a fight with biblical inerrancy? (In Tyson’s defense, people ask him all sorts of questions!)

Don’t get the wrong idea, though: Tyson did not instigate this fight. His crime is piling-on. He added his voice to the buzz that the Bible got the value of Pi wrong. (See Letters from an Astrophysicist, Feed Christians to the Lions.) If the Bible does have a plainly stated error like that, it could let the air out of Christianity... or ostensibly, the hot air out of some of its adherents!

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this about atheists (or people who don’t believe that the Bible is God’s word ) ... but they don’t mind piling-on when they think that God is down. If they hear there’s a pile with everyone jumping in and throwing punches at God, they join the fray. You can hear them punching and saying, “... and here’s one for the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka Kansas!”

But how embarrassing it is when the pile disperses… only to find that there was no one on the bottom. All the while, they were punching the air (1 Corinthians 9:26). I would describe that as a mob-action with no object… and that’s the model I’m bringing to today’s question. The accusation that the Bible has stated an incorrect value for Pi is not only not true, it’s a non-starter.

Since knowing the criteria for biblical inerrancy is a critical part of today’s answer, I’m going to reference the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978). This is a marvelous document… which is, admittedly, a bit of a slog — but it’s worth it. The document describes what we evangelicals mean when we say that the Bible is inerrant.

The project of evaluating biblical texts for inerrancy requires knowledge of textual critical methods. This is analogous to the scientific method used in the hard sciences. My thinking is that a Ph.D. should know better than to join a mob that’s not his mob. If he decides to join, he should first educate himself in this specialized discipline. So I say, shame on you, Neil, for piling on.

(Click here to read the article referenced above. For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)