Thursday, July 18, 2013

#633: Michael Drosnin

Michael Drosnin is the auther of the legendary 1997 book “The Bible Code”. The idea of bible codes (or Torah Codes), that hidden messages are contained in sacred texts, is an old and venerable one, mostly because it deploys a very refined and radical version of one of our favorite evidence-gathering mechanisms, confirmation bias. It is also profoundly silly. The basic idea of Drosnin’s code is roughly to view a page of text as a “word search” puzzle, in which you circle words that appear on the vertical when the lines are appropriately aligned (see this for an application). If a word is found by this method, it must be because the author intended it to be there (since He’s God), and the fact that Biblical Hebrew doesn’t deploy vowels makes finding suitable words rather simple. As expected, Drosnin takes off and flies far, far into loonland

And yes, it is drivel. In addition to the fact that pretty much anything can be found in a big piece of text such as the Bible, it’s telling that no “prophetic” sequence is ever discovered until after the prophecy has been fulfilled (just like Nostradamus – the first edition of the Bible code, published in 1997, did not predict 9/11; the second one (published in 2002) did – who would have guessed). As for finding whatever you want, Drosnin claimed to have applied his code to War and Peace without finding anything (Brendan McKay, on the other hand, found plenty using Drosnin’s method), saying “[w]hen my critics find a message about the assassination of a prime minister encrypted in Moby Dick, I'll believe them.” There is a list of assassinations (of e.g. prime ministers) foretold in Moby Dick using Drosnin’s exact method here.

Drosnin has later clarified his views; he doesn’t “think the code makes predictions. I think it reveals probabilities [… ]You can only find what you know how to look for – you must have some idea of what you're looking for.” Indeed so. He was, however, actually granted audience with officials during the hunt for bin Laden, and he did get on Oprah at one point.

Applied to the Bible Drosnin’s code also yields some rather interesting results, such as this one, this one, and, especially, this one. Perhaps best of all, mathematician David Thomas used Drosnin’s code to find “The Bible Code is a silly, dumb, fake, false, evil, nasty, dismal fraud and snake-oil hoax.”

There is an excellent discussion of the history, background, and reliability of Drosnin’s code here, and an excellent resource here.

Diagnosis: Hilarious hack. This is rarefied, exquisite crackpottery and dumbskullery. Probably rather harmless, though some people apparently took Brendan McKay’s refutation of Drosnin (finding predictions in Moby Dick) to mean that Moby Dick was actually divinely inspired and did indeed contain prophecies. I guess some people are dim enough that you cannot avoid fooling them even if you try your best not to.

1 comment:

  1. This seems to be a legitimate scientific undertaking, especially because the Bible, as everyone know,s was originally written in English!

    Also, there's a secret treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Really. It was proven by Nicholas Cage.

    Let's see if Mike can decode this one:

    Drosnin is a nass. Whole!