The Biblical Value of Pi
This one puzzles me a little. Apparently, I should give up my religion because the Bible says pi=3.
The Biblical text under scrutiny is 1 Kings 7:23. It says the big bronze laver in the temple had a diameter of 10 cubits, and a circumference of 30 cubits. So, it is said: the Bible says pi=3.
As an engineer and a Christian, I would say “You are joking... right?”, but it keeps coming up, so here we go...
Short answer: the Bible does rounding! And now for the long answer...
Let’s just say, for example, that the bronze laver was between 30.0 and 30.4 cubits in circumference. I’m simply speculating on the unstated 3rd significant figure of precision.
I’ll assume that figure was the outer circumference. By modern mathematical opinions on the fine thing called pi, and assuming the nature of space-time hasn’t fundamentally changed in the last 3,000 years, then the laver’s outer diameter was between 9.55 and 9.68 cubits (to 3 significant figures).
Now let’s assume that the ancient craftsmen and/or Biblical writers understood the concept of rounding. Let’s just say that for their purposes of conveying to us, the reader, the dimensions of the temple laver (rather than, for example, making a mathematical declaration on the value of pi according to the greatest extents of their mathematical prowess), they were content to record it rounded to the nearest cubit. Check the numbers—they are:
- circumference = 30 cubits
- diameter = 10 cubits
So, everything is looking fine and mathematically correct to me. Everyone is happy, I hope.
This of course begs the question: is the value of pi the most serious objection to the Bible? Surely critics should dig a little, nay a lot, deeper into the Biblical text and consider its more substantial implications. Then discuss the serious stuff. Questions like:
- If God is righteous, then why does the world have so much suffering?
- Does the Bible really say people are going to burn in hell for eternity?