A scientist's adventure in pseudoscience: the strange case of the Bible Codes

Presented by ANU College of Science

Over the centuries, many claims have been made of numerical patterns of miraculous nature hidden within the text of sacred writings, including the Jewish, Christian and Islamic scriptures. Usually the patterns involve counting of letters and words, or calculations involving numerical equivalents of the letters.

Until recently, all such claims were made by people with little mathematical understanding and were easily explained. This situation changed when a highly respected Israeli mathematician Eliyahu Rips and two others published a paper in the academic journal Statistical Science claiming to prove that information about medieval Jewish rabbis was encoded in the Hebrew text of the Book of Genesis. The journal reported that its reviewers were "baffled".

The paper in Statistical Science spawned a huge "Bible Codes" industry, complete with best selling books, TV documentaries, and even a romance movie.

The talk will reveal the inside story of the Codes and the people behind them, from their inception through to their refutation.

About the speaker
Brendan McKay completed his PhD in Mathematics from Melbourne University in 1980. After three years at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, he moved to ANU in 1983. He has been a Professor of Computer Science since 1998 and an Emeritus Professor since retirement in 2016. He is also a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.