Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Whoops, Wrong Number

  The Principia, is a three-volume series of mathematical proofs by Isaac Newton about his laws of gravity and motion. It’s what we base calculus on.  The Principia is one of the greatest works in the history of science and has been studied by legions of scientists, mathematicians, and professors for the last three centuries. 

  If anything were wrong with it surely someone would have noticed the mistake by now!

  That’s exactly what Robert Garisto thought.  Garisto was a student working on a paper for a history of science class, when he noticed that Newton had mistakenly plugged the wrong number into an equation to find the mass of the Earth (Newton had used 10.5 seconds in his write-up, but 11 in the actual problem).  Garisto didn't think much of the error when he found it -- he assumed it had been put in there intentionally by his instructor, and that spotting it was part of the assignment.  It wasn’t, the instructor didn’t even catch the correction when Garisto’s turned in his paper.

  It didn’t come up again until they were both at a lecture on the Principia.  Then they realized that Garsito had seen what no other scholar in history had ever realized was there.  300 years of meticulous study and discussion, and not one person had ever noticed that Newton had put the wrong number into his own equation.  While it didn’t change history's view of Newton, it does illustrate how easy it can be to accept what we are shown and never question if it is right.

  I afraid that is what so many have done in religion today.  They accept the traditions handed down from the past without giving them much thought, never realizing that they might contain much more significant mistakes than just a wrong number.

  We need to not be afraid to check the work. In Acts 17:11, we read, “Now these (The Bereans) were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

  We need to be as noble minded as these folks, checking if the doctrines we follow, no matter how long held, are actually in accordance with scripture.  Many great religious thinkers have made mistakes.  The one source we know to be unerring is the Word of God!

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