Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Half-Life of Miracles

Augustus DeMorgan's 1872 book A Budget of Paradoxes is a book about books. It describes his collection of curiositites in which various authors have, throughout history, written erroniously about mathematics. Not just getting their sums wrong but often misapplying mathematics to entirely inappropriate subjects.

On page 129 of volume 1, for example, is "Theologiæ Christianæ Principia Mathematica" by Johanne Craig (1699). This book used mathematics to calculate how long acceptance for the evidence for Christianity would last. DeMorgan ponders that Craig had probably been inspired by Newton's "Principia Mathematica" and he notes that:

"The success of the Principia of Newton put it into many heads to speculate about applying notions of quantity to other things not then brought under measurement. Craig imitated Newton's title, and evidently thought he was making a step in advance: but it is not every one who can plough with Samson's heifer."

And how long is belief in Christianity expected to last? If the evidence had only been oral, Craig calculated that it would've ended in 800AD but since it was written down, he estimated it will continue until 3150AD (and, in fairness to him, so far so good). And this is the year in which Craig predicted the second coming. DeMorgan ruefully wished that this part of Craig's theory had been widely accepted in order to save us from the endless predictions of the end of the world. One of which just passed yesterday, of course.

"A Budget of Paradoxes" by Augustus DeMorgan
Volume 1

Volume 2

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