|Crawford Texas - Mathematicians and educators across the nation were stunned and infuriated after President signed a bill into law yesterday redefining pi, a mathematical constant used around the world. The bill to change the value of pi to exactly three was introduced without fanfare by Tom Delay (R, Texas), and rapidly gained support after a letter-writing campaign by members of the Solomon Society, a traditional values group.
The law took the mathematical community by surprise. "It would have been nice if they had consulted with someone who actually uses pi," said Marshall Borgman, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) . According to Bergman, pi is a Greek letter that signifies the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. It is often used by engineers to calculate missile trajectories.
Prof. Kim Hanson, a mathematician from University of Washington, said that pi is a universal constant, and cannot arbitrarily be changed by lawmakers. Johanson explained that pi is an irrational number, which means that it has an infinite number of digits after the decimal point and can never be known exactly. Nevertheless, she said, pi is precisely defined by mathematics to be "3.14159, plus as many more digits as you have time to calculate".
"I think that it is the mathematicians that are being irrational, and it is time for them to admit it," said Delay. "The Bible very clearly says in I Kings 7:23 that the altar font of Solomon's Temple was ten cubits across and thirty cubits in diameter, and that it was round in compass."
Delay called into question the usefulness of any number that cannot be calculated exactly, and suggested that never knowing the exact answer could harm students' self-esteem. "We need to return to some absolutes in our society," he said, "the Bible does not say that the font was thirty-something cubits. Plain reading says thirty cubits. Period."
Science supports Delay, explains Dr. Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University (BJU) in South Carolina, who testified in support of the bill before Congress in May. "Pi is merely an artifact of Euclidean geometry." BJU researchers are working on a theory which he says will prove that pi is determined by the geometry of three-dimensional space, which is assumed by physicists to be "isotropic", or the same in all directions.
"There are other geometries, and pi is different in every one of them," says Jones. Scientists have arbitrarily assumed that space is Euclidean, he says. He points out that a circle drawn on a spherical surface has a different value for the ratio of circumference to diameter. "Anyone with a compass, flexible ruler, and globe can see for themselves," suggests Jones, "its not exactly rocket science."
Roger McLearned, a Solomon Society member who was in Washington to support the bill, agrees. He said that pi is nothing more than an assumption by the mathematicians and engineers who were there to argue against the bill. "These nabobs waltzed into the capital with an arrogance that was breathtaking," Learned said. "Their prefatorial deficit resulted in a polemical stance at absolute contraposition to the legislature's puissance."
Some education experts believe that the legislation will affect the way math is taught to America's children. Bush's Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, is anxious to get the new value of pi into math textbooks, but thinks that the old value should be retained as an alternative. She said, "As far as I am concerned, the value of pi is only a theory, and we should be open to all interpretations." She looks forward to students having the freedom to decide for themselves what value pi should have.
Many experts are warning that this is just the beginning of a global battle over pi between traditional values supporters and the technical elite. Solomon Society member McLearned agrees. "We just want to return pi to its traditional value," he said, "which, according to the Bible, is three."