Sunflowers, Science and Society

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55…   What comes after 55?  That’s right! 89 is the correct answer.  Each number is obtained by adding the two preceding numbers.  This series of numbers is called the Fibonacci sequence and is a little different from common arithmetic or geometric series like 3, 6, 9, 12… or 2, 10, 50, 250…

Amazingly, Fibonacci numbers provide a bridge between mathematics and nature.  The way that branches are arranged around the trunk of a tree corresponds to this series.  Similarly, the arms of a spiral galaxy and the number of right-handed and left-handed spirals in the sunflower correspond to Fibonacci numbers, as do the spirals on many mollusk shells.

Western training has carried specialization to such an extreme that poets and physicists barely share a common language.  We assume that God and faith have nothing at all to do with biology and chemistry.  We assume that law and justice have little to do with morality and certainly nothing to do with God.  Yet, a curious juxtaposition of verses in Deuteronomy seems to suggest an entirely different model.

The sixty-eight verses from Deuteronomy 16:18 all the way to Deuteronomy 19:21 detail God’s model of a functioning judiciary.  John Locke, one of the most important philosophical influences on the American Founding, depended heavily upon this and other passages in the Torah, which he studied in the original Hebrew.  Much of America’s legal system is based on these very ideas.

This passage contains directions on setting up courts of law as well as law enforcement agencies.  It warns against bribing judges and specifies the laws of evidence. It mentions the role of a monarchy and the independence of the judiciary.  It describes how a civilized nation deals with murder in its midst and it differentiates between accidental homicide and premeditated murder.  It deals with land laws and boundary disputes and it discusses perjury and its punishments.

Yet, in the midst of such secular sounding topics come words that seem completely out of context.  Just after we read the inspiring words “Justice, justice shall you pursue… (Deuteronomy 16:20) we find this:

You shall not plant for yourselves an idolatrous tree—any tree—near the altar of the Lord your God…You shall not slaughter for the Lord your God an ox or lamb in which there is a blemish…
(Deuteronomy 16:21—17:1)

One can almost hear the cries of outrage from modern western legal scholars.  “Church and state should be rigidly separated,” they yell.  “We’re talking about laws and jurisprudence; don’t drop in verses about idolatry and sacrifices to God.”  One can almost hear their point.  After all, why would we intersperse important principles about judges and witnesses, murderers and thieves, with ritual rules about altars and blemished sheep?

The connection between religious ritual and legal structure is quite consequential.  The entire legal authority of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish people’s Supreme Court that only functions when situated in the Temple, comes from these words:

And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Gather me seventy men from the elders of Israel…take them to the Tent of Meeting and have them stand there with you.  I will descend and speak with you there and I will increase some of the Spirit that is upon you and place it upon them…’
(Numbers 11:16-17)

We can now more clearly understand why the sixty-eight verses about law and justice contain references to how the litigants and the plaintiffs in a lawsuit must appear not only before judges, but also before God and priests. There is a seamless unity linking law and faith, joining judges to priests and connecting jurisprudence to God.

Grasping these connections accustoms us to question western training that compartmentalizes everything.  With this insight, it becomes so much easier to see how a friend’s tattered relationship with God impacts behavior.  Recognizing the role of religion in marriage becomes simple. Today, society urges us to think that God and our personal and legal interactions with others aren’t related. They want us to pigeonhole things just as before Fibonacci, flowers and mathematics were viewed separately. That is not how the world really works.

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