Ethical Chocolate: Science Deceptions and Solutions

The big news last week was that a study touted around the world for showing the supposed health benefits of eating chocolate was as a hoax. As revealed at io9, the study was done in order to show how bad things are in science journalism and what can get published and noticed today in diet and medical journals using specious statistical tools.

The way it worked is this: the author, John Bohannon, collected a rather small number of subjects to do an experiment with three groups changing or keeping their normal diets. Then data was collected from all groups and a later battery of tests were done to find any differences. The problem with a study like this is that with the small sample size and the very many different tests, the chances of finding any variable change that is “statistically significant” is rather high. Note that “statistical significance” is not the same as having a result that is large and noticeable but instead is a measure of how unlikely to get that result if there were no correlation between input and output (i.e., diet with chocolate and weight). With most papers, a result is statistically significant if the chances of getting a correlation when there is none is less that 5% (p < 0.05); but that also means that if you do twenty tests you can expect one to be statistically significant just by chance. With so many tests and so few subjects to average out any statistical fluctuations, then any positive results -are at best specious since chance cannot be ruled out. Roll the die enough and you will get snake-eyes. Heck, it’s expected, and that should have been noticed by any journal reviewer or trained science journalist.

So the fact that the study even got published, let alone got wide attention, shows there is something wrong in how things are working.

Interestingly, this has been causing not simply a reflection on issues in science and journalism, but there is a question on the very ethics of doing a fake study like this one. Continue reading


Faith-Based Initiatives for the Star of Bethlehem in Secular Places

One of the points I have tried to drive home with my research on the various hypotheses about what was the Star of Bethlehem has been that it is more a religious rather than scientific exercise. In my 2012 article for Zygon I showed how naturalistic explanations for the Star only started when miracles were becoming ridiculous to the scholarly and had to mad-dash for anything to save face. Now the project is in the hands almost exclusively of those that are not Bible scholars or historians. I also showed examples of how such research was directly said to be used for apologetic of faith-based ends.

In my book, The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View, I expanded a bit on this when I also looked at the use of the UFO explanation for the Star. An additional point was made by the author of my preface, Bob Berman. He noted how planetaria had been pushing this show for decades and either didn’t care or knew that it was impossible. It was popular and traditional, so that seems to be enough reason for these things to last.

I haven’t stopped looking for sources, and I just came across another one where the director of a major US museum states rather clearly that the presentations are, in part, to renew the faith in those watching or listening. The location in question is the Franklin Institute, a notable museum in Philadelphia named after its famous resident, Ben “100 Dollar” Franklin. The Institute has had a journal since a very early point in its history, going back to the 1820s and continues today. As is normal, the director of the museum can have some space to editorialize and the like.

In a Dec 1954 issue of the Journal of the Franklin Institute, director A.C. Carlton provided a note about the museum’s Star of Bethlehem presentation. Among other things, he said

To those who see the demonstration for the first time there comes the awed realization that here is a new method for replenishing faith by reviving old traditions and investing them with new vigor.

Carlton noted that for those who had seen the show before only need to be reminded of its December traditional presentation. In other words, it is a show that brings in an audience and it does so because it “replenish[es] faith” in old traditions. That is hardly a secular goal, let alone a scientific one.

That it strikes a popular chord may also be a clue as to how this show became a part of the standard planetary curriculum since the 1930s. Instead of an astronomer or historian of science, it appears to be that the first planetarium show about the Star of Bethlehem came from a certain James Stokley (1900-1989). Educated with a bachelors in education and a masters in psychology from U Penn, Stokley became a science news reporter in DC for a while before visiting planetaria around the world and being inspired to become a director of such a place. The planetarium was hot and new in the 1920s in Europe and America, and considering how massive and amazing the Zeiss projectors were, no wonder it captured his imagination.

In the 1930s, it seems his dreams came true as he was a major presenter in planetaria such as the Fels Planetarium of the Franklin Institute and later the Buhl Planetarium. According to his obit he had a column in Science News for over 50 years and spent most of the 1930s working at Fels. It seems there he developed the first Star of Bethlehem show, which proved to be very popular, as noted by the Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers and in Theaters of Time and Space: American Planetaria, 1930-1970. It seems that Stokley, because of his journalism background, knew what chords would strike with an audience and how to be a good showman, so it seems that it takes someone of such background to present something that would be controversial to experts but great for laymen.

(Also of note, Stokley gave the first planetarium show even viewed by Albert Einstein, and Stokley later became a professor at my alma mater, Michigan State.)

You can read this good article on Buhl Planetarium’s Star of Bethlehem show and its history, again noting the influence of Stokley. I think I have a new line in researching the influence of the content of planetarium shows and how religion has become such a big part of what is seen during the holidays. At this time though, it seems that a significant reason why the Star of Bethlehem has become such as big part of early and recent holiday science shows is because it proved to grab an audience, especially when the show is well-crafted and pulls on the faithful heartstrings.

Richard Carrier Reviews my Star of Bethlehem Book & Talks About the Problems with Astrotheology

9780956694867- Font CoverWith my book out for about a month, I have now received a great review/blog post about The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View. And it comes from Richard Carrier, who also provided a very positive blurb for the book. He was very supportive in my researching this topic, and I’m sure my book would have been much inferior without his help.

In his review, Carrier brings up a point that I hadn’t actually consciously gone for, but it is a valid expansion. In the book, I point out how ancient astrologers did not have some well-defined method of interpretation of the skies, and there were significant differences between Babylonian/Assyrian methods and the Hellenistic form that has become dominant in the West and India. And because there is such massive discord among the ancients, it makes it very dubious to create an astrotheological interpretation of early Christianity and the Gospels.

For example, I showed that the system of astrological geography–that is, how different regions of the world were under the influence of different constellations or signs–were completely different from astrologer to astrologer. I even quoted from the most famous of the ancient astrologers, Ptolemy, about how astrological interpretation is even nigh-impossible or at least very difficult even by experts, let along the charlatans of the age. With this and other points I make, I prove that a modern scholar cannot look at a horoscope and know how it would have been interpreted; I even use an example of one of the horoscopes created for Jesus by Michael Molnar and show you can either get the King of Kings or a misshapen sex slave. Oops.

But when I think of astrotheology, what comes to mind is the work of Acharya S/D.M. Murdock and its use in part 1 of Zeitgeist. There are two major things that I will consider here from that work: the astrotheological version of the Star of Bethlehem, and the importance of the precession of the equinoxes.

Now, I did consider looking at this idea about the Star in the book, and perhaps I should have. Then again, it hasn’t been put into any peer-review journal or book unlike even the bad Star of Bethlehem theories that I disprove. Also, I have talked about this in some previous videos I made, including in the talk I gave a couple of weeks ago (video jumps to where I start to talk about it at 37:20).

The key points are that the astronomy does not stand up (Orion already set before sunrise, and the alignment doesn’t happen on Dec 25 under the most favorable of interpretations), the symbolism is based on no ancient sources (i.e. belt of Orion called the 3 kings), it tries to explain things that have nothing to do with the original story from the Gospels (i.e. birth on Dec 25, 3 kings), and it doesn’t explain details from the Gospel of Matthew (i.e. a star hanging over a particular location). In fact, the alignment being talked of has nothing to do with how astrologers did their work. The sorts of alignments done back in the day used horoscopes, and then only concerned the planets and the zodiac constellations. That would exclude Orion and Sirius which is so important to Murdock’s hypothesis. And there are no records that show the (non-existent) alignment was important to Egyptians in antiquity. The whole thing is modern invention.

Another major component is the belief that people were interested in the coming of astrological ages. These shifts happen when the vernal equinox (the location of the Sun on the first day of spring) slowly moves from one zodiac constellation to another, forever immortalized in the song “Aquarius” from the musical Hair. Now, the very idea of astrological ages cannot go back farther than its discovery, and that is usually credited to Hipparchus of Rhodes in the 2nd century BCE. That is pre-Christian, but it’s not so early that it could explain other religions, such as Egyptian or Babylonian. And considering most people were not exactly astronomers, it isn’t safe to assume that the discovery by Hipparchus was known by the masses. The best evidence I know of is the hypothesis that the Mithras religion based based on this discovery, which is argued by David Ulansey. However, his hypothesis has long favor after the work done by Roger Beck, the top scholar in the field of Mithraic studies (and whom I hope to meet next year at the Star of Bethlehem conference).

But even if we allow this to be common knowledge for the early Christians to use, there is still a significant problem: When was the astrological age to change? At the beginning of the 1st century, as shown by Otto Neugebauer and referenced by Michael Molnar, the vernal equinox was at about 5 degrees in Aries. Based on the calculations of how quickly precession was believed to have happened, it would have been 500 years in the future. Hardly coming “coming soon” as seen in the authentic letters of Paul and the Book of Revelation. And since we can’t even know if people back then would have given this a sort of amazing status as Murdock would suppose, we can’t make this work.

But if you look at the Wikipedia page, it says that some calculate that the Age of Pisces (after Aries) began around the time of Jesus’s birth. How is that so? It’s based on back calculations from modern astrologers to fit their own spiritual views. It’s a modern contrivance. It also was such to get it that the Age of Aquarius was something in the near future for Baby Boomers; things like the Vietnam war were the last throes of the age of Pisces. This is hardly relevant to reconstructing religious beliefs from 2000 years ago, and that shows how much astrotheology is a modern creation. (Then again, medieval astrologers did the same things for their own times, so there really isn’t anything new under the Sun.)

Now, there is one bit of argumentation I have seen that has the greatest plausibility of looking at the Jesus story in terms of solar symbolism, something that has been brought up by a commenter on this blog (his paper is here). The points are that in Luke 1:26 and the context there has Jesus being conceived six months after John the Baptist was. And in the Gospel of John 3:30 the Baptist says how he must decrease so that the other may increase. Now, if one views Jesus and John acting as the Sun and different times of year, John is the dying sun in winter, while Jesus is the rising sun of summer. In other words, the six months is about the solstices.

However, this doesn’t really work well given what we know about how literature was written back then. Suppose you only had the Gospel of Luke and not John, which would have been the case for Luke’s first readers. All you have is the six-month time difference between the conceptions of Jesus and John. How does a reader get solar myth out of just that? There aren’t any other details in the story from Luke to support that. There just aren’t enough narrative clues to the reader.

Let’s compare this time issue with a more recent literary example: Frankenstein. (It’s after Halloween, but it’s still a great book.) According to the novel, Dr. Frankenstein worked for nine months to create his cadaver-man, which he then rejected because he (it?) was hideous. Because the story is about a man giving life, the nine-month period has a symbolic role by relating the creation of the Monster to child-bearing, a nine-month process. It is because the context of the story in the novel (and not by reading a later novel) as well as the cultural assumptions that would go into reading it by the audience, we can see what Mary Shelly was doing. Modern scholars also compare it to Shelly’s own troubles with having children, but that is besides the point to consider here.

But this is not the case with the six months in the Gospel of Luke. We have to mix it up with a later work with details from a different story (adult Jesus and John rather than their nativities). And it’s this sort of mixing and matching of details that brought ridicule to the history of religions school of the turn of the 20th century. Moreover, the use of some solar symbolism doesn’t mean the whole story is about the sun. After all, King Louis XIV of France was known as the Sun King; that use of a symbolic name doesn’t mean he was a sun god. In fact, this sort of ridicule against this sort of arguing is old; it was done against Charles François Dupuis by using his methods to “prove” Napoleon was just a solar myth and not some general worthy of being feared. The same was repeated with Max Muller in the late 19th century.

Now, I won’t pretend to know necessarily why Luke says there was a six month difference between the conceptions of Jesus and John. Perhaps six months is when it’s obvious to anyone in antiquity that a woman is pregnant and so for Mary on her visit to Elizabeth (John’s elderly mother-to-be) it was clear to her that Elizabeth had had a miraculous birth as well. Or perhaps there were other traditions involved worth considering. When looking at Borg and Crossan’s The First Christmas (pp. 108-109), they bring up a targum that talks of a story of a man of the tribe of Levi (the priestly tribe) returning to be with his wife, a woman well over 100 years in age. But upon the man’s return to her she became young and gave birth to a son in just six months. Considering that John’s father, Zechariah, was a priest, and Elizabeth was an old woman beyond her child-bearing years, then perhaps this is the background for what we see in Luke.

Now, that is only a speculation of mine. But it explains the evidence at least as well as a solar myth explanation, and unless one can show how the solar myth can explain the story in the Gospel of Luke better, then we don’t actually have evidence in favor of the solar myth hypothesis. And since this seems to be one of the best cases out there, I have to say there isn’t much of a case to be made.

So I do agree with Carrier that the nature of astrology in antiquity doesn’t allow for much confidence in astrotheological explanations for Christianity or Christian literature. And the particular ideas out there don’t stand up to scrutiny and are really modern inventions. Astrotheological explanations have little or nothing in common with the diverse (but still not infinitely malleable) methods of ancient astrology. This isn’t to say there aren’t any astrological elements in Christianity (the Book of Revelation has some notable ones), but there is nothing even close to the explanatory power needed to make sense of the Gospels or the origins of the religion.

The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View — My Upcoming Book

Nearly two millennia ago, a story was told of a wondrous star in the heavens, beaming forth to proclaim the birth of an infant, destined to rule. Coaxing priests from an eastern kingdom to travel in search of this infant, the object led them to their destination and allow for the worship of the savior of the world.

Or so the story goes. But did it really happen, and if so, what was this magnificent star? A comet? An exploding star? An astrological portent? Something more bizarre? These theories and more have been put forward to explain the legend of the Star of Bethlehem, perhaps the most famous celestial light in all of religious literature. Inspiring scientists and theologians to search and fiction authors to write, including the great Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the Star of Bethlehem has been the perennial science story of the holidays. It is a project that finds its roots in the work of the influential astrophysicist Johannes Kepler, and numerous other astronomers have written about the Star over decades and up to today, such as David Hughes, Michael Molnar, Mark Kidger, and the late Sir Patrick Moore. Every year or so a supposedly new explanation is released to the press. Was it Jupiter and Venus or Jupiter and Saturn this time? Or how about the discovery of Uranus? Perhaps a variable star? The zodiacal lights? What other speculation will come about to show that there was a light guiding magi from the East to the birthplace of Jesus?

9780956694867- Font Cover

These speculation should begin to find its end in the newest book on the subject: The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View (Amazon: US, UK, FR, DE; B&N; PDF). Based on nearly a decade of contemplation and research, this volume seeks to prove that no natural phenomenon, no astrological alignment, no physical interpretation of the Star of Bethlehem is plausible and comports to the story as told in the Gospel of Matthew. In fact, the story likely isn’t historical at all.

Published by Onus Books and including a foreword by astronomer and columnist at Astronomy magazine, Bob BermanThe Star of Bethlehem goes through all of the major theories for the Star as something in nature, including the astronomical, the astrological, and even the alien. The volume also explores the history of these sorts of interpretations and the motivations behind them. Lastly, it is demonstrated that the legend is a literary artifice, one that shows the author of the Gospel to be gifted as a story-teller but not someone interested in science and history as modern researchers are. To continue to look for the Star in the skies is to misunderstand the story.

Exploring the science of supernovae, the mechanical computers of the ancient Greeks, the astrological beliefs and practices of the Persians, and the nature of ancient religious texts, The Star of Bethlehem presents science and history without the need to fit to an apologetic goal.

Praise for The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View:

A fascinating and readable feat of hardcore historical legwork and keen scientific analysis.
—David Fitzgerald, author of The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion: The Mormons.

Well researched, scientifically reasoned, elegantly concise, this book will long be required reading on the ‘Star of Bethlehem’. Full of fascinating historical facts, and better informed and more careful than any other book on the subject, this should be on the shelf of everyone interested in that legendary celestial event.
—Richard Carrier, Ph.D., author of Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus.

The Star of Bethlehem is a concise and rigorous must-read for anyone interested in religion, history, and modern efforts to understand the past.
—Jason Colavito, author of The Cult of Alien Gods.

While the argument that the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ story is a myth isn’t a new one, Aaron Adair—an astronomer and physicist at The Ohio State University—offers a look into the past through the eyes of a scientist, while not once ignoring the value of New Testament scholarship. This is a must-read, and perhaps the definitive, book on this subject.
—Thomas Verenna, co-editor of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus and undergraduate student at Rutgers University

If you enjoy The Star of Bethlehem, you may also enjoy another skeptical look at the Nativity story of Jesus: The Nativity: A Critical Examination by Jonathan Pearce.

About the author:

Aaron Adair is a soon-to-be PhD in physics education from the Ohio State University and holds three degrees in science and mathematics from Michigan State University. He has previously worked as a planetarium show presenter, a SETI researcher, and a part of the ATLAS detector collaboration at CERN. He has written on the Star of Bethlehem previously in Sky & Telescope and Zygon: Journal of Science & Religion, and has been invited to participate in a conference about the Star at the University of Groningen. This is his first book. Adair may be contacted through his book’s Facebook page and through email.

Star of Bethlehem Book Cover Design – I Need Your Opinions!

It’s getting close to the time that my Star of Bethlehem research is going to be in book form, and that means judging its contents by its cover. So, please have a look at the current design in the works? Yea? Nay? All critical responses help.

6x9 SOB g web view


So, what say you?

Upcoming Writing Projects

In less than a month, I will need to have gotten a lot done. The big thing that has been absorbing of time has by the work on my dissertation. It needs to be finished, defended, edited, and then submitted before the next semester starts. I think I’m on track, but the deadline looms.

A little less stressful is my book on the Star of Bethlehem should be getting ready to become a final draft and then shared with the world. I’m hoping for release in September or October at the latest. Fortunately my editor has been making it into the best draft it can be, and once published it should be the best book on the subject out there, IMHO.

Lastly, I have a book chapter that will be going into a response to the 1001 Inventions exhibit I talked about in the past (here and here and here). I will talk about the pedagogy of a good museum exhibit based on education theory, and I have my own idea on how to make something that teaches the history of science and better contextualizes and demonstrates medieval Arab or Islamic contributions to science.

But right now, time to focus on that dissertation. I’m supposed to write 100 pages to get one particular sheet of paper when I’m done.

Star of Bethlehem Conference in the Netherlands

About two weeks ago I was contacted about participating in a conference next year at the University of Groningen. In 2014 they are celebrating their 400th anniversary so it seems appropriate it relate to something else from 1614. In that year, Johannes Kepler published his tome on chronology, arguing that Jesus was born several years earlier than was the tradition in his time (on Dec 25 in 1 BC). In that book, he also talked about the Star of Bethlehem, and this is the apparent link for this conference.

In the last few days a webpage has gone up, which you can see here, and it shows the primary idea holding the conference together, along with the guest list. And you can see, I’m there!

There are a few notable names on there, at least to me. The conference is supposed to focus on the work of Michael Molnar, as he has one of the most astrologically-informed hypotheses about the Star to date. I have had words exchanged with him before, but it has been a long while. It should be interesting to interact with him in person.

Kocku von Stuckrad has done a lot of work on astrology in the classical world, and I have used some of his research and ideas in my work. He also talks about the Star and how it may relate to triple conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn.

Willem Drees is a philosopher and editor-in-chief at Zygon, which is where I had my most scholarly article on the Star of Bethlehem published. It may be because of him that I was even invited. If so, thank you Willem. If not, thank you for at least getting my article published.

Roger Beck is the foremost expert on the Roman cult of Mithras, and I think he has the best hypothesis to date for its origins. I can see why he is invited; people have been comparing Christianity to Mithraism for a lot time, at least back to Dupuis, and there is definitely astrological symbols in the cult. Could it provide insight into the astrology of the Christmas Star? I want to hear his opinion on the subject.

There are other names here that are less familiar to me, so I will have some homework to do. For example, Teije de Jong has done work on ancient astronomical observations. A quick search shows he done work on observations of Venus. I would be interested to see what he has to say related to that, especially since I think the motions of Venus can explain some details about Inanna/Ishtar. Rob van Gent is best known to me as the compiler of the online bibliography of Star of Bethlehem literature (see here). Plenty to read, plenty to read.

The conference is set for late October of next year. By then I should have my book on the Star of Bethlehem published, and perhaps another, academic volume on the subject as well (finger’s crossed). And since I hope to have my PhD by the end of this year (my thesis defense will probably be this August (!)), I won’t be the only person there without a fancy title. There is also the plan to having papers from the conference published in a volume through Brill. You all know you want a copy–well, Brill books tend to be expensive, so we’ll see about that.

I’m really looking forward to this, and hopefully I can do enough to prepare for it, not to mention have meaningful, scholarly engagements with some fascinating individuals.

The Passion of the Ishtar

It’s Good Friday, which traditionally is considered the day in Holy Week that Jesus goes through and gets tortured and killed. And that’s … good? Yeah, if I was in marketing in the old days, I would have suggested a different name. I wonder what a 1st century focus group would say?

However, as Good Friday comes before Easter Sunday, there is this thing going around:

As Tom Verenna points out, this is pretty much all wrong. ‘Easter’ is not derived from ‘Ishtar’; they aren’t even in the same language family. While eggs and bunnies don’t seem to obviously relate to resurrection, they are symbols of fertility (i.e. breeding like rabbits) and thus the renewal of life. But one of the simplest take-down of this picture was from another version of the same (via Doctor Atlantis):

As it mentions, this is the Burney Relief, and I have seen it in person when it was in Berlin. Of the goddesses it may represent that seem likely to me, there is Ishtar and her evil sister, Ereshkigal. The lions give away someone with power, and the owls suggest to me someone with a connection to the night. However, it is argued the owls relate to Ishtar by connections of the Sumerian word for owl and for Ishtar’s earlier counterpart, Inanna. Some see the figure as a demon because the wings aren’t spread wide, and the background may have been black. However, for this to work it would suggest that Ereshkigal had a cult to her where she took control of Ishtar’s position of power. To me that seems doubtful, and instead the opposite may be the case (though I can’t prove it): Ishtar defeats her sister and finally takes control of the underworld.

Which leads to the connection between Ishtar (Inanna in Sumerian myth) and the Passion of the Christ. In a text from over 3000 years ago, “The Descent of Inanna”, the goddess plans to try to not rule just in the heavens (her title was “Queen of Heaven”), but she also wanted to take control of the underworld from her sister there. She makes plans with her servants, in particular what they should do in case she doesn’t make it back and dies in the process. In the process of Inanna coming into the underworld, she is piece-by-piece stripped of her clothes and royal accessories until naked. She is then before her sister and the Anunnaki (who have nothing to do with aliens!), and under their gaze Inanna dies. Her body is then hung on a nail and remains there dead for three days. After that time, her servant sets the plan into action, sending other beings into the underworld to resurrection Inanna. She is then brought back to the land of the living (a replacement had to be sought though), and she resumes being the Queen of Heaven.

This story with Inanna is taken over by the Babylonians, and the one with Ishtar is pretty much the same. The story includes the fate of Ishtar’s husband, Tammuz. This is probably the oldest myth with the idea of the dying-and-rising god, it may have some relation to the Greek story with Persephone in Hades, and it was known to the Jews (see Ezekiel 8:14-15; Jeremiah 7:18, 44:17-25; the Jewish month of Tammuz comes straight from the god’s name and the Babylonian month named after him). We can see similarities between this story and that of Jesus’ death and resurrection, including a process of shaming, dead for three days, and a return to heaven. While there may not be a direct link between the Ishtar & Tammuz story with that of Jesus, it does seem to be something that gave rise to the idea of gods that undergo a passion, including a death, and then are restored.

The connection may also lay in other symbols. For example, Ishtar is connected to the planet Venus (she is also the ancestor for Aphrodite, who for the Romans is Venus), and in particular at its dawn rising she is the Morning Star… or he actually; the god(dess) would be of a certain gender depending on if seen in the east or west (Ishtar is sometimes given a beard). But I point this out because Jesus is also called the Morning Star (Rev 2: 28, 22:16; 2 Peter 1:19). In particular, it has been noted that in Revelation 22:16, Jesus is called the bring morning star in such a way he is both the bright star and the morning star, implying he is both morning and evening star as was Ishtar.  (See Michael S. Moore, “Jesus Christ:’Superstar’: Revelation XXII 16b)”, Novum Testamentum 24, 1 [1982]: 82-91). So maybe there is more here than we realize.

So while there are plausible connections between this goddess and Jesus, the name Easter, the objects of eggs and rabbits, and the date are just not related. At all. So stop it, or you fail as a skeptic. If you keep this up, you will lose the War on Easter.

This modern vision of Inanna has a lot of her traditional symbols, including lions and the 8-pointed star, along with less traditional objects, such as space ships. And having a goddess of love and war with the face of Angelina Jolie seems rather appropriate.

Education and Misconceptions

Things are getting busy for me in my research as I have another batch of data sources to get through (i.e. students), and this is getting exciting since it should be the last bit I need to do by PhD thesis with. Strangely I haven’t talked too much about my line of work, so I want to make some preliminary points about what I do.

While I work in physics, my focus has been specifically in physics education research (PER), a topic so real it has its own Wikipedia page. So I have to know the physics I am teaching to students reasonably well (in some ways better than the normal physics grad outside their specialty), and I need to know something about the teaching process. Now, part of education is the dissemination of knowledge, and there is no way to do education effectively without it. However, that is far from the whole story. In particular, when you are teaching teenagers or full adults the student has built up a life of heuristics about how to think about the world and how it works. Be it in politics, religion, book keeping, or physics, we have notions in our heads built up by years of real-world experience. And while those experiences are certainly authentic and real, how they are drawn together into how we think about the world can be at significant variance with the system figured through the sciences.

So you let go of the ball.
And yet it moves!

Case in point: our ideas of how objects move is naturally closer to what Aristotle thought than Newton; after all, it took 2000 years of “natural philosophy” to get beyond the Aristotelian notions of how bodies move to get to things such as Galileo’s theory of relativity or Newton’s universal gravitation, let alone the advancements in modern physics. But somehow, even though we live in the macroscopic world that is perfectly explained by Newtonian mechanics, we have ideas that are clearly wrong with a little bit of experimentation. I talked about this example before, but it is worth repeated. Suppose you are walking at steady speed while holding a ball in your hand. If you let go of the ball and continue to walk forward, will the ball land in front of you, behind you, or at your feet? Aristotelian physics would say that because you don’t have a force pushing forward the ball will come to a stop and fall behind you (you continue on because you keep pushing forward). But Newton’s 1st Law says that the body will continue to go at the same speed and so it will fall at your feet.

So we humans generally have created a model in our heads that is wrong at a fundamental level. It’s not just in the realm of quantum mechanics or special relativity, but in objects we have played with since childhood. As part of my research, I have looked into the potential origins of these misconceptions, though one thing I have not done and wish to do is try to figure out when these ideas materialize in children. Is it there at the end of elementary school, a year after birth, somewhere in between?

But why do these misconceptions matter? Continue reading

Daniel 9 and the Historical Jesus

***This post contains original research. If you wish to write on this subject and use my ideas, please let me know and appropriately attribute it. Thanks you.***

Here I think we may reach he apex of this year’s War on Christmas, and here I need to summarize what has been done up to this point.

I first started arguing how the date of Dec 25 for Christmas had nothing to do with the actual date that Jesus may have been born, that this tradition did not start until much later in time. To explain this date, I looked at the ‘traditional’ explanation of how it was a co-option of the birth date of Sol Invictus/Mithras, but that seems to not fit the data we have. Instead, it seems that it can be explained as a feature of beliefs about Jesus having the same birth and death date, which was then adjusted so that the conception and death date were the same, and with an execution right on the vernal equinox we get a birth nine months later on Dec 25.

With that calculation, I wanted to explore how other calculations may explain other features of the timeline of Jesus’ life. But I also wanted to try and explain the other timelines that different from the canonical version by as much as a century. To do this, I explored the well-known prophecy of Daniel 9 and how it was being used in around the time of Christianity’s beginnings. I then looked at how it was originally used by the author of Daniel (whoever that really was), and I showed how it could explain a Jesus dying around 100 BCE and in 59 CE. But this same method could easily point to the time when Jesus was supposed to have ministered and died according to the Gospels in the Bible.

So that leaves us here to ponder what this means for history. Could this sort of explanation I propose be useful to see how Jesus was able to captivate people into thinking he really was the Messiah? Or could it be evidence that attempts were made to put a Jesus into history, and those attempts were derived from Daniel 9, thus implying the whole thing could be a fiction? Continue reading