Insignificance

I’m told that there was a partial eclipse of the Sun visible from the UK this morning, although it was so cloudy here in Cardiff that I wouldn’t have seen anything even if I had bothered to get up in time to observe it. For more details of the event and pictures from people who managed to see it, see here. There’s also a nice article on the BBC website. The BBC are coordinating three days of programmes alongside a host of other events called Stargazing Live presumably timed to coincide with this morning’s eclipse. It’s taking a chance to do live broadcasts about astronomy given the British weather, but I hope they are successful in generating interest especially among the young.

As a spectacle a partial solar eclipse is pretty exciting – as long as it’s not cloudy – but even a full view of one can’t really be compared with the awesome event that is a total eclipse. I’m lucky enough to have observed one and I can tell you it was truly awe-inspiring.

If you think about it, though, it’s a very strange thing that such a thing is possible at all. In a total eclipse, the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun in such a way that it exactly covers the Solar disk. In order for this to happen the apparent angular size of the Moon (as seen from Earth) has to be almost exactly the same as that of the Sun (as seen from Earth). This involves a strange coincidence: the Moon is small (about 1740 km in radius) but very close to the Earth in astronomical terms (about 400,000 km away). The Sun, on the other hand, is both enormously large (radius 700,000 km) and enormously distant (approx. 150,000,000 km).ย  The ratio of radius to distance from Earth of these objects is almost identical at the point of a a total eclipse, so the apparent disk of the Moon almost exactly fits over that of the Sun. Why is this so?

The simple answer is that it is just a coincidence. There seems no particular physical reason why the geometry of the Earth-Moon-Sun system should have turned out this way. Moreover, the system is not static. The tides raised by the Moon on the Earth lead to frictional heating and a loss of orbital energy. The Moon’s orbitย  is therefore moving slowly outwards from the Earth. I’m not going to tell you exactly how quickly this happens, as it is one of the questions I set my students in the module Astrophysical Concepts I’ll be starting in a few weeks, but eventually the Earth-Moon distance will be too large for total eclipses of the Sun by the Moon to be possible on Earth, although partial and annular eclipses may still be possible.

It seems therefore that we just happen to be living at the right place at the right time to see total eclipses. Perhaps there are other inhabited moonless planets whose inhabitants will never see one. Future inhabitants of Earth will have to content themselves with watching eclipse clips on Youtube.

Things may be more complicated than this though. I’ve heard it argued that the existence of a moon reasonably close to the Earth may have helped the evolution of terrestrial life. The argument – as far as I understand it – is that life presumably began in the oceans, then amphibious forms evolved in tidal margins of some sort wherein conditions favoured both aquatic and land-dwelling creatures. Only then did life fully emerge from the seas and begin to live on land. If it is the case that the existence of significant tides is necessary for life to complete the transition from oceans to solid ground, then maybe the Moon played a key role in the evolution of dinosaurs, mammals, and even ourselves.

I’m not sure I’m convinced of this argument because, although the Moon is the dominant source of the Earth’s tides, it is not overwhelmingly so. The effect of the Sun is also considerable, only a factor of three smaller than the Moon. So maybe the Sun could have done the job on its own. I don’t know.

That’s not really the point of this post, however. What I wanted to comment on is that astronomers basically don’t question the interpretation of the occurence of total eclipses as simply a coincidence. Eclipses just are. There are no doubt many other planets where they aren’t. We’re special in that we live somewhere where something apparently unlikely happens. But this isn’t important because eclipses aren’t really all that significant in cosmic terms, other than that the law of physics allow them.

On the other hand astronomers (and many other people) do make a big deal of the fact that life exists in the Universe. Given whatย  we know about fundamental physics and biology – which admittedly isn’t very much – this also seems unlikely. Perhaps there are many other worlds without life, so the Earth is special once again. Others argue that the existence of life is so unlikely that special provision must have been made to make it possible.

Before I find myself falling into the black hole marked “Anthropic Principle” let me just say that I don’t see the existence of life (including human life) as being of any greater significance than that of a total eclipse. Both phenomena are (subjectively) interesting to humans, both are contingent on particular circumstances, and both will no doubt cease to occur at some point in perhaps not-too-distant the future. Neither tells us much about the true nature of the Universe.

Let’s face it. We’re just not significant.


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61 Responses to “Insignificance”

  1. Rhodri Evans Says:

    I saw the 1999 total Solar eclipse in Dieppe. It was clear during totality, although not during the period of the Moon moving across the disk of the Sun beforehand. It remained clear during the whole of the Moon’s exit from in front of the Sun. It was truly amazing – the rapidity with which it got dark took me by surprise. It is no wonder the ancients feared them. I was talking about the partial eclipse to my taxi driver as I was on my way into the BBC in Cardiff this morning (to talk about the eclipse, perihelion, why sunrise today is later than on the Solstice and what is so good about Jupiter through a telescope), and I said to him that I would certainly travel to see another total Solar eclipse, although only to somewhere where clear skies are virtually guaranteed.

    The Mars rovers have taken pictures of “partial eclipses” as Mars’ moons move in front of the Sun’s disk. These can be found on-line and there is even a movie or two.

  2. telescoper Says:

    I forgot to mention Mr and Mrs Helion and their son, Perry.

    The thing I remember most about the 1999 eclipse was how quickly it got cold. I saw it from Alderney, where it was partially cloudy but the clouds parted just in time to see it. Wonderful.

    • Steve Jones Says:

      Peter

      I remember in a Cosmology lecture you gave in Notts you showed a hilarious article from The Times about the 1999 solar eclipse and the groups of people who were interested in it. Do you know the one I mean? Was it real and do you still have it?
      Regards
      Steve

    • telescoper Says:

      Yes, it was from the Times. I’ll see if I can find it and post it sometime.

    • It looks like several of us were on Alderney for that eclipse.

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    I was on Alderney too, the only one of the Channel Islands northerly enough to witness totality.

    Surely the criterion for a total solar eclipse is that the angular diameter of the moon as seen at the earth *exceeds* that of the sun – it doesn’t matter if by a little or a lot? Also impportant is that the moon orbits the earth in the same plane as the earth orbits the sun, of course.

    Anton

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Well, to be pedantic Anton, the planes of the ecliptic and that of the Moon’s orbit about the Earth need to cross, not be the same ๐Ÿ™‚

      Sunrise today in Cardif was 8.17, whereas it was 8.15 on the Winter Solstice. Not a massive effect, but it’s fun to point it out to people and explain why.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Rhodri: Even that is a necessary but not sufficient condition! But if the planes aren’t the same then eclipses will be very rare indeed.

    • telescoper Says:

      Anton,

      You’re right but total eclipses are as special as they are because the coincidence in size is so nearly perfect and totality consequently so brief. Perhaps if the moon’s angular diameter were larger and eclipses consequently longer, early humans would have all thrown themselves off cliffs before the eclipse ended? As things are, totality only lasts a few minutes (between about 2 and about 9, if I remember correctly).

      Peter

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Anton,

      Um, now I’m confused. The plane of the Moon’s orbit about the Earth is NOT the same as the plane of our orbit about the Sun (the ecliptic). So the Moon only crosses the ecliptic at a point on the line of nodes, which happens roughly twice a year. So, the planes are not the same, they are inclined to each other. If they were parallel but not coincident then eclipses would never occur.

      Peter – I can imagine if a total eclipse were to last several hours that people may have felt the end of the World had come. There are certainly many accounts of cataclysmic events being ascribed to happening around the time of a total eclipse, so they clearly played an important part in early human’s folklore.

      Personally, along with seeing the Transit of Venus in 2004, the total eclipse I saw in 1999 was the most spectacular cosmic event I have seen. Sure, it is of no significance astrophysically, but as spectacles go I think they’re hard to beat.

    • If the angular size of the Moon were appreciably larger than that of the Sun, then first one wouldn’t see the corona and second eclipses would be much longer, more frequent and not that much more mysterious than nightfall.

      Of course, the planes are not the same, otherwise there would be an eclipse at every new moon.

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Exactly Phlllip.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Of course you are both right that the planes are slightly inclined to each other and that’s why there’s not a solar eclipse every lunar month – thanks for the correction.

      Rhodri: What I meant by ‘necessary but not sufficient’ is that it is theoretically possible for the moon never to be in the right place for a solar eclipse even though the orbital planes meet. Just tweak the ratio of orbital periodicities and initial conditions approporiately.

      Phillip: You too on Alderney? I guessed that most people resident in Germany would have headed to the Alps (as one friend did). I went to Alderney rather than Cornwall sikmply because a friend had a house there.

      Anton

    • telescoper Says:

      Anton,

      There was a special RAS meeting in Guernsey in 1999 and we all went by a boat to Alderney for the day and viewed the eclipse from Fort Albert. I did some filming there too, for the series Six Experiments that Changed the World which turned out quite well.

      Peter

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Anton – Yes, of course if the orbital periods had the right ratio then, even with a line of nodes, there needn’t be an alignment to give an eclipse.

      One thing I didn’t like in last night’s Stargazers Live was Brian Cox’s dismissal of the Mayans. Maybe he was just joking (I will have to look at it again on iPlayer), but the Mayans had determined things like the synodic period of Venus to an incredible level of accuracy, and various properties of the repetition of eclipses.

    • “Phillip: You too on Alderney? I guessed that most people resident in Germany would have headed to the Alps (as one friend did).”

      I was working in Groningen at the time, but employed by an EU network headquartered at Jodrell Bank, where I had been working before. Like Peter, I was at the RAS meeting. It was actually cloudy that day and cleared up near the Sun just a few minutes before the eclipse.

  4. telescoper Says:

    In historical records eclipses were always described with a sense of complete terror, as indeed were other astronomical phenomena such as comets. Being able to predict eclipses has largely removed the dread, but however routine you might think they are they’re still pretty awesome. (I don’t like using that word, but in this case it’s apt).

    Another thing is that the path of totality, defined by the size of the Moon’s shadow, is only about 100km wide so a given eclipse is only total for a relatively small bit of the Earth’s surface.

    • From the correct vantage point, one can actually see the shadow of Moon racing towards one just before the eclipse (and racing away afterwards).

    • I was in Cornwall for the 1999 eclipse and although there was light cloud at totality, just watching the shadow race towards us across the hills was incredible.

  5. Rhodri Evans Says:

    I was just re-reading the first chapter of Simon Singh’s “Big Bang” book a few weeks ago, as I gave a copy to my son for Xmas. Fascinating to realise that the Ancient Greeks figured out that timing the length of a Lunar eclipse enabled one to calculate the relative size of the Moon to the Earth, and as they had already figured out how to calculate the size of the Earth from the lengths of shadows they were able in two steps to calculate the actual size of the Moon and its distance from the Earth.

    When I was reading about what the Star of Bethlehem could have been so I could talk about it on the radio just before Xmas, I saw that Kepler’s supernova occurred near a planetary conjunction in the sky, so Kepler believed the conjunction had given rise to the SN. And, can you imagine what the SN of 1054, visible in day-time for some 30 days, would have led the people of the time to imagining what was going on.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Rhodri: What were your conclusions? Colin Humphreys, a prof of materials science at Cambridge and evangelical Christian, opts for a comet, and says that although the biblical descriptions don’t sound like one to our ears, descriptions from the ancient world of heavenly bodies we know were comets do match the biblical description. (He also identified a plausible comet in Chinese records – remember that Jesus was born before King Herod died because Herod reacted to the news; Herod is believed to have died in 4 ‘BC’ and there has been some miscounting since.) Other scholars opt for the triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7BC, which would have mightily impressed astrologers (‘magi’); as for why they went to Bethlehem, they were not necessarily ‘led’ by the ‘star’ but simply knew the prophecies saying tyhat it was where the Messiah would be born. (Some people think they were Jews descended from those who did not return to the Holy Land after their enforced exile in Babylon ended five centuries earlier.) Others think it was a supernatural event. Of course the question has a bearings on others such as what time of year was Jesus born, and in what year – the latter question in turn having a bearing on what year he was crucified, since the gospels permit us to estimate his lifespan.

      Anton

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Anton – if the star was a supernatural event then there is not much an astronomer/astrophysicist can say about it. So, assuming it was not supernatural, here is what I have found are the possibilities:

      1. That Matthew made it up, to make his gospel sound more impressive.

      2. The triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BC (as you say, Herod died in 4BC, April 4BC from what I’ve read)

      3. A conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in 6 BC

      4. A nova in 5 BC, which is noted in e.g. Chinese records. More likely to be a nova than a supernova, as (a) they’re more common and (b) we haven’t found any supernova remnant of the required age for it to have been a SN.

      5. An occultation of Jupiter by the Moon whilst they were in Aries, which apparently was the constellation related to the house of David.

      6. A comet, but not Haley’s comet as that would have been around in 10 BC, not in the 7-4 BC window considered to be the window for Jesus’ birth.

      The question is whether any of these would have been considered to have been unusual enough for the Magi to consider them a special sign. I can’t answer that, but certainly conjunctions were pretty important to ancient skywatchers, as were comets and novae. Maybe it was the culmination of several things, such as some/all of the above, which led to the last thing to occur being taken as “the” sign of the Messiah’s birth.

      As an agnostic, I do find it interesting to speculate on whether (a) Jesus ever existed, (b) whether the events like the star of Bethlehem and the Magi really did happen and (c) what time of the year was he born. Although, from a religious point of view, I don’t really see how it matters what month he was born.

    • telescoper Says:

      I’m no expert on such matters, but I always thought Jesus was quite a common name at the time in question so the real issue is whether what is in the Bible relates to just one individual.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Peter: Yes, his name was very common among Jews at the time. The spelling which best enables native English speakers to pronounce it is Ya’shooa (although ‘Yeshua’ is more commonly written). The ‘s’ on the end of ‘Jesus’ is due to the different grammars of New Testament Greek and Old Testament Hebrew. English is the only language to get the first letter/consonant of his name wrong, because we didn’t change the spelling of his name to ‘Y’ in compensation when we changed the way we pronounced the letter ‘J’ a few centuries ago (cf the pronunciation of German name Johan and English version John). The name means “Yahuweh is salvation”. (Yahuweh is the Hebrew personal name for the creator God, oftten mis-rendered ‘Jehovah’; it has connotations of ‘the eternal one’.)

    • telescoper Says:

      I note old hymns and religious texts in English sometimes have “Jesu” and sometimes “Jesse” too. I never really understood the etymology.

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      It’s “Iesu” in Welsh, which retaines the “eee” sound you are referring to Anton. “Iesu” is pronounced “yes” “eee” (excuse my inability to write any kind of international phonetic representation ๐Ÿ™‚ )

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Peter: The ending doesn’t matter too much, since it is not language-invariant, and the vowels certainly don’t matter (ancient languages didn’t even bother to write the vowels, only the consonants). Joshua is the same name, and sometimes you get another consonant thrown in, eg Jehoshua. Jesse (Yesse) is a distinct name, though, the Hebrew consonants being Y – S – Y, and the church has never used it for Jesus; the most famous Jesse was the father of King David.

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      No, surely Jesse James was the most famous Jesse.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      He’s the most Infamous… which reminds me of another of Peter’s posts from one of the Carry On films.

    • telescoper Says:

      Anton,

      I think the ending matters if (and perhaps only if) you want to set the word to music. “Jesu” has an open vowel ending which makes it an entirely different prospect to “Jesus”. Italian is full of lovely open vowel endings, English has relatively few. Hence the difficulty of translating Italian opera into English – better not to, in my opinion!

      Peter

  6. Anton Garrett Says:

    Rhodri: Re your question (a) whether Jesus existed, I am surprised to find this an issue. People were talking and writing about him within a few decades and we have documents. I regard this as in the same league as whether we really went to the moon. The question that has excited controversy for 2000 years is not whether he existed but who he was. As for question (c), I gave a fairly detailed summary of the time of year arguments in a response on this blog a year ago, but I can’t find it with the search facility, which seems only to trawl Peter’s comments rather than responses. (I looked for the word ‘perplexity’ because I said that I preferred a low-key Christmas to the occasional perplexity of friends both Christian and secular.) Perhaps Peter can help?

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Anton – when I said “did he exist?” I suppose what I should have said is “was there someone born around that time about whom so much fuss was made?”. How much of the Bible’s stories about him are true? He’s death and “resurrection” are, of course, a whole other matter. All of his life, with the exception of his conception, his miracles and his resurrection, could be factually correct even if he were just an ordinary human being, and not the son of God.

      What was the gist of your argument about the importance of the time of the year of his birth?

      Isn’t most of modern day Christmas celebration a Victorian invention?

    • telescoper Says:

      Anton,

      I agree that the public search facility on wordpress isn’t very good. I have a comprehensive search tool for comments, however, and I believe the comment to which you refer is on the following post:

      https://telescoper.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/for-unto-us-a-child-is-born/

      Peter

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Rhodri:

      1. More can be deduced from the Bible about the time of year of his birth than you might think, although you still end up with a fairly broad probability distribution. (I hope Peter is willing to find my summary of this, via the keyword Perplexity.) For reasons mainly of faith I go with the Jewish festival of Tabernacles in the autumn, which, with Passover and Firstfruits, is one of the festivals for which all able-bodied men were meant to be in Jerusalem. Those other two festivals have fulfilment in the New Testament, in the Crucifixion and Passover respectively, but Tabernacles apparently doesn’t. O Yes it does, I say.

      2. The great British Christmas was not only largely Victorian but mainly due to the influence of Charles Dickens, I believe. Continental countries have quite different traditions – and the Eastern Orthodox have a different date, about a fortnight later.

      3. Yes, there’s no reason to doubt his crucifixion either. The Resurrection is the hinge. People whose names we know saw him dead then alive and were willing to be martyred for it (as is recorded in extra-biblical history both Jewish and gentile), and you don’t maintain a hoax in the face of death.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Thanks Peter for digging it out!

    • telescoper Says:

      Interesting that the same topic was reached on a post about Handel and a post about eclipses!

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      At least we haven’t reached the point of Godwin’s law (yet) ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Don’t mention the…

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      I believe it was Carl Sagan who said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. So, a skeptic may say that (a) the people who saw the resurrection were deluding themselves as they were so overcome with grief or (b) that Jesus was not dead when he was taken down from the cross, but in a coma.

      But, back to my earlier question: apart from the mere academic interest of pinpointing his month/date of birth and month/date of death, what is the theological motivation? As the dates are not mentioned in the Bible, is it even important?

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      “As the dates are not mentioned in the Bible, is it even important?”

      Not to me. It might be to denominations that tack stuff on to the Bible. But I simply enjoy mulling these things over.

  7. Anton Garrett Says:

    Rhodri,

    I agree that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I find your response (a) more extraordinary than an actual resurrection as plenty of people are equally grief-stricken when a loved one dies but they don’t say that this happened. As for (b), hew was thrust through with a spear as well and a mix of blood and water came out. Any pathologist will tell you that that means he was dead – a fact probably not known when the account was written, moreover.

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Anton – there are lots of people who think they have seen a departed loved one (a ghost). Either ghosts exist, or people’s minds play tricks on them. Psychiatrists will tell you how capable are of self delusion when they find it hard/impossible to accept a situation like the death of a loved one.

      Why would water have come out if he was thrust through with a spear? And, plenty of people bleed, even profusely, and do not die. Presumably the Bible does not give an account of how much blood came out. Blood loss would put someone into a coma.

      As scientists, surely we should seek rational explanations to things, rather than invoking supernatural explanations.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Rhodri: But the reports of the resurrected Christ are not those of a ghost – look at Thomas! And it was not one person but many.

      As for the water/blood thing, I’ve forgotten but it is standard pathology as I remember checking a few years ago. We should google it.

    • There is little point about debating whether the evidence in the Bible indicates that Jesus was really dead on the cross or not. The Bible describes many miraculous events. A believer (God said it, I believe it, that settles it) takes these at face value and doesn’t need any further arguments. A non-believer doubts the miraculous stuff and doesn’t believe in miracles anyway. So it makes little sense to use scientific reasoning to set the stage, so to speak, for a miracle.

      This argument has been made before:

      http://www.jesusandmo.net/2010/12/24/tomb2/

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Here’s something medical about the blood and water:

      http://www.frugalsites.net/jesus/death.htm

      I have insufficient medical knowledge to comment further.

      Phillip: It is worth breaking the story down further in order to identify the point at which Christians believe a miracle occurred. Science can certainly be used to discuss whether or not Jesus died on the cross. The cartoon you quote which asserts circular reasoning, in the claim that the empty tomb is evidence for the resurrection, seems fallacious to me. Granted that it is not *decisive* evidence, ie evidence that shifts the probability to 100% (since other explanations have been proposed for the empty tomb), but it certainly *increases* the probability of the resurrection, treated as a hypothesis; surely that is the meaning of [positive] evidence?

      For a genuine example of circular logic, you recently stated here that the anthropic principle was the explanation for why there is something, rather than nothing at all…

      Anton

  8. Are you playing devil’s advocate? (Or should that be Jesus’s advocate?) The empty tomb is part of the story, the only source of which is the Bible. It is necessary for the resurrection story, and is thus not independent evidence.

    All we know about the death of Jesus comes from writings made after his death, with an obvious axe to grind. This is a long way from any sort of scientific evidence. We might as well discuss how Zeus transformed himself into a bull (and how this would have helped his powers of seduction; most women I know would rather have Zeus than a bull).

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      OK Phillip, now I understand your point, but when somebody’s narrative is examined in a court case, it is broken down into its components. That’s what I’m doing regarding events on the cross and in the tomb.

      The gospel accounts were written by believers who thought that they were dealing with a holy God who was concerned with the truth; so they would not dare make it up. Judaism had a tradition of absolute fidelity in the disciples of a rabbi recording his words, for they wre monotheists who considered that God himself might be speaking through the person. This is very different from the Hellenistic world in which people freely put words into the mouths of historical figures according to their own understanding – that is how the Greek myths came about.

      There was no worldly advantage to the first Christians in practising their faith or making accounts up – in fact the opposite, for they were persecuted for it, first by Jews, then by gentiles. Only after 312AD did the church gain any political power, and when it did it went against its Founder.

    • My personal view, of course, is that miracles didn’t happen. Whether or not they need explaining is another matter. One explanation which many have put forward is, of course, that Jesus himself intentionally staged miracles, based on Old-Testament prophecies, so that he would be accepted as the Messiah.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Some of those miracles couldn’t be staged even with today’s technology. You are then free to doubt the accounts, of course; but I have stated above why I believe the gospel authors felt constrained by truth.

      Of course, if your faith is 100% that miracles cannot occur, then you will never believe it and will seek other explanations. These can in turn be subject to scrutiny.

  9. Rhodri Evans Says:

    An South African astronomer colleague of mine David Block, with whom I’ve coauthored a paper or two in the past, is part of a group who call themselves “Jews for Jesus”. What is THAT all about??

    Also, having just got back from Egypt, where Islam is the predominant faith (apparently Egypt is about 30% Christian and 70% Muslim), how do Christians believe that Muslins are wrong about Jesus and the prophet Mohammed?

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      The first Christians were 12 ethnic Jews; it was never either/or.

      “how do Christians believe that Muslins are wrong about Jesus and the prophet Mohammed?”

      Presumably in the same way that Muslims believe Christians are wrong about them. But I think you mean something different behind your question – clarify and I’ll try to answer.

      Anton

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Anton – I assume the 12 ethnic Jews you refer to were the 12 disciples/apostles. Surely there were more Christians than that? Anyway, I am just wondering what a “Jews for Jesus” campaign is all about. Surely, if a Jew believes in Jesus then he is a Christian, if he does not believe that Jesus was the messiah then he’s a “Jew” (in the religious sense), and if he is an agnostic/atheist, then he’s only a Jew in an ethnic sense, not a religous one.

      My comment about Islam is that there seem to be many overlaps in what Christians, Jews and Muslims believe, and yet the fundamental difference seems to boil down to the status of Jesus. For Muslims, Mohammed was more important than Jesus, who was just another prophet. For Christians, he was the Messiah, and as I understand it (which isn’t much), the Jews also believe he was just another prophet, and are waiting for the true Messiah to come. They can’t all be right!

    • I’m not sure, and there might be similar campaigns with similar names, but I believe some “Jews for Jesus” are Christians who are (or have been) ethnically and culturally Jewish (whatever that means) or were formerly religiously Jewish.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Rhodri: I agree with everything you say at 1259pm. Being a Jew is a matter of ethnicity, on top of which Jews have various beliefs – most are secular, a few are Christian (although they prefer to call themselves ‘Messianic’ since Christ is the Greek word and Messiah the Hebrew one), some are Orthodox (which means they believe the Old Testament and also accept as canonical a large amount of Jewish tradition), some are New Age/pagan.

      To my knowledge, “Jews for Jesus” is an organisation for ethnic Jews who have come to believe that Jesus is who the New Testament says he is – ie, they are Messianics (and specifically that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah).

      For how the church grew, first among Jews, then gentiles, and with numbers given in some cases, see Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament.

      I also agree that the point of division between Christians, Jews and Muslims is over the identity of Jesus and that they can’t all be right.

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Bob Dylan (in one of his songs) said “some of the people can be right all of the time, all of the people can be right some of the time, but not all of the people can be right all of the time”. Or was it Abraham Lincoln who said it originally? ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Frankly Rhodri, it’s a relief to find a secular person, ie yourself, who understands that not “all religions are the same”.

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Anton – I certainly have a hard time believing that one religion is more correct than another. I find religion and faith in things that cannot be rationalised in a scientific way quite fascinating. My wife is a strong Christian, but she’s not scientific in the least. I find religious faith in scientists to be more unexpected, and therefore possibly more interesting to understand.

      I saw an interesting T-shirt in Madeira in April last year – “God is bigger than religion”. My wife knows quite a lot (for a Christian) about Islam. She has read the Quoran and often talks to me about the common beliefs of Christianity and Islam.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Religions are simply theistic faith systems. There are plenty of nontheistic faith systems. If you think you are living your life without axioms, you are kidding yourself. In mathematics, reason is used to navigate from axioms to the result of the theorem. In life, reason is a tool for applying the axioms which comprise your faith, to your life. I’m all for reason, but it can’t provide a starting point.

      As for what faith system is true, perhaps I’d better start my own blog.

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Anton – aren’t the axioms/theories we use in science testable? We only use them if they withstand scientific scrutiny, and if they cannot be shown to work we tend not to use them, or use them until we find their flaw/weakness/limitation. Surely this is different from religion, where aximos need to be taken on faith?

      As I’ve said above, there are FUNDAMENTAL differences between religions, even between the Abrahamic religions. And, that’s not including Buddhism or Hinduism or the Dream-Time of the Aboriginals. It would seem that you (and other Christians) believe Christianity is the “correct” one, and all the other religions are “wrong” in some way. Presumably Jews and Muslims feel the same way about their religions. This is a viewpoint I find difficult to accept as, in my opinion, they are all equally flawed, but none is more or less flawed than the other ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Anton Garrett Says:

    Rhodri,

    People disagree with each other continually about all matters, from the trivial to the major. And if you disagree with someone then of course you think that you are right and they are wrong – that is the definition of disagreement. The important thing, rather, is what you do about it. The New Testament view is to offer people the gospel and leave them free to make their own informed choice. Where churches have used coercion it is *against* their own scriptures and founder. As for Islam – read suras 8 and 9 of the Qur’an for yourself.

    The axioms of science include the existence of universal scientific law. How to test that??

    Anton

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