Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Ike's Birthday.

A few weeks back, some astronomers with a cool computer program that can simulate the night sky for any evening in the past few thousand years made minor news by reporting that the best candidate for the Christmas star was in June of 2 B.C., when Venus and Jupiter would have been right on top of one another. Some folks have used this to say "Haw, haw, Christians! You got it wrong!"

Former Rhodes scholar Kris Kristofferson may have an album entitled Jesus Was a Capricorn, but actual biblical scholars, like my pal Padre Mickey, have long understood December 25 is the day of the mass celebrating Christ's birth, not an accurate choice for the actual anniversary of his birth. The choice of a day near the Winter Solstice was an effort to compete with the dominant religions of the day, religions we now lump together and call pagan.


As for people actually born on Christmas day, let us take a moment in this joyous season to remember a not particularly joyful man. Born on Christmas Day in 1642, raised by a man not his father, died a virgin, probably at least mildly autistic, Isaac Newton had little to recommend himself in terms of a winning personality. He was just smarter than the rest of us.

A lot smarter.

If Jesus had his cousin John the Baptist to be his harbinger, Newton had Galileo, who died the same year Newton was born. Galileo asked questions he could not answer, nor could anyone properly answer until someone invented the methods of calculus. Others get full or partial credit for discovering some of the methods of calculus, including Archimedes and his method of exhaustion, the Japanese mathematician Seki, and two contemporaries of Newton, his teacher Isaac Barrow and his rival Gottfreid Leibniz. But more than his mathematical genius, Newton had insights into the workings of the physical world that would be unmatched until Einstein. Newton came up with the math that explains gravity, the laws of motion and the nature of light. It is widely accepted that Newton had all these great insights working alone on his stepfather's farm between 1666 and 1669, after Cambridge was closed to prevent the spread of plague.

So on this day of joy and togetherness, remember for a moment a guy with no family of his own and few friends, who did not bring us the message that God loves us. He brought us the message that what God hath wrought hath rules, and if we work at it hard enough, we can discover those rules and bring about miracles and wonders of our own.

And while your at it, have a nice celebration in honor of the baby Jesus as well.

5 comments:

Mathman6293 said...

So if we celebrated the importantance of Newton's birthday today maybe we should call it Newton-Mass.

Happy Holidays.

namastenancy said...

What I love about Christmas is how pagan it is. What "Christians" are really celebrating is the Winter Solstice, complete with orgies of food and drink. Long live the pagan gods/goddesss and a cup of cheer to Mr. Newton - really one of the founders of the scientific revolution that brought us our brave new world, for both good and bad. Plus, a cup of cheer for you, who brighten so many of our days with your posts!
Wassail!!! Wassail!

Matty Boy said...

Newton himself was very devout, and would not have liked being put in the same sentence with the baby Jesus, but as a teacher, I learned long ago I can't please everybody.

JMBC said...

Another clue to Christ's actual birthday is the presence of shepherds. Watching the flocks at night, all seated on the ground, the flocks grazing if a summer activity. In the winter - the flocks are in the paddock eating hay and the shepherds are nestled all snug in their beds because its too cold to be on the ground and there's nothing much to graze on...

Distributorcap said...

i dropped a ball from a window to see if it hit the ground in newton's honor