“Yiddish girl” corrects Ami magazine about geocentrism

Wikipedia describes Ami Magazine (“ami” means “my nation” in Hebrew) as “an Orthodox Jewish news magazine published weekly in New York and Israel.”A pseudonymous reader using the monicker “freethinking Jew” sent me a scan of a recent letter to the magazine’s offshoot, AIM, which Ami‘s Facebook page describes as “an educational and entertaining magazine for teens.”

Aim Magazine

Any time you see a statement that begins “As [a member of random religion] we believe,” you know it will be followed something delusional.  What’s worse is “Esty’s” reply, in which the magazine refuses to take a stand on heliocentrism. It reminds me of BioLogos’s refusal to take a stand on whether Adam and Eve were real people.

Lest you think that BioLogos’s real mission is its avowed one—to help evangelical Christians accept the truths of science—here’s its weaselly answer to the question, “Were Adam and Eve historical figures?“:

Genetic evidence shows that humans descended from a group of several thousand individuals who lived about 150,000 years ago.  This conflicts with the traditional view that all humans descended from a single pair who lived about 10,000 years ago.  While Genesis 2-3 speaks of the pair Adam and Eve, Genesis 4 refers to a larger population of humans interacting with Cain.  One option is to view Adam and Eve as a historical pair living among many 10,000 years ago, chosen to represent the rest of humanity before God.  Another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an allegory in which Adam and Eve symbolize the large group of ancestors who lived 150,000 years ago.  Yet another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an “everyman” story, a parable of each person’s individual rejection of God.  BioLogos does not take a particular view and encourages scholarly work on these questions.

Here’s my answer to “Yiddish girl”:

Dear Yiddish Girl,

Regardless of what “we Jews believe”—and I consider myself a secular Jew—you’re simply wrong about the Sun going around the Earth. The truth about that, which is the reverse, was established 500 years ago by observations, and only those blinded by adherence to ancient books of fiction could think otherwise. —Professor Ceiling Katz

And to BioLogos:

Dear BioLogos,

Get real.  There is no evidence that Adam and Eve existed, much less that they were the ancestors of all humanity—unless you see the Old Testament as a historical document. And of course you know that that book contains many other falsehoods, including the existence of the Exodus of the Jews and the Flood of Noah. (Or do you see the Flood as simply a parable for humanity drowning in sin?) Your weasel words about Adam and Eve do your organization discredit, making it clear that you’d rather hedge the science than rile the Christians. It’s like saying that you take no stand about the historical existence of Paul Bunyan and his giant blue ox.

J. A. Coyne


  1. Sastra
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    The ludicrous view that there are only “differing opinions” on factual matters no matter how strong the evidence gains some of its credibility I think from the reasonable view that there are “differing opinions” on tastes, values, and preferred lifestyles. Some people are so afraid of being judgmental or intolerant on the latter that they avoid ever being confrontational on the former.

    “No right, no wrong, just different.” Or “it’s better to be nice than right.” “Let’s just agree to disagree, okay?” And harmony is maintained at a very steep cost.

    As the saying goes, “You have a right to your own opinion; you do not have a right to your own facts.” Truth goes out the window in favor of “many truths.” So much for human progress in knowledge.

    Since religion likes to mesh its facts up with its values and lifestyle and present itself as a joint package, this refusal to pick sides or condemn someone else’s deeply held belief is amped up to 11. After all, God’s existence is a matter of “faith” and we KNOW God exists by checking our subjective opinion, so the status of ‘opinion’ is flexible. Infinitely so, when we are dealing with the Infinite.

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    BioLogos should have stopped after the second sentence. The facts were given. If they wanted to say more, they could explain how those facts were given.

    To the “Yiddish Girl” I’d add that I hope she’d start thinking for herself and stop parroting what others tell her is reality.

  3. Scote
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    One wonders if “Hellenist Girl” were to write in and point out that, “in fact,” the sun is drawn across the sky by Helios in his sun chariot whether Ami magazine would have given the same weasely response. Somehow I don’t think so…

    • kevin7alexander
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      “Hellenistic Girl” could also point out that it was an Hellenistic Greek (his name escapes me) who calculated the altitude of Helios by paying a professional walker to find the distance from Alexandria to Syene (sp?)and using that base line was able to use trig and the differing angles of sunlight on the flat earth. From there one could also calculate the size of the chariot (it’s bigger than mortal ones)
      Of course the sun-centre lobby later gained hegemony and cast his results as showing the diameter of a round earth. As if.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

        a professional walker

        Good work, if you can get it.

      • Posted January 3, 2015 at 11:08 pm | Permalink


        He also calculated the circumference of the Earth to a remarkably accurate degree using the information from the walker.

  4. Filippo
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if Karen Armstrong is on record regarding heliocentrism and geocentrism.

  5. BBunsen
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Wait – are you saying that Paul Bunyan and Babe didn’t actually exist???

    • merilee
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      And Babe wasn’t blue???

      • Doug
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        There are differing opinions.

        • rickflick
          Posted January 3, 2015 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

          You mean the non-existent can reflect any wavelength?

          • winewithcats
            Posted January 4, 2015 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

            Or none, much like Invisible Pink Unicorns.

      • Posted January 3, 2015 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        Not blue in the way that you or I could be said to be blue. (The previous sentence is suhfistukated.)

      • Posted January 3, 2015 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        Not since he started taking Zoloft.

  6. Ledward
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    My first inclination was to take A Yiddish girl’s letter to the editor as tongue-in-cheek. And Esty’s reply as playing along. I am not familiar with the magazine so my inclination may be wrong.

    • Scote
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it’s hard to know since religious beliefs, and religious believers, are often so silly as to be essentially satire proof and indistinguishable from satire.

  7. A Ferret
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Dear Professor Coyne

    I am deeply offended by your use of the term “weaselly” in paragraph 3. Although I am a member of a different species (Mustela putorius) I feel I must stand up for weasels and all mustelid species. There can be no justification for the use of such anti-mustelid language in the 21st century.
    A Ferret (Mrs)

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Dear Mrs. Ferret,
      I am offended that you are offended! As a former mouse (Mus musculus), I find the term ‘weaselly’ to be the perfect word for all that is negative and harmful in this short, short life where there is nothing to do but to scurry scurry scurry all day long; eating seeds and the occassional bit of grass here and there. If you don’t like reading this useful term, may I suggest that you instead take up reading in Etsy, or perhaps you should watch some CNN. I hear they have breaking news about Justin Bieber.

      Sniffles McFurrybum (deceased)

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        I was going to suggest that like foxes were made Honorary Cats, maybe weasels could be considered to be made Honorary Mice.

        However I now see I will offend all the Little Animals, so I am afraid I won’t take a particular view and instead encourage scholarly work on these questions.

        • Posted January 5, 2015 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

          Weasels are like cats crossed with something long and thin … a pole maybe?


    • Filippo
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      “Weaselly” strongly implies sneaking around and hiding.

      Therefore it seems it takes a ferret to “ferret out” the weaselly, to strongly “infer” that which is sneakily hidden.

      • merilee
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        where do the woozles fit in?

        • Doug
          Posted January 3, 2015 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

          With the heffalumps.

          • merilee
            Posted January 3, 2015 at 2:14 pm | Permalink


          • Mark Joseph
            Posted January 4, 2015 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

            So, you’re a lumper, not a splitter?

    • Posted January 3, 2015 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      Dear Weasel,

      Please. Try being a living symbol of conformists mindlessly rushing to their own demise, thanks to a staged event in a Disney nature film! I WISH people thought we were clever enough to be sneaky and evasive!


      A. Lemming

  8. Posted January 3, 2015 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I hope that letter is just a hoax, but I suppose I’m being unrealistically optimistic. If it’s real, I would like to point out that the indoctrination of that poor Yiddish girl is CHILD ABUSE. She has been set up by her parents not just for traumatic disillusionment but to become a laughingstock among her peers if she ever ventures beyond the hedges of her religious community.

    • kevin7alexander
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      She has been set up by her parents not just for traumatic disillusionment but to become a laughingstock among her peers if she ever ventures beyond the hedges of her religious community.

      Which is why she likely will not so venture. The individual is the property of the tribe so anything it takes to keep them home is justified.

  9. koseighty
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    This conflicts with the traditional view that all humans descended from a single pair who lived about 10,000 years ago.

    I find this hilarious.

    The dating in the Bible is pretty clear. Even giving that it may be a few hundred years off, you end with a biblical Earth age of right at 6,000 years.

    The 10,000 year thing is a recent accommodation, made by creationist when it became clear much of civilization is older than 6,000 years. They began saying 6 to 10 thousand, and are now dropping the 6 altogether.

    They are able to nearly DOUBLE the scriptural age of the Earth from 6 to 10 thousand years. But they can’t go all in for “millions” or “billions.


    • koseighty
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      To put a finer point of it, it is currently the year 5775 in the Jewish calendar — which measures from the biblical creation.

      So still 225 years short of the once common “6,000 years.”

      • R. R. Besch
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        Just don’t forget that the bulk of Creationists accept Evolution after their “fact” and that if it was hundreds of millions to billions of years they are fine with that.

        About 4% to 6% accept Evolution from a total scientific perspective. Though Evolution doesn’t address abiosis to biosis we went through sometime between the Azoic and Pre-Cambrian.

        Not too many Geocentrists, but they are hard headed and produced books, two of which I own.
        Bizarre stuff from the myriad mind of Man.

  10. Posted January 3, 2015 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of that old saying, “What’s right isn’t always popular and what’s popular isn’t always right.” What infuriates me is that, like Yiddish girl, when I was a kid, this was always uttered by the very people to which it applies. Creationism is popular; it isn’t right.

    • Posted January 3, 2015 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Hit submit too quickly…the same goes for geocentricism, at least in the “traditional” view, as Ami magazine puts it.

  11. rickflick
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 12:54 pm | Permalink


  12. Craig Gallagher
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    “BioLogos does not take a particular view and encourages scholarly work on these questions.”

    The biologos author clearly missing the point that the scholarly work has already been done and, as they write in their own article; “…shows that humans descended from a group of several thousand individuals who lived about 150,000 years ago.” and therefore flatly contradicts the biblical myth. Presumably not scholarly enough for biologos.

    • Delphin
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Saturday Night Live does not take a stand on whether Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead, and encourages scholarly work on the question.

      • R. R. Besch
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

        Actually they do. Reported several times of his death. No contradictions or questions about it.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      Since the “scholarship” Biologos referred to seems to be the sort done in theology, then no, the scholarly work has not already been done.

      In fact, it will never, ever be done — on this question or any question other than “does God exist?”

      And even then there’s all sorts of lovely and unending theological debate regarding not just what “God” means, but what “exists” means and whether or not the question can really be asked as a question.

      • Filippo
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        ” . . . what “exists” means and whether or not the question can really be asked as a question.”

        If anyone can shed light on that, it would be Bill Clinton, eh? 😉

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

        See, here’s how you’re doin’ it rong. It’s the “does” that is problematic.

        • Sastra
          Posted January 3, 2015 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

          Yes, that part worries me too. I tried to handle it under “can the question really be asked as a question?” But “does” might need its own category in which we consider its utility when dealing with the Transcendent, not to mention the Timeless. I’m not a theologian so I’m afraid it’s really not my area.

          • Diane G.
            Posted January 3, 2015 at 5:02 pm | Permalink


            And should we question the question of whether or not the question can be asked as a question?

          • Posted January 3, 2015 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

            It can be, on Jeopardy:

            “A philanthropic organization whose mission is boosting the credibility of religion by masquerading as a group promoting the acceptability of science among believers.”

            “What is Biologos?”

  13. peterxmoore
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Be careful: “Orbiting around”, or center of rotation, isn’t as well defined as you might think.

    There are a couple of possible definitions.

    From a pure mathematical point of view, you could define the center of rotation as the point where r = 0 in your coordinate system. But that is arbitrary: you can rewrite the equations of motion of the solar system in either heliocentric or geocentric coordinates and get the exact same results. So from that mathematical point of view it is just as valid to say the earth rotates around the sun or the sun rotates around the earth. (And for some purposes, like celestial navigation, it is better/easier to use geocentric coordinates, even when describing the Sun).

    From a physics/computation view, the ‘natural’ center of rotation is the center of mass (also called the barycenter). The computation of the equations of motion is simplest there so from this view, the Earth doesn’t rotate around the Sun (or the Sun around the Earth), but rather both the Sun and Earth rotate around the system’s center of mass.

    Now for the case of the Sun and Earth, the difference is minor: the barycenter for the Sun/Earth is ~400 km from the center of Sun. A trivial deviation compared to the radius of the sun (~700,000 km). But for Earth/Moon, the barycenter is 4600 km from the center of the Earth: almost 3/4’s of the Earth’s radius. And for two equal mass objects, like binary stars, the barycenter is half way between.

    So anyway, technically Earth orbits Sun and Sun orbits Earth are either both right or both wrong. This isn’t the best ground for a pro-science/anti-science battle.

    • colnago80
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      True but misleading. The Sun/Earth system, which is a 2 body problem, can be reduced to an equivalent 1 body problem of a body of mass mM/(m+M) (called the reduced mass of the Earth) going around an immobile body of mass M, where m is the mass of the Earth and M is the mass of the Sun. In the equivalent 1 body problem, the Earth is definitely revolving around the Sun, albeit with a slightly smaller mass.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        I was looking at it as being a “multi-volume problem,” as one really need to look at the solar system to figure out what orbits what.

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 3, 2015 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

          Don’t know where the “volume” came from; should be “multi-body.”

    • Posted January 3, 2015 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Not true. The two frames of reference (sun-centered vs earth-centered) are not equivalent, because they involve accelerated motion. Very few of the laws of physics would be the same in both those reference frames. If we made the sun orbit the earth, we would have to posit strange very complex parochial forces to keep it in orbit, and other stranger forces to keep the stars bound in earth orbit.

      • peterxmoore
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        But that is my point: *neither* sun-centric or earth-centric is an inertial frame. So if inertial frame is your criteria *neither* is right. (though sun-centric is less wrong).

        • R. R. Besch
          Posted January 3, 2015 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

          Sun centric is correct, Earth centric is wrong. More simple than you let on here. Just from the primary gravitational body controls the orbits the Earth isn’t the primary.

          • rickflick
            Posted January 3, 2015 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

            Amazing the things you lean on WEIT.

          • peterxmoore
            Posted January 4, 2015 at 10:39 am | Permalink

            But that is but one possible definition for “orbits” the Sun. As I showed, there are at least two others.

            Simply declaring yours the only possible definition is a little too authority/faith based for this venue, isn’t it?

        • Posted January 3, 2015 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

          Inertial frames were not my criterion. My criterion was that the laws of physics should be universal; there should be no special forces making some planets spin in epicycles and making the sun immune to gravity and inertia.

          • peterxmoore
            Posted January 4, 2015 at 10:44 am | Permalink

            If lack of fictitious forces is your criteria, then the inertial frame is *exactly* what you want. In any other frame, you can’t explain the observed motion without introducing fictitious forces.

            So to be absolutely precise, neither geocentric or heliocentric fits your criteria.

            • Posted January 4, 2015 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

              By heliocentric I mean, more precisely, that the two objects rotate around their barycenter (which is inside the sun so it still can be called heliocentric motion).

              • Posted January 4, 2015 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

                Ah, now I understand what you mean. Yes, I did not mean that any particular coordinate system (neither one with an origin centered on the earth nor one centered on the sun) should be privileged. I think geocentrism vs heliocentrism is a debate about causal forces rather than about origins of coordinate systems.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Just a couple of points:
      You seem to be confusing the words “rotate” and “revolve”.
      Mathematics is an abstraction from reality and, therefore, does not apply to this situation.

      • peterxmoore
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        When I say ‘mathematical’, I meant more precisely “apply the mathematical transformation without worrying whether the coordinate frame you are using is a reasonable one from the physical frame of view’

    • Posted January 3, 2015 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      Of course, this doesn’t tell the whole story that geocentrists try to yell. They are not making claims only about the sun and Earth; they are claiming all the other planets also orbit the Earth. There just isn’t a valid model for this, for the motion of the other planets in relation to Earth isn’t anything like a reasonable person would define as orbiting around Earth.

      • Posted January 3, 2015 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

        Yell should be tell. But, I suppose either one works.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

        I think that’s probably the correct context.

        I’m aware that (I think) with the right reference frame, the sun could be said to orbit the earth. But obviously that’s not what ‘Yiddish girl’ is thinking of, she’s thinking the earth-centric reference frame is the only correct one (though she wouldn’t put it in those terms).

        • Posted January 4, 2015 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

          Let’s not forget too that geocentrists are also claiming that we sit at the center of the entire Universe, not just this solar system. Of course, they run into trouble trying to show the earth is the center of this solar system too. Under that assumption, the sun doesn’t belong in the solar system, because it isn’t bound here by Earth’s gravity, nor are the other planets. The only natural object that would qualify is the moon.

          Of course, we also now now there is no center to the Universe and for all the “fixed” stars in the sky to orbit around us would require crazy violations of Physics as well as very odd synchronizations of movement for stars that are light years apart.

          Add to to that, the geocentrist claim is also that there is no valid framework to claim that the planets, including Earth, orbit the sun. Relativity dispelled all this. Geocentrism has never been a simply two-body problem involving the sun and Earth, and it is demonstrably wrong on most of its claims. This doesn’t even go into the problems of reasonably explaining the sun’s most if we hold the Earth fixed. Sure, the motion can be plotted but we need to invoke the gravitational pull of the sun at some point; I’d bet most geocentrists would be unwilling to acknowledge even that much.

          • BillyJoe
            Posted January 4, 2015 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

            I can’t see how Relativity is relevant here.
            Can you explain?

            • Posted January 4, 2015 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

              Relativity has to do with it insofar as we have inertial reference frames and no object can exceed the speed of light. From our perspective, we are sitting still on the Earth because we are in the same frame. To an observer on the sun or the moon, we are zipping along quite quickly. Now, if the Earth was still, including no rotation, everything in space must be orbiting around us at faster and faster speeds as the distance increases. Alpha Centauri, for example, which is 4 light years away, would have to travel 4*2*pi light years every day to reappear in the sky nightly. This obviously is much faster than the speed of light. In fact, any object more than about 2.6 billion miles from us, which includes some of the planets, would have to exceed the speed of light to reappear nightly.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 4, 2015 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

            Re the sun orbiting the earth, I think someone in this discussion (or was it the Troy University one) referred to some Midwest sect who claimed the sun was just 32 miles across and a few thousand miles away. Now that would work, gravitationally speaking, you can’t say they haven’t thought about it 😉

            • Posted January 4, 2015 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

              Depends on one’s definition of thinking, I think fantasizing is a better fit.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted January 5, 2015 at 1:13 am | Permalink

                I was of course being facetious.

                However, just to split another hair, fantasizing is a form of thought. Nobody would suggest Terry Pratchett doesn’t think about the books he writes, for example. (And his world is flat, with a very carefully-thought-out topology. But of course he knows it’s all fiction).

  14. Posted January 3, 2015 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Oh man, I’ve got to get an education. Each time anyone mentions “Paul Bunyan and his giant blue ox” I spend the next five minutes telling myself I gotta read Pilgrim’s Progress because it sounds more interesting than I thought!

    • Sastra
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      When I was in my preteens I started reading Pilgrim’s Progress because of Louisa May Alcott. All her characters in Little Women were almost hysterically in love with the book, reading it to each other and acting out the parts and generally behaving as if the reader was not only perfectly familiar with the Pilgrim and his journey, but equally enthralled and using it to guide one’s own life, too.

      I didn’t get very far.

      I read it later for a college course. In retrospect, what a strange preference for an American Transcendentalist.

  15. Posted January 3, 2015 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on JerBear's Queer World News, Views & More From The City Different – Santa Fe, NM and commented:
    Science trumps religious mythology…

  16. Neunder
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Is it true that some groups of Orthodox Jews believe that the sun goes around the earth?

    Does anyone know?

  17. merilee
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Love the Prof Katz;-))

  18. merilee
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 1:46 pm | Permalink


  19. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    The waffley approach by BioLogos, that Eve may have been part of a larger population, of course seems similar to the Mitochondrial Eve theory which states that all humans today are descended from an unbroken line of females beginning from a single female about 100,000 years ago. She was of course also descended from earlier humans, and was part of a larger population. There was also a Y Chromosome Adam, but these two individuals would have never met each other.
    I wonder what BioLogos has to say about this bit of real science. I bet they like it but misinterpret it.

    • Posted January 3, 2015 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      I used to comment on BioLogos a lot (and still do now and then). Their take on science is generally quite normal, except for insisting on divine guidance in some form or other. The staff member who writes their genetics posts (Dennis Venema) gives the straight, unadorned story, and actually does an excellent job explaining evolution and population genetics (including Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosome Adam). None of their writers have ever espoused a young-earth creationist view (as far as I can recall, anyway), and they have criticized Ken Ham. So I am a bit surprised to see such a weasel-statement in the paragraph Jerry quoted.

      But they do hate to take stands on some of these questions, and this has also riled orthodox Christians who want BioLogos to explain exactly what they think the Christian god’s role is in evolution. These Christians generally criticize BioLogos for letting science trump orthodox theology. Here’s a recent example:

      • rickflick
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        I think the point is, Biologos has an agenda to conciliate believers and science. You seem to be confused or annoyed that they are espousing conflicting positions. That’s the problem with Biologos. It can’t actually do what it is trying to do. Correct me if I’m wrong…anyone?…anyone?

        • Posted January 3, 2015 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

          If that’s directed at me, no, I am not confused or annoyed, just reporting. I agree they have given themselves an impossible mission.

          • rickflick
            Posted January 3, 2015 at 8:39 pm | Permalink


    • BillyJoe
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      Apparently that is not correct.

      Mitochondrial Eve lived 100-200 thousand years ago.
      Y-chromosomal Adam lived 180-580 thousand years ago.
      There is a slight overlap there.

      Also, the most recent study suggests that Y-chromosomal Adam could have lived as recently as 120 thousand years ago.

  20. Sastra
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Martin Gardiner wrote about Wilbur Glenn Voliva, who taught flat earth theory in the utopian community of Zion, Illinois at the end of the 19th century. The church schools continud to teach this nonsense till iirc the 1940’s. As for Zion itself, there was no separation of church & state for an unconscionably long time. They banned everything they could and a 10 o’clock curfew was “rigidly enforced.”

    “The idea of a sun millions of miles in diameter and 91,000,000 miles away is silly. The sun is only 32 miles across and not more than 3,000 miles from the earth. It stands to reason it must be so. God made the sun to light the earth, and therefore must have placed it close to the task it was designed to do. What would you think of a man who built a house in Zion and put the lamp to light it in Kenosha, Wisconsin?” — Voliva

    People who are very friendly to faith will still laugh at this sort of thing — not so much because people believe it, but because they don’t keep it to themselves. You’re supposed to be “allowed” to believe whatever you want as long as you don’t “impose” it on other people. Not just legally — but epistemically, too. Faith is a safe zone from rationality. Anything’s possible.

    But if it’s too obviously wrong, keep it to yourself and you’re fine.

    It’s too bad this geocentric young lady wrote to “Esty.” If she’d written to “Etsy” someone might have knitted it onto a sweater for her.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      You will amused by this short video of an Australian politician replying to a question on the age of the Earth on QandA
      The audience were certainly amused.


      • Sastra
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

        “What do you believe?”
        “People believe many things.”
        “But what do YOU believe?”
        “I believe that there are many different views.”

        Sheesh. And notice how the politician tried to throw Dawkins into the “well, THIS guy is very sure of himself” bin of imposing one’s own views on others.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 3, 2015 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

          Linked off that video, Youtube gave me this


          which is a fascinating 10-minute account of the history of the Kilogram and current efforts to standardise it as a silicon sphere.

          It’s a bit populist but told me a lot of stuff I didn’t know.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 3, 2015 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

            Actually I just over-simplified and misrepresented that video. The silicon sphere (which I assume has a mass of 1kg) is actually an attempt to precisely determine Avogadro’s Number so the kg can be defined as a number of silicon atoms i.e. independent of a physical object.

      • rickflick
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        I think I just lost my faith in politicians.

  21. Eddie Janssen
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I can understand the reluctancy to tell a child you don’t know, that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
    I am not sure if this applies here.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      I recently caught myself asking a young child if she still believed in Santa Claus. She answered with a slightly puzzled and hesitant “yes”. Fortunately, mother was amused by the way I put the question.

  22. MadScientist
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Well obviously there was a Paul Bunyan – every kid (in the USA) knows that!

    It’s impossible to tell if ‘Yiddish Girl’ was being snarky; I suspect she/he is because it seems so strange that someone would identify based on their language rather than on their cultural origins – but since there are no natural laws dictating otherwise, anything goes.

  23. Diane G.
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    I remember those tedious Pilgrim’s Progress parts too; but never hit on the insight in your last paragraph!

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 3, 2015 at 5:14 pm | Permalink


      The above is for Sastra at comment thread 14 above.

  24. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    A Yiddish Girl

    Is that common usage? I thought Yiddish was a language, and have not heard it used to refer to a group of people.

    • Posted January 3, 2015 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      Yiddish is the Yiddish word for Jewish.

      • koseighty
        Posted January 3, 2015 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

        Like “g*d” is the name of “g*d”.

        Not very creative. Come on, put some work into it, people!

        • Posted January 3, 2015 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

          Even that is not the name of the creator. In the Torah g-d is written יי, or יהוה (YHVH which I think is an acronym, leading to the mistranslations Yahweh and Jehovah), also אלהים – I’ve heard it variously said that those are not names, that the creator does not have a name and that “he” has many, many names. Modern Jews read the first two as “Adonai,” the Orthodox say “HaShem” (which means “the name) … just in case anyone thought the Catholic trinity is intentionally baffling, rest assured the Jews can be at least as exasperatingly vague.

  25. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Those random jokes in magazines are really equivalent to reading fortune cookies. Does anyone bother or care what they say? (Other than, evidently, ‘Yiddish girl’).

  26. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    … but as Jews we believe…

    What does it mean anyway, to believe something as a group?

    This relates to discussion about who “represents Islam” which followed various terroristic atrocities, most recently the formation of the Islamic State.

    Suppose I were to say, “I’m a member of the KKK, but you shouldn’t assume I am a racist, because that would be stereotyping.” I doubt that anyone reading this would take that seriously.

    In the case of Islam and support for vicious practices such as death penalty for apostasy or blasphemy, I think it has to come down to numbers. If 99% of members of the group supported those policies, I think everyone would agree that the group can be held responsible, and that it is fair to generalize. If only 1% of group members supported such policies, I think everyone would agree that generalizing that property to the group would be unfair. So, as I said, it is about the numbers. But I don’t see any of the Islamic apologists even acknowledging that this should be the focus of the discussion.

    Other points to consider: Was the belief central to the founding of the group, and is it still? Are people who don’t accept that particular belief thrown out of the group?

  27. Posted January 3, 2015 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    If Yiddish Girl lives I a Haredim community, she is almost certainly permitted only religious and secular texts approved by the community’s religious leadership. One such community had an issue some years ago when they found an industrial varnish they were using on wood floors was causing an asthma epidemic among the children. In response they designated a man to be responsible for reading newspapers and websites from the outside world to avoid future ill effects. The poor guy! He’s got the lousiest situation since Job!

  28. Posted January 4, 2015 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    I must say I agree with 13. peterxmoore here. Although it’s often treated as a test of public science knowledge it isn’t a good question. The sun and Earth move relative to one another and it’s possible to use either as your reference point. When I dealt with that before I quoted a section from Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mldowinow’s book The Grand Design.

    “Although it is not uncommon for people to say that Copernicus proved Ptolemy wrong, that is not true. /…/ Despite its role in philosophical debates over the nature of our universe, the real advantage of the Copernican system is simply that the equations of motion are much simpler in the frame of reference in which the sun is at rest.”

    Saying that the Earth revolves around the sun makes things simpler but no more accurate. In fact both the sun and the Earth are moving as our galaxy spirals and as the galaxy moves through the universe. If you take a larger view, neither the sun nor the Earth will be at rest.

    So the Earth revolving around the sun makes for simpler maths and, as others point out, the sun’s gravitational force is by far the dominant force involved but that’s not really in the same class as water being made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

    Although I suppose, in the case of the Yiddish girl, her position has nothing to do with science or any sort of philosophical argument about which reference is more appropriate.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 4, 2015 at 5:57 am | Permalink

      Strictly speaking, the Copernican system wasn’t (as I understand it) any simpler mathematically, because Copernicus like everyone else at the time assumed circular orbits. So his system needed as many corrections to fit the observations as the Ptolemaic system did. In that respect, the quote is correct, Copernicus didn’t prove Ptolemy wrong. Galileo was aware of this unfortunate defect which didn’t help him in his advocacy of the heliocentric theory.

      It was only when Kepler worked out that orbits were elliptical that the maths got simpler. Call it the Copernican/Keplerian system, I guess.

    • rickflick
      Posted January 4, 2015 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      Occam’s razor. Allows you to finish your homework early and go play.

    • Posted January 4, 2015 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      I suspect Hawking and Mldowinow meant something more by “simpler”. It’s not just about the accuracy of the equations of motion, it’s about causality and universality of the laws of physics. If you have the sun rotating around the earth, you need special physics to explain what keeps the sun in that orbit, and why the laws of conservation of momentum, etc don’t seem to apply there. And you’d need a different special set of laws explaining how the planets move in epicycles. And each planet, each star, each asteroid, each grain of dust would need its own special laws. Now that we know that these are all made from the same kinds of atoms (and that some of these bodies, including earth, actually exchange atoms with other bodies), it would be very difficult to explain the movements of everything by universal causal laws.

      • Posted January 4, 2015 at 9:04 am | Permalink

        Sure, we favour the simpler, more elegant solution. But you could create special sets of laws for each planet and achieve the same results. It would make things unnecessarily complicated but they would still be empirically correct.

        It’s like those Rube Goldberg machines. I think that’s the right name and I also think they have been featured on WEIT. They’re like using a geocentric view. It’s silly and complicated but the end result is still the same.

        • BillyJoe
          Posted January 4, 2015 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

          Again, you have to distinguish mathematical abstraction of reality from reality. The reality is that, although you can do the math taking the Earth as being at rest, the reality is that the Earth revolves around the Sun (or, more accurately, the the Earth and the Sun revolve around their centre of gravity; or, more accurately still, that the Earth and the Sun take straight paths through warped spacetime)

          • rickflick
            Posted January 4, 2015 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

            It might be helpful to some to imagine that the Earth and sun are the same mass. They would revolve around a point in the middle. If you grow the sun slowly by adding mass, the center of revolution would shift gradually toward the sun and by the time the mass reaches the current true value (and size), the center of revolution would be deep inside the sun but not at the center. This asymmetry, it seems to me, tells us something about who is doing what to whom.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 4, 2015 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

          Computer programs are often like that – extremely complicated to produce an apparently simple result.

          ‘Hello world’ (297 lines, 561 Kb)

  29. febble
    Posted January 4, 2015 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    Jerry, your comparison with Biologos’ position on Adam and Eve is unfair.

    Biologos is not calling into question the scientific facts about human populations. It is offering three possibly theological interpretions of Genesis in the light of those facts. None of them call into question the scientific evidence that the human population never consisted of just two individuals.

    That is quite different from claiming that the facts themselves are open to question, which is what Esty is doing.

    • Posted January 4, 2015 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      Yes, reading their paragraph again, in light of what I know about their position (see my comment below #19), they probably meant their closing phrase (“BioLogos does not take a particular view…”) to apply only to the last three options they list, not to the first (“traditional”) one, which they clearly say is contradicted by the evidence. I am nearly certain all of the staff writers at that site reject the “traditional” view.
      Their writing in the quoted paragraph is somewhat ambiguous, but given the context I think that is what they meant.

  30. Tess
    Posted January 4, 2015 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Perihelion occurred just several hours ago, 6:36 UTC, 1:36 in eastern USA. Apparently all went smoothly, no disaster like when Apollo let his son Pantheon drive the chariot of the sun.

  31. Schalk Van Wyk
    Posted January 15, 2015 at 3:15 am | Permalink


    Sent from my iPad


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