Daylight saving time to end in Europe, UK?

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The European Union has voted to end daylight saving time and the twice a year clock change although the plan to end it has been extended from 2019 to 2021. Time could become quite messy as some countries want to stay with standard time and others want permanent summer time. The UK is looking at this too and I was asked by a House of Lords committee to put in a submission as to what the UK should do. I had written a 400 page book on daylight saving time, The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy, available at Amazon and other outlets. The committee was also interested in the Queensland (where I am), Australia experience with daylight saving as the state doesn’t have it while most other Australian states do, so there’s a time difference for six months of the year. Here’s my submission to the committee (which I have permission via email of 17 October 2019 to publicise or publish as explained in a Call for Evidence attached to an email of 5 August):

Submission dated 6 September 2019 to the House of Lords EU Internal Market Sub-Committee into the EC’s proposal to end seasonal changes in time, by Chris Pearce, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, author of the 400 page ebook The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy, covering the history of daylight saving time around the world.

1.      I think it would be better for the UK to align with its main Western European trading partners in terms of having or not having seasonal time changes. I live in the state of Queensland, Australia, which doesn’t have daylight saving. States to the south, including New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, have daylight saving. The result is that Queensland is on the same time as those other states for about half the year and an hour behind them for the other half of the year. Twice a year around changeover time, there are always TV segments, newspaper articles, blogs, posts, petitions to the government, etc in Queensland for and against daylight saving, involving a lot of bickering between the two groups.

2.      The time difference for half a year tends to cause a lot of inconvenience, particularly along the state boundary at the southern end of the Gold Coast, a city of over 500,000 people. Many people live on one side of the border and go to work or school or the shops on the other side (and families will often have different members on different times). They have to change their watches several times a day. People are often too early or late for their bus or train, appointments, meetings, church services, the shops, movies or shows, television programs, sporting events, etc. It’s inconvenient for tourists too as they might be too early or late for a plane flight, a coach tour or other tourism activity.

3.      This time difference also causes inconvenience for business and government as well as extra costs and lost sales for businesses. When times are an hour different between two adjacent states (or countries) on the same longitude, common operating hours are as little as four hours due to different start and finish times and a different lunch hour. This tends to restrict the time for phone calls, meetings and other business although it’s probably somewhat less of a problem these days with flexible working hours and so much business done electronically. Tourism operators in Queensland say they lose a lot of business as darkness falls quite early in summer at around 7pm compared with around 9pm in Victoria and Tasmania. Problems similar to some of these could emerge between Northern Ireland (and also Great Britain) and Ireland if they have different time schemes.

4.      The only study I’m aware of that estimated the costs of the time difference in terms of higher costs and lost sales between Queensland and the southern states was one done by the Chamber of Commerce & Industry Queensland in 2013. It surveyed 2300 businesses across the state and concluded that the time difference for six months cost firms $4.35 billion a year. This was based on the sum of figures given by the businesses. However, this figure is derived from information given by only a little over a quarter of businesses, the proportion who said they were disadvantaged by the time difference. This fell to about a tenth of businesses in regional Queensland, which is almost all of the state geographically but only about a third of its population. Business groups are often asking the state government to do an in-depth study on the costs of the state not having daylight saving time, although there is no sign of the government wanting to spend the time and money on this.

5.      Basically, the populated south-east of the state (which includes Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast) wants daylight saving time and the regions don’t. Queensland is very large and daylight saving isn’t suitable in the tropical north and the west due to the heat, dark mornings, and the small difference between length of day and night through the year. Overall, the majority of the population wants it but neither major political party has daylight saving on its agenda as there would be a lot of votes and seats to lose in the regions and probably not much to be gained in the south-east of the state. Views against daylight saving tend to be very strong in the regional areas while views in favour of daylight saving in the south-east tend to be less strong. Daylight saving is also unsuitable in the Northern Territory and in much of Western Australia which has a large tropical area. There is little or no sign of the other states (New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory) wanting to abandon daylight saving, so the time differences over the summer months are likely to continue indefinitely. Australia is very large and has a number of time zones anyway. I think the country is quite used to this, so the different policies towards daylight saving time probably don’t add as much drama as they might in some other countries and regions of the world.

6.      Some of the disadvantages of a different time scheme in Queensland compared with other Australian states would probably be evident in the UK if it continued with daylight saving. Possible time confusion for international travellers comes to mind. Also, conducting business with offices or other outlets in several countries may be more difficult too.

7.      Daylight saving time does seem to be less useful now than decades past. Energy savings are minimal these days as people put on electric heating or air-conditioning in the morning, largely negating energy savings in early evening. Most of the benefit is perhaps in tourism, sporting events and other outdoor activities due to the lighter evenings. Health studies, however, often find negative impacts, and farming communities have never liked the change but work by the sun in any case.

8.      I think the UK should undertake consultation across the community and also conduct a representative sample survey to determine if people want to continue with daylight saving time and if not, whether they want to stay on summer time or winter (standard) time all year. The result of a 2019 government poll in France found that well over 80% of people wanted to abandon the twice yearly clock change while around 60% of people wanted daylight saving time all year. The 2018 EC poll found a similar percentage of people didn’t want the clock change. Neither poll was a sample survey (people with stronger views are more likely to participate, perhaps boosting the percentage who want no clock change) although people do seem fed up with the clock change. I’ll be surprised if many European countries go with permanent winter time although a few northern countries might.

9.      A 2018 sample survey in Ireland found that 67% of people wanted to stop changing the clocks (88% in EC poll) and that 81% would prefer year round summer time to winter or standard time. It would make little sense for the UK to be on a different time scheme to Ireland, especially for Northern Ireland. There will be disadvantages with permanent summer time of course, such as some very late winter mornings and in Scotland too, with children going to school in the dark and other negative issues.

10.    In summary, I think the UK will need to align as much as possible with time schemes in other European countries, especially with its major trading partners and with Ireland, and to do this regardless of Brexit. There will be enough problems with Brexit (if indeed it eventually goes ahead) without the UK being out of sync on the clock too (other than the one hour standard time difference between the UK and the Continent, as now). This might make summer time as the new standard time a necessity. As the EC 2018 directive on summer time notes (based on a 2014 ICF study), “asynchronous arrangements would generate higher costs, greater inconvenience and lower productivity in the internal market for goods and services”.

Climate deniers still at it

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I was in England, my birthplace, for three weeks and basically offline. It was good to see the place again before it goes down the Brexit gurgler. Meanwhile, climate deniers are still busily trying to deny reality: that we have serious anthropogenic global warming and it’s our doing. The kids have got it right with their marches even if the deniers haven’t.

A guy on a Facebook page here is Australia was going on about the ‘evil’ UN, all sorts of nonsense about CO2, and how our government is guilty of child abuse as our schools don’t teach climate denial. I fired off the following four replies to his rubbish.

–Climate change was natural until the industrial age. Now it’s main influence is our CO2 emissions. We are releasing twice as much CO2 as the natural environment can absorb, thus the build up of CO2 and rapid increase in temperatures, at least 10 times faster than coming out of the last glacial period. Yes, CO2 was much higher in the past such as 500 million years ago but solar activity was 4% lower. CO2 levels were falling due to carbon being sucked into the ocean and also due to mountain building and rock weathering. Because of this and the lower solar activity, the CO2 threshold for glaciation was about 3000 ppm.

–CO2 has a greater effect than water vapour on temperatures. Water vapour is in the atmosphere a short time. CO2 can last hundreds or even thousands of years. Also, the extra water vapour in the atmosphere is due to the extra warmth caused by more CO2. Temperatures peaked around 5000-10000 years ago after the glacial period and overall gradually fell after that, until last century. They have shot up with industrialisation. They are supposed to be still gradually decreasing as we head to the next glacial period in several tens of thousands of years time as earth’s obliquity gradually decreases.

–Your understanding of CO2 is lacking. Yes, CO2 absorbs virtually all the heat it can. It’s also true that extra CO2 won’t absorb too much more heat at the earth’s surface. But CO2 also radiates heat and does this in random directions including back to earth. Higher up, the atmosphere is much thinner and unsaturated although there is still plenty of CO2 up there but not much water vapour. This high altitude CO2 absorbs some of the heat that would otherwise have been heading for space and radiates some of it back to the surface. For a fuller explanation, see http://www.realclimate.org/…/a-saturated-gassy-argument/. Water vapour is also a greenhouse gas. Extra CO2 causes higher temperatures which means more evaporation, thus there is more water vapour in the air too. There is about 4% more water vapour than 40 years ago.

Solar activity has been falling since about 1960 and is not the cause of the higher temperatures we’ve seen in recent decades. Nor is volcanic activity which is low these days by historical standards. Besides, our emissions are currently about 100 times volcanic emissions over a year.

Yes, CO2 is essential and all that. Problem at the moment is, as I said before, we are releasing about twice as much CO2 as the environment can absorb naturally so it builds up in the atmosphere causing temperatures to increase.

–Virtually every country in the world is a member of the UN. Climate change is a small part of its work. Most of its work is in the areas of peace, security, human rights, aid and development. It became involved in environmental issues in 1972. It set up the IPCC in 1988 to monitor climate change research as many scientists had found plenty of evidence for anthropogenic global warming by then and AGW came to be regarded as a worldwide issue. From 1997, the IPCC set emissions reductions targets for each country. The IPCC doesn’t research or monitor climate change itself but assesses the literature. Thousands of scientists are involved in this. The scientists write and review reports and get consensus from governments of countries participating in this process, which is about 120 of them. It has nothing to do with the “rich and elite”. And no one is attacking kids although the kids (and the scientists) seem to know a lot more about climate science than deniers.

Climate change is real

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I’ve been sparring with a climate change denier on Quora but he is totally blind to reality and just dismisses all evidence of global warming out of hand. Here are some extracts from my latest couple of posts to him, which of course he dismisses.

We’re in unchartered territory with climate change. When temperatures are rising ten times faster than coming out of the last glacial period and the cause is clearly us, there are no precedents on which to base future temperatures, ice quantities and sea levels. We know that CO2 levels are increasing. I think even the deniers accept this. But you can’t have increases in CO2 levels without increases in temperatures for too long unless other factors are playing a major role, and they are not. Solar activity has declined slightly since the 1950s. Volcanic activity is low. The albedo effect, ocean currents, and earth’s axis tilt and orbit have all had little or no effect. Indeed, albedo, tilt and orbit all have only a long term effect which is currently one of cooling. Changes in ocean currents are more a result of climate change rather than a cause of it.

We are emitting an enormous amount of extra CO2 into the atmosphere. This causes temperatures to rise, which causes ice to melt, which causes sea levels to rise. All three of these things are happening; there is nothing surer. We just don’t know the extent of these things into the future. All three are accelerating now. Various projections have been made usually with a fairly wide range. We know that temperatures rose five degrees and sea levels over 400 feet coming out of the last glacial period. So sea level rises are hardly going to stop at a foot or two or three this time, given that temperatures are already up a degree or more and are accelerating and that ice melt is also accelerating. Most CO2 hangs around in the atmosphere for 20-200 years while some is there for up to several hundred thousand years. Therefore, rather than taking the risk, the world is doing something about it by shifting from fossil fuels to renewables albeit slowly.

Detailed global temperature records go back to about 1850. They get better and more detailed all the time and were quite reasonable by 1880. This is where NASA and others start their annual tracking of the adjusted temperature data (it has to be adjusted because weather stations move, usually from centre of town to airports in cooler green areas on the outskirts; and temperature measuring methods and instruments change). See https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/. Note the sharp increase from the 1970s onwards. This is when developing countries got going with industrialisation, adding their CO2 emissions to those of advanced economies.

We are not bereft of weather stations. Key aspects of the atmosphere, land and ocean surface, including temperatures, are recorded every day by more than 10,000 weather stations, 1000 upper air stations, 7000 ships, 1000 drifting and moored buoys, hundreds of weather radars, many weather satellites plus 3000 specially equipped commercial airplanes. Observations are quality controlled by the World Meteorological Organization.

We have good indicators of temperatures before 1850 through earlier readings such as daily UK temperature readings going back to 1772 and monthly back to 1659. Yes, we’ve had satellite data since the 1970s and although this doesn’t measure temperature directly, inferences show an upward temperature trend. Other indicators of temperature include tree growth rings, coral growth, borehole temperatures, sediment in oceans and lakes, cave deposits, fossils, glacier length, ice core samples, and others. From these, we can get pretty good records of temperatures going back 2000 years. This graph shows the results of 11 different scientific studies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_temperature_record#/media/File:2000_Year_Temperature_Comparison.png. Paleoclimatology uses most of these temperature indicators to go back much further. This graph is by Glen Fergus and uses various sources to go back 500 million years: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleoclimatology#/media/File:All_palaeotemps.svg. It is probably broadly accurate.

No one is exonerated from reducing carbon. Europe has done best over the last few decades while the US has reduced its too. They have increased in most other countries. After some years of little increase in world emissions, they went up quite a bit in 2018 by about 2-3%. US emissions rose 2.6%, China up 2.2%, India up 7.0% and the EU down 2.0%. But on a per capita basis, the US is way ahead with about 16.5 tons a year, China 7.5 tons, EU about 7 tons and India 1.7 tons. In terms of total CO2 emissions in 2016, China had 10.2 gigatons, US 5.3 gigatons, EU 3.5 gigatons and India 2.4 gigatons.

The negative effects of global warming far outweigh the positive effects. Here is a good summary: https://skepticalscience.com/global-warming-positives-negatives-basic.htm. Climate change is likely to disrupt agriculture due to worse flooding and drought. Deaths due to heatwaves are expected to be five times more than winter deaths prevented. Malaria and diseases from mosquitoes are expected to increase. Ice melt will increase resulting in loss of habitat and water for drinking and agriculture plus sea levels rises will affect food bowl areas and coastal cities. Acidification of oceans will affect the entire ocean food chain. Climate change may result in greener forests but negative effects include “further growth of oxygen poor ocean zones, contamination or exhaustion of fresh water, increased incidence of natural fires, extensive vegetation die-off due to droughts, increased risk of coral extinction, decline in global photoplankton, changes in migration patterns of birds and animals, changes in seasonal periodicity, disruption to food chains and species loss.” Also, we are releasing about twice as much CO2 as the environment can absorb naturally anyway (and would require many trillions of extra trees to fix), thus the build up of CO2 in the atmosphere and the higher temperatures. Climate change could also see mass migration of people (climate refugees) affected by low lying agricultural land and cities, as well as disruptions to global trade, transport, energy supplies, labour markets, banking, finance, investment and insurance. Developing countries could be fighting over water, energy and food, adding to their existing problems.

A number of large studies of the climate science literature plus large surveys of the scientists themselves have found 90-100% agreement (commonly around 97%) with anthropogenic global warming. Surveys of the general population find that a large majority of people agree with the science rather than the denier stuff and it’s not hard to see why. I have been through hundreds of denier sites, pages, articles over many years and have yet to find one that I couldn’t pull apart. People are pretty smart these days and have an abundance of information at their fingertips.

Ice is shrinking at an accelerating rate. Here’s an interesting graph from the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_sea_ice_decline?fbclid=IwAR0cuDqOLguA2ja9n1C2__oljoO8CH7Q1HvYlyA8rP_kKM7PZtTblDo5aT8#/media/File:Arctic-death-spiral.png. Peak Arctic ice volumes (April) have fallen steadily from about 33,000 cubic km in 1979 to 22,000 cubic km in 2017 or a fall of about a third. Minimum ice levels (September) have fallen more, from 17,000 cubic km to less than 5000 cubic km, or by more than 70%. And the decline in both winter and summer ice volumes is accelerating as the graph clearly shows. More on the Arctic: https://community.windy.com/topic/8382/animated-history-of-arctic-sea-ice-during-the-satellite-era. Note the satellite images showing decreases in ice. The Antarctic is losing about 250 billion tonnes of ice a year, up from 40 billion tonnes a year in the 1980s and the loss is accelerating. Greenland is losing about 200 cubic km of ice a year.

Sea levels rise due to ice melt and also because warmer water expands (see, for example: https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/sea-level/) and they are accelerating. If we don’t reduce our CO2 emissions, sea levels could rise by eight feet by 2100 and fifty feet by 2300 according to this study: https://phys.org/news/2018-10-global-sea-meters.html which is typical of many studies. Under moderate emissions, we might contain sea level rises to a couple of feet by 2100 and ten feet by 2300.

Ascension Day

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Today, May 30, is Ascension Day in 2019. In Christianity, Jesus ascended to heaven 40 days after his resurrection and this was witnessed by 11 apostles. Ascension Day is regarded as the fourth most important day on the Christian calendar. First is Christmas, celebrating Jesus’ birth, followed by Good Friday, remembering his death, then Easter Sunday, celebrating the resurrection, and then Ascension Day, commemorating his rise to heaven. Along with Christmas and Easter, the ascension is one of the three major feasts in Christianity and dates back to the fourth century.

Three thousand years ago, David, the second king of Israel, prophesied that Jesus would ascend to heaven and sit on the right-hand side of God. This is recorded in Psalm 110:1. Out of the 150 psalms, it is the one referred to most often in the New Testament. This alone suggests that the ascension is quite significant in Christianity. There are a number of other references to the ascension in the New Testament, attesting to the importance of the event.

One of the earliest mentions is in the Epistles, where Paul reports that Jesus is in heaven (Romans 10:6). Another early mention is in Acts (1:1-11), which states that Jesus presented himself to the apostles 40 days after the resurrection and was then taken up on a cloud and out of sight. Luke (24:31,50-53) believes Jesus was taken up on the same day as the resurrection. In Matthew (26:64), Jesus says he will be sitting next to God up in heaven. Mark 16:19 states that Jesus was received into heaven and sat beside God. John 14:12 and 20:17 refer to Jesus going back to his father. First Peter 3:21-22 declares that Jesus has gone to heaven and is with God. According to Ephesians 4:7-13, he rose above the heavens. 1 Timothy 3:16 has him “taken up in glory”. Stephen, in Acts 7:55-60, saw Jesus in heaven standing next to God.

The ascension is clearly referred to in the Nicene Creed put together by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE where about 300 bishops from throughout the Roman Empire discussed and agreed upon various christological issues. The original creed states that Jesus “ascended into heaven”. At the next ecumenical council, the First Council of Constantinople, in 381 CE, the wording was revised to read that he “ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father”. Modern accounts are essentially the same as the ancient versions.

These words are also contained in the Apostles’ Creed, a further indication of the significance of the ascension in Christianity. Line six of the original 12 line creed states in Latin that Jesus “ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Patris omnipotentis”. Part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church includes this creed and says at line six: “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” The wording is virtually the same as that contained in the creeds of other Christian churches, including the Anglican Church’s Book of Common Prayer and also the Common Worship, the Presbyterian Church, the Lutheran Church and the United Methodist Church. Indeed, the ascension forms an important part of Christian liturgy, or regular pattern of worship, in all Christian churches, both eastern and western.

According to Christianity, the fact that Jesus ascended to heaven means he is Lord and has complete authority (Matthew 28:18 and Ephesians 1:20-23). At Pentecost, or the descent of the Holy Spirit, Peter talks about the ascension and that Israel should know that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:32-36). Further, Jesus was responsible for the Pentecost (Matthew 3:11 and Acts 1:5, 2:33). After the ascension, Jesus bestowed on his disciples the power to know God’s thoughts and to be able to make prophecies (Ephesians 4:10-11). Because the disciples saw Jesus physically ascend, they expect him to return as a visible being.

The ascension is important enough for many countries to declare Ascension Day a public holiday. These include many European countries, such as France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland, as well as Indonesia and Vanuatu. In Germany, Father’s Day is also celebrated on this day. Ascension Day is important in many countries where it is not a public holiday. In the United States, for example, special services are arranged on this day, often involving several churches. Cathedral choirs are sometimes combined for a Eucharist specific to the occasion.

(This is an edited version of an article I wrote called ‘The significance of Ascension Day in Christianity’ and posted to www.helium.com now gone.)

Why I tend to vote left of centre

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(originally published to Bubblews writing site, now gone)

In my view, political parties on the right or at centre right tend to support short term profits and other business objectives whereas the left or centre left supports the long term goals of a fair and prosperous society for all.

The struggles of ordinary people go back thousands of years. Protests over food prices and wages gathered momentum in the 18th century. The gatherings and marches were called riots by the authorities and of course trade unions of any sort were illegal.

During the industrial revolution, pay and conditions remained very poor. Businesses could basically do what they liked, with scant regard for the general population or environment. Education of children was put on hold while they worked long hours in factories and the general health of the population was poor.

Things gradually improved during the 19th century. Labour started to be allowed to organise. Pay and conditions improved, very slowly. This continued in the 20th century and the labour movement pushed for pensions etc. Various other improvements were made.

We even had labour governments. These seemed to move society forward rather than just looking after business. Today we have a complex system of government that includes extensive policies on education, health, transport, working conditions, social welfare, income support, safety, the environment, the arts, and so on.

It is unlikely many of these things would have happened anywhere near the extent that they have without pressure from ordinary people, often organising into trade unions. The outcome has been that society is a much wealthier and fairer place, enabling business to expand greatly, something that wouldn’t have happened in a society where the general population was downtrodden. They simply wouldn’t have had the money to buy the enormous range of goods and services produced by business today.

Parties to the left of centre are about the ongoing movement towards a better society for all and that includes business. They are often accused of spending too much money, but evidence suggests that economic conditions determine deficits and surpluses rather than whether the party in government is left or right of centre.

 

Getting ahead in the workforce

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After being on both sides of the interview table quite a number of times, I think the main determinant in getting ahead in the workforce is looking, sounding and acting the part. I’ve said a few times that if I spoke to a group of people in the workplace for a few minutes about some non-work related issue and then spoke to each one individually for a minute or two, I think I could figure out who was in charge in most cases. Maybe confidence comes into it sometimes and extrovert versus introvert, but overall I think it often comes down to judging a book by its cover.

Relevant experience and the amount of it often seems to be a distant second. As for qualifications, you can just about forget them in many or most cases, or that’s what I found in the public sector and real world; it might differ a bit in the university sector, or at least on the academic side.

The result, I think, is that you get some atrocious examples of people being pushed up the corporate ladder who really don’t have much idea. I have seen quite a few examples in both the real world and the public sector.

I think men have an advantage over women in that the former seem to have more leeway for being eccentric, unwavering in their views, showing anger, being a bit rough around the edges, and being unconventional. I don’t think women can get away with as much and seem to have to be more on the straight and narrow or risk getting offside with staff and colleagues and accused of being aggressive, unfair, strange, whatever. Maybe people expect women managers to fit into some sort of stereotype far more than they expect with men.

I think women are more likely to listen to other viewpoints. For men, it often seems okay to be a bull in a china shop. Somehow, I think this is often construed as men being more assertive, decisive, etc. and perhaps, rightly or wrongly, seen as the better manager.

(I wrote and posted this as a comment to an article, “Gap or trap? Confidence backlash is the real problem for women”, at theconversation.com here in Australia back in June 2014.)

 

The start of daylight saving time in the UK and Germany in WWI

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This extract from my book The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy is from the start of chapter 6 Wartime Imperatives …

While sport and other outdoor activities were often the reasons people put forward for wanting daylight saving time in the years before World War I, the potential for fuel savings in wartime became the overriding motive for a time change by the mid 1910s. In the House of Commons on 16 February 1916, Basil Peto, member for Devizes, Wiltshire, enquired of the need to conserve oil and gas for Britain’s war effort. More questions were asked about saving time and power a few weeks later on 7 March. Prime minister Herbert Asquith held firm in his objection to altering the clocks, pointing out that other policies to save energy were already in place:

“The joint effect of the darkening of the streets and the early closing of places where intoxicants are sold has probably contributed more towards shortening the interval between sunset and bedtime than would the adoption of Central European Time as the standard time during the summer.”[1]

While England continued to debate the issue, the German Empire was doing the same. In 1912, Henry Böttinger, industrialist and member of the Prussian House of Lords, proposed a daylight saving system where the working day would start and finish earlier reducing demand for artificial light. The Conference of Chambers of Commerce advocated daylight saving and a member of the Lords proposed a bill in 1913. The Enabling Act 1914 was put through the German parliament, the Bundestag, on 4 August, a week after the start of the war, and this Act allowed the government to implement various economic policies in wartime, such as food rationing, asset seizures and time changes.

A British blockade of Germany from 1914 cut off imports of all sorts of goods, including petroleum and paraffin. And local coal supplies were needed to produce electricity for weapons and other industries and gas for city lighting. The country suffered a fuel shortage by 1915. It knew that redirecting fuel from domestic and normal business use into war industries would be to its advantage and that the quickest and easiest way to do this was to reduce the use of artificial light. The German Federal Council decided on 6 April 1916 to implement summer time, or Sommerzeit, as a wartime economy measure. The government estimated that the scheme would result in energy savings over the summer of 900 million marks. Clocks were wound forward an hour on Sunday 30 April at 11 p.m. and were to be put back an hour on Sunday 1 October at 1 a.m. The new time applied across most of the empire and included Germany itself, most of Poland, part of what is now the Czech Republic, and Kaliningrad.

For the first day or two, many people turned up for work at the wrong time and traffic was busy. But there was no serious opposition to the move, with most people either agreeing with the change or perhaps too scared not to agree. The government warned it would crack down on any firms found not operating on summer time. Some clothing shops included the new time in their advertising, announcing to the public that summer fashions could be bought an hour earlier. In the city of Bremen, households and businesses used less electricity and gas, and thus coal, but energy providers complained of a reduction in revenue of 40,000 marks, which the city made up by increasing income tax.

… [details of the start of daylight saving time in various European countries on both sides of the war.]

Meanwhile, at home, food prices rose while Britain had only six weeks of wheat left, and bread was a staple. Coal too was in short supply, with many miners having enlisted to fight in the war. On 4 May 1916, the War Saving Committee stressed the need to economise. Home secretary Herbert Samuel said that the government favoured daylight saving to conserve fuel. Also, the railways were strongly in support of the measure.

On 8 May 1916, after much discussion, member for Blackburn, Henry Norman, an advocate of daylight saving throughout its long and bumpy ride in the British Parliament, asked that a bill for the scheme be brought into the House of Commons. The motion was carried 170 votes to 2. Samuel introduced a Summer Time Bill the next day and it was read a second time on 10 May. Unlike previous bills, debate concentrated on economic issues rather than recreational advantages. He spoke of the coal shortage and the need to reduce artificial lighting and save fuel. Owen Philipps pointed out that ship builders would be able to work an extra hour and increase the country’s shipping capacity without fear of the night-time attacks of the German Zeppelin airships that had resulted in the death of around 550 British civilians up to May 1916.

Apart from Herbert Asquith, who still wasn’t interested in daylight saving, one of the bill’s few other detractors came from the House of Lords, where Lord Balfour of Burleigh called the bill ridiculous and absurd. As an example of a disadvantage, he asked what would happen if on 1 October a twin was born just before summer time ended and the clocks went back before the other twin was born. The births might be 10 minutes apart but the second twin would be born 50 minutes earlier in the eyes of the law and be deemed the elder. This “might conceivably affect the property and titles in that house”, Balfour said. But there wasn’t much he or other lords could do, even if a majority had been against the bill, as the Asquith government had abolished the power of the House of Lords to reject legislation when it passed the Parliament Act 1911.

The bill was approved on 15 May 1916 and royal assent obtained on 17 May. After eight years of bills and parliamentary debate, daylight saving time had become law, just over a week after the latest bill had been introduced. The Summer Time Act 1916 came into effect three days before Empire Day, on Sunday 21 May at 2 a.m. when clocks were put forward an hour, and would end on Sunday 1 October at 3 a.m. when they would be wound back an hour. The Act was enforceable each year for the duration of the war and applied to all public institutions, railways, post offices, police stations, banks, shops and other businesses in Great Britain and Ireland. The only exceptions were astronomy and navigation, where Greenwich Mean Time would continue to apply. In the end, the main reasons for the Act were arguably to save coal and to increase the hours available for work. The British overseas territory of Gibraltar had daylight saving for the same period as the United Kingdom.

The first day of daylight saving time was bright and sunny in London and elsewhere in England and people took advantage of the extra hour of light. Parks of the Office of Works and the London County Council didn’t close until dusk although many people were turned away from Kew Gardens as they closed by the same clock time as before. Tennis courts and bowling greens were open late. Evening concerts were able to start in May rather than waiting until June. Folk were seen dashing to hotels for a drink before closing time, forgetting they were open for another hour as their legislation was based on standard time. Bradford and Nottingham reported reduced gas use.

… [Further details of daylight saving time in the UK and Europe during World War I]

[1] Parliament of the United Kingdom, Hansard, House of Commons, 7 March 1916, at http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1916/mar/07/daylight-saving-bill

The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy is available from Amazon, Kobo Books, Google and Apple.

DST book cover

 

Is Jesus just a myth?

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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

To determine whether Jesus is a myth or was real, we cannot rely on rhetoric or Bible quotes. We have to analyse the evidence. Let’s start with the Bible. Then I’ll look at non-biblical sources. Lastly, I will consider other evidence and issues before drawing a conclusion.

Using the Bible to decide if Jesus is historical or myth isn’t easy. No original manuscripts remain. Apart from a fragment of the Book of John, there’s nothing before c. 200 CE, with the earliest manuscripts for many books dating to the 3rd or 4th century. The Gospels are supposed to cover most of the known story of Jesus. Yet we are unsure who wrote them or when. Various dates are given, usually a range of dates. The earliest generally accepted date for one or two of the Gospels is around the mid 60s CE. It’s hard to understand why writers waited more than 30 years before putting reed to papyrus, as it were, if Jesus was real and such an important person with so many miracles and other good deeds attributed to him.

Debate continues over which of the Gospels was written first and indeed who actually wrote them. Matthew probably didn’t write his gospel. Luke may have written his. Mark probably wrote his, but whether he was a witness is pure speculation. They are far too close to one another to have been written by three independent authors. Yet there are some odd inconsistencies such as Jesus’ ancestry between Matthew and Luke. John’s book is regarded as an unreliable source of Jesus’ life and may have been written by several authors, including for example Cerinthus in the 2nd century. Also, no non-biblical sources mention any gospel stories until the 2nd century.

Over the years, especially in the first few centuries, numerous changes were made to the original biblical manuscripts. There was much bickering among early Christians as to what was scripture, and various Christological issues were hotly debated. Many of the writings were chopped and changed amid followers accusing one another of corrupting text. Second century philosopher Celsus said that some of them “changed the original text of the Gospels three or four times or even more, with the intention of thus being able to destroy the arguments of their critics”. A number of early church leaders worried about the extent of changes, including Tatian, Origen, Jerome and Augustine.

The birth of Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament. But if he existed as such a celebrated figure, exact dates of his birth and death would surely be well known and recorded in biblical and early non-biblical records. His birth and death dates are usually given as a range of possible years. Debate over the dates has continued to the present. Some 500 years after Jesus, Dionysius Exiguus came up with a birth year that eventually stuck, although he was probably out by a few years with most commentators suggesting a birth year around 7-2 BCE.

No one knew his birthday either. The early centuries are quiet on the matter. In the 4th century, December 25 was chosen as Jesus’ birthday, probably to try and muscle in on pagan god celebrations that had been on this day for many centuries. In earlier times, this calendar date had coincided with the northern winter solstice, the traditional birthday of numerous pagan gods. Many other possible dates have been put forward over the centuries, and December 25 is now generally thought to be incorrect. Little is known of Jesus’ life from soon after his birth until he was aged around 30. This situation would be most unlikely in a real person so famous.

Jesus’ year, day and time of death are also uncertain. His year of death varies from 30 to 36 CE, although 30 CE is the most commonly given year. John 19:14 suggests Jesus’ crucifixion was sometime after the sixth hour, while Mark 15:25 says it was at the third hour. They were both using the same time system. The Roman civil day started at midnight. However, everyone in those days counted hours from sunrise to sunset, and then from sunset to sunrise. Day was divided into 12 equal hours and so was night, regardless of the time of year. Clocks weren’t accurate enough to use hours of equal length between day and night or throughout the year. Whoever wrote this part of John, about 60 years after the crucifixion, probably thought the death occurred early during the alleged eclipse, whereas Mark believed the eclipse came about three hours after Jesus’ death.

A three hour eclipse and an earthquake on the day of Jesus’ death would have been witnessed by hundreds of thousands of people, and the time, day, month and year of Jesus’ death would have been well known and written in various documents, biblical and non-biblical, by the time John was written. After all, the population of Jerusalem alone was around 40,000 in ancient times. A major event sticks in people’s minds. In modern times, most people who are old enough to remember will recall dates and details of where they were and what they were doing at the time of John F. Kennedy’s death, the first manned moon landing, Princess Diana’s death, 9/11 and so on. Yet we don’t know the date Jesus died.

Further, Paul said he had 500 witnesses and that these people were alive and could verify the resurrection. But there doesn’t seem to be any more information from any of these witnesses. There were no interviews, no names, and nothing written down. Yet Paul’s comment is taken as proof of Jesus’ resurrection.

Can we find evidence of Jesus in non-biblical sources? Josephus includes a paragraph on Jesus in his Antiquities of the Jews, written in the 90s CE. It contains mention of most of the main apparent things about Jesus, including his existence, teachings, miracles, death and resurrection, and that he was the Christ. Josephus’ two works, the other written in the 70s CE, cover every person of note and every major event in Palestine over a 70 year period, and also go right back to the alleged creation. But there seems to be a problem. No writer of the 2nd or 3rd century mentions Josephus’ words about Jesus, not even Origen, who wrote prolifically on Christianity and used Josephus’ writings extensively. What Origen does say is that Josephus didn’t believe in Jesus “as the Christ”. Thus Josephus would be unlikely to write such a glowing paragraph on Jesus. Intriguingly, Origen does mention Josephus’ one other possible reference to Jesus, as James’ brother.

Other problems are evident. The solitary paragraph on Jesus in Antiquities, a large work, is in book 18 of 20 books, and is in the middle of Pontius Pilate’s story. Further, this paragraph is the earliest decent non-biblical reference to Jesus, 60 years after his death. The paragraph doesn’t flow with the ones before and after it, and seems to be an interpolation, especially as Origen doesn’t mention it. Without it, the story and the wording flow better. The paragraph is the book’s only reference to Christianity. Josephus was a Jewish historian and parts of the paragraph don’t sound like things that a Jew or a historian would write. He doesn’t elaborate on Jesus’ miracles, although he discusses those of others.

Some parts of the paragraph look like they come from 4th century Christology. Interestingly, the first person to mention the paragraph was Eusebius in the 4th century. In his Demonstratio Evangelica, he says: “Certainly the attestations I have already produced concerning our Savior may be sufficient. However, it may not be amiss, if, over and above, we make use of Josephus the Jew for a further witness.”

Could Eusebius have written the paragraph? I think it’s quite possible. He has been described as a poor historian, an apologetic, and dishonest. He was quite happy to invent, embellish and discard writings to promote the cause of the church. In Ecclesiastical History, he says: “We shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be useful first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity.” In Praeparatio Evangelica, he talks about using “lawful and fitting” fictions as a “medicine”. The authenticity of Josephus’ paragraph has been questioned for centuries. By 1910, even the Catholic Church said: “The passage seems to suffer from repeated interpolation.” This is in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Josephus’ other reference to Jesus, as I mentioned above, was to his brother James, in book 20, chapter 9. The sentence is awkward. The way it reads, it looks as though the words “who was called Christ” may have been added later, and the reference could be to another Jesus. The name Jesus was a common Greek name at the time. There are 19 different Jesuses in Josephus’ Antiquities. It’s possible that all of the words “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was” (different translations vary a bit) were added later.

Maybe some of the other early non-biblical sources are better. Tacitus, a Roman historian, writing 70-80 years after Jesus’ death, includes a paragraph on Christians, with a mention of Christus, in book 15 of 16 of “his” Annals. But the persecution described by Tacitus isn’t mentioned by other writers, and the paragraph doesn’t match other writing by Tacitus.

Early Christian writers, including Eusebius, make no mention of the Annals, let alone the paragraph. Sometimes the paragraph is attributed to Severus in the late 4th or early 5th century. However, it seems more likely that its first mention is in the 15th century, by church secretary Bracciolini in 1425 when he referred to Tacitus’ lost work. The Annals was found in the middle of Tacitus’ Histories at a German monastery in the 16th century. In 1878, W.J. Ross found that Bracciolini himself had written the Annals in poor Latin in the 15th century. At the time, the church was offering substantial sums of money to anyone who could unearth ancient writings proving Christianity. Thus there may be a number of fraudulent works around this time.

Suetonius, another Roman historian, makes an alleged one-sentence reference to Jesus as Chrestus in his The Twelve Caesars, c. 120 CE. But Chrestus doesn’t mean Christ. The name Chrestus, meaning “the Good” in Greek, was often given to a freed or escaped slave, and this one may have become a leader of the Jewish cause in Rome and was instigating disturbances. The reference to “he” in the sentence is to Claudius, who reigned in the period 41-54 CE, well after Jesus’ death. Also, the sentence mentions Jews, not Christians. Further, the way the sentence refers to “one Chrestus” would suggest it was someone otherwise unknown or unimportant. The phrase may have been originally written to mean “a Chrestus”, and been changed inadvertently in translation. Incidentally, Suetonius’ book is known to include a lot of gossip and opinions, and most of the section on Claudius comes from second-hand sources. At any rate, it is thought that the sentence may have been added by Severus, who was known for making additions and changes to documents.

Although his writings are lost, 2nd century pagan historian Thallus was first mentioned around 180 CE by Theophilis. Thallus sole known reference to Jesus is given by Africanus (c. 220 CE) in Syncellus (c. 800 CE) and reads: “Thallus calls this darkness [at Jesus’ death] an eclipse of the sun in the third book of his Histories, without reason it seems to me”. Africanus then explains that there can’t be a solar eclipse at full moon. No author using Thallus mentions his reference to darkness until Syncellus. Apart from this and the New Testament, there are no other references to an eclipse or an earthquake at the time of Jesus’ death.

Second century writer Phlegon reported a three hour eclipse and an earthquake in his Olympiads. But the earthquake Phlegon refers to was in Bithynia, over 500 miles from Jerusalem and wouldn’t have been felt there. Also, he doesn’t refer to a full moon at the time of the eclipse, and Origen backs this up. So this reference wouldn’t have been in the original work of Africanus, or in Syncellus. It first appears in the Book of the Title by Agapius, a Christian Arab of the 10th century. Africanus’ sentence “Clearly this is our eclipse!” contradicts nearby text and may have originally been a margin note that some scribe added into the main text. Another point worth noting is that ancient folk tended to associate an important event with an earthquake or eclipse, even when these things didn’t happen. Twentieth century academic Claire Preaux found 200 examples.

Tacitus’ and Suetonius’ friend Pliny the Younger wrote to Trajan early in the second century about 80 years after Jesus’ death asking the emperor for advice on what to do with the Christians and their “depraved, excessive superstition”. Trajan replied that they should be punished unless they worship Roman gods. This exchange proves nothing about Jesus. Nor does the one a few years later in 115 CE between Trajan and Ignatius, where Ignatius says, “I have Jesus Christ in my heart”, to which Trajan replied, “Do you mean him who was crucified by Pontius Pilate?” Ignatius answered “yes” and Trajan sentenced him to be thrown to wild animals. It could well have been a case that the Jesus story had spread a fair way by this time and may have been known by thousands of non-Christians and Christians alike.

Regarding the Talmud, the Rabbis make a c. 3rd century reference in Baraitha Sanhedrin 43a to a Yeshu who was stoned and hanged on the eve of the Passover for sorcery. It’s not sure if the name Yeshu necessarily means Jesus, a common name at this time at any rate. A number of other Yeshus appear in Sanhedrin. This particular one had five disciples, listed as Buni, Mattai, Naqai, Netzer and Todah, who were also executed. Clearly, this story is not about Jesus.

Some people think that the mention of a “wise king” more than half way into a long letter by Mara Bar-Serapion to his son sometime around 73-200 CE is a reference to Jesus. But there were many “messiahs” at the time of Jesus and some even had this same name. Most were killed by the Romans or the Jews. Bar-Serapion said the Jews’ kingdom was taken away from them and they were “driven away into every land” after the king’s death. However, the Jews didn’t have a kingdom at the time of Jesus. The writer may have been referring to an Essene figure known as the “Teacher of Righteousness” who was regarded as a messiah. Or, given he mentions Socrates and Pythagoras in the same paragraph, the “wise king” may refer to someone more contemporary to these earlier figures, perhaps before Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem in 597 BCE, when many Jews were sent to Babylonia and then to other countries. The paragraph also contains inaccuracies relating to Pythagoras.

One of the most famous collections of ancient documents is the Dead Sea Scrolls, a whole library of some 1,000 documents dating from about 200 BCE to 66-70 CE. Yet there is no mention of Jesus or his followers.

You would think if Jesus did all the wonderful things the Bible credits him with, such as healing the sick and blind, feeding 5,000 with a few fish and loaves, and walking on water, an abundance of contemporary non-biblical writings on him and his feats would exist, but there are none. Mentions in documents in the period after his death are brief and vague, and either don’t seem to refer to him or appear to have been added in later. Further, there are no contemporary paintings, drawings or statues of Jesus. This lack of evidence for a historical Jesus in non-biblical documents and elsewhere raises questions over the authenticity of the Gospels. Without corroborative evidence, and especially given the synoptic problem, the inconsistencies, absence of birth and death dates, and little on Jesus’ life from infancy to age 30, the existence of Jesus as an important person is brought into doubt.

Different Christian groups had various views on Jesus over time, some believing that he was only spiritual. 2 John 1:7 says that many people saw him in this way. The Gnostics viewed him as docetic. Islam believes he was a person but that the crucifixion was an illusion. There wouldn’t usually be all these different views if someone was definitely real.

Ancient times were filled with gods, godmen, spirits, magicians, etc., and the distinction between what was real and what was purely a god or a spirit was often blurred. Jesus wasn’t the only godman story of this period. Others included Horus, Krishna, Mithra, Dionysus and Attis, all born on 25 December. There are many instances in various societies and religions of a real person being elevated to god status after death, including Julius Caesar, although they weren’t all important or well known people. Many civilizations had mythical and semi-mythical kings, including Egypt, Sumeria, Rome, Greece, Sweden, Assyria, England and Israel, and of course Jesus was deemed king of Israel.

Based on the evidence, or lack of it, I can only conclude that Jesus was either myth or one of hundreds if not thousands of itinerant preacher-magician-godman types doing the rounds in Israel 2,000 years ago and his story was blown out of all proportion. It seems Jesus was some minor figure or myth that evolved over the centuries as the Bible evolved. Jesus and his story may have been invented or enhanced by early church leaders and writers to obtain or increase power, and to impress or repress the masses in an age of fear and superstition.

Daylight saving time in China

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Many Asian countries have had daylight saving time at some stage. The details of daylight saving time in every country that has ever had it or considered it is included in my book, The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy. The book also includes details of daylight saving in every state of the United States, Australia and Brazil and every Canadian province. Here’s an excerpt on daylight saving time in China.

“Four Asian countries first took up daylight saving during World War II: China in 1940, 1941 and 1945, India (including what is now Pakistan) and Sri Lanka from 1942 to 1945, and Israel from 1940 to 1945. According to The International Atlas of 2005 by Shanks and Pottenger, the only part of China to have daylight saving in 1940 was Shanghai, which also had it in 1941 along with the four cities of Suzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Wuhan. The Supreme National Defence Council ordered daylight saving in free China in 1945 when Chongqing was provisional capital, although western regions of the country may not have used it, while much of the east was occupied by Japan.

All of China had daylight saving from 1986 to 1991 to conserve power. The country saved an estimated 700 million kilowatt hours of energy in 1986, down from earlier forecasts of up to 2 billion kilowatt hours. The Communist Party announced on 18 April 1986 that the whole country would run on Peking Summer Time from 4 May to 14 September to save energy and ran an intensive campaign on television and radio and in newspapers to prepare people. But the authorities created more confusion than clarity. The state airline, CAAC, said it was changing all flights by an hour and then said planes departing at 3 p.m. standard time will now leave at 4 p.m. summer time (same real time) to meet international carriers. The government also said that train, bus and boat timetables would be unchanged, with a service leaving at 3 p.m. standard time now departing at 3 p.m. summer time (an hour different).

Adding to the uncertainty, the People’s Daily said: “During the whole period of summer time, all the trains will work according to the summer time schedule, but passengers will take their trains at the present time schedule.” Also, the communications ministry announced that “nothing would be done to alter the schedules of China’s inland waterway services and long-distance buses to meet daylight saving time”.[1] No doubt many people arrived an hour early or an hour late for their plane, bus, train or ferry in the initial days and weeks of daylight saving.

In some areas of China, businesses, schools and government offices started and finished an hour later by the clock, meaning that everything happened at the same real time as before. Many people preferred to start an hour earlier in the warmer months without changing the clock. The power shortage problem wasn’t resolved and in 1991 drought and heat led to an increase in power outages and in the number of complaints about the electricity supply and daylight saving. The scheme was discontinued after the end of the 1991 summer time period. Energy consumption has soared in more recent years and fuel shortages remain a problem, as does the level of carbon emissions.

In Hong Kong, the Chamber of Commerce was opposed to daylight saving in 1932. By 1936, the media favoured the idea and the governor of the colony came out in support of it in the Legislative Council on 2 December suggesting an extra half an hour of daylight after work all year, but the proposal went no further. The colony had three months of daylight saving via the Hong Kong Daylight-Saving Regulations 1941 under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts 1939 and 1940, with clocks put forward one hour. Japan Standard Time, which was one hour 23 minutes ahead of Hong Kong local time, was used from 1942 to 1945.

The Summer Time Bill 1946, introduced into the Council on 27 August, aimed to formalise the process of daylight saving that had started on 20 April and would enable the governor to approve it in future years. The bill quickly passed the other stages on 5 September and became the Summer Time Ordinance. Hong Kong had daylight saving each year until 1976. Arguments against the measure included the need to adjust timepieces twice a year, the preference of some people for an extra hour of light in the morning, and difficulties for airline schedules. The government dropped daylight saving for 1977 and a survey found that most people wanted standard time all year. Summer time returned briefly in 1979 due to the second oil crisis.

According to the Macau Official Gazette, [2] Macau had summer time in years 1946 to 1948, 1951 to 1976 and 1979. A notice in the form of a decree was printed in the weekly gazette each time Macau started or finished daylight saving. The reason for the last year of summer time in 1979 was the same as that for Hong Kong. Most other sources state, evidently incorrectly, that Macau had daylight saving between 1961 and 1980.

Taiwan was another area on Japan Standard Time during World War II, until 21 September 1945, and had daylight saving postwar in the years 1946 to 1961, 1974, 1975 and 1979. It was called summer time from 1946 to 1951, daylight saving time from 1952 to 1956, summer time from 1957 to 1961, and daylight saving time in the 1970s.”

[1] “Fuel saving throws off China’s timing”, Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, United States, 4 May 1986, at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1986-05-04/news/8602010127_1_daylight-summer-time-saving

[2] “Summer Time”, Macao Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau, 2014, at http://www.smg.gov.mo/smg/geophysics/e_t_Summer%20Time.htm

The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy is available at Amazon, Kobo Books, Apple and Google.

DST book cover

Is the Bible trustworthy?

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This is an article I wrote for American writing site Helium now defunct.

In my view, the Bible is one of the least trustworthy (purportedly) non-fiction works ever written. Let’s look at the background of the New Testament first. No original manuscripts remain and we are unsure who wrote them or when. For the gospels, there are various dates given, usually a range of dates, and often quite a wide range spanning several decades. The earliest generally accepted date for one or two of the gospels is probably from about the mid 60s CE. Why wait more than 30 years before putting reed to papyrus, as it were, if Jesus was such an important person?

There is much debate over which of the four gospels was written first. Matthew is traditionally first, although Mark is increasingly thought to be first, while some even think Luke was first. There is the synoptic problem among these three books, which are far too close to one another to have been written by three independent authors. Yet there are some odd inconsistencies such as Jesus’ ancestry between Mark and Luke. Matthew probably didn’t write the gospel attributed to him. Luke may have written Acts too, although both books may have been partly written by or sourced from Josephus. Mark probably wrote his gospel, but whether he was a witness is pure speculation. John’s book is regarded as an unreliable source of Jesus’ life and may have been written by several authors, including for example Cerinthus in the 2nd century. The four traditional writers were rejected as early as c. 100 CE.

Authorship of many of the other New Testament books has also been questioned for a long time. Authors and dates can be guesswork when, apart from a fragment of the Book of John, there is nothing else before c. 200 CE, with the earliest manuscripts for many books dating to the 3rd or 4th century.

Most of the numerous changes to the original biblical manuscripts came in the first few centuries. There was much bickering among early Christians as to what was scripture, and various christological issues were hotly debated. This meant that documents went through more changes than other less controversial documents. Many of the writings were chopped and changed amid followers accusing one another of corrupting text. Second century philosopher Celsus said that some of the writers “changed the original text of the gospels three or four times or even more, with the intention of thus being able to destroy the arguments of their critics”. Tatian’s Diatessaron was one of a number of works that aimed to rewrite the gospels as a narrative, fixing conflicting passages and eliminating duplication. In the third century, Origen admitted that “there is much diversity among the manuscripts, due either to the carelessness of the scribes, or to the perverse audacity of some people in correcting the text, or again to the fact that there are those who add or delete as they please, setting themselves up as correctors”. Many other early church leaders, such as Jerome and Augustine, were concerned about the extent of changes to biblical documents.

Further, there are issues with language itself. Many early New Testament manuscripts, such as Paul’s letters, used no punctuation and this was added later. The inadvertent wrong placement, or omission, of punctuation can completely change the meaning. Also, the Hebrew and ancient Greek languages have idioms that are difficult to translate. And then there is the problem of finding scribes fluent in old and new languages.

‘Proofs’ of the Bible’s accuracy often date back to the 19th century and the methods never seem to be explained. A figure that is often quoted as the degree of accuracy of the New Testament is 99.5%, although the original source is puzzling. It is sometimes sourced to Bruce Metzger’s 1963 publication, Chapters in the History of New Testament Textual Criticism, but the problem is that there is no mention of 99.5% or any similar figure in Metzger, or any other original source that I know of.

The figure of 99.5% or anything close to it is most unlikely. Less than 1% of the 5700-odd New Testament manuscripts are complete and less than 10% include most of it. None of them are originals and every single one is different. About half of the manuscripts date to the 12th or 13th century or later, and less than 3% date back to ancient times. At least 80% of the manuscripts are in Byzantine text and are therefore unreliable, but this was the predominant text used from c. 600 CE until the advent of printing in the 15th century; and these were the manuscripts used for the early printed editions. New editions of the Greek New Testament don’t tend to use the Byzantine text manuscripts. There have been thousands of versions of the Bible through the ages. By c. 1500 a version of the Latin Vulgate was regarded as no longer following the gospel. In fact, the church wandered so far from biblical teachings by the 16th century that it split. The King James version contains thousands of errors.

A study of accuracy for which there is evidence is by Aland and Aland in their 1995 publication, The Text Of The New Testament. They compare Nestle-Aland’s Greek New Testament with seven other editions and conclude that 62.9% of verses in the Nestle-Aland version differ from at least one of these editions. This excludes differences in spelling or of one word. The proportion of variant-free verses is highest for 1 Timothy at 81.4% (the only one above 80%) and lowest for Mark at 45.1% accuracy. The gospels together score just 54.5%, with none being above 60%.

Another study, by Aland, Black, Martini, Metzger and Wikgren in 1968 using slightly different criteria, found that 81.8% of verses of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament were textually certain, 1.6% were virtually certain, 6.1% were doubtful to some degree, 8.8% were of considerable doubt and 1.7% were very highly doubtful. Adding in the ‘virtually certains’, this gives an accuracy of 83.4%. In other words, there was uncertainty with over 1300 verses, including more than 830 of considerable doubt or worse.

These studies only consider variations between different versions. Neither study takes into account that much of what is in the Bible is arguably fiction to start with, such as many or most references to Jesus, given that a historical figure can’t be reliably found in any non-biblical source. And there’s no mention of Jesus in the Dead Sea Scrolls. His birth and death dates are usually given as a range of possible dates spanning several years. Islam believes the crucifixion was an illusion. If there was a three hour eclipse and an earthquake, hundreds of thousands of people would have witnessed it, and the time, day, month and year of Jesus’ death would have been well known and written in various documents, biblical and nonbiblical by the late first century. And whatever happened to Paul’s 500 witnesses?

Numerous articles, books and websites point out specific textual and other problems with the Bible. One that I like is Joe Wallack’s site, http://www.1001errors.com. It is not necessarily the best one or the worst one, but it’s well structured and goes through the verses of the first five books in turn. One of my favorite biblical errors, and an important one in my view, isn’t among the 1001 errors. This is the inconsistency over the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. John 19:14 suggests Jesus’ crucifixion was sometime after the sixth hour, while Mark 15:25, says it was at the third hour. Christians try and explain away this contradiction by saying that John was using the Roman system of counting hours from midnight. The problem is that although the Romans’ civil day went from midnight to midnight, they counted their hours from sunrise to sunset and from sunset to sunrise. No one counted hours from midnight. To do so would assume 24 hours of equal length all year round, and clocks simply weren’t accurate or practical enough for this to happen. Daytime was divided into 12 equal hours that varied in length according to the time of year. Thus when John said the sixth hour and Mark said the third hour, they were both counting hours in the usual way and meant early to mid morning and middle of the day respectively. Whoever wrote this part of John, 60 or so years after the crucifixion, probably thought the death occurred early during the alleged eclipse, whereas Mark believed the eclipse came about three hours after Jesus’ death.

Is the Old Testament any more trustworthy? It probably is, but not greatly so. The earliest Old Testament writings probably date to c. 1200 BCE. Yet the reference period goes several thousand years further back. Accurate accounts of the period would have been impossible. Writings would have been based on oral stories handed down over generations, complete with embellishments, gaps, and errors increasing with each generation. But people wanted answers such as where did they come from. An author who was able to reduce this to a manageable number of generations had more credence. Thus there are tall stories of people living many hundreds of years.

One of my favorite Old Testament stories is Noah’s Ark and how the earth was covered in water to a depth of twenty feet above the highest mountain after forty days of rain. Let’s stop to think what this means. Coastal plains would be under about five and a half miles of water, and the oceans and seas would be five and a half miles deeper than usual. Five and a half miles is 348,480 inches. If this amount of rain fell in 40 days, that would be an average of 8712 inches a day, 363 inches an hour and 6.05 inches a minute, worldwide. Rainfall intensity records as at 2006 are given as 73.62 inches in a day at Reunion Island in 1952, 15.78 inches in an hour at Shangdi, China in 1975 and 1.50 inches in one minute at Guadeloupe in 1970 (see www.weatherrecords.owlinc.org/RainfallRecords1.html). This means that rain resulting in the biblical flood would have been four times the intensity of the heaviest rainfall ever recorded over one minute and this had to last 40 days across the whole planet. Noah’s family, the animals, and the ark would have been obliterated by rain like sheets of concrete. Nothing would have survived the rain, let alone the flood. Apart from all this, the rain has to come from somewhere. You can’t have this much evaporation and condensation in a short period.

As another example of the untrustworthiness of the Old Testament, let’s look at the prophecies. Many prophecies made in the Old Testament are allegedly confirmed in the New Testament. But let’s pick one of the trickier, harder-to-refute ones, complete with time scale rather than just a vague statement. It would be easy to say the Old Testament predicted the birth of Jesus and this came true in the New Testament, even though it was written best part of a century after the event, and there’s no corroborative evidence, or any firm date as to when it happened, only a range of dates that generally extend from 8 BCE to 2 BCE.

So let’s try something more difficult. Many of the prophecies relate to a resurgence of the Jews and of Israel. I’ll work through the one that seemingly prophesies the exact day of Israel’s re-establishment on 14 May 1948. We can get this from Ezekiel 4:3-6 and Leviticus 26:18, 26:21, 26:24 and 26:28, which refer to a set period of punishment of the Jews, although I don’t think there’s any explicit reference to a re-establishment anywhere in the Bible. The sevenfold punishment of the Jews for not returning to their homeland started in 536 BCE, 70 years after an initial punishment of 430 years. Thus, multiplying 360 by 7 equals 2520 years. According to the Bible, the year length in those days was 360 days, so adjusting for this, we purportedly arrive at 2484 years exactly (sometimes it’s given as 2485 years) between the first day of the Babylonian month of Nissan and the Gregorian 14 May 1948. Incidentally, 2484 solar years equals 907,281 days if you assume a solar year is 365.25 days. Using the more accurate 365.2424 day solar year gives 907,262 days. Multiplying 2520 years by 360 gives 907,200. So for a start, the timing is out by 2-3 months. That’s still close. But wait a minute.

The biblical year of 360 days is also mentioned by Africanus, Isaac Newton, Robert Anderson and others. They’re not wrong. Most years were indeed 360 days in length in those times. However, just as we add a leap day every fourth year to stay in line with the solar year, most ancient civilisations added a 13th month every few years, or they added a few days at year’s end. Thus these calendars were lunisolar. The calendars tended to be a bit all over the place. And there were numerous regional variations. But at the time, there were no lengthy periods where each and every year was 360 days. In the long-term, the average length of a calendar year equalled a solar year. Agriculture and thus human life depended on it! Every calendar the Jews came into contact with to any extent between 536 BCE and 45 BCE when the Julian calendar came into effect in Rome was lunisolar. These calendars were the Hebrew calendar and those of the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman Empires, when Israel was part of these empires. References to any long period of years would have been to solar years. Thus the date of the re-establishment of Israel differed from that prophesised in the Bible by about 36 years.

There’s another interesting little glitch in the argument. The difference between 536 BCE and 1948 CE is often given as 2484 years, by simply adding the numbers. The problem is that there was no year 0, either BCE or CE. Thus the elapsed time between these two dates is actually 2483 years. Had there been a year 0 BCE or a year 0 CE, then the interval would be 2484 years. Had there been both a year 0 BCE and a year 0 CE, then the interval would be 2485 years.

The final nail in the coffin of this prophecy relates to the fact that the date of 14 May 1948 as the biblical end of the Jews’ punishment has been known since medieval times. Back then, however, access to documents was limited and if the Old Testament talked about a 360 day year, it was probably assumed that all years at that time were 360 days rather than most years. There is nothing in the Bible about BC or AD or no year zero as this was all worked out many years after the Bible had become reasonably set. Scholars made the calculations using what information they had, and locked in 14 May 1948, which carried into modern times.

Something important was always going to happen on this date. Jews started moving back to Israel from the Middle Ages. Migration increased and it was strong by the 1880s, probably partly due to knowledge of the 14 May 1948 date. By the late 19th century there was a move to re-establish a Jewish state, and the Zionist Organization was formed in 1897. Then there were the British government’s Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the British Mandate of Palestine from 1920, which was supported by the Palestine Mandate of the League of Nations in 1922. The 14 May 1948 date was known by world leaders, including Hitler, as well as leading industrialists who included Christians and Bible-reading Jews. The United Nations Partition Plan was in 1947, and Israel declared its own independence one day before British withdrawal, a date obviously worked out in advance. The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel contains historical background, including reference to “freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel”.

By reading some of the Christian sites, a reader could get the impression that sometime after Israel was re-established, someone happened to pick up a Bible, did some calculations and made an amazing discovering that the re-establishment was on the exact day prophesised two and a half millennia ago, as if nothing had been previously known about the date. But as we’ve seen, no incredible coincidence or miracle was involved. It was all quite planned, even if it was out by 36 years.

In conclusion, the Bible is such a mixture of facts, part-truths, errors, contradictions and pure fiction that it cannot be relied upon as a trustworthy source of information.