Why the year 0 CE?

It is appropriate in this season to point out that the world has good, objective reasons for making 0 CE the turning point in history. Now when we ask, “What exactly happened in Israel about 2019 years ago?”, many worldviews offer completely different answers. Indeed, they zealously disagree on how to even ask the question. Why? Perhaps it is because the authority to explain the past wields tremendous power in shaping the future. This is just as true about ancient events as it is about conflicts of the past century and even the past decade. Nevertheless, only one of these questions is objective:

  • Gnosticism’s Question : “What secret knowledge about Jesus of Nazareth did various teachers say that God revealed to them through angels or visions?” Gnostics presupposed that the mystical revelations about history were true.
  • Islam’s Question : “What did the prophet Muhammad say that the angel Gabriel revealed to him about Jesus of Nazareth, starting in the year 622 CE?” (The current Islamic year is 1441, for they started counting in 622 CE and then have a lunar calendar with 354 or 355 days in a year.) Muslims presuppose that the mystical revelations about history true.
  • Mormonism’s Question : “What did the prophet Joseph Smith say that the angel Moroni revealed to him about Jesus of Nazareth, starting in the year 1823 CE?” Mormons presuppose that the mystical revelations about history are true.
  • Hinduism’s question : “What can we learn from Jesus of Nazareth about living edifying, uplifting, and fruitful lives?” (There are several Hindu calendars, but the primary ones start counting in the year 78 CE. The origin of these calendars is highly controversial.) Although they admire Jesus and his teachings they presuppose that the Biblical account of Christ cannot be accurate, for they believe that there are many gods.
  • Buddhism’s question : “What can we learn from Jesus of Nazareth about compassionate living?” (The current year for Theravada Buddhism is 2562, for they started counting in 544 BCE, when Siddhārtha Gautama attained nirvana.) Although they admire Jesus and his teachings, they presuppose that the Biblical account of Christ cannot be accurate, for they say that there is no one personal God.
  • Naturalism’s question : “What fits within the naturalistic worldview?” They presuppose materialism, so accounts of the miraculous are unacceptable.
  • Christianity’s question : “What did the eyewitnesses claim to see and hear?” (Luke 1:1-4; 7:22-23; John 18:20; Acts 4:20; 1 John 1:1-3; 2 Peter 1:16; etc.)

How do we view history? On what basis to we believe historical claims?

Eyewitness testimony is subjective evidence because it is a subjective judgement of memories. Objective questions would be those which we can verify ourselves through objective means. We can’t objectively determine what eyewitnesses really heard or saw, all we have is their subjective memories, or what they claim are subjective memories.

On top of that, both Muhammad and Joseph Smith claimed to have eyewitness accounts, so if you are claiming that eyewitness accounts are objective you would have to include those.

As to naturalism, it would ask for the empirical evidence that supports the claim. It wouldn’t reject a claim simply because someone called it a miracle. If no evidence came forward it would remain in the hypothesis stage.

I think it would be far better to claim that CE should be used because of historical precedent and inertia. This is the same reason we still use Thor’s day for the 5th day of the week, and July in honor of Julius Caesar. CE replaced BC to accommodate those who weren’t Christian while holding on to the same numerical values.

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History has to start somewhere though—with eyewitness accounts.
The Bible has many mystical revelations through angels in sessions, those are always, only about the future. When it comes to the past, it is only eyewitness account.

That doesn’t mean we should mischaracterize eyewitness accounts as being objective.

We have artifacts that we can objectively measure and record. For example, we can objectively measure the age of a scroll using carbon dating, or objectively measure the mixture of elements in a sword to figure out which mine or area the metal came from.

Also, there are claimed eyewitness accounts for miracles performed by Muhammad, and I suspect that not many Christians find these accounts to be compelling.

Of course, we go by more than just the eyewitness accounts. But my point is that many other religions ask for blind faith. The Bible not only does not ask for blind faith but rebukes it. In the Old Testament God repeatedly asked people why they were bowing down to idols that couldn’t speak when it contradicted what they had so clearly learned. Similarly, Paul rebuked the Galatians for recklessly believing teaching and told them that even if an angel revealed something to them, not to believe it if it contradicted the eyewitness accounts. (He did not say to not believe they saw an angel, but rather not to believe the angel.)

How did God tell them to distinguish between a true prophet and a false prophet?

“And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deut 18:21-22)

Some might say that seems too easy. But the point is that prophets only reveal the future.

The choice of when to start counting years is a totally arbitrary convention. It is much like the name “Lucifer” from that passage in Isaiha rather obviously about the king of Babylon. It doesn’t really matter what we call that angel any more than it matters when we start counting, or what side of the street we drive on for that matter – it only matters that we are consistent so that communication (and driving) works well.

Thus the recent change from AD (year of our lord) to CE (current era) as a small concession in order to take the religion out of our counting the years. Actually changing when we count things from would be just too much trouble for everyone. Stories from when Julius Caesar had astronomers design (look up “year of confusion”) our current calendar (pope Gregory’s alteration was trivial by comparison) are enough to show why a fixed standard is essential to human civilization.

P.S. I suppose you can add this all to the Naturalism’s question above.

So is it just a coincidence that the Judeo-Christian faith is the one and only worldview that does not ask for presuppositions, and then also happens to be the one that marked year 0 CE?

I think there is an obvious connection to why English is the closest thing we have to a world language (not to mention the widespread use of Spanish and French around the world) – it all comes from the domination and exploitation of the whole world by the Europeans.

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So the point is that I don’t necessarily doubt that both Muhammad and Smith saw angels. I can take that at face value. But that in itself is no reason whatsoever to take the angel’s mystical revelations about history by blind faith. By contrast, the Bible never offers such revelations about history and specifically rebukes believing such revelations.

I think you’re kind of begging the question: is it just a coincidence that the Europeans had received the one and only worldview that did not ask for presuppositions, but that instead encouraged them to look at history and the world and religious revelation objectively?

Oh… so you want to credit naturalism as the reason why the Europeans dominated the world?

LOL …

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Haha, no, naturalism–even just methodological naturalism–still asks for arbitrary presuppositions, so it is not objective. Especially because its presuppositions just happen to be incredibly wrong. But we seriously don’t want to got there again! Here I’m talking about history.

I’m probably not yet understanding your motivation behind your question yet, @mattconnally, or some of the main point you’re making; but one thing that’s sticking out to me in this discussion is that both you and @T_aquaticus seem to be thinking of things as either entirely subjective (personal testimony from very few or one source) or else entirely objective (empirically verified science).

I would push back on any extreme characterizations and argue instead that there is a wide range in between - and that furthermore it is (or should be) significant to us where something lies in between. Hearing of some unspecified person “out there” that claims to have personally spotted Bigfoot is one level of subjectivity. Hearing that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated (observed by many witnesses) is also not objective science, and therefore also lives in the land of subjectivity somewhere. [well, okay - historians with their own valid methods could place this squarely in the land of historical objectivity, I’m sure; but there would be other events in this direction that enjoy only slightly less support. So my point still stands about a continuum of subjectivity into objectivity.] But the two accounts (Bigfoot and Lincoln) are nowhere near the same - there is a general confluence of multiple witness testimony and how history played out after that which corroborates the latter account in ways far beyond the first claim. So not all subjectivity is the same. And even objectivity will have varying degrees about it too. I suspect there is really no such thing as pure objectivity either (for any finite human) - though there is definitely a practical recognition of its approximation, that serves its useful purpose for clarification.

Also, Matt, I’m not sure how anybody gets away from presuppositions - including Christianity or science. But you are correct that these things have been chewed over in many other threads.

If I understood your OP correctly, you weren’t trying to venture into “why CE as opposed to AD” controversy so much as just noting (and correctly so), on the significance of our timeline having its numerical center where it is. It is a convention that is a historical reality now - whether people like it or not. But it is a reality of convention, not of “natural significance”. And such social significance as it had (still has) obviously has a very long history.

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@mattconnally

It should be clarified that nobody ever actually marked “Year 0” on a legal document being issued in that year. First of all, the first year of any rule was a “1” … not a “0”. It would be centuries later that anyone would start getting fussy about having a Zero Year or not.

During the time of Jesus, time was locally tracked by the royal year of the local king, or more internationally by the regnal year of the Roman Emperor.

This continued for quite some time until the church authorities wanted to harmonize the dates all across the dozens of countries that now existed in which Christian officials now worked:

"This practice was first suggested in the sixth century A.D., and was adopted by the pope of that time. It took quite a while for it to become a worldwide standard, however. Russia and Turkey, for example, did not convert to the modern calendar and year scheme until the 20th century."

One interesting side note: Because of a variety of changes and adjustments made to the calendar during the middle ages, it turns out that Jesus was most likely born in what we now think of as 6 B.C., and likely lived until 30 A.D. Besides B.C. and A.D., some people use B.C.E. (for “before common era”) and C.E. (for “common era”).

The link below provides the speed notes:

Oooo… I never expected to find a Wiki article on Year 0 !!!

" The Anno Domini era was introduced in 525 by Scythian monk Dionysius Exiguus (c. 470–c. 544), who used it to identify the years on his Easter table. He introduced the new era to avoid using the Diocletian era , based on the accession of Roman Emperor Diocletian, as he did not wish to continue the memory of a persecutor of Christians. In the preface to his Easter table, Dionysius stated that the “present year” was “the consulship of Probus Junior [Flavius Anicius Probus Iunior]” which was also 525 years “since the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ”.[1] How he arrived at that number is unknown.

Dionysius did not use AD years to date any historical event. This began with the English cleric Bede (c. 672–735), who used AD years in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (731), popularizing the era. Bede also used a term similar to the English before Christ once, but that practice did not catch on until very much later. Bede did not sequentially number days of the month, weeks of the year, or months of the year. However, he did number many of the days of the week using a counting origin of one in Ecclesiastical Latin. Previous Christian histories used anno mundi (“in the year of the world”) beginning on the first day of creation, or anno Adami (“in the year of Adam”) beginning at the creation of Adam five days later (the sixth day of creation according to the Genesis creation narrative), used by Africanus, or anno Abrahami (“in the year of Abraham”) beginning 3,412 years after Creation according to the Septuagint, used by Eusebius of Caesarea, all of which assigned “one” to the year beginning at Creation, or the creation of Adam, or the birth of Abraham, respectively. Bede continued this earlier tradition relative to the AD era."

"In chapter II of book I of Ecclesiastical history , Bede stated that Julius Caesar invaded Britain “in the year 693 after the building of Rome, but the sixtieth year before the incarnation of our Lord”, while stating in chapter III, “in the year of Rome 798, Claudius” also invaded Britain and "within a very few days […] concluded the war in […] the forty sixth [year] from the incarnation of our Lord".[[2]]
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_zero#cite_note-2)
Footnote 2: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/bede-book1.asp

Although both dates are wrong, they are sufficient to conclude that Bede did not include a year zero between BC and AD: 798 − 693 + 1 (because the years are inclusive) = 106, but 60 + 46 = 106, which leaves no room for a year zero. The modern English term “before Christ” (BC) is only a rough equivalent, not a direct translation, of Bede’s Latin phrase ante incarnationis dominicae tempus (“before the time of the lord’s incarnation”), which was itself never abbreviated. Bede’s singular use of ‘BC’ continued to be used sporadically throughout the Middle Ages."

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Wrong? Yes, I certainly agree.

Incredible? Not at all. The premise of naturalism is eminently credible. Indeed much more credible than Christianity, the claims of which are recognized by most intelligent Christians to be far from credible.

What kind of presuppositions?
It seems that if we presuppose we CAN know everything, that would be erroneous. However, if we presuppose that we can not confirm things we can’t measure, that’s more realistic–and even humble?

Thanks for the discussion.

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The presupposition of naturalism is that the scientific worldview namely what is measurable and demonstrable is the sum total of reality. Of course I reject that premise as do most Christians. But it is certainly rational and credible.

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Yes, Mervin, you’re right that I wasn’t addressing the BC/AD vs BCE/CE issue at all. I think it’s entirely appropriate, actually, since many people do not want to give Jesus the title Anointed One, much less to refer to him as “our Lord”. That’s also why, in phrasing the various questions, I used “Jesus of Nazareth” instead of “Jesus Christ”.

And I also certainly agree that there is a spectrum from objectivity to subjectivity, with a lot of gray in between. So a lot of times (though certainly not all the time) we want to have as little gray as possible and to move towards objectivity. And I will also distinguish between presuppositions and self-evident truths, which are things that we are incapable of doubting, such as that the sun will rise tomorrow. Philosophers can pretend to doubt that the sun will rise, but no one can actually doubt it because if we doubt everything then the word doubt loses all meaning. You can’t have and up without a down, and you can’t have doubt apart from the context of things we don’t doubt.

So on this topic, I challenge you to identify any presuppositions that the Bible asks for:

  • Gnosticism asked for blind faith that their mystical revelations were true. They offered not one scintilla of evidence for it–no witnesses of the actual events testified to.
  • Islam asks for blind faith that what Muhammad said Gabriel told him was true. Again, I believe he saw an angel, but why should we believe that the angel’s revelations were true, especially in light of the fact that they edited 2000 years of eyewitness history?
  • Ditto for Mormonism.
  • For Hinduism and Buddhism, historical facts don’t matter nearly as much as ethical/spiritual teachings. But the effect is to reject historical claims–even as a presupposition.

By contrast, for Christianity, everything we believe about God is based on eyewitness accounts of historical events. Does our faith ask for any presuppositions at all?

Randy, this probably belongs in another thread, so I will refer you to the link I gave above. It’s organized into two main topics–general revelation (i.e. thru nature) and special revelation (i.e. thru Scripture).

Regarding the former, methodological naturalism presupposes that we cannot objectively test for the existence of a nonphysical/immaterial reality. Humble or not, this presupposition is just flat-out incorrect. But it is held onto with extreme stubbornness, leading to the development of whole schools of philosophy to try to explain it away. Consider it this way:

  • That which we call a soul would be any other name be a mystery. For even if we give it another name we still cannot give it any tangible qualities–nothing to touch or see. So whether philosophers call it a superseded ontology or biologists call it a system of memes or neuroscientists call it a network of qualia or physicists call it an emergent entity, etc., all their abstract and relentlessly esoteric words are still referring to the same thing: that invisible, untouchable, silent phenomenon summed up in the word you.

  • Ditto for mathematics, which they call a Platonic Form or an Emergent Quality, etc. As mathematician Reuben Hersh famously put it:

“Most writers on the subject seem to agree that the typical ‘working mathematician’ is a Platonist on weekdays and a formalist on Sundays. That is, when he is doing mathematics, he is convinced that he is dealing with an objective reality whose properties he is attempting to determine. But then, when challenged to give a philosophical account of this reality, he finds it easiest to pretend that he does not believe in it after all.” (Reuben Hersh, “Some Proposals for Reviving the Philosophy of Mathematics,” in Advances in Mathematics , Vol. 31, 1979.)

When all is said and done, this presupposition does have a huge effect on how we view history.

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