The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘Newtonmass’

Santa, Skepticism, and the Holiday Season

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 19, 2015

A recent article posted by skeptical writer Greta Christina titled No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus over at Freethought Blogs caught my eye. In it, she makes a compelling argument for why it is that children should be skeptical of some adults’ attempts to hoodwink them…

… You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that you’re a bad person for not believing things you have no good reason to think are true. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that, in order to experience love and generosity and devotion, you have to believe in Santa Claus, or any other mythical being there’s no good evidence for. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that “childlike faith” — i.e., believing things you have no good reason to think are true — is somehow in the same category as poetry and romance. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that the world would be dreary without Santa Claus: that without Santa Claus, the light of childhood would be extinguished, we would have no enjoyment except in sense and sight, and existence would be intolerable. That is one seriously messed-up idea.

Adults know that there is no Santa Claus. If they tell you otherwise, they are lying to you. That’s okay: some parents tell their children that Santa Claus is real as a sort of game, and there’s no evidence that this does any real harm. But if anyone keeps lying to you — about Santa Claus, or anything else — when you ask them a direct question and explicitly ask them to tell you the truth? That’s a problem. And if anyone tries to make you feel ashamed, or inferior, or like your life will be dreary and intolerable, simply because you don’t believe in this lie they’re telling you… you should be extremely suspicious. They are trying to manipulate you. It is not okay.

I agree wholeheartedly with Greta’s thoughts on this matter, and I recommend that you read her entire post on the topic. That said, I’d also like to take this opportunity to share (or re-share) some of my previous work on the entire matter of skepticism, education, Santa Claus, and the Holiday Season in general.

1. If Santa ever existed, he didn’t live for long

This is perhaps what I’m most famous (or infamous) for on this topic: I use physics to kill Santa Claus; to be more accurate, I use physics to kill the idea of Santa Claus (because it’s impossible to kill something that doesn’t exist in the first place). Originally, I made a post years ago outlining how, assuming the jolly old elf existed in the first place, Santa would be simultaneously fried to a crisp and squashed into jelly in his attempts to deliver presents on Christmas Eve.

Then, last year, I decided to up my game a bit. I got commissioned to write an article for a UK Education periodical on the topic, and I went so far as to perform the explicit calculations showing that not only would Santa have to absorb the equivalent  energy of 20 Tsar-Bomba nuclear weapons every second due to air drag, but he’d also experience roughly 192 million g’s worth of acceleration in the process – more than enough to make short work of him!

Now, I’d like to share with you the specific PowerPoint I use to annihilate the Santa Claus myth. Feel free to download and use it as you will :)

Physics of Santa 2.0

Physics of Santa

2. The Santa Myth isn’t all bad and can serve a skeptical purpose

I’ve argued before that I think the myth of Santa Claus can actually be a very useful tool to promote skepticism and critical thinking in young children. Please note that my argument here is not in any way, shape, or form in opposition to Greta Christina’s well reasoned post above; I simply think that it is good for children to work out for themselves that Santa isn’t real, and once they’ve done that they should give the stink-eye to anyone who tries to give them grief or make them feel bad for not believing in the fairy tale. Even better, once kids figure it out, they should go forth and argue with their peers about the existence of Santa; what could be better than skeptical children promoting critical thinking to other kids?

3. It isn’t all about Santa

While it is perhaps true that Santa Claus is the most popular aspect of the Holiday Season, it certainly isn’t the only myth of the Holiday Season. Once children become skeptical of the existence of Santa Claus, then why not encourage them to ask questions and become more critical of other aspects of the season? For example, they can take the following myths and misconceptions quiz on the issue, examining everything from the more pagan aspects of Christmas to blatant falsehoods regarding the Gospels in the Bible. After all, once one starts to question one myth, then why not another?…



Posted in education, humor, physics denial/woo, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Myths and Misconceptions About Christmas

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 15, 2012

Once again the season is upon us, when much of the world’s population celebrates Christmas and all the holiday trappings thereof.  I’ve made numerous posts on the subject before, including The Physics of Santa Claus, how the idea of Santa Claus can be used as a tool to teach critical thinking to kids (including a podcast interview I did on the subject), and the tongue-in-cheek celebration of Newtonmass :)

And, of course, along with all of that, there is not to be missed the chance to spread some skepticism and critical thinking regarding Christmas in general.  To help with that, my skeptical colleague Phil over at Skeptic Money has once again posted the Ultimate Christmas Quiz that you can use to test your (and that of your friends and family) knowledge of the holiday.  You might be surprised to learn about all of the myths and/or misconceptions which exist in popular culture about Christmas…

Ultimate Christmas Quiz

Ultimate Christmas Quiz

Note:  if you enjoy this quiz, check out The Ultimate Easter Quiz.

There are 12 questions below, how many will you get right?  Can you do better than your friends?  Your christian friends?

Pull out a piece of paper and mark your answers.

FYI… The answers are at the bottom (no cheating….) count your correct answers and see how you score.

The Ultimate Christmas Quiz – By David Fitzgerald

1. What year was Jesus born?

a. We don’t know for sure, since the gospels disagree irreconcilably.

b. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was during the reign of Herod the Great (died around 4 B.C.).

c. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was when Quirinius was governor of Syria (6 A.D.).

d. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was the year the moon was in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars.

e. D’uh! The year zero, of course.

2. According to the Gospels, what day was Jesus born?

a. Dec 25th.

b. Dec 24th.

c. No date is given in any gospel.

d. The day of the Winter Solstice.

e. The third night of Hanukkah.

3. What pagan holiday did later Christians “borrow” to celebrate Jesus’ birthday?

a. The Greek Brumalia festival

b. The Roman feast of Saturnalia

c. Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (“the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun”)

d. All of the above

e. None of the above

4. So what day was Jesus really born? 

a. Jan 6

b. Feb 2 (Groundhog Day)

c. March 25

d. We can’t be certain.

e. Sometime during Sukkoth, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles

5. According to Mark (the oldest gospel) where was Jesus born?

a. He doesn’t say.

b. By the chimney, with care.

c. In his parent’s house in Nazareth.

d. A manger in Bethlehem.

e. A cave in Bethlehem.

6. According to Luke, who were the Wise Men?

a. A group of 2 – 12 Zoroastrian astrologers from Persia.

b. Three kings of orient bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh from afar.

c. There were no Wise Men.

d. Cupid, Donder and Blitzen.

e. Melchior of Persia, Caspar (or Gaspar) of India, and Balthazar of Arabia.

7. According to Matthew, who showed up on the night of Jesus’ birth?

a. Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night

b. An angel and a multitude of the heavenly host

c. The prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna

d. Ten lords a-leaping

e. No one.

8. What happened after Jesus’ birth?

a. Impossible to say for sure – two of the gospels tell completely contradictory stories, and the other two say nothing.

b.  Good tidings were brought for him and his kin; and then figgy pudding, for they would not go until they get some.

c. Scary stuff: An angel warns Joseph via a dream to flee their home in Bethlehem for Egypt. Herod kills all the baby boys in the region. After Herod’s death, they return to Judea but are afraid of Herod’s son, so they move to Nazareth in Galilee instead (evidently, Matthew forgot that Galilee was ruled by Herod’s other son!).

d. Happy stuff: The shepherds spread the good news to all, baby Jesus is circumcised, and after the obligatory 40 days for ritual purity, brought to the temple in Jerusalem where prophets hail him as the Christ. They return home to Nazareth and go back to Jerusalem every year for Passover until Jesus is twelve.

e. We aren’t told, the gospels immediately cut to his adulthood.

9. Which of these traditional Christmas elements were originally pagan?

a. Christmas Trees

b. Yule Logs

c. The Birth of the Savior

d. Boughs of Holly and Sprigs of Mistletoe

e. All of the above

10. Where does the word “Yuletide” come from?

a. It’s an abbreviation of the Latin ultimus ides, “last holiday of the year.”

b. From Germanic/Old Norse “Jul-time” or “Jól-time” (the midwinter fest).

c. Named after Julius Caesar, who invented Sanctus Clausius, the Roman Santa Claus.

d. Named in honor of Hywll Tydd, ancient Welsh god of reindeer and socks.

e. Nordic priests copied the name from the Christian Christmastide.

11. Who started the War on Christmas?

a. True American Christian Fundamentalists and the Founding Fathers

b. Richard Dawkins

c. Godless atheists, the liberal media, gays and lesbians, activist judges, science teachers, lawyers, the ACLU, democrats and everyone else we hate.

d. The Jews

e. Al Qaida

12. Our familiar modern American “Santa Claus” is based on all these earlier figures, EXCEPT for:

a. The English Father Christmas, Charles Dickens’ characters and the Victorian cartoons of Thomas Nast.

b. The Dutch Santa, Sinterklaas or Goedheiligman

c. A de-horned, sanitized, anagram of Satan.

d. Mighty Norse thunder god Thor’s father, Odin

e. St. Nikolaos, 4th-century Greek bishop and patron saint of children.

Bonus Question! (re-gifted from the Ultimate Easter Quiz)

13. Who wrote these gospels, anyway?

a. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – I mean, come on, it says so right there.

b. Actually, none of the gospels even claim to be written by eyewitnesses -all were originally anonymous and written at least a generation later.

c. Well, it’s more like the end of first century for Mark and sometime in the early to mid 2nd century for the others, if you must know.

d. Hold on – Not only that, but Matthew and Luke just reworked Mark gospel, adding their own material and tweaking Mark’s text to better fit what they thought it should say.

Incidentally, if you want the answers, then you have to go visit Phil’s website for them.  Cheers! :D


Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Merry Newtonmass!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 23, 2011

It’s almost December 25th, and while some people are celebrating certain holidays (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti!), one thing I like to do is take a little time to recognize one of the greatest contributors to modern science: Sir Isaac Newton.  Newton was born on December 25th, 1642 (according to the old-style Julian calendar)…

I totally stole this image from Skeptico :)

Isaac Newton was an English physicist and mathematician.  The son of a yeoman, he was raised by his grandmother.  He was educated at Cambridge University (1661-1665), where he discovered the work of Rene Descartes.  His experiments passing sunlight through a prism led to the discovery of the heterogeneous, corpuscular nature of white light and laid the foundation of physical optics.  He built the first reflecting telescope in 1668 and became a professor of mathematics at Cambridge in 1669.  He worked out the fundamentals of calculus, though his work went unpublished for more than 30 years.  His most famous publication, The Principia Mathematica (1687), describes his works on the laws of motion (now named for Newton), orbital dynamics, tidal theory, and the theory of universal gravitation, and is regarded as the seminal work of modern science.  He was elected president of the Royal Society of London in 1703 and became the first scientist ever to be knighted in 1705.  During his career he engaged in heated arguments with several of his colleagues, including Robert Hooke (with whom he argued over authorship of the inverse-square relation of gravity) and Gottfried Leibniz (over the authorship of calculus).

Of course, while Newton was certainly no saint (he had a reputation for being kind of a nasty guy, especially to his academic opponents, and he also dabbled in alchemy, Biblical numerology, divination, the occult and many other things we’d consider quite woo-ish today), we can see from his accomplishments listed above just why he is regarded as one of the greatest scientists of all time, and it is for those contributions to humanity that we remember him.

So this December 25th, take some time to raise a glass, and perhaps admire a falling apple, to toast Isaac Newton and his legacy.  Cheers! :)

Posted in humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »


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