Monthly Archives: May 2015

“The silly Bible even errs in counting the number of legs on a grasshopper!”

“The Bible even errs in counting the number of legs on a grasshopper!”

“Is it horribly impolite to point out that insects actually have six rather than four legs?”

Not impolite. Just a little naive.

It is a viewpoint based upon cultural myopia. We are all guilty of this at one time or another. When we don’t understand another culture–but think we do–we often assume that they are terribly “wrong”. Imagine an anthropologist of another culture of the distant future unearthing one of our newspapers and saying, “What a primitive and unscientific people! When they heard heavy rains pounding on their roofs at night, they actually claimed that it was raining cats and dogs! They actually thought that common domesticated animals could be found in clouds.”

Many don’t realize that people from other cultures might laugh and point at someone for actually thinking that “an insect has six legs” when “Everybody knows that insects have 2 striders, 2 walkers, and TWO legs!”

This is just one of many types of linguistic confusions which I’ve had to cover quite routinely, both in articles and in the classroom. Does it really seem likely that an ancient people dependent upon agricultural sustenance and ever fearful of the next plague of locusts wiping out their food supply would never have noticed how many legs/appendages/limbs/etc. such insects have? They were capable, after all, of counting to six.

How many legs does a grasshopper have? It depends on the culture and the language involved. Some may count 2 “jumpers” and 4 “walkers”. Some refer to six appendages. Indeed, some languages have had no word for bodily appendage, at all. A culture may not even have a word for leg. Instead, it might have a word for foot and the “scope” of that word ends just above the knee.

Yet, we face similar confusion in our own culture. We distinguish between fingers and toes. Yet in our medical literature, phalanges refer to both fingers and toes. So, in isolation, the word phalanges may strike some as too ambiguous. Yet, all descriptions in a text may fall short of the expectations of a reader. (Which phalange is the author talking about? The index finger? The big toe? The thumb on the right hand?)

In the classroom I usually explained such “mapping phenomena” in terms of Venn diagrams on some display medium. In doing so, the Hebrew word commonly translated as fish would be shown as a Venn circle larger than the English word fish per se because the Hebrew word includes many other aquatic creatures.

Semantic domains differ between languages, especially those of different language families. Nomenclature often differs because classifications of common things differ between cultures. That is why semantic mappings between the lexemes of different languages are often not one-to-one.

This complaint about ancient texts–and making fun of their imagined ignorance of an obvious “fact”—is seen in the popular complain “The Bible [actually, just the KJV] says that a whale is a fish” when ignoring the fact that ancient Hebrew was not English. To render the “exact” meaning of the closest ancient Hebrew word for fish would require clumsy, overly wordy English translations that required lots of burdensome phrases in place of single words, such as “fin-equipped, aquatic creature”, a description which entails not just piscatorians but cetaceans as well.

And to make matters even more complicated one may find that the semantic domains of a particular Hebrew word may have “broadened” by the time of the post-exilic literature of the Old Testament, so that the “fin-equipped” aspect was no longer required. So even some renowned Biblical scholars err when treating particular Hebrew words as having rigid, unchanging definitions despite the fact that the Old Testament texts span many many centuries. A word like awful has a very different meaning today [opposite meaning, actually] than at the time of the Shakespeare or the King James Bible. Yet, that is a mere four centuries of time span.

When I was still teaching undergrads, I would even give classes of non-majors some of the popular and traditional “Bible errors” compilations where the two aforementioned examples are always cited. Students were often surprised and nearly always entertained to learn just how ignorant were many of the traditional complaints. By the end of the course even the poorest students began to understand why the “Bible contradictions” academics write about at such length are usually quite a different list than so many of the best known but entirely lame entries on websites like the Skeptics Annotated Bible.
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If you enjoyed this blog article, we think you will also like:
Evolution-Denialism: It’s About Feelings, Not Just Facts
An Open Letter to Young Earth Creationists Who Misrepresented Lucy News


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Yes. Nearly all Americans of European ancestry are descendents of slaves.

I try not to be surprised at the ignorance of politicians and journalists. Nevertheless, I admit a mild case of astonishment when I heard these soundbites on a radio program:

“Obviously, very few white Americans have any slaves in their ancestry.”
“Let’s face it: Europeans never suffered from mass enslavement.”
“We all know that white-skinned people enslaved dark-skinned people and not the other way around.”

Incredible. Students of European history know that a lot of “white persons” have ancestors who were slaves. The first clue is the word slave itself. Many slaves in the Byzantine Empire (fourth through eleventh century C.E.) were Slavs, speakers of the Slavic languages from central and eastern Europe, so the words slave and Slav became virtually synonymous.

Virtually every European language has at least one word for “slave” that is derived from “Slav.” Yet, Slavs were hardly the only slaves in the history of the continent.  Far from it. And I’m not just talking about the Islamic Moors of North Africa (dark-skinned peoples) bringing slavery (and white-skinned slaves) to Muslim Spain. (That’s not to say that no slavery existed there prior to the Moors, but they definitely greatly expanded the trade.)

The Slavic peoples were hardly the only “white person slaves”. In the days of John Adams, enslaved Europeans and even some Americans labored throughout the nations of north Africa and the Middle East. The Marine Corps Hymn mentions “the shores of Tripoli” because American troops were sent to the distant land we call Libya in order to stop the Barbary pirates, who (among many other crimes) were kidnapping Americans and Europeans–and had been enslaving their victims for over three hundred years.  And they certainly were not the first slave-merchants from Africa and Asia to consider European slaves a lucrative commodity. Young monks and other clergymen were especially valuable because they were literate and often had other rare skills, such as accounting/bookkeeping.

Slavery was common throughout the Roman Empire, the Germanic tribes, and on the British Isles. Irish slaves helped settle Iceland. Viking raids sent thousands of Celts, Anglo-Saxons, and Franks, as well as German, Baltic, Latin, Finnish, and, yes, Slavik thralls (the Norse word for “slave”) all over the then known world including the Middle East and as far as central Asia. Obviously, many of these “white” slaves eventually became the property of “black” slaveholders and merchants.

Slavery in general (and not just indentured servitude) was extremely common in western Europe until about the year 1000, when serfdom became pervasive.

I’ve never tried to calculate how many “white persons” in America today had slave ancestors but by any reasonable estimate, they number in the many many millions. By any measure, the chances of any white American of European ancestry today not having slaves somewhere in their family tree is virtually nil.

I share this information because history matters. What lesson or lessons we draw from the facts of history is yet another matter.

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Duodecimal Metric System: If only we had evolved with one less finger per hand!

{It’s Flashback Friday, when Professor Tertius’ comments from long ago get logged into the Bible.and.Science.Forum blog. Today’s flashback links Base 12 numerals, the Metric System, a Base 12 Metric System, algebra, and fear of Communism with the glory days of the early Young Earth Creationist movement in America. Enjoy.}

The following will never happen, but in an IDEAL WORLD, I would advocate a change not just to a Metric System but one based on Base 12 instead of Base 10 arithmetic. It would provide all of the usual advantages of the Metric System plus the natural advantages of more/simpler integer factoring and divisors.

If one works in Base 12, it is very simple to divide items in many ways without having to use complicated math and notations:

Half of 12 is 6.
One quarter of 12 is 3 and three quarters of 12 is 9.
One sextile of 12 is 2; two sextiles is 4, three sextiles is 6, etc.

In practical use, consider eggs, which are already sold in dozens:

To divide 12 eggs among various groups:

6 groups of 2
4 groups of 3
3 groups of 4
2 groups of 6

Compare that with dividing 10 eggs among various groups of people:

5 groups of 2
2 groups of 5
That’s it! It is very “indivisible”. And that is why the use of dozens has been popular since ancient times. The only reason we use a Base 10 number system is because of tradition, based upon the fact that we have 10 fingers and 10 toes. (Obviously, we call both our numerals and our finger “digits” because of their natural association in counting.)

Base 10 is very limiting. The only factors are 5 and 2. It makes dividing into equal parts of various sizes difficult and it requires long decimal numbers even for simple fractions. Consider in Base 10 that:

1/2 of 10 = 5 is not too bad, but….
1/3 of 10 = 3.33333_ never stops
1/4 of 10 = 2.5 not so simple
1/5 of 10 = 2 not too bad
1/6 of 10 = 1.66666_ never stops;
1/7 of 10 = 1.142857_ never stops
1/8 of 10 = 1.125 requires 4 digits to express

Consider the same fractions of 10 (i.e., 12 in Base 10) in Base 12 notations. However, first you must consider the need for two more “digits”. In my grade school days, computers were not yet changing how we looked at numbers. So most arithmetic books used “t” for ten and “e” for eleven. But there are many advantages to the notations used by computer scientists when dealing with hexadecimal numbers. So we will use the “A” for ten and “B” for eleven. So, counting in Base 12 means 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,A,B,10,11,12,13, 14…..19,1A,1B,20,21, etc. So now we can consider that in Base 12:

1/2 of 10 = 6 (remember, this is Base 12, where 10 is 1 dozen.)
1/3 of 10 = 4 still no fractional notations needed!
1/4 of 10 = 3 still no fractional notation needed.
1/5 of 10 = 2.497_ This is our first repeating fraction
1/6 of 10 = 2 no fractional notation needed!
1/7 of 10 = 1.86A35 _ Another repeating fraction.
1/8 of 10 = 1.6 only two digits needed

So, let’s compare them:

Base 10 produced:

2 simple integers
1 instance of 2 digit notations
1 instance of 4 digit notation
3 repeating fractions

Base 12 produced:

4 simple integers
1 instance of 2 digit notations
2 repeating fractions

Had I used examples of 2/N instead of the 1/N of the examples above, you would have seen similar savings in digits and avoidance of fractional notations.


I won’t walk through the actual names of units but consider these facts:

1 egg
10 is a dozen eggs
100 is a dozen dozens of eggs

So you still have the advantage of adding a “0” to multiply the number by the base: 12. But “real world” division requires fewer fractions because of the phenomena we already observed in the 1/N examples.

You have nothing but whole units when dividing into two groups, three groups, four groups, and six groups! That is, you end up dealing in whole units (integer amounts) instead of fractions in those cases.

By dropping Base 10 and moving to Base 12, you lose the ability to divide 10 into 5 groups of 2……but in Base 12 you gain the ability to divide the NEW “10” into 6 groups of 2, 4 groups of 3, 3 of 4, 4 of 3, while still having groups of 2 (that is, 6 groups of 2.)

I hadn’t looked around before to see what was going on with DUODECIMAL (Base 12) METRIC SYSTEMS but here are some interesting examples of typical proposals:

Dozenal Metric Systems:  as presented by The Dozenal Society of America.

Here are some examples of proposals for Time, Linear Measure, and Weight:


Suppose that humans had evolved with three fingers plus a thumb on each hand. That would mean each human would have had two hands, each with four digits per hand (each hand consisting of three fingers plus one thumb.)  Assuming the usual symmetries, each foot would have had one big toe and three smaller toes. That’s a total of 4+4+4+4=16 fingers and toes for counting.

In that case, there would be a natural emphasis on the integers 1,2,3,4,6,8,12, & 16 because all of those come up naturally in counting by means of one’s available “digits”. So if that had been our evolution—where we had one less finger on each hand—I think we would have naturally gravitated toward the development of a Base 12 (duodecimal, aka dozenal) number system.

That’s just my spur-of-the-moment hypothesis. I haven’t looked to see if anyone based a dissertation on it.  (By the way, I think cartoon artists always use this 8-finger standard because it makes a cleaner cartoon image.)

 In the early 1960’s I recall some Young Earth Creationists also denouncing the Metric System as a “Communist plot” and “just as dangerous” because it would open up America to foreign imports. Does anyone else remember that?

So what does all of this have to do with evolution?

Believe it or not, in the early 1960’s I recall some Young Earth Creationists also denouncing the Metric System as a “Communist plot” and even “godless” because it would open up America to foreign imports, such as inexpensive Asian automobiles which could try to destroy Detroit’s prominence in supplying the world with automobiles! And later in that same decade, public education in the USA was “revolutionized” by what was touted as a major change in how mathematics was taught. Reformers called it “The New Math”. It was claimed to be a better foundation for teaching students algebra once they reached high school. But The New Math also included several mathematical concepts not previously taught at the elementary school arithmetic level. Among those were the alternative bases number systems.

All of these “radical changes” were way too much for many Fundamentalist Christians of the American Bible Belt, coming as it did right in the middle of the Cold War, fallout shelters, campus unrest due to the rising body count of the Vietnam War, and a series of shocking assassinations which further elevated the tensions and fears of the era.

Considering how Morris & Whitcomb’s THE GENESIS FLOOD (1961) had warned Young Earth Creationists of the dangers and evils of The Theory of Evolution and “billions of years”, YECs were told that they had the “authority of Science” (i.e., “creation science” and all other “valid” Science) behind them.  Yes, conservatives were flexing their muscles and the Civil Rights era brought huge losses to the Democratic Party (i.e., the entire South went Republican.)

So if one takes into account the context of the times, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the Metric System would be looked down upon by so many American conservatives, especially Bible Belt Fundamentalist Christians. So when their children brought home their math homework and parents had no idea how to help them do Base 12 arithmetic, you can imagine how a Duodecimal Metric System would have been considered a diabolical Communist plot right up there with The Theory of Evolution!

Those were the good ol’ days indeed.

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Submitted for your disapproval: “Scientists burned heretics?!”

When reality is a foreign destination, it’s hard to know what to say. So watch this video and count the crazy:

I wonder what he will say when someone explains to him that the Washington Irving stories about “Columbus bravely sailed toward what his sailors thought was the edge of the earth” which were taught as fact when our generation was in school was nothing but bologna.

Even so, I don’t recall anybody claiming that scientists did a lot of roasting of those who challenged popular explanations of natural phenomena.


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Aging Professor Aspires to Immortality. Film at Eleven. (If all else fails, Go Viral!)

We live in a sound-bite culture where the just-right-combination of words can make your thoughts “go viral.”   It’s high time Professor Tertius caught up to the times and climbed aboard that catchy, turn-of-a-phrase bandwagon.  So here goes nothin’:

“In regards to the leaders of the “creation science” movement, never in the history of mankind have so few been so proud to know so little about so much. ”  — Professor Tertius

Yes, ya just can’t go wrong playing off of Winston Churchill. It’s that British, stiff upper-lip, endurance thing. (Isn’t that just ducky?) Tally ho and all.  But let’s not forget the unsung heroes of evolution-denialism, the donors:

“Never have so many remained so gullible while donating so much to so few in order to thwart the science education of so many who so badly need to know so much more science than their ancestors did in order to survive in an ever changing, ever more challenging world.”
— Professor Tertius

Yes. That one’s not exactly pithy or profoundly poignant–but it’s true.

“You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time. But that’s enough complaining about Young Earth Creationists for now. How are we going to deal with climate change?” — Professor Tertius

What’s the connection? Plenty.  So many of the “creation science” fans who deny The Theory of Evolution also deny climate change.  A disturbing number of them also fear chemtrails and the “Jade Helm” military coup conspiracy.   (I just report ’em. Don’t expect me to explain ’em. And I’m running out of wisdom as well as sound-bites.)

“Ya can’t fix stupid.”

OK.  I know. That one’s not one of mine.  So sue me.  But is it true?  You decide.

Something tells me that a Rod Serling type of denouement should go here:

“No moral of the story. No memorable words of wisdom. Just a story with no ending. A protasis with no apodasis. A Genesis with no Revelation. An Ernie with no Bert.”

Somehow it’s just not the same without the smoldering cigarette. Ya know. The ones from before they all had filters.

How about: “The opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.” ?

Better yet: “This page left blank.”

{This essay sold by weight, not by volume.
Contents may have settled during shipment.
Close cover before striking.
No Young Earth Creationists were harmed in the composing of this essay.}

“Sound bites can be memorable without being profound.” — Professor Tertius
(c) 2015. Professor Tertius & the Bible.and.Science.Forum at
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