Saturday, December 13, 2008

Show from: Dec. 10

This was our Christmas episode! Myself, Mike, Paul, and a special guest were with us today to discuss Santa and the origins of Christmas. Here's the transcript of what I read during the show with items linked. Enjoy!

The topic today is Christmas! First off, Merry Christmas, everyone! It’s a great holiday whether you’re Christian, atheist, or Jew. I know I, for one, will be celebrating it. I’ve got a couple of talking points today. We’re going to take a look at the physics of Santa, as provided by our friend and co-host, Paul. Then we’re going to do a comparison of the mythological figures known as Santa and Yahweh, followed by an investigation of the origins of Christmas traditions, and ending, finally, with a look into when Christ was probably actually born.

So first, the physics of Santa Claus!

  1. No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.
  2. There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn't (appear) to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total - 378 million according to the Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census rate of 3.5 children per household, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes there's at least one good child in each.
  3. Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, and assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of his sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course we know to be false but for the purpose of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding and etc. This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second - a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.
  4. The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized Lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that "flying reindeer" (refer to point #1) could pull TEN TIMES the normal load, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh - 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison - this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.
  5. 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance - this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecrafts re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy per SECOND, EACH! In short, hey will burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create a deafening sonic boom in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal* forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.

So how do we counter for these problems, since, as any child knows Santa exists, just like god. Ion shields. That’s right. Ion shields. God has a particle shield just like in Star Wars that keeps him from burning up in the atmosphere. But what about the heat from the air resistance? Well, why do you think the polar ice caps are melting? And how does Santa get moving that fast? Well, Gaute Einevoll, who works with physics in organic systems, figured out that Santa Claus of course uses vacuum energy. The sleigh and reindeer use repulsive energy to compensate for the force of gravity and therefore can fly. See? It’s so simple! And how does Santa know what you’re thinking? Well, did you ever wonder why you always wear those winter hats that have the little fuzz ball at the top. That’s right, it’s a transmitting device that sends out a signal from your brain of what you thinking.

See, with a little creative thinking, you can work out any problem. It is kind of interesting, when you think about it, how paralleled the characters of Santa and the Judeo-Christian God are. They both have apparent omniscience, knowledge of all things, as Santa always knows what you want and if you’ve been good enough to get it. They’re also omnipresent, everywhere. You ever go mall hopping during the Christmas season? You notice that there’s a Santa in every store! It’s because Santa can be where ever he wants, whenever. Santa is also somewhat omnipotent. He can get his hands on the coolest toys and can do all those crazy things that physics won’t allow. Just like God, Santa lives outside of time and physics; I mean, it’s the only way to explain all his powers. They both have a specific moral code. God has the ten commandments and such, and Santa judges who’s naughty or nice. They both have reward/punishment systems. God has hell, Santa has coal. We have similar practices regarding them. We pray to God to get what we want, we sit on Santa’s lap to get what we want. God has angels to do his bidding, Santa has elves. Heaven is a supposedly magical place “up there.” Santa lives in a magical place “up there” at the North Pole. And of course, they both have their messiah, savior, figures. God has Jesus Christ, and Santa has Rudolph! And last, but not least, let’s remember, they have the same amount of evidence regarding their existence!

Just a little food for thought. So let’s talk a little bit about the religious origins of Christmas. First, when was Jesus born? (I also used this link) Hold on for this one, folks: it wasn’t December 25th, 1 AD. That was a date adopted by the early Christian church for a variety of reasons, namely to keep peace with local pagans and polytheists, who were the majority back then, to blend in, and for a smoother transition into Christianity becoming the majority religion later on. December 25th coincided with the popular Roman holidays celebrating the birth and rebirth of a series of sun gods from different cultures, as well as Mithras, a popular god of the day. Using the bible, some common sense, and some astronomy, the birth of Jesus Christ can be placed at around the 29th of September. A number of clues in the gospels lead us to this result. First, the census, which would have been impractical to conduct during the winter. Next, the fact that the flocks of sheep were still out and about. The flocks were brought out of the field before October. Jesus could not have been born on 1 AD or BC, since he was born during the reign of Herod, who died in 4 BC. Therefore, that is the earliest Jesus could have been born.

Looking into some of the Christmas traditions (I also used this link) we find that they often pull their roots from ancient pagan winter solstice festivals. These festivals would celebrate the rebirth of the sun, since the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year and the day when the sun is lowest in the sky. After that the sun would begin to rise again, and be “born.” These pagan festivals used symbols of feritility and life to decorate their houses, such as evergreens, mistletoe, and holly since these plants stay green throughout the winter. Yule logs were originally used in ancient Germanic pagan rituals and were burned for all of the festival. Yule has its origins in a pre-Christian winter festival celebrated by the Germans. Mistletoe was used by druid priests 200 years before the birth of Christ to celebrate winter.

A few other fun facts: The poinsettia’s association with Christmas began in 16th century Mexico, where legend tells of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday. The tale goes that the child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson "blossoms" sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. The term x-mas comes from the Greek spelling of Christ which starts with an x. The term Christmas derives from the phrase Christ’s mass. Just a couple of trivia points for all of you out there.

We also discussed:

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