Friday, August 07, 2009

The most important year in history – does Gutenberg 1439 really beat Jesus 5BC?

According to readers of The Economist, it does. The invention of the printing press is apparently more important than the birth of Jesus.

You might expect that of readers of The Economist. After all, there would be no such dedicated group if their beloved magazine had never been printed, and they have ever been a little myopic.

But the single most important date in history?

Andrew Marr, who suggested the poll, is persuaded that 1776 trumps all others.


It is perhaps symptomatic of the age that the birth of technology should be considered more important than the man who split history in two and brought salvation to the world. Johannes Gutenberg may have figured out how to print words on paper, but it was Jesus Christ who healed the sick, cast out devils, destroyed the power of Satan, led the captives free from Hades and sacrificed himself in an agonising death in order that we might all be saved.

It all makes inventing the printing press sound something of a breeze.

Words are of little consequence without the Word.

As the poll presently stands, some 2,600 have voted and the most important dates stack up thus:

1. 1439: Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press
2. 5BC: the birth of Jesus
3. 1953: the discovery of DNA
4. 1945: the fall of Nazism and the atomic bomb
5. 1776: the year America declared its independence from Britain

The debate began with an article by Andrew Marr in the summer issue of Intelligent Life magazine. He and five Economist journalists drew up an informal shortlist of important years and voters were allowed to plump for one of their selections or choose any other year of their choice.

Other suggestions included: the year the Ford Model T hit the road (1907); the birth of Mohammed (570); Isaac Newton invented calculus (1693); Charles Darwin wrote about evolution (1859); the twin towers fell (2001); and the French had their revolution (1789). At least one reader thought Michael Jackson’s death was worth mentioning, and quite a few felt the most important year in the whole of history was the one when they were born.

The birth of Jesus was proposed by Adrian Wooldridge, The Economist's Washington bureau chief, who is not even a believer. He wrote:

The most important year in history is both easy to identify and hard to pinpoint. Easy to identify because we use it to divide our calendar into “before” and “after”. Hard to pinpoint because there is some confusion about whether we got the calendar right.

You do not have to be a believer (and the author of this article is not) to recognise that Jesus’s birth was the most important event in human history. Jesus inspired the world’s most popular religion and plays an important role in both Judaism and Islam. But he also shaped all subsequent secular history. The Roman Catholic church is the world’s oldest global institution. The Reformation, which helped to inspire individualism and capitalism, was an attempt to return the church to its original purity. The French and Russian revolutions were inspired, in large part, by hatred of the religious establishment. Two thousand years after Jesus’s birth, about 2 billion people, or a third of the world’s population, call themselves Christians.

The frustrating thing is that we cannot pinpoint Jesus’s birth-year exactly. The Christian calendar presumes that it took place in year 1 - everything before that is BC. But modern scholars have complicated the picture. The Gospel of Matthew places Jesus’s birth under the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4BC. The Gospel of Luke says that he was born during the first census of Judea in 6AD. The consensus is that he was born between 6 and 4BC. Let’s call it 5BC for the sake of simplicity - not as clear-cut as some of the other dates suggested, but then the year of Jesus’s birth is such a momentous event that it makes other contenders for the most important year look feeble by comparison.

Cranmer has been contacted by The Economist because, although they appear to have announced a final result, this poll remains open.

It appears that we have the opportunity to impress upon the world that the one who separated from BC from AD, and who bequeathed to the world the manifesto which has influenced every political manifesto since, is rather more significant than the one who first printed it.

Do vote. It is August, and readers and communicants will have little better to do. Cranmer is informed that the poll will probably close next week, and they are not expecting it to change vastly.

Let us prove them wrong. Cast your votes HERE.

And forward the link to as many as you know who might care.


Anonymous not a machine said...

No surprise here your grace particulary with Andrew marrs thought.

mm redemption through salvation for all mankind, or the printing press ?? seems obvious to me.

i can see though the printing press sent the word out to more countries though.

My favourite date is may or june 2010 , could earlier if were lucky , the day that this marxist nightmare began its end

7 August 2009 at 09:48  
Anonymous Brian said...

Well, according to Wiki "By AD 593, the first printing press was invented in China, and the first printed newspaper, Kaiyuan Za Bao, was available in Beijing in AD 713."

7 August 2009 at 09:49  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely His death edges His birth? I suspect having the year of birth as the option instead of the year of death shows the ignorance of the atheism, but I'm not convinced it's right to spoil their little fun by introducing a massively biased sample population.

7 August 2009 at 10:12  
Anonymous philip walling said...

I've voted for Christ's birth, but I tend to agree that it was His death that saved us, even though His life and death are really all of a piece.

Silly Andrew Marr! He just can't help being naughty - by that I mean childishly rebellious against the truth inherent in the created order.
As my mother would have said he needs his legs smacked.

7 August 2009 at 10:37  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The invention of the printing press was a disaster for Christianity. Prior to 1439 the scriptures were copied by hand which allowed them to change and adapt in step with the prevailing culture. This change (strictly, evolution) is what keeps the religious memeplex strong and well adapted for survival. Since the invention of printing the scriptures have not been able to change very much and thus when we look at them now, they appear outdated and unsophisticated, even barbarous. Now, in the digital age where copying fidelity is 100%, the scriptures have literally no prospect of long term survival and must succumb to the Darwinian imperative - change or die. Thus Gutenberg trumps Jesus.

7 August 2009 at 10:38  
Blogger The Paragnostic said...

Surely 4004 BC is the answer?

After all, without His Crestion, we would not be here to pronounce on such matters.

Now if I could only dislodge my tongue from my cheek...

7 August 2009 at 11:10  
Blogger Gnostic said...

I'm afraid I have a different perspective of the issue, Your Grace. The single most important thing ever is the big bang (or whatever really happened). Without the birth of the universe there would be no Jesus, no printing presses, no blogs, no history...

7 August 2009 at 11:10  
Blogger Gnostic said...

LOL! Paragnostic beat me to a similar punchline by mere seconds!

7 August 2009 at 11:11  
Blogger Si Hollett said...

Anonymous above seems to have no grasp of history - perhaps why they refused to give their name!

As far as we can see, the textual variants in Latin scripts was minimal over the years, just like Jewish Torah manuscripts.

What's funny is that culture in the world is much more similar now to the 1st Century Roman Empire, than it was in 1439 thus making the point about the scriptures not changing rendering them 'old hat'. The world always hates the scriptures - always has, always will - Judean Kings killed Isaiah, threw Jeremiah in a well and so on. The Roman Empire repeatedly enforced a ban on the scriptures. In 1439, give or take a few years, you had Hus and Wycliffe killed by the Catholic Church for loving the Word of God. In 21st Century Britain, several laws have been passed by the lower house that potentially would have banned public reading of large portions of scripture. To those who are perishing, they are the stench of death.

The printing press invention because of Gutenburg is only important because of the message it spread - it was invented (as said above) 700 years earlier in China, yet (while a lot of China at the time was nominally Christian, just like Europe) there wasn't an explosion coming out of it - perhaps because the Chinese Christianity was still fairly orthodox, so didn't need a Reformation. The printing press was instrumental in getting the Reformation to the masses and the Pre-reformation (Dante, Erasmus) and Reformation literature is what caused the culture shift from it's invention.

Therefore the Incarnation (never heard the 5BC date for it) trumps the printing press, which only matters because of the message (attacks on the papacy from Dante, translations of the Bible, tracts on the Gospel from Luther and Calvin, other theological things) - all of which rely on the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

7 August 2009 at 11:17  
OpenID jobtwenteewun1to3 said...

hmmm for what it is worth I am with Mr Walling and Anon 10:12 in considering the death of Christ to be a greater date than his birth. Or should it be the early morning event a few days later? Or the date of his soon return? Nevertheless I suppose the birth of Christ initiated these sequence of events and for that it shall receive my vote.

7 August 2009 at 11:28  
Anonymous oiznop said...

Those who argue the death is more important than the birth miss the point. As far as secular (as well as religious) history is concerned, the Western calendar has retained the BC/AD division - the birth is effectively the 'beginning of time'. Even the BCE/CE split has retained this event as the pivotal defining shift.

The year of Easter is theologically more important than the year of Christmas, but (for my money) they both outweigh the bloody printing press!

My vote is cast.

7 August 2009 at 11:58  
Blogger Jim Bartlet said...

There is no denying the importance of the story of Jesus which has had more than a significant effect upon history.

Speaking of significant stories and Jesus, what do His Grace's communicants think of the new play to be hosted at the Tron in Glasgow:

Jesus, Queen of Heaven

I already assume to know the overall answer, but cannot for the life of me resist the mention of it.

7 August 2009 at 12:11  
Blogger Newmania said...

My sense at times , and oddly at this time , is that the birth of Jesus has an importance outside before and after history . As for printing , its a little like comparing the death of Ophelia with the birth of Shakespeare .They are of different orders.
I am rather suprised your Grace was not more alive to the assumptions that are implicit in such a comparison, ( He simpered smugly....)

7 August 2009 at 14:26  
Blogger tammyswofford said...

Just a small point of disagreement with one area of thought. Jesus Christ did not bequeath the world with a manifesto. Such things are within the imaginations of lesser men such as Karl Marx or perhaps men such as Michel Aflaq.

He did clothe Himself with flesh and dwell among us. He merely stated his status as the Son of God. The Word has no need for political statement. The rest of us have created the storm!

Tammy Swofford

7 August 2009 at 14:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would have thought that Marr was a fervent 1997 man.....

7 August 2009 at 16:03  
Anonymous len said...

The printing press is a tool, ingenious perhaps, but a tool made of wood and metal.
God left His throne in heaven, took on human flesh, and stepped out of eternity into time to put into place His plan for the salvation of men.

It say a lot about the perception of men that they place a higher value on a printing press than Christs sacrifice.

Whilst we are reconciled to God by Christs death we are saved by his life.

7 August 2009 at 19:40  
Blogger Jim Bartlet said...

The original inventive act of humanity was in the use of fig leaves....the rest is history. Figs leaves, printing presses, nuclear bombs, flint arrow's all coping behaviour.

7 August 2009 at 21:53  
Blogger ZZMike said...

Anonymous (10:38) "The invention of the printing press was a disaster for Christianity. ... Prior to 1439 the scriptures were copied by hand which allowed them to change ..."

I shudder to think what they would look like today if it hadn't been for that printing press.

More than that, the scriptures - hardly just a "religious memeplex" (whatever that is) - are the User's Manual for Life. Many people - mainly Americans - have been brought up to believe that user's manuals are for sissies and should be thrown out straightaway.

That's their loss.

Gnostic: "The single most important thing ever is the big bang (or whatever really happened)."

You have a good point. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to put a date on that one yet. (Hmmm - was it a Tuesday or a Thursday? Sorry, 4004BC (or should I say BCE?) just doesn't cut it.)

Here's another, more postmodern answer: "Today - because it's the first day of the rest of our lives."

[Apologies all around.]

7 August 2009 at 23:01  
Blogger Frugal Dougal said...

I voted Jesus because he was kind enough to give Gutenberg material to print. In addition to this, without Jesus, Richard Dawkins would have nothing to moan about, and the poor dear might have had to get a proper job - could ahve been the death of him.

7 August 2009 at 23:22  
Blogger Jim Bartlet said...

ZZMike / Gnostic / Anonymous 10:38

I think you will find that the invention of the printing press had no effect on reducing the imaginative distortion of ancient waffle. If you don't believe me then read the Book of Mormon; this is serious bed-time cheese.

7 August 2009 at 23:49  
Blogger DiscoveredJoys said...

Whether or not Jesus brought salvation to the world, surely only 33% of the world's population (Christians of some sort or another) believe it?

8 August 2009 at 00:18  
Anonymous sydneysider said...

Down under we live in your tomorrow..for us you actually live in the past

8 August 2009 at 05:37  
Anonymous non mouse said...

I voted - have to really. It's me duty.

I don't trust or believe in the results, though - especially if the thing's open to all of germany. They own most of the publishing business in the world now, I understand. Not that I read the new stuff they foist upon us....

Daft poll, anyway. Wherever did they come up with a witless list like that?

8 August 2009 at 05:41  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm looking to the Taliban for solutions.

8 August 2009 at 09:35  
Anonymous sydneysider said...

Anonymous 09:35
So are many others. Do you think they are watching us on this site?

8 August 2009 at 10:28  
Anonymous Dave J. said...

Gutenberg invented movable type. He did not invent the printing press which, as noted above, and like paper, was invented by the Chinese centuries earlier. Movable type is a lot more useful and innovative with a phonetic alphabet than with tens of thousands of pictographic characters.

I'm surprised to be the first to mention that Gutenberg himself, who was quite devout, would be horrified at this.

8 August 2009 at 19:38  
Blogger Botogol said...

shouldn't his grave be campaigning for the year of the crucifixion? - about 32CE I think - surely of far greater import than the year of the nativity.

10 August 2009 at 11:57  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

To be fair the birth of Jesus has much the same clout to a lot of people as the birth of any other fictional character.

At least the other 4 are proven facts.

13 August 2009 at 14:19  
Anonymous len said...

Josephus, Jewish historian (AD 37-100) wrote of Jesus:

"About this time appeared Jesus, a wise man (if indeed it is right to call Him man; for He was a worker of astonishing deeds, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with joy), and He drew to Himself many Jews (many also of Greeks. This was the Christ.) And when Pilate, at the denunciation of those that are foremost among us, had condemned Him to the cross, those who had first loved Him did not abandon Him (for He appeared to them alive again on the third day, the holy prophets having foretold this and countless other marvels about Him.) The tribe of Christians named after Him did not cease to this day." (Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 �63 )

15 August 2009 at 00:19  
Anonymous len said...

So significant is Jesus in man's history that the Encyclopedia Britannica has 20,000 words in describing this person, Jesus. His description took more space than was given to Aristotle, Cicero, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed or Napolean Bonaparte. Why would there be so much material on a man who was never born?

15 August 2009 at 00:26  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

And the eskimos have a lot of words to describe ice. By your standards are we to understand that the importance and evidence of something is directly related to how many words there are to describe it?

J R R Tolkein wrote about Frodo and the one ring and they were quite a few large books dedicated to it, should that mean we should be watching out for Sauron and his quest to obtain the one ring to bind them all?

Is there really any point to you having these conversations with me?

Nope not really, since nothing that is said no matter how much evidence it would show or no matter how logically the theory was reached you would still stick your fingers in your ears and convince yourself that your childhood brainwashing fairy tales are the truth. So really, why bother?

You have your opinion, I have mine, and we are have equal rights to voice them unless they produce unwanted physical ramifications on another party. But there is no point in you wasting your time repeatedly replying to my points with nonsense lines from your 1700 year old story books.

Just because something is written in ink doesn't make it true and so it goes on, so it there is more of it written in more ink the same end result still applies.

1000000000000000 X 0 still equals 0.

17 August 2009 at 13:30  
Anonymous len said...

The Glovner I won`t bother you with the truth because I can see your minds made up!
You remind me somewhat of an ostrich with its head stuck firmly in the sand!
In the bible it says if you do not have a love of the truth God will send you a strong delusion so you will be unable to see or know the truth, this is your position Mr Glovner, I pity you!

You stand as a warning to others and as testament to the arrogance, pride, and stupidity, of fallen man.

17 August 2009 at 23:24  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

However, since I am not the one imply I have the truth and know all the answers it clearly isn't me that is displaying arrogance and pride.

But then again the religious are generally good at showing themselves as hypocrites.

I am 99% sure there isn't a god based on available evidence and logic, you are 100% sure there is a god, who is the one with the closed mind really?

18 August 2009 at 12:48  
Anonymous len said...

The Glovner.
Do you know everything that exists in the universe whether visible or invisible?
Unless you are extremely arrogant or exceptionally brilliant the only answer you can give is no!
Do you think that the knowledge of God might lay in this area that is beyond your understanding?

20 August 2009 at 13:37  
Anonymous len said...

The Glovner,

One of the most destructive and misleading factors in thoughts concerning God is to restrict one's thought to the logic of the empirical sciences and to fail to recognize the limits and boundaries of that logic. Since the specialists in the empirical sciences devote all their mental energy to the sensory sciences, they are alien to matters that lie beyond sense perception. This alienation, this distance from non-sensory matters, this extraordinary trust in the data yielded by the empirical sciences, reaches such a point that testing and experimentation form the whole mental structure and world view of such specialists. They regard experimentation as the only acceptable tool and means of cognition, as the sole criterion. They expect it to solve every problem. The function of the sciences is to explain the relationships between phenomena; their aim is to establish the connection between events, not between God and events. In the experimental sciences, man is not at all concerned with God. One should not expect to be able to perceive supra-sensory realities by means of sensory criteria, or to see God in a laboratory. The sciences cannot carry out a laboratory experiment on the existence of God and then reach the verdict that if a thing is not physically observable and it cannot be established by means of laboratory experiment and mathematical calculation, it, therefore, has no reality. The empirical scientist has the right to say, "I have found such- and-such," or "I have not found such-and-such." He does not have the right to say, "Such-and-such a thing does not exist."

20 August 2009 at 19:53  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

@ len

"The empirical scientist has the right to say, "I have found such- and-such," or "I have not found such-and-such." He does not have the right to say, "Such-and-such a thing does not exist.""

Exactly right, which is why any freethinking person will say (like I did earlier) based on everything I know and have experienced I am 99% sure there is no god as there is nothing whatsoever presented that supports the idea of a god.

Yet you show your hypocrisy by making the above point and also an absolute statement that there is a god then your arrogance show through by your statement of having the "truth" but having no requirement to show evidence for it.

By your logic what you are saying is you think there is a god. Yes or no?

21 August 2009 at 13:04  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...



Way to show the hypocrisy and arrogance of the religiously minded.

"The empirical scientist has the right to say, 'I have found such- and-such,' or 'I have not found such-and-such.' He does not have the right to say, 'Such-and-such a thing does not exist.'"

But you think that the faith based religiously deluded have the right to say, 'I have the truth and there is a god, and you will burn in hell since you don't believe what I believe even though I can provide no truth except my own mind'

Laughable, once again, myself, the scientifically minded and all atheists which are honest and logical say that they are 99% sure god doesn't exist based on available evidence and experience there is no need to jump to such an amazing hypothesis just becuase we don't know the answer. But the big thing there is that we will admit that we don't know the answer.

You on the other hand, in your own mind know the answer to be 100% true no matter how much it seems as fantastical magical nonsense. Your theories of god are just as likely as any other fantasy being anyone can think of which means you have no more weight of truth given to you than any other person that wants to spout fantasy and fiction as being truth.

Which is fine, people can think what they want, where I and all the other atheists resent it is when you start to arrogantly think that your fantasy stories have a right to encroach on our lives even though we don't have any belief in your nonsense.

There is only one group here that is arrogant and I can assure you it isn't me len, can you be so humble to admit you don't know the truth?

24 August 2009 at 14:11  
Anonymous len said...

The truth is a person Jesus Christ.

It takes a revelation from God to grasp this truth.
Perhaps one day your blinkers will fall off, or perhaps not?

If you do not have a love of the truth God will send a strong delusion, perhaps it is too late already?

31 August 2009 at 18:47  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

And again I will say it.


I am far more humble I would think to seek truth and accept it when I am provided proof. Rather than "blinker" myself to any other posibilities and accept your unprovable version of your truth.

3 September 2009 at 13:31  
Anonymous len said...

Mr Glovner,
Is it arrogance to admit you cannot do anything to save yourself and to put your life entirely in the hands of Jesus Christ?
I would say it is the opposite of arrogance, total humility.

If you are referring to possessing the Truth,as I have said before, (Blaise Pascal Quotes)
Faith is different from proof; the latter is human, the former is a gift from God.

5 September 2009 at 17:29  
Anonymous len said...

Faith is different from proof; the latter is human, the former is a gift from God.

5 September 2009 at 19:39  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

It is arrogance to presume you are correct and everyone else that disagrees is wrong without one shred of proof or evidence to back up your stance.

And Pascal's logic almost has as many holes in it as the bible so lets not even go there.

So are you pulling up quotes now to back up your position?

"Faith is believing something you know ain't true."
-Mark Twain-

"Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence."
-Richard Dawkins-

"Faith means not wanting to know what is true"
-Friedrich Nietzsche-

"Faith is the determination to remain ignorant in the face of all evidence that you are ignorant."
-Shaun Mason-

"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."
-Christopher Hitchens-

"You can't convince a believer of anything; their belief is not based on evidence but a deep-seated need to believe."
-Carl Sagan-

"The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike"
-Delos McKown-

"All religions have been made by men."
-Napoleon Bonaparte-

"Religion belonged to the infancy of humanity. Now that humanity has come of age, it should be left behind."
-Sigmund Freud-

"When you understand why you dismiss all the other gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
-Stephen Roberts-

"Suppose we've chosen the wrong god. Every time we go to church we're just making him madder"
-Homer Simpson-

And just so I don't appear bias in my quote selection here is one from your favourite:

"Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions."
-Blaise Pascal-

7 September 2009 at 00:31  
Anonymous len said...

Faith Defined

How we define faith is essential. Faith is not a force around us; faith is not forcing ourselves to believe something we are unsure of; faith is not the absence of doubt; faith is not blind, thoughtless loyalty and serving a God we do not know. Faith is based on reason, truth and a God we can know personally. If you look at the great men of faith in the Bible, you see that faith comes from God alone. Faith is not man-dependent. Some believe that we have to ‘muster’ up enough faith to accomplish a great work; however, in reality it is God that measures faith to man as He reveals His plan to those who humble themselves and submit to the will of God.

8 September 2009 at 17:46  
Anonymous len said...

Human v Divine Wisdom.
Paul, describing that conflict, said, "The word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.... Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Cor. 1:18, 20). While the first-century philosophers viewed the wisdom of God as foolishness, in truth, God exposed their so-called "wisdom" as foolish. That opposition makes the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God incompatible-they are mutually exclusive.

God has given man the ability to study, analyze, categorize, and develop the physical resources of this earth to benefit physical life. But that's where his wisdom ends. Because of sin, his mind is totally unable to discern the spiritual dimension. He has no power to change his own heart, no understanding to solve his spiritual dilemma, and no resources to satisfy his soul-he is spiritually dead.

The wisdom of men makes no contribution in the spiritual dimension, and it doesn't need to make a contribution. God's wisdom is rich and infinite-it needs no supplement.

8 September 2009 at 18:47  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

Please len.

Give it a rest, your posts are lengthy displays in the art of saying so much and absolutely nothing at the same time with the ability to lend no weight whatsoever to your position.

You say that one person says this and that and it backs up your position to be true. But if somebody else disagrees with your position no matter what they can present to back up their opposing position you will ignore completely because it does not agree with your "faith" which tells you that you are correct, this is a terrible display of double standards.

You are closed minded and debate on any level with you is a complete waste of both yours and my time, as nothing will ever be resolved or comprimised by you in your untenable position that you so faithfully occupy regardless of anything said on the contrary.

I shall not be replying to anymore posts left on this article, so if it would make you feel better by getting the last word (perhaps this also positively backs up your position in your closed mind, I don't know, but you seem to make sure you do get the last word in almost every other thread so it is a valid hypothesis) then please go ahead and fill your boots.

9 September 2009 at 13:50  

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