Who Would Get the Honor in a New Year Zero? September 15, 2009

Who Would Get the Honor in a New Year Zero?

Interesting question from reader 1minion:

Given that the current calendar we’re using was constructed thanks to a committee retroactively selecting Christ’s birth year as Year Zero (or One?), if atheists were to get together to select a new Year Zero to reflect our credo, whose birth should get the honors?

Not that this should sway you, but I was born in 1983.

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  • Reginald Selkirk

    Zero Mostel, I should think.

  • JulietEcho

    I like the idea of starting with the earliest known creation of a formal human calendar shared by more than one community. Unfortunately, we don’t have a good idea of when that happened, but we’d probably be in range of the years 5000-6000 right now based on what we know. BC could stand for “Before Calendar” 😛

  • sven

    Please, let´s not get into that. Before we know it we will have to change the names of the days of the week and the names of the months as well.
    Let´s just hope this birth-of-christ thing will blow over in a couple of millenea.

  • If we’re recalibrating the year zero, we should probably just go with the Unix Epoch. Nice and easy.

  • Bráulio Bezerra

    JulietEcho, I guess 6000 years ago isn’t a good choice… So let’s be methodical and set it to, like, 13.7 billion years ago, at the Big Bang.

  • ChrisZ

    I wouldn’t do it for a person, I’d start the calender in what is now known as 1969, the year man first stepped foot on another world (which I consider more important than simply leaving earth as the Apollo 8 astronaugts first did in 1968).

  • Julien

    I’m with t3knomanser about the Unix Epoch – it’s a valid as anything else we’d choose. However, it would make the most sense to me to base year 0 on a natural event, perhaps something that recurs or something astronomical… I’m just not convinced that any one person or cultural event is important enough to base the world calendar on.

  • fhqwhgads17

    I probably wouldn’t use a birth myself. How about July 16, 1969 as day 1? Or maybe April 12, 1961?

  • ChrisZ

    Why do I always put that “g” in astronauts?

  • Galileo, 1564

    That seems as good a year as any other. Everything before can be BS, before (the modern rebirth of) science.

    ‘Course John Lennon was 1940 and I hear he was bigger than Jesus. So was John Holmes, 1944.

    Hmmm. This may not get posted. Ah, well, if not, I’ll chuckle to myself.

  • Paineroo

    How about if we take the best estimate for how many years the Sun has left and start counting DOWN?

    (Posted at 09/15/4,500,000,000)

  • I like ChrisZ’s idea, too.

  • Bráulio Bezerra

    This post reminds me of a joke:

    A teacher goes to the museum and is seeing a T Rex fossil. The janitor is walking and sees him and says “this dinosaur is sixty-five million, five hundred thousand, fifteen years, two months and three days old.” The teacher is puzzled: “How do you know its age so precisely?!”. “Simple, when it arrived here, fifteen years ago, it was sixty-five million, five hundred thousand years old.”

  • Nicole C.

    I think the year the descision’s made should be named year zero.

  • Herk

    There was no zero in our current calendar. Dennis the Short had no concept of zero. Of course, he also had no idea when the putative Jesus was actually supposed to have been born.

    I think that since we’re so used to the four-digit format for the year, we should start at 1000. Of course, we could give the nod to digital technology and start at 0001 and then go to 0010 . . .

  • CatBallou

    There’s never a “year” zero, and that wasn’t a mistake in the current calendar. “Year one” would indicate the first 365-day(ish) span of time in this calendar. There could be a “moment” zero, but not a year zero.

  • littlejohn

    Our current calendar has no year zero. It goes from 1 BC to 1 AD with nothing in between. Remember the fuss nine years ago about whether the millennium was in 2000 or 2001? (Hence the name of Arther C. Clarke’s book.)
    Since I’m the only person I know who can spell “millennium,” I modestly suggest my birthday, Aug. 10, 1954 (It’s now 55 After John). It would help this old man remember what year it is. My late father, BTW, was born on Jan. 1. He always insisted the fireworks were for him. Of course, my father was generally full of shit.

  • stephanie

    Being an atheist also opens me up to rationalism and pragmatism. Therefore I’d leave the calendar right where it is as it’s been working fine for multinational business.

  • Brian Westley

    On our local science fiction radio show “shockwave,” we always dated things from the moon landing.

  • Frank

    I think the influence computers have had on human knowledge is as good a basis for recalibrating the calendar as anything, so perhaps the year the first computer was built (sometime during ww2). Or perhaps the year Alan Turing was born (which would have the added advantage of pissing off christians even more). Or perhaps, as has been suggested, the unix epoch.

    And using computers as the basis would justify having a year 0 too.

  • sc0tt

    I don’t think it should be anybody’s birth.

    The first episode of Star Trek would be a convenient spot though. That would make earlier years BS.

  • No one of consequence

    My favorite is “Anno Urbis” based on the founding of Rome.

    Posted 09/15/2762 AUC

    The Aztec’s count deserves serious consideration.

  • Miko

    1791: Thomas Paine writes Rights of Man and the U.S. adopts the Bill of Rights.

    Or, 1804: death of Alexander Hamilton.

    The birth of the new world and the death of the old did overlap a bit, so either works.

  • Luther

    As a former Y2K programmer, I still get flack that we ripped off the public. However, I guarantee it was worth all the work. I would not change the calendar, but would favor changing the names, perhaps that is the way.

    Right now the official names seem to be Before Christ, and After Death. The not Christian version seems to be Common Era, and Before Common Era.

    Maybe we could come up with something inclusive, let me speculate. There is some benefit to keep BC and AD, and other reasons to scrap them (not the leaset of which gives us more options):

    Backwards Counting/Adding Days

    Early Times/Recent Times

    Counting Backwards/Counting Forwards

    Early Mythology/Recent Mythology

    Towards Creation/Towards Extinction

    I’m sure others can do much better.

  • Miko

    I’d leave the calendar right where it is as it’s been working fine for multinational business.

    Yes, and doing what’s best for multinational business should always be our primary goal.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    I’m with ChrisZ in thinking that landing on another world would be a good starting point. Either that or the Trinity test in 1945, when we 1st acquired the power to annihilate ourselves (given the nature of our species it seems that we’ve been living on borrowed time ever since).

  • Tinna G. Gígja

    Wait, people actually think AD stands for “after death”? What do they use for the years in between? Tiberius became emperor in 14…just 14…

    Actually, looking at wikipedia, it claims that some people think it stands for Après Dieu – after god. Sounds slightly better than after death, anyway.

  • How about the date of the first recorded solar eclipse? We should be able to ascertain that precisely, and solar observations are relevant to timekeeping.

    The only problem is that some future archaeologist will probably dig up a new stone or clay tablet and break time. 🙂

  • Well since atheists don’t really have a creed or anything, I won’t recommend a date. If the questions were posed to young-earth creationists, I guess they might suggest Sunday, October 23rd 4004 B.C. being the first day of creation (according to 17th century Archbishop James Ussher of Ireland).

  • Mark

    The new calander should start on the day that charles darwin published his book origin of species.

  • I think AD is anno domine, the year of the lord. It refers to the guessed year of Jesus’ birth.

  • medussa

    A.D. originally stood for Anno Domini, the year of our lord in latin.
    Of course, it can be rewritten any way we choose, now that doubt in the existence of that lord is no longer punishable by death…

    I think we should reset the calender to start with the earliest known occurrence of written history, according to current knowledge. No need to restart every time an archaeologist finds something older, as it’s largely symbolic anyway.

  • Liudvikas

    I would say it should be “Before space age” and “Space age”. So 1961 would be a good choice.

  • Carolyn

    @no one of consequence:

    AUC actually stands for “ab urbe condita,” which means “from the founding of the city.”

  • jemand

    I love the count DOWN idea to solar extinction.

    Actually might give society some jolt to do something about it.

  • Richard P

    I think it should be 1966. It was the year I was born, and as far as I am concerned the day the world began….

  • Michael Jackson’s death in 2009…just saying he only monopolized the news for 3 months

  • gwen

    I think the year of the invention of the Web should be our starting point! I would have never found my skeptical and atheist brothers and sisters if it had not been for the internet!

  • llewelly

    I vote for 1931, because that is the year William Dyer published the first public description of the Paboodie expedition to Antarctica, as described in At The Mountains Of Madness

  • Calendar numbering is essentially arbitrary, so a random choice is the most appropriate for atheists. Throw a dart at a list of years and be done with it. Anything else smacks of quasi-religious reverence for whatever milestone event is chosen.

  • I’m with everyone else that said we should use the Unix epoch. Our computers are already running on it, translating it into our primitive calander dates when we ask them to.

  • Sesoron

    Perhaps A.D. 1620, for the publication of Bacon’s Novum Organum, or A.D. 1637, for Descartes’ Discourse on the Method? We could call the system S.R. for Saeculum Rationis (Age of Reason), contrasted to A.R. for Ante Rationem (Before Reason). If we didn’t want to give credit to just one of the many influential early modern scientific theorists, we could be more fuzzy and just pick A.D. 1600, which would conveniently make the transition far easier: 2009 would become 409, etc. I think at least something from this time period would be ideal, because it marks the definitive beginning of scientific thought, which is what should define our age as distinct from the previous dominance of religion.

  • ChameleonDave

    OK, OK, select a new epoch if you like, just as long as you don’t indulge in the utter idiocy of maintaining AD but masking it with a politically-correct name like ‘CE’.

    And will people stop saying that ‘Anno Domini’ means “in the year of our Lord”? There is no ‘our’ in there (which would be ‘nostri’). It’s simply “in the year of [the] lord” (Latin has no ‘the’).

    One could perfectly legitimately take it as meaning “anno domini istorum stultorum christianorum” (“in the year of these stupid Christians’ lord”).

    If anyone thinks that even this sly reference to Jesus in another language is unacceptable, I challenge them to first abandon the far clearer religious references in the days of the week (Moon [goddess] day, Tiw’s day, Woden’s day, Thor’s day, Frigg’s/Freyja’s day, Saturn’s day, Sun [god] day).

    And there is no more a year zero in the calendar than there is a month zero before January each year or a day zero in each month before the 1st.

  • Holly

    What year was His Noodliness created dished up?

  • Chakolate

    I’m with ChrisZ. All of human history can be divided into ‘trapped in our gravity well’ and ‘walked on other celestial bodies’.

    If 1969 = year zero, I was born in year -17. Okay, *now* I feel old.

  • Audrey

    My first thought was that we should just go back to AUC, which No one of consequence also suggested. Who doesn’t love the founding of Rome? Since the Roman Empire since fallen, it’s just an arbitrary date with some neat historical significance that kids can learn about in school.

  • Stephen P

    If we were to redefine the calendar I would take as starting point the year of the oldest historical event we can precisely date, in order to minimise the use of BCE dates. I think that goes back around 5500 years. At any rate a year much further back in the past than 1 AD.

    (But it’s hard to imagine that the benefits of any calendar restructuring could ever outweigh the costs.)

  • Jim

    Isn’t the implementation of BCE a washing over of the origin of BC in the first place?

    I’d say if we wanted to go far back, we should examine the various paintings of astronomical events painted on cave walls and try to determine when those events occurred and start from there.

    Darwin seems like a good candidate though.

  • J B Tait

    21 December 2012

  • Christophe Thill

    I suggest the birth year of Solon of Athens (said to be 640 BC), considered as the inventor of democracy.

    Or, why not the year the Chixulub meteorite fell to Earth (approx. 65 MY BC) ? We mammals owe quite a lot to it…

  • Last Thursday. As this was the day that the world was created in the form we see today it is fair that the calendar start from that day. No really, it was. All the memories of earlier times, light from distant stars, historical artifacts, credit card bills, etc they were all created last Thursday.

    That’s just the way things are I’m afraid and no amount of “reason”, “logic”, or “evidence” will change my mind. In fact I think you should all convert to Last Thursdayism as well to herald the new dawn from year 0. We are having a year zero, it’s just better that way.


    Failing that we should know that dates are simply arbitrary ways of measuring time. There is nothing special about the label “2009” except that it is convenient. I say stick with it but select an appropriate event of the starting year that we actually have some evidence for. Maybe the start of the Yuanshi era of the Chinese Han Dynasty.

  • Sesoron

    The problem with the dates people have thrown out of the geological timescale is that we can’t approximate them closely enough. For example, Christophe suggested 65 million years ago. Does that make this year 65,000,000? Does it make it 65,002,009? Unless we can specify to a particular iteration of our planet’s orbit, those dates (important as they are) aren’t much help when we want to tell this year from the next, as we still need something more precise to anchor onto.

  • muggle

    I’ll join the votes to leave it alone. This world isn’t confusing enough? We don’t have problems enough?

    Plus enough with screwing with every bit of knowledge I’ve ever based my actions on already. I’m 51. I do not want to have to learn a new way of counting the years. In fact, let’s do away with the archaic effing with the clocks twice a year and leave them be. It’s nothing but a big pain in the butt.

    I do like CE instead AD, however. I can bend that far.

  • How about Ursula LeGuin’s calendar from The Left Hand of Darkness? The current year is Year One, and events in the past get further away from Year One. Of course, the question on the table is about Year Zero, so we’d have to make some adjustments.

  • In the interest of throwing off the shackles of Judeochristian patriarchy, how about the (estimated) birthday of mitochondrial Eve?

  • J. Allen

    The publication of Baron D’Holbach’s books were the start of the current atheist movement in world history.

  • Jim H

    21 December 2012

    J B Tait wins this thread.

    I have a proposal: change the length of the day to make the solar year equal to exactly 365.00000 days. By my calculations, that would make the day 24 hrs, 54 seconds long. Pro: eliminates leap years. Con: after one year, midnight would occur at dawn; after another two years, midnight would be at dusk. Also, the length of the solar year varies a bit, so we would continually be re-defining the length of the day.

    I submit that this would be easier than changing the starting point of the calendar. 😉

  • Much science fiction picks early spaceflight milestones, but that’s largely because it was written when space technology was expected to be the new industrial revolution, space travel dominating our lives in the 21st century. That’s obviously not the case.

    Far more revolutionary events have defined the modern era. I think you could make reasonable cases for the printing press, basic computer technology and/or information theory (the publication of Shannon’s “A Theory of Information?”), or the internet. Or personal mobility: the invention of the steam engine or the internal combustion cycle. Or the discovery of the structure, of DNA, or the understanding of ribosomal protein synthesis.

    On the other hand, Gagarin’s flight and Armstrong’s small step certainly make fantastic visible symbols.

  • Being an atheist, I’m rational and pragmatic. Don’t want any changes, thank you very much.

  • Sanity

    If we’re thinking of wacky systems, what about this one to screw with historians worldwide. We just keep the current year a floating “year 0” and refer to events in the past as “year -x”.

    So, worldwar 2 ended in -64, the moonlanding was in -40, Columbus discovered america in -517, First contact with the Vulcans in 54, All contact lost with LV-426 in 517

    etc etc.

  • muggle


    “Not that this should sway you, but I was born in 1983.” So was my daughter, Hemant. Where do you live? You single? (Don’t worry. I’m just kidding even if you do seem like such a nice young man.)

    Can’t believe I let that slip by me first time around.

  • muggle

    Is there some way to rid myself of this truly hideous avatar that this thing is labelling me with it?

  • Hazor

    If it’s going to be in relation to a person, I say needs to be someone who has given a disproportionately large influence or contribution to the advancement of science, such as the aforementioned Galileo, Darwin, or Turing.

    If it really were to change, I’d actually go for the first space flight. It would highlight the advances in science we’ve made as a species, and not glorify any one person for the efforts of advancement which has been given by countless individuals.

    But realistically, I don’t think it’s worth the effort. Every piece of writing referencing a date would become incorrect, and everyone would have to learn the conversion. Computers would need updating, etc. etc..
    Now, making the change in computers would be simple, but it grows nightmarish when you consider how one human error in implementation could have far-reaching and negative consequences, such as for bank records.

    So, I say we keep it as it is. But the foremost reason? 1 A.D. was not the year of Jesus’ birth. It serves to highlight how a people who relied on faith over science made a mistake, and remind us how we got where we are: science and reason.

  • Tyler

    I was born in 1983, too! Though I don’t have a sweet blog or a job as a math teacher. I just have a math degree that I’m not really using for anything. You suck, me!

  • mezzetti

    how about the beginning of earth? sure no one was around for it, but who cares a beginning is a beginning

  • What about a system based on the precession of equinoxes, or some other predictable, cyclical astronomical event?

  • Magnifico

    March 7th 1973. That’s when time began for me. I don’t count the womb. Still on mom’s clock then.

  • I think instead of starting at zero and going from there, we should figure out when the universe is going to end and start counting down…

  • It should absolutely be the UNIX epoch (midnight on 1 January, 1970). The fact that I was born within a week of that moment couldn’t possibly be biasing my opinion. 😀

  • ChameleonDave, the reason people translate Anno Domini to “in the year of our lord” is that that was the phrase used in English, not because it’s a correct literal translation. While attempting to make yourself look like a Latin scholar you exposed the fact that you don’t read much English literature. In Spanish they use the phrase “En el año de Nuestro Señor” which literally translates to “in the year of our lord” as well.

    As for the UNIX Epoch, since less than six percent of computers worldwide use UNIX that might be the wrong choice. OS market share Microsoft Windows machines (93% market share) use January 1, 1900 as zero. Also arbitrary, but just as valid and requires fewer people to do anything than the UNIX-based date.

    Notable atheists in the past have used the the date of the execution of Giordano Bruno to adjust the calendar. Although he was burned at the stake on February 17, 1600 we can ignore the day of the year and just shift our calendar’s zero year forward 1600 years. This has the advantage of being easily translatable to the Gregorian system.

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