OK, a small confession. The previous post on Leap Day was prepared for a wider audience than the 3 people who read this blog (you know who you are), and so I hid a few of my tendencies. One thing I had in an early draft was a comment about how the length of the day doesn’t divide evenly into the length of the year, and that this should come as no surprise. “Why should it?” I wrote. But then I took it out.
For someone who, like me, doesn’t believe any of the universe around us was designed, it makes perfect sense that the length of the day and the length of the year don’t correlate. But what if they did? What if the day were just the right length to make the year exactly 360 days long? That would be quite the cosmic coincidence. If our scientific civilization had developed just at that time in history, thinkers might have a very tough time explaining it away. 360 is a pretty incredible number, divisible by 2,3,4,5,6,9,10,12 and so on. That is of course exactlyh why it was chosen for the degrees in a circle in the first place. It would be quite a pretty coincidence if the year had exactly this number of days.
A quick calculation shows that the day would only have to be 24.3495 hours long to give a 360 day year (assuming, for ease of calculation, that the year itself stays the same length). That’s around 1258 seconds longer than it is now. An extremely naive calculation puts a 360-day year at around 124 million years from now. So, given a 4.6 billion year old Earth, we came reasonably close to that coincidence.
Of course, in fairness we came close to any number of other arrangements of days and years, too. As Feynman once said, “You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I was coming here, on the way to the lecture, and I came in through the parking lot. And you won’t believe what happened. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!”
I thought I’d do some internet research and see if anyone else had commented on this coming 360-day year. Wow, was I in for a shock. Instead of scientists discussing the 360-day year to come, I found lots of not-so-scientific discussions of the 360-day year that was. Apparently, either original sin or the flood (sometimes caused by the close passage of Mars!) knocked the Earth out of its perfect 360-day orbit and into the present imperfect one. These sites then discuss “evidence” that the year was once 360 days long. In fact, scientists have good evidence that in the past it was short days, not a difference in the year length, that caused each year to contain more days. But who needs facts to get in the way of a good story?
Of course, one might argue in exactly the opposite direction. A 360.00 day year might be evidence of supernatural tampering on par with Douglas Adams’ babelfish. I’ll end this rather silly entry with Adams’ words.
“The Babel fish is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with the nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.
Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen it to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.
The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”
“But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”
“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.”