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What atheists do for Christmas

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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merry newtonmas Christmas tree topper by Robin Zebrowski (Credit: Robin Zebrowski via Flickr)

Put a figure of Sir Isaac Newton atop your “holiday tree,” make cards that wish others “Reasons Greetings!” and buy gifts emphasizing science and rejecting religion, and you’re set.  This Sunday, atheists around the world will celebrate “Merry Newtonmas”.

Rather than observing the birth of Jesus, whose existence many deny and others depreciate, some atheists focus on the birth of Isaac Newton.  The English scientist and mathematician was born on December 25, 1642 (kind of–more on that in a moment).

Atheists are in the news these days with the deaths of Christopher Hitchens and Kim Jong Il.  But they aren’t the only non-Christians to celebrate Christmas.  While a National Hanukkah Menorah will be lit today near the White House, some Jews also observe Christmas as a winter festival.  Some Muslims mark the day by celebrating Jesus’ role as a prophet in Islam; some Hindus view Jesus as an incarnation (“avatara”) of the god Vishnu and observe the day in his honor.

There are two problems with Merry Newtonmas as an alternative to Christmas.  First, observers must do some revisionist calendaring.  By the Julian calendar, in use in England at the time of Newton’s birth, he was born on December 25.  By the Gregorian calendar we use today, he was born on January 4.

Then there’s the inconvenient matter of his religion.  Sir Isaac wrote 1.3 million words on biblical subjects, more than he discussed science.  He paid for the distribution of Bibles to the poor and served on a commission to build 50 new churches in the London area.

The man credited with discovering the “universal law of gravitation” noted, “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion.  God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.”  And he made this bold statement: “Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors.”  While atheists will undoubtedly wish to dispute Newton’s description of their numbers, it is ironic that they would choose to celebrate his birth.

I have this quote by Isaac Newton framed in my study: “I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”  Newton reminds me daily that “the great ocean of truth,” the One who is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), is not found with the eyes but the heart.

The Child who invited shepherds to his birth now welcomes your worship and trust.  Have you been to the manger yet today?