Refuting the “Pagan Origins of the Lord’s Day” Myth Part 1: Did Pagans Celebrate a Weekly Festival on Sunday?

There are three primary groups of people that propagate the myth that the historical Christian tradition of corporate worship on Sunday is rooted in paganism and foisted upon Christendom by the Roman Catholic Church. They are: 1) Seventh Day Sabbatarians; 2) atheists; and 3) pagans.

It’s quite simple to understand why the second and third groups would prefer this particular line of revisionist history. Atheists look for any excuse at all to dismiss the validity of Christianity. So, the argument that it evolved in its entirety from pre-existing pagan traditions is certainly appealing. Various pagan groups seek to assert the same claim albeit for a different reason- to establish the superiority of their particular belief system over traditional Christianity.

The first group, however, is so out of place in this list that one wonders how they came to be included in it. Encyclopaedia Brittanica provides this definition of Seventh Day Sabbatarianism:

[the] doctrine of those Christians who believe that the Sabbath… should be observed in accordance with the Fourth Commandment, which forbids work on the Sabbath because it is a holy day… Those Christians who believe that the weekly holy day should still be observed on the Hebrew Sabbath, or Saturday…and…upholds the continuing validity of the Saturday Sabbath for Christians.”

This category encompasses a multiplicity of groups whose beliefs vary so widely that for some, this particular view is the only commonality. Notable sects include: Seventh Day Adventists, Seventh Day Baptists, Church of God (Seventh Day), and the modern day Hebrew Roots movement.

In this article, we’ll be specifically refuting this myth as it is presented by the various Seventh Day Sabbatarian groups. Former Seventh Day Adventist pastor D.M. Canright describes the teaching as follows:

They say that the pagan nations, especially the Romans, regarded Sunday as a holiday, or festival day: a day of worship of their heathen gods, particularly the sun, on every Sunday, hence Sun-day. When these pagans professed Christianity they gradually brought into the Church this pagan custom of a Sunday festival day. Then the apostate Roman Church adopted it from these heathens. So now we are keeping a pagan, papal day, hateful to God.”

D.M. Canright

In the first installment of this series, we’ll address the first claim: Did the Romans regard Sunday as a weekly festival on which they worshiped the Sun (or Sun god/s)?

What Proof of this Practice is Presented?

The first step in a proper refutation is to cite the sources by which Seventh Day Sabbatarians corroborate their claims in order to adequately address them. However, this is barely possible for the primary reason that this particular claim- which is foundational to the rest of the argument- is almost never supported by a source citation. Unfortunately, this detail does not hinder these groups from repeating it ad nauseum.

A couple of examples:

Prominent Seventh Day Adventist, Elder J. H. Waggoner, writes: “I only take it upon me to fully and clearly show that the Sunday has its origin as a day of regard and observance in paganism and the Papacy…I shall show that the authority, the name and the sacredness of Sunday are entirely of pagan origin…Sunday is in every feature a heathen institution.” (Replies to Canright, pp. 125, 126,133)

Seventh Day Baptist, Abram Herbert Lewis, writes: “Sunday, already a festival among the heathen.” And, “The sun’s day had been a leading weekly pagan festival for many centuries.” (“History of the Sabbath and Sunday”)

What’s the problem? In keeping with the tactics of the vast majority of Seventh Day Sabbatarian literature I have scoured, citation of sources to corroborate these statements is conspicuously absent. Instead, this information is declared to be historical “fact” and the respective authors move on to another facet of their argument entirely.

On the odd occasion that a source is cited, it is usually Arthur Weigall’s 1928 work “The Paganism in Our Christianity,” in which he states that the church made Sunday sacred “largely because it was the weekly festival of the sun; for it was a definite Christian policy to take over the pagan festivals endeared to the people by tradition, and to give them a Christian significance.” (p. 136)

Of greater interest is what else Weigall says in his book. Here is a small sampling:

  • the virgin birth is of pagan origin (p. 44)
  • Jesus’ miracles are of pagan origin (p. 58)
  • Jesus didn’t really die (p. 93)
  • the Jewish Sabbath is of pagan origin (p. 136)

Did you catch that last one? Individuals who cite Wiegall as an authority attesting that Sunday worship was derived from the “weekly” pagan ritual of the sun must simultaneously reject his assertion that the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) is also of pagan origin.

If this is the “proof” that exists it is understandable why Seventh Day Sabbatarians frequently fail to cite sources to corroborate this claim.

Roman Weekly Sunday Worship Soundly Refuted

I have found that the most exhaustively airtight refutations of a particular belief are often supplied by individuals who once held them. Such is the case with prominent former Seventh Day Adventist pastor D.M. Canright. He renounced Seventh Day Adventism for good in 1887 and became one of its most outspoken critics. He addresses the above claim (as well as the others we’ll get to in this series) in his writing, The Lord’s Day From Neither Catholics or Pagans.

In this work, he published the responses of four Greek and Roman history scholars to ten questions that he submitted to them separately. These scholars were: 1) F.N. Pryce of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum; 2) R. Rathborn of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington; 3) George F. Moore, Professor of Ancient Roman and Greek History, Harvard University in Cambridge; and 4) Prof. W.H. Westerman of the University of Wisconsin. The unbiased, historically correct answers to these questions unequivocally demolish the case for a pagan weekly observance on Sunday. Canright writes:

All four of these specialists in ancient history agree in answering these questions though neither one knew that they had been submitted to the others; yet all four exactly agree in every particular, though widely scattered, London, Washington, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin. Such a unanimous agreement would settle any question in a court of law.”

The scholars unanimously agreed on the following:

  1. Neither the Romans nor the Greeks ever had a regular weekly day of rest from secular work.
  2. Neither did they have a regular weekly festival day.
  3. They did not have a regular day of the week on which they gathered for pagan worship.
  4. They did not have a regular day of the week on which they went to their temples to pray or make offerings.
  5. Although the name of each day of the week is derived from a particular deity, the diety for which the day of the week is named was not specifically worshiped on the day that bore its name. (Therefore, the sun was not specifically worshiped on Sunday, or the Moon on Monday, or Saturn on Saturday, etc.)
  6. The seven day week did not become commonly used in the Roman calendar until the 3rd century.
  7. The Romans first learned about the seven day week from the Jews, Assyrians, and Babylonians.
  8. The Greeks never adopted the seven day week for common use into their calendar.
  9. The sun god was never worshiped weekly on a specific day of the week. Rather, he was worshiped annually.
  10. Alleged pagan reverence for Sunday had no influence on the Christian selection of that day for worship.

The subject of Constantine will be addressed in the next article, however, it is necessary to mention the following: Seventh Day Sabbatarians uniformly allege that Constantine’s 321 edict combined his worship of the sun with Christianity. This is hardly possible since “weekly” worship of the sun was not Roman tradition and Constantine’s edict is indeed the very first Roman legislation dividing the month into seven day weeks.

F.N. Pryce provides the following description of the Roman calendar prior to Constantine’s edict:

The Romans reckoned from three fixed points in the month, the Kalend or first, the Nones fifth or seventh, the Ides thirteenth or fifteenth. These subdivisions in themselves had no religious significance. Also in the Roman calendars were nundinal, or market days, at periods of eight days, or, as the Romans reckoned time. On these days farm work, etc., stopped and citizens flocked into the town markets. To some extent this may be a regular stoppage of secular work; but it had no religious significance, except that it was considered an evil omen when the nundinal coincided with other festival days, e. g., the: Nones. The nundinal period seems derived from a blundering reminiscence of a quarter of a lunar period, and there seems no connection with the later seven days’ week.”

Prof. George Moore writes:

There are two seven-day weeks: the Jewish week, with a Sabbath on the seventh day; and the Astrological week, with days named after the sun, moon, and five planets, in our order determined by the theories of astrology, but without any day of rest. The combination of the two is Christian. The Astrological week first appears in Greek and Latin writings about the beginning of the Christian era. Its antecedents are unknown. It had no use in ordinary life. Abstinence from labor on the seventh day, or on one day in seven, is a distinctively Jewish institution. The edict of Constantine (321 A.D.) closing the courts on Sunday and prohibiting some kinds of labor on that day, is the first recognition of a seven-day week in Roman law. The ancient Romans had a market day every eight days, when the peasants came to town to market, but it was in no sense a day of rest. In the old Roman calendar there were many days when the courts were closed and other public and private business was not done. They had also many festivals on which the people left their ordinary occupation to take part in the celebrations, but these have no periodicity like that of the week.”

Where Did This Myth Masquarading as Fact Come From?

With no historical leg to stand on, one might legitimately ask how this myth ever came to be accepted by such a broad group of individuals united under the banner of Seventh Day Sabbatarianism? Most would not accuse these groups of intentionally manufacturing this narrative. Incidentally, a fifth scholar writing to Canright after learning of his research provides some very interesting information.

In 1915, J.W. Montcrieff was the Associate Professor of Church History at the University of Chicago. He happened to have a particular interest in the study of Seventh Day Adventism and wrote to Canright:

Seventy years ago, when Seventh-Day Adventism was born, when people possessed a very meager amount of information concerning the ancients, and when even the great Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary contained the statement that ‘The division of time by weeks hath been universally observed in the world, not only amongst the civilized, but likewise among the most barbarous nations’ (I quote from the edition of 1819), it was excusable in Seventh-Day Adventists to relate Sunday observance to pagan Roman Sunday observance. But in the last fifty years an enormous amount of research into antiquarian life has been accomplished by reliable, competent historians, and when, with one accord, they proclaim the previously held notion to be a myth, pure and simple, with no support in well-ascertained facts, it is high time some one is bringing these facts which are to be found in every recent standard encyclopedia in the articles on ‘Calendar’ and ‘Week’ to the minds of the uninformed who are confused by a doctrine wholly at variance with now ascertained historical fact.”

Conclusion

As Canright amply demonstrated, the testimony of history itself is the proverbial “nail in the coffin” to the myth of the pagan commemoration of a weekly Sunday. Since Sunday had never been a weekly day of worship dedicated to Apollo (or Sol Invictus, etc.) in the first place no one can reasonably be accused of adopting it- much less “Christianizing” it.

In essence, the case for a “pagan Sunday,” no matter what subsequent evidence is provided, is an abject failure since the foundation on which it is built- the existence of a weekly Sunday pagan observance- is a demonstrably false assumption. In the following articles we will examine the equally historically untenable claims revolving around the controversial Constantine, the Roman Catholic Church, and various ecumenical councils.

Orphan Genes Part 3: De Novo Gene Origination- What are the Odds?

In Part 1 of this series we discussed the discovery of orphan genes and in Part 2 we tracked evolutionist response: initial rejection of their possible existence transitioning into reluctant acceptance due to repeated undeniable confirmation. Since evolutionists operate under the assumption that evolution is true, this acceptance necessitated a response regarding proposed naturalistic methods for the origination of these genes which evolution requires to emerge “de novo” (or “from scratch”) into the genome. The plausibility of these propositions will be the focus of the final installment of this topic.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

It’s not as if the methods by which genetic diversity manifest in the genome had never been considered. The reluctance of evolutionary science to embrace the existence of orphan genes is completely understandable given the historical conclusions drawn regarding de novo gene origination. A giant in his field (Head of the Dept. of Cell Genetics at Institut Pasteur in 1960 and 1965 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine winner), Francois Jacob, emphatically denounced de novo gene origination in his 1977 work Evolution and Tinkering:

Evolution does not produce novelties from scratch. It works on what already exists, either transforming a system to give it new functions or combining several systems to produce a more elaborate one.” He continued, “The probability that a functional protein would appear de novo by random association of amino acids is practically zero. In organisms as complex and integrated as those that were already living a long time ago, creation of entirely new nucleotide sequences could not be of any importance in the production of new information.” (emphasis mine)

Francois Jacob (via Wikipedia)

A Second Look at the Junk Pile

Confronted with new facts, evolutionists turned to re-examine what they had previously considered a DNA garbage heap. The majority of DNA (99%) is non-coding, meaning that it doesn’t provide instructions for making proteins. As this NIH article explains:

Scientists once thought noncoding DNA was ‘junk,’ with no known purpose. However, it is becoming clear that at least some of it is integral to the function of cells, particularly the control of gene activity. For example, noncoding DNA contains sequences that act as regulatory elements, determining when and where genes are turned on and off. Such elements provide sites for specialized proteins (called transcription factors) to attach (bind) and either activate or repress the process by which the information from genes is turned into proteins (transcription).”

According to the same source, types of regulatory elements found in junk DNA include promoters, enhancers, silencers, and insulators. Since the revelation that this junk DNA is not actually useless is fairly recent, it’s not surprising that “the identity of regulatory elements and other functional regions of noncoding DNA is not completely understood.”

Proposed Models

How could this “junk” DNA give rise to de novo origination of genes? This McLysaght/Guerzoni study concludes:

We may thus imagine two scenarios: one where an arbitrary ORF appears in a locus of significant transcription (‘RNA first’) and one where a cryptic, arbitrary ORF experiences some low, perhaps sporadic, transcription (‘ORF first’).”

The authors go on to state, “Either way, evolutionary tinkering with this pool of genetic potential may have been a significant player in the origins of lineage-specific traits and adaptations.”

Of course, these conceptual models derive from what Dr. Kevin Anderson (writing for AIG) terms “historical reconstructions” which by their very nature “are only as good as the assumptions of the reconstruction.” In this case the assumption is evolution via mutation. No other possibility is considered.

Emily Singer writes in her article for Quanta, “The junk DNA must accumulate mutations that allow it to be read by the cell or converted into RNA, as well as regulatory components that signify when and where the gene should be active. And like a sentence, the gene must have a beginning and an end…In addition, the RNA or protein produced by the gene must be useful.”

What are the Odds?

Possibility is one thing. Plausibility is entirely another. On the likelihood of such a scenario occurring Singer notes, “…creating a gene from a random DNA sequence appears as likely as dumping a jar of Scrabble tiles onto the floor and expecting the letters to spell out a coherent sentence.”

If these are the odds of even one gene emerging de novo from junk DNA, what then must be the odds of such an event taking place over and over in every living species? Furthermore, trends indicate that scientists may merely have uncovered the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the number of de novo genes. Singer writes, “As scientists…are implementing new gene discovery technologies…the number of de novo genes might explode.”

More Problems…

Statistical improbability isn’t the only issue with de novo gene origination via mutation. Dr. Anderson writes, “If it takes at least seven mutations to transform a functional gene into a different gene, then it would require far more mutations to truly evolve a de novo gene…the more mutations required, the greater the potential that some will be harmful. Evolutionists recognize this issue as well. Joanna Masel, a University of Arizona biologist studying how evolution might avoid this pitfall, explains: “Proteins have a strong tendency to misfold and cause havoc. It’s hard to see how to get a new protein out of random sequence when you expect random sequences to cause so much trouble.”

Closely related to the issue of mutations is the amount of time it would take these mutations to result in the de novo emergence of a gene. Dr. Anderson writes, “…the time needed to transform a functional gene into a different gene bursts the evolutionary timescale. The de novo formation of new genes takes this problem to even greater magnitudes. Humans, for example, are supposed to have evolved from a primate ancestor in just 4–6 million years. Even by the most generous calculations, this is insufficient time for the de novo construction of the hundreds of human orphan genes.”

De novo gene origination is just one piece of the puzzle. Singer poses the next, equally confounding question: “how de novo genes get incorporated into the complex network of reactions that drive the cell.” And that’s not the only concern, “Evidence suggests that a portion of de novo genes quickly become essential. About 20 percent of new genes in fruit flies appear to be required for survival.” She continues, “It’s as if a bicycle spontaneously grew a new part and rapidly incorporated it into its machinery, even though the bike was working fine without it.”

Conclusion

Evolutionists routinely disparage creation science by labeling it pseudoscience and calling foul based on Biblical bias. However, the case of orphan genes is an excellent example of the hypocrisy of such a claim. Secular science operates under its own bias- faith in evolution. Dr. Anderson aptly describes the evolutionist view of de novo gene origination, “This conclusion is not based on observational data, but rather on evolutionary necessity. The presumption of evolution is so prevalent in biology that it trumps everything else, even if it means depending upon events with a ‘practically zero’ chance of occurring.”

While orphan genes are definitely a wrench in evolutionary theory, Dr. Anderson notes that orphan genes fit “within a biblical creation model, where humans, animals, plants were created with a fully functional genome. Since this initial creation, subsequent changes in the genome have introduced many mutations and other alterations to the DNA. Some of these have even provided a specific (and likely limited) adaptive benefit. Yet these benefits result from degenerative mutations, not the formation of new genes.”

Orphan Genes Part 2: Evolutionists’ Response

In Part 1 of this series we discussed how the relatively recent technological advances in DNA sequencing led to some very unexpected findings. In particular, the discovery of the prolific existence of “orphan genes.” Given the evolutionary assumption of shared genes among all living things with changes occurring incrementally over vast eras of time, these mystery genes are a direct contradiction to any scenario predicted by evolutionary theory on a foundational level. Therefore, such evidence requires a very serious response. As we’ll see, the explanations evolutionists offer have certainly been revelatory, but not from a scientific standpoint. What has been revealed is a highly unscientific, faith-based commitment to the theory of evolution.

Nelson Velasco Debate

In the 2014 design vs evolution debate between Paul Nelson (Discovery Institute) and Joel Velasco (Texas Tech), the subject of orphan genes arose. Velasco’s 5 points are perfectly representative of the initial evolutionist response. Cornelius Hunter, writing for Evolution News, recounts Velasco’s arguments:

  1. “… there isn’t much to be concerned with here because ‘Every other puzzle we’ve ever encountered in the last 150 years has made us even more certain of a fact that we already knew, that we’re all related.’”
  2. …the whole orphan problem is contrived, as it is nothing more than a semantic misunderstanding — a confusion of terms…”
  3. … many of the orphans are so categorized merely because the search for similar sequence is done only in ‘very distantly related’ species.”
  4. …orphans are really nothing more than a gap in our knowledge… the more we know about a species, the more the orphan problem goes away. And which species do we know the most about? Ourselves of course…: ‘…How many orphan genes are in humans?… Zero.’”
  5. …while new orphans are discovered with each new genome that is decoded, the trend is slowing and is suggestive that in the long run relatives for these orphans will be found..”

As you can see, Velasco doesn’t offer a scientific explanation for the existence of orphan genes. Initially, evolutionists were very reluctant to even concede that they legitimately existed in numbers large enough to warrant discussion. Instead, he frames his case around faith that an explanation which fits evolutionary theory will arise. His answer is a catch all attempt to cover all the bases. Hunter sums up the inadequacy of Velasco’s view:

So to summarize Velasco’s position, the orphan problem will be solved so don’t worry about it, but actually orphans are not a problem at all but rather a semantic misunderstanding, but on the other hand the orphan problem is a consequence of incomplete genomic data, but actually on the other hand the problem is a consequence of insufficient knowledge about the species, and in any case even though the number of known orphans keeps on rising, they will eventually go away because the orphans as a percentage of the overall genomic data (which has been exploding exponentially) are going down.”

Velasco’s 4th Point

The one point listed that most resembles an actual argument is Velasco’s 4th. Is it true that the human genome, the one we know most about, doesn’t have any orphan genes?

The short answer is no.

A 2007 study by the Lander group did indeed reject thousands of proposed orphan genes that had been identified within the human genome, but not all. Authors of the study noted that not all proposed orphans were able to be rejected. In fact, this 2015 study “identified 634 human-specific genes” that appear to have arisen de novo in the human genome. Most telling, however, is why the Lander study rejected the majority of the orphans:

If the orphans represent valid human protein-coding genes, we would have to conclude that the vast majority of the orphans were born after the divergence from chimpanzee. Such a model would require a prodigious rate of gene birth in mammalian lineages and a ferocious rate of gene death erasing the huge number of genes born before the divergence from chimpanzee. We reject such a model as wholly implausible. We thus conclude that the vast majority of orphans are simply randomly occurring ORFs that do not represent protein-coding genes…” (emphasis mine)

On what grounds would such a model be considered “wholly implausible”? Apparently, because their existence cannot be plausibly explained within the constraints of evolutionary theory. Hunter notes the following:

This is what philosophers refer to as theory-ladenness…There was no scientific evidence that those human sequences, identified as orphans, were ‘spurious.’ The methods used in the Lander study were full of evolutionary assumptions. The results entirely hinged on evolution. Although the paper did not explicitly state this, without the assumption of evolution no such conclusions could have been made. Although the paper authoritatively concluded that the vast majority of the orphans in the human genome were spurious, this was not an empirical observation or inference…”

On Second Thought…

Over time evolutionists have been forced to accept that orphan genes do in fact exist in numbers great enough to require a revamping of long held beliefs regarding the formation of genes. In other words, the evolutionists’ explanation of the origin of genes had to… evolve.

Since a designed genome is not an option for evolutionists, an alternative explanation for the existence of these orphan genes had to be considered. In late 2014, Tautz D. published the following conclusion in his The discovery of de novo gene evolution:

Genes can evolve via duplication and divergence mechanisms, but also de novo out of non-coding intergenic sequences. This latter mechanism has only recently become fully appreciated, while the former mechanism was an almost exclusive dogma for quite some time. This essay explores the history of this development: why a view developed, with the alternative hardly being explored. Because of the prevailing view, an important aspect of the nature of genes and their evolutionary origin escaped our attention. Evidence is now rapidly accumulating that de novo evolution isa very active mechanism for generating novelty in the genome, and this will require anew look at how genes arise and become functional.” (emphasis mine)

With evolution assumed, Tautz concludes that new genes must be able to arise “from scratch” (“de novo”) from non coding sequences. He also makes three admissions: (1) they have only recently become forced to abandon (due to the discovery of the existence of these orphan genes) the exclusive evolutionary dogma that dominated genetic understanding; (2) this dogma caused a blindness with regard to their understanding of the nature and origin of genes; (3) they will have to figure out how these genes could exist.

As the 20th century evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky famously said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” This is the bias mainstream science operates under. The theory of evolution is never questioned- it is an assumed foundational truth. Since orphan genes are now acknowledged to exist, evolutionists assume that there must be a naturalistic mechanism to explain new genes appearing from scratch in the genome.

What Next?

Evolutionists are left with the task of explaining a naturalistic mechanism by which these “de novo” genes come to exist. In Part 3, we’ll take a look at the plausibility of these proposed mechanisms.