I don't understand the BC vs BCE, AD vs CE debate

A fight is going on in Kentucky on which historical dating system to use.

I don't understand what the big deal is. Yes, I realize the debate is religiously charged, but personally, I find it obvious that teachers should teach both systems in the public schools. I had never heard of the BCE/CE system until I got to college. I think teaching both offers the opportunity for discussion on why historians, archaeologists, etc, developed the new system.

I'm guessing most of you probably know the difference already, but here goes anyway...

The BC/AD system is the one most of us are used to. BC stands for "Before Christ" and refers to all years prior to the birth of Christ. AD is short for "Anno Domini," which is Latin for "year of our Lord." The problem with this system is the uncertainty over exactly which year in history Christ was born. Nobody has been able to pin it down for sure. Last I heard, there were theories that Jesus was born anywhere from -3 (3 BC) to AD 6. So, if this is the system in use, it is not absolute because using BC/AD basically means dealing with a possible +/- 10 year error when referring to a date.

BCE/CE on the other hand is an absolute dating system. It sets the starting point for dates at, currently, 2006 years ago. Everything before that is BCE (before common or current era). Everything after is CE (common or current era).

I use the systems interchangeably in my class. I explain the difference at the beginning of the year, but then I sort of oscillate between the two. I think it's important for students to be familiar with both because they will encounter both on a regular basis if they do much research.

Incidentally, another couple of useful terms or abbreviations relating to dates are YBP (years before present) and YA (years ago). I use these a lot when writing notes or handouts, usually in reference to really old dates (i.e. the Neolithic revolution took place approximate 10,000 - 12,000 YBP).

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