Solar Eclipses and God
A few hours ago, I witnessed one of the most awesome events in my lifetime: A total eclipse of the sun! For two and a half minutes, the moon completely covered the sun. People all over the United States of America had their special sunglasses, cereal box pinhole thingies, or other viewing devices so that they could safely witness the eclipse without going blind. I, unfortunately, did not have anything to with which to view the eclipse, so I tried “The Selfie Method”, which is viewing the eclipse on the screen of your cell phone while the camera app is open and the phone is in selfie mode. Unfortunately, that approach did not work the best. I read on Space.com that during the two minutes that the moon completely envelops the sun, you can look at the eclipse safely with the naked eye. I looked for literally only 2 seconds when the total darkness came and then I looked away. I am so blessed to have been living in “The Totality Zone” so I could witness this once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event. The video I took of the event is on my own personal Facebook page and is available for public viewing.
I thought I would seize the opportunity to talk about some of the implications solar eclipses have for Christian Apologetics. As Michio Kaku explained on Special Report With Shepherd Smith earlier today, the reason total solar eclipses are even possible is because of “cosmic coincidences”. The sun is 400 times bigger than the moon. However, the sun is also 400 times farther away than the moon. The fact that the sun is 400 times bigger than the moon and is simultaneously 400 times farther away causes the sun and the moon to appear to be the exact same size. If the distance of the sun and size of the moon were off by a little bit, complete eclipses would be impossible. Moreover, if humans had come into being millions of years ago, or if we didn't come into being until 600 million years from now, then total solar eclipses would also be impossible. Why? Because the moon has been moving away from the Earth at an average of 2 inches per year since its initial creation 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists calculate that this means that 600 million years from now, the moon will be too far away to be able to fully block out the sun's light. 600 million years from now, only partial eclipses will be possible.
In order for we humans to observe total eclipses, several things had to have come together.
1: The moon's size relative to the sun's size,
2: The moon's distance from Earth relative to the Sun's distance from Earth.
3: The Earth's distance from the sun.
4: Humans had to have come into being at the precise moment that we did.
If any of these were off by a little bit, our species would not be able to view such a spectacular sight. It is also the case that Earth is the only planet in our Solar System where perfect solar eclipses can even be observed. The one place in the Solar System where perfect eclipses can be observed just happens to be the place where there are people to observe them.
Now, how does this relate to Christian Apologetics? Astronomer Guillermo Gonzales and philosopher Jay Richards wrote an entire book on The Local Fine Tuning Argument called The Privileged Planet. I wrote a whole chapter on The Local Fine Tuning Argument in my book Inference To The One True God, but they wrote an entire book on the subject. In this book, Gonzales and Richards have a chapter where they argue that our region wasn't just designed so that life could exist, but it was also designed so that scientific discovery could be possible.
Several scientific discoveries wouldn't have or couldn't have been made had perfect solar eclipses not have been possible. A solar eclipse is what lead to confirmation of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.
Jay Richards explains, “In the early 20th century, Albert Einstein predicted, in his General Theory of Relativity, that light passing near a massive object like the Sun would be visibly bent. To test his theory, astronomers needed to measure the changes in the positions of starlight passing near the Sun’s edge compared to their positions months later when the Sun was in another part of the sky. But have you ever tried to look at starlight right next to the edge of the Sun? Probably not. The test could only be done during a total solar eclipse. That’s why, during the 1919 solar eclipse, two teams of astronomers, one led by Sir Arthur Eddington, set out to confirm Einstein’s theory. They succeeded, as did other astronomers during later eclipses. This led to the general acceptance of Einstein’s theory. And that theory is the basis of modern cosmology.”1
As already stated, The Earth's distance from the Sun, The Moon's Size, and the distance of the Sun from both are conducive to total solar eclipses. However, these features are also conducive to life being able to exist.
What can we or should we draw from this? Well, as I point out in Chapter 3 my book Inference To The One True God, there are 400+ characteristics needed to make one planet capable of supporting life. This, by itself, points to Intelligent Design. Even if one didn't run the numbers, one can pretty much see the implausibility of 400+ just-right characteristics coming together by sheer happenstance. But astrophysicist Hugh Ross, in The Creator Of The Cosmos, says that the odds of every single one of these coming together by chance is on the order 1 in 10500. That's the number 1 with 500 zeroes after it. The best explanation is that a powerful Creator purposefully crafted our region of the cosmos because He wanted life to exist.
But Richards and Gonzales take the point even further by showing how so many of what is needed to make life possible also makes science possible. As Richards pointed out in a recent “ID The Future” Podcast, a “Designed For Discovery” argument cannot be made from simply one or two examples. You need many examples in order to make a strong argument. If you only had one or two of these life-permitting-to-science-permitting parameters, you could just dismiss them as a nice coincidence. If the only examples we had were the features that made eclipses possible, you could say “Well, that's a nice coincidence, but I don't think it justifies the conclusion that a Creator fashioned our world with the intention on intelligent creatures doing science.” In the podcast I just linked to, Jay Richards said that it was the cumulative case of life-permitting attributes corresponding to science-permitting attributes that really tips the scales in favor of Intelligent Design.
One example I give in my own book is our Solar System's place in the Milky Way Galaxy. Our Solar System is in between the Spiral Arms, far enough away from the center so as not to be bathed in the radiation and debris from the frequent stars being born and dying, but also close enough to the center so that star formation, so that enough of the ingredients needed for life could arrive on Earth. If our Solar System were not where it currently resides, life would be impossible. Star formation occurs too frequently closer to the center, but not frequently enough farther out. Where we currently are is where the amount of star formation is just-right. Not too many and not too few stars are birthing and dying in this region of the Galaxy. However, this likewise is conducive to scientific discoveries. If we were within the spiral arms, our view would be obscured by the debris and gasses which make up the spiral arms. In that case, astronomy would be either be impossible or at least extremely difficult.
In that linked-to podcast, Jay Richards said; “Imagine it like this. Imagine there are two hypotheses; one hypothesis is that not only is the universe fine tuned for life, but for scientific discovery. The other hypothesis is just the chance hypothesis, that whatever has happened is just the result of blind processes...., so those are your two hypotheses. The discovery that the conditions for life and the conditions for scientific discovery correlate in very rare places is much easier to explain, in fact it makes sense if the universe is designed for discovery. It makes no sense on the chance hypothesis. So, essentially that The Design Hypothesis gets confirmed on that way of framing it. We don't claim that this is a mathematically deductive proof for the existence of God or even for design, but we do think that it's a strong argument in favor of design and that the whole thing makes a heck of a lot more sense if you think the universe is designed for discovery than if you don't.”
The Solar Eclipse reminded me today that we live in a very privileged place in the universe indeed. God designed our galaxy, solar system, and Earth-Moon planetary system not only to ensure that life would exist, but also because He wanted us to discover things about the world He created.
The “Cumulative Case” Richards talks about just gets piled on even more when you consider the fact that if the universe weren't rational and consistent (I.e if it wasn't orderly and structured, and the laws of nature were constant), then science couldn't be done either. For example, if gravity and the speed of light weren't constant if they fluctuated wildly and random and predictable rates, it would be very difficult to learn anything about them. The most reasonable explanation for why the universe is so orderly, so structured, why the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology are so consistent and coherent is that an intelligent Mind created our universe. You wouldn't expect a coherent universe to be a Creator-less universe anymore than you would expect a coherent blog post to be an author-less blog post. Coherence is best explained by Intelligence. I talk about this more in my blog post "If Science Can Be Done, Then God Exists".
I think the fine-tuning of our local region, the fact that these just-right parameters correlate to being able to make scientific discoveries, and the fact that the natural world is even comprehensible at all makes sense on the view that God crafted our world. And it shows us not only that God exists and created our world, but He has a desire for us to discover things about it. God is very pro-science.
Also, be sure to read The Privileged Planet.
1: "Perfect Eclipses: Coincidence Or Conspiracy" by Jay W. Richards, Evolution News and Science Today, August 17th 2017, https://evolutionnews.org/2017/08/perfect-eclipses-coincidence-or-conspiracy/
2: ID: The Future, "How A Perfect Solar Eclipse Suggests Intelligent Design", August 18th 2017, http://www.discovery.org/multimedia/audio/2017/08/how-a-perfect-solar-eclipse-suggests-intelligent-design/