When I was in high school, my church’s youth group was very small. As triplets, my sisters and I constituted about a third of the group! Therefore, I started a coalition of local youth groups that met periodically for larger events, and I called it “Eclipse.” The tag line was “youth coming together in perfect alignment with the Son.” (See what I did there with the spelling of “Son”!)
Of course, as fallen creatures, our lives don’t align perfectly with the way of Jesus, but the analogy drew upon a phenomenon that is indeed possible in the cosmos. On rare occasions, when the Earth’s moon passes in front of our sun, the two objects seem to coincide perfectly.
And that’s quite something when you think about it. Our moon is a large rock, while our sun is a fiery ball of gas that’s about 400 times larger. Nevertheless, for observers on Earth, every so often when they cross paths, these two very different bodies match perfectly in the sky.
On August 21st, millions of viewers in the United States beheld the perfection of this match.
What might the moon’s perfect alignment with the sun tell us?
According to my friend Jay Richards of the Discovery Institute, a total solar eclipse suggests that our planet is not only fine-tuned for life, but also for scientific discovery.
Most planetary environments are not conducive to life. Neither are most planetary environments host to total eclipses. This is because the conditions for both a habitable planet and a total solar eclipse are the same. As Richards explains, to sustain life, a planet needs to be the right distance from its host star (otherwise the planet would be too hot or too cold to hold liquid water) and it needs a large, well-placed moon (due to gravitational pull, a different-size moon positioned differently in space would cause Earth “to wobble on its axis erratically and be very hostile to complex life”).
As it so happens, the right size of celestial bodies and the right distance between them are also what make total solar eclipses possible. Although the sun is 400 times larger than the moon, it is also 400 times farther away from Earth than the moon, causing them to appear the same size and to align perfectly during a total eclipse. In sum, what makes our planet habitable are some of the very conditions necessary for this rare observable event.
For Richards, this isn’t the result of mere chance. Neither is the fact that Earth is the only place in our solar system where total eclipses can be viewed. Other planets in our solar system have no moon or many moons of various shapes and sizes (many are potato-shaped); only Earth has the right size and right shape moon located the right distance from the sun to create this phenomenon. In Richards’ words, Earth is both “the one place [in the solar system] there are eclipses” and “the one place there are observers to enjoy eclipses.”
And total eclipses don’t just lend themselves to enjoyment. Because they block the large photosphere (essentially the sun’s surface) without blocking the reddish chromosphere or corona (the sun’s outer layers), they provide valuable information that helps to advance scientific knowledge. Around 150 BC, Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Nicaea used a solar eclipse to calculate the distance between Earth and our moon. In 1868, French astronomer Pierre Jules César Janssen discovered a new element (helium) during a total eclipse. And in 1919, Sir Arthur Eddington used a total solar eclipse to test Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. When the discovery was made public, Einstein become a household name overnight, and his theory of relativity became the foundation of modern cosmology.
In short, the only vantage point in the solar system from which such scientifically fruitful observations can be made happens to be the one environment that can sustain the life of scientific observers. Is this reality concerning coinciding orbs mere coincidence? For Richards, it’s just what we would expect if God has designed the universe for discovery.
Rather than somehow being at odds with science, Christians place their faith in a God who can be seen as inviting and intending scientific exploration. This is one reason why the Millis Institute teaches astronomy—not only is it one of the 7 original liberal arts, but it also points to the intentional handiwork behind a finely-tuned and wonderfully-ordered creation.
So while we struggle to live more perfectly in line with the Son, let us be open to learning from the perfection on display when our Earth and moon align with the sun. The heavens really do reveal the glory of their Creator; the sun, moon and stars in their courses above witness to His great faithfulness and love!
Millis Institute Announces
Accreditation of Graduate Diploma
We are very pleased to announce that the Millis Institute has received accreditation for a brand new course: Graduate Diploma in the Liberal Arts—The Examined Life.
Socrates argued that the unexamined life is not worth living. This new postgraduate course—which also contains a nested graduate certificate—seeks to help university graduates and professionals pursue the examined life in their institutions, communities and careers.
This course will be delivered through 4-5 day intensives offered several times throughout the year. “Trinitarian Foundations of a Christian Worldview,” “Critical Thinking,” “Literature and History of Western Civilisation,” and “The Examined Life in Modern Culture” are some of the units that will be on offer.
Stay tuned for more details about this exciting new educational opportunity.