Tag Archives: 2017 solar eclipse

Perfect Solar Eclipses . . . (and the Wobbly Table of Young Earth Apologetics)

The Great American Eclipse of 2017 brought a few hundred, enthusiastic observers to a viewing party at the College of William and Mary. I really want to see a total solar eclipse, next time, in 2024!!

Living in Williamsburg, Virginia, I was given the privilege of seeing a partial solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, along with many other Americans. But as several of my friends all said, who made the trek down to South Carolina, to witness the totality of the Great American Eclipse of 2017, the difference between witnessing a partial eclipse versus a total eclipse is tremendous. Some have said it is like the difference between getting a negative report on a pregnancy test versus getting a positive report on a pregnancy test.

Inhabitants of the planet earth have the incredibly unique opportunity to observe perfect solar eclipses, that have enabled the rapid advancement of modern science. In a perfect solar eclipse, like the one that crossed America in August, 2017, the disc of the moon perfectly and exactly covers the disc of the sun in the sky, for just a few minutes. This unique phenomenon led to one of the greatest scientific discoveries, nearly one hundred years ago.

Albert Einstein was a fairly unknown figure, in 1916, when he published his theory of general relativity. The reigning theory of cosmology at the time suggested that there was no beginning to the physical universe, an idea that contradicts the teaching of the Bible, that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Einstein’s theory would indicate that there indeed was a beginning, and that this made sense scientifically. To prove his theory, Einstein predicted that you could make measurements during a perfect solar eclipse, to demonstrate that the gravitational influence of the sun bends the rays of light emanating from distant stars.

A colleague of mine brought a colander to the eclipse viewing party, where you can make out dozens of crescents from the partial eclipse (click on image to expand, to get a closer look).

In May 1919, British physicist, Sir Arthur Eddington, led an expedition to Brazil to observe a total solar eclipse. Eddington’s observations confirmed that the predictions made by Einstein were 100% correct. Albert Einstein became a household name after that discovery. This eventually led to the contemporary understanding of Big Bang cosmology, with its emphasis on a specific, unique beginning of the universe, in alignment with what the Bible teaches.

This discovery would have been impossible without perfect solar eclipses, that enabled Eddington, and other physicists after him, to make precise measurements that could test Einstein’s theory. There are four basic conditions that need to be met in order to have a perfect solar eclipse:

  • (1) The moon’s size relative to the sun’s size has to match exactly.
  • (2) The moon’s distance from the Earth relative to the sun’s distance from the Earth.
  • (3) The earth’s distance from the sun.
  • (4) Humans had to come into being at the precise time in history, to be able to observe perfect solar eclipses.

Christian astronomer Hugh Ross notes the low probability of all of these factors coming together. In a recent interview for the Christian Broadcasting Network, Ross said, “The sun is 400 times farther away from us than the moon. But the sun is 400 times bigger. So that’s why you get a perfect solar eclipse.” Yet despite the extreme low probability, some atheistic astronomers believe that the exact combination of all of these factors is merely a “coincidence.”

Taking the view of these atheistic astronomers is close to believing that you can win a multi-million dollar lottery rather easily. As a Christian, I believe that it is far more reasonable to consider the possibility that the God of the Bible, in His providential way, made the exact conditions possible for us to observe perfect solar eclipses, thus enabling the remarkable growth of modern technology, in the 21st century. The existence of these four, exactly precise conditions, helped to me worship God as Creator, as I witnessed August’s solar eclipse, even a few hundred miles from where the path of totality occurred.

Looking for a napkin to prop up that short table leg? You might be better off with a different, more sturdy table.

Strangely however, some Christians seem content to have a wobble in their thinking on this topic. Consider this: Have you ever been out to a restaurant, where the table wobbles on the floor? It can be a rather annoying experience.

You fumble around for a book of matches, or a napkin, to place under the short table leg, trying to even the table out. You hope that you are not flipping your dining companion’s plate, as they try to eat their meal, when you lean over your side of the table to eat yours.

Now consider that fourth, basic condition necessary to be able to have perfect solar eclipses: Humans had to come into being at the precise time in history, to be able to observe perfect solar eclipses.  This is really important as the distance of the moon to the earth is increasing by 3.82 centimeters per year. As astronomer Hugh Ross notes again, there is a “300 million year” window for us to be able to observe perfect solar eclipses.

Prior to that 300 million year window, the moon would be too close to the earth, such that the disc of the moon would greatly exceed the disc size of the sun, thus making the exact measurements made by Sir Arthur Eddington difficult to obtain. After that 300 million year window, humans would not be able to even see a total solar eclipse, since the disc of the moon would be much smaller than the disc size of the sun. In other words, humans needed to appear on earth at exactly the right time in the 13 billion year history of the universe, which is a low probability event (unless you believe in a God of providence!).1

However, if the universe is less than 6,000 years old, as many of my Young Earth Creationist friends insist, you are effectively shortening the leg of the four-legged table of this argument, for demonstrating God’s providential action in the history of the universe. From a Young Earth point of view, the window for viewing a perfect solar eclipse far exceeds the time-span of the life of the universe, at least up to this point in time. In other words, we are not really living in any particularly unique period of time to be able to view perfect solar eclipses, at all! From that angle, the appearance of humans in earth history is no big deal, when it comes to viewing perfect solar eclipses.

Do you see how that table wobbles now?

True, if the universe is less than 6,000 years old, you still have the other three legs of the argument, that support the idea of the uniqueness of having perfect solar eclipses, in God’s created universe. So, I can not completely dismiss a 6,000 year old universe, as at least a theoretical possibility.

But I am still left with a short leg, on the fourth leg of the argument, and that leaves me with a rather wobbly table.

When your matchbooks, napkins, or your car keys fail to prop up that wobbly table in the restaurant, most people would probably just give up and ask for another table at the restaurant. Sadly, there are many people who grew up with a belief in Young Earth Creationism, as the one and only possible option for the Christian, and when some realize that their “table” is rather wobbly, more than a few have left the “restaurant” of orthodox Christian faith altogether, to go to a completely different “restaurant,” if you follow my analogy.

What a needless tragedy!!

As I have argued elsewhere on Veracity, belief in a Young Earth remains at least a theoretical possibility, and I respect that. But if the evidence from modern science, that has thus far concluded that the universe is 13 billion years old, creates in us a sense of incredible awe and wonder, at how God uniquely put us in the exact, precise time in earth history, to be able to view perfect solar eclipses, and enjoy the majesty of God, why would we reject that?


1. There are other factors that make the current moment in universal history so unique, with respect to observing perfect solar eclipses, such as the interference of supernova, in making observations during total solar eclipses, and the existence of telescope technology, that enabled folks like Sir Arthur Eddington, to make his observations. If you do the math, you will see what I mean. 

Are Eclipses Signs from God?


Some are calling it the “Great American Eclipse,” when the moon covers the disc of the sun, racing across from Oregon to South Carolina, on Monday, August 21, 2017. The last time this happened in the U.S. was 1918. But is God trying to tell us something with this event?

Some Christians might think so, but is such a belief warranted? The Bible does report some unusual astronomical phenomena, such as the darkness that covered the earth, on the afternoon of the Crucifixion.

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two”(Luke 23:44-45 ESV)

Interestingly, one popular Bible translation tries to tell us how this happened:

“It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun….“(Luke 23:44-45a NAB)

A solar eclipse? While the translators of the New American Bible might be good Bible scholars, they need a refresher in astronomy. Let me explain why.

First, the movement of the moon’s shadow across the face of the earth, across a single point, travels much faster than three hours. The moon’s shadow will book across the United States, at the speed of at least 1000 mph. For example, in Columbia, SC, in the path of Monday’s total eclipse, the duration of the totality will be 2 minutes, 30 seconds.

Secondly, the timing of the lunar calendar is completely off, to support the idea of a solar eclipse. The Crucifixion happened near the time of the Jewish Passover, which happens during a full moon, midway through the Jewish month of Nissan. Total solar eclipses only occur during a new moon, when the moon’s surface facing the earth, is completely within the sun’s shadow, which is at the opposite time of the month from a full moon.

The math simply does not work. Whatever darkness happened on Good Friday, trying to tie it strictly to a natural event of a solar eclipse is pure folly. Sure, God can use these things, for His purposes, and He can produce supernatural events. But whether it be solar or lunar eclipses, or planetary alignments, caution is in order before drawing too much from naturally occurring, astronomical events.

Astrology and the Bible Do Not Mix

In the history of the church, some Christians have read too much from the “signs in the heavens.” I remember watching the movie Elizabeth: The Golden Age, just shaking my head. Queen Elizabeth, the monarch who set the theological course for the Church of England, for at least the next 400 years, consulted her astrologer, John Dee, about how her navy would fair against the Spanish Armada.

Or there is the influential colleague of Martin Luther, the German Reformer, Philip Melanchthon, who consulted astrological horoscopes, to help him decide on when to take long journeys.  Even Huldrych Zwingli, the early Swiss Reformer of Zurich, dabbled in believing in various “signs and portents” in the heavens.

However, it would be anachronistic to judge Christians from earlier generations, who appropriated ideas from astrology, before the age of modern astronomy. But when some Christian leaders today, speculate on whether or not the “Great American Eclipse” is a sign of God’s impending judgment against America, it is cringe-worthy. To her credit, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham, Anne Graham Lotz, is being pretty vague, but it bothered me that she uses the prophet Joel to encourage people to look for heavenly “signs”:

“The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.“(Joel 2:31 ESV)

Lotz neglects to tell the rest of the story. While the Bible does employ cosmologically rich language to refer to God’s judgment, the Bible also warns us not to look to the heavens for prophetic signposts. For the prophet Isaiah, astrology is condemned, lumping it along with all forms of occultism and sorcery:

12 Keep on, then, with your magic spells
    and with your many sorceries,
    which you have labored at since childhood.
Perhaps you will succeed,
    perhaps you will cause terror.
13 All the counsel you have received has only worn you out!
    Let your astrologers come forward,
those stargazers who make predictions month by month,
    let them save you from what is coming upon you.
14 Surely they are like stubble;
    the fire will burn them up.
They cannot even save themselves
    from the power of the flame.
“(Isaiah 47:12-14a)

So, for those planning on braving the traffic, to places like South Carolina, next Monday, enjoy the eclipse for what it is, a really cool display of God’s wonder and creation. It demonstrates the reliability, predictability and beauty of nature, which only a God of order and elegance can create. What a great opportunity to talk with friends about how awesome God is, as Creator!

But as for applying prophetic significance to the eclipse, as a reason why you might want to pull your money out of the stock market, to avoid financial ruin,… well, leave that to the astrologers.

Christians have other, better things to do.


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