The Meaning of an Eclipse

Cor: Ready for the Eclipse

Eclipse Fever is spreading quickly here in Northeast Ohio. Kent just so happens to lie within the Path of Totality for the eclipse that’s coming on Monday afternoon. So, “they” are telling us to stock up on groceries and top off the gas tanks in our vehicles. “They” say we could get 100,000 non-residents jamming the streets of Kent just to catch a glimpse of this celestial phenomenon. And while that scenario seems kind of crazy and dubious to me, it also feels kind of exciting.

Online Discussion about the Apparent Size of the Moon and the Sun

We had relatives travel to Ohio from Virginia for the Eclipse, so there’s that. They brought “Buckeye Blackout” T-shirts for our kids. And we’ve all secured our eclipse-viewing glasses from various places over the last several weeks (I got a pair from the Bowling Green State University Recreation Center, when we went there on a college visit with Cor; Cor got a pair from his school; and Marci picked up a couple pairs from the grocery store). We’re just planning to sit tight in Kent, so we’re as ready as we can be.

Recently, though, I’ve been reflecting on the crazy coincidence of the Sun and the Moon appearing to be such similar sizes — even though they’re completely different sizes and distances from Earth — allowing this eclipse phenomenon to occur in the first place. I honestly don’t know why there aren’t more people talking about this! I searched the internet for its wisdom on the subject, and I found a wide variety of opinions about the apparently-miraculous mechanics of the Eclipse. But there were surprisingly few scientific explanations that go anything beyond the idea that it’s just a really, really, really crazy coincidence. The Moon is about 400 times smaller than the Sun, but also about 400 times closer. And that’s all well and good. But my question is why?!?

It’s intriguing to hear atheists squabble about these things on the internet. I especially appreciated a comment I found on Reddit, saying, “If someone did this on purpose, I’d like to meet them. Just not yet.” Another commenter on Quora noted the following:

So, if you made a bunch of copies of the sun and put them back-to-back, how many of them would it take to reach the Earth? [(93M miles Sun-Earth distance) / (the sun’s 865K-mile diameter) = 108 suns]. Still with me? Now let’s copy the other big object we see in the sky, the Moon. How many back-to-back copies of the Moon would it take to reach Earth? The answer? 108 again! [(238K miles Earth-Moon distance) / (the moon’s 2.2K-mile diameter) = 108 moons]. Equal size-to-distance ratio means that they look the same in the sky. It’s one of the craziest coincidences in the cosmos, if there doesn’t turn out to be some kind of law dictating that it has to be that way to sustain life, or something.

David Hinckley

In situations like these, I think of the title of a book that I once read: “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.” Honestly, I don’t! I think it takes just as much faith — if not more — to believe that an amazing astrological phenomenon such as an Eclipse happens by pure, random chance, than to believe that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” I recently got a book from my mother-in-law called Science and Faith in Harmony, by Sy Garte, and I found its chapter called “Tuning the Universe” to be especially helpful on these questions.

There are a number of constants — fixed, unchanging quantities — in physics that simply are what they are. They cannot be derived from any theory, and they are not contingent on anything else… All the physical constants we know we need to be exceptionally close to the values they have, or a universe that allows us to exist would not be possible. Any change beyond that tiny tolerance in one of those constants would mean there would be no stars or planets, and no life… Physicists have called this the fine-tuning of the universe, and it is often considered a mystery. There are three possible explanations for how such mysterious perfection came to be… If one is looking for evidence… the universe and the constants that govern it could have been designed with a purpose — and that, of course, suggests a Creator who wanted life to be possible.

Sy Garte, PhD, Science and Faith in Harmony

I don’t know. Maybe your worldview determines your sense of wonder at these kinds of things. But I’ve been thinking about it. And I wonder if others should maybe be thinking about it, too.

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