Philosophy in Astronomy, or Is It Just An Amazing Coinkydink?Submitted by skrapmetal at 2017-08-20 15:45:37 EDT
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There are two reasons why I cannot join the ranks of those who (unscientifically) dismiss the existence of God as a product of mere human wishfulness, but only one of them is in the least bit interesting. The other one is the Trio of Genesis Questions.
The Trio of Genesis Questions are these: Why is there Anything? Why is there Matter? Why is some Matter alive? Whether you believe in God the Creator or not, your history of the Universe consists of some point when there was nothing, followed by some time when there were some things, which is in turn followed by some time when some of the things are alive. Science and religion have been at each other for millennia about those, and it is my opinion that at this point in history, neither discipline has advanced far enough to make a convincing case for answering the Trio. Neither have I, so I’ll move on to my other, and at least to myself, more interesting reason for suspecting that there could be a God out there who has an interest in humanity on Earth.
When the Earth and Moon were about finalized in their size and orbit, back at the end of the Late Heavy Bombardment of around 4.5B years ago, the Earth was rotating so fast that the day was only six hours long and the Moon was a mere 14,000 miles above the Earth. As you can perhaps imagine, the tidal forces were immense. The gravitational tidal forces pull the surface of the Earth toward the Moon and create a bulge, but because of the speed with which the Earth was spinning, that bulge was always slightly ahead of the line between the center of the Earth and the center of the Moon. The slight lead it had served to pull the Moon toward it, speeding it up ever so slightly. And with its increased speed its orbit distance increased correspondingly, and the Moon moved slowly away from the Earth. And the Earth’s rotation slowed, for the same reason – the Moon pulling on the bulge.
Every year, the Moon’s mean distance from the Earth increases by about 3.8 cm, or about 1.5 inches. Back when the Moon formed, if anyone had been on Earth to look at it, it would have taken up about 25% of the visible night sky. When it passed in front of the Sun in a Solar Eclipse in daylight hours, it would simply block the light as its shadow crossed the Earth. But as it moved away, it appeared visibly smaller and smaller. It took up less and less of the sky, and as it moved farther and farther away, the Solar Eclipses occurred less frequently and were of shorter duration.
And then, after billions of years during which Life somehow got started and flourished on Earth and conditions were somehow arranged such that some large-brained quasi-upright-walking bipeds started the first tentative steps toward intellect, the moon was just in the right spot. One day, around 30,000 years ago, when the Moon crossed in front of the Sun in a Solar Eclipse, it was far enough away that its passage no longer completely blocked the entire disc of the Sun like it had for so long. Maybe it took a while longer, a few more thousand years or so, for one of these bipeds to happen to look at the ground where there was a dot of dim sunlight projecting through a hole in the rocks while he or she was quaking in fear because the Moon had apparently eaten the Sun, but eventually that or something like it happened. And when that biped saw what appeared on the ground, it triggered a question. How can the Sun be eaten by the Moon and yet still be seen as a circle? For at that point, the Moon had moved just far enough away that it could no longer block the entire disc of the Sun. The sun's corona remained visible in projection as the Ring of Fire.
Just when Man was becoming capable of looking to the sky and asking questions about his surroundings, just then and never before, did there suddenly become available understandable evidence that the lights in the sky were perhaps not just lights, but were real things, moving above the Earth and capable of getting in front of and behind one another. It made them think a little. We've kept on looking at the sky ever since then.
Today we have no need for the Moon to eclipse the sun if we want to study its corona. You can put a black dot and filter on your telescope lens and do that any time. But in 30 millennia or so, the Moon will have moved farther away, so that Solar Eclipses will be far brighter and the Ring of Fire will not be discernible through simple projection. Had those early humans not seen it as we can see it today, there would come a time when we never would. They did, and we can do so today. That the conditions existed to instill curiosity precisely when we were first capable of having such thought seems to me to be too much of a coincidence to attribute to chance or luck. Not incontrovertible evidence of the existence of God, obviously, but you might consider it circumstantial evidence which is subject to interpretation.
You can see this phenomenon for yourself, with a Paper Projection Telescope. Doesn’t matter if there’s an eclipse or not, although the eclipse tomorrow is a fine time to try it. You can see large Sunspots (if there are any present) and eclipses, or just get a look at the variations in brightness of the surface of the Sun. Here’s how:
1. Get two pieces of paper – regular printer paper will do.
2. Put a small hole in one of them, about near the center. The hole should be not much bigger than the pin on a thumbtack, which a great thing to make the hole with. As the hole is made larger, the image becomes less clear but brighter. A smaller hole will have a sharper but dimmer image.
3. Hold the paper with hole above the paper without the hole and about perpendicular to the incoming sunlight. Allow the sunlight to pass through the hole and project onto the lower piece of paper. What you have on the lower paper is a projected image of the sun focused through the hole on the upper paper. You can change the size of the image on the lower paper by moving the two papers nearer or farther apart, and this will also affect the brightness of the image. Properly sized, you can see details like Sunspots and (if there is a convenient eclipse going on and you're in the right place), the Ring of Fire.
When you look at that projection of the moon passing in front of the sun, remember that you are fortunate to be alive in the short window of time when this sort of thing even can happen for you to see and think about. For whatever that's worth.