Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Signs in the skies

This Friday is the Vernal Equinox, known colloquially as the "First Day of Spring," a designation we here in upstate New York find grimly amusing, given that we can still get snow in mid-May.  Be that as it may, the day does seem like a turning point, a Day of Significance, a step toward shorter nights and warmer weather.

This year, it's also the day some of us will get to see another landmark natural phenomenon: a total solar eclipse.  Unfortunately, it will only be visible in areas even further north than I am.  The path of totality will spiral counterclockwise from the southern tip of Greenland, heading between Iceland and Scotland, passing over the Faeroe Islands and Svalbard, and finally ending near the North Pole.

[image courtesy of photographer Luc Viatour and the Creative Commons]

And there's nothing like a coincidence to get the apocalyptoids babbling away like mad.  Over at the hyper-religious wacko website World Net Daily, we find out that this is a sign of the End Times.  How many signs that The End Is Near does this make, now?  I haven't kept track.  Probably better that I didn't waste my time counting, because they keep coming even though the Earth is showing no sign of ending.

But they don't let a little thing like a 0% success rate slow them down at all.  "The North Pole can’t really be called the territory of any particular nation or people," [Root Source Ltd.'s co-founder Bob] O’Dell said.  "This is likely a message from God to the entire world."  The article puts a particular emphasis on the fact that this confluence of events only happens once every 100,000 years, which is kind of funny because World Net Daily keeps telling us that the Earth is (1) only 6,000 years old, and (2) is going to end soon, so you'd think that they wouldn't worry much about the timing of the event either way.

But they go on to tell us how significant this all is anyhow:
Pastor Mark Biltz, author of “Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs,” sees a heavenly warning in the consequences of the eclipse, especially for the northern Europeans, who will be most affected. 
In an exclusive interview with WND, Biltz explained, “In Jewish tradition, a total solar eclipse is a warning to the Gentiles and a sign of judgment on the nations. When we look at where the darkness will be, it will be in northern European countries like England and Sweden where we see the rise of Islam and anti-Israel sentiment. Europeans especially should take heed.” 
Biltz also sees significance in the timing of the solar eclipse. 
“An event of this magnitude at the very beginning of the religious new year demands attention. As the Bible tells us, there will be signs in the heavens on the feast days, and this is a very significant sign on a critical day.
Given that the "very significant sign" is mostly going to be visible to polar bears, you have to wonder who god was trying to send a message to.  But He Works In Mysterious Ways, and all that sort of stuff.

And of course, it's not the only sign we're going to be given this year.  There's also the whole "blood moon" thing, better known to sane people as a "lunar eclipse:"
"Only a few weeks after this total solar eclipse, there with be a blood moon over Passover," [Biltz] said. "If the total solar eclipse is a sign to the gentiles, this will be a sign to the Jewish people.
"This comes at a time when American aid for Israel has become an important political issue in the United States. But Israelis know they cannot put their survival in the hands of one who wishes their demise."
So there you are, then.  Two celestial omens and a pot shot at President Obama, all in the same article.

What makes me wonder even more about this worldview, however, is how they can think eclipses are a portent in the first place.  We now can predict eclipses centuries into the future; they occur regularly, often several a year (although extended total solar eclipses are less common).  They're no more mysterious than all three of a clock's hands landing simultaneously on the 12 twice a day.

So the whole apocalyptic prophecy thing implies that if god wanted to, he could make the eclipses happen on a different day, that somehow the timing is a warning of imminent catastrophe, not a purely mechanical outcome of the movements of the Earth and Moon.  Or is it the other way around, that god is required to begin the End Times right after Friday's solar eclipse, that he's been sitting up there twiddling his thumbs until the planets all align?

Either way, it seems like they're implying that god doesn't have much choice in the matter, that either (1) he couldn't make the eclipse occur on a different day even if he wanted to, or (2) he is being forced to bring the world to an end by the position of some random astronomical objects.  Which kind of makes you question how almighty these people think he is.

Of course, I realize that this is not about logic.  It's about putting the fear of the lord into the hearts of the true believers.  And it's also about money; the main promoter of the whole "blood moon" thing is our old pal John Hagee, the multi-millionaire pastor of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas.  Shut off your brains and open your pocketbooks, that's Reverend Hagee's motto.

So anyway.  Don't cancel your plans for April, because I'm pretty damn sure that the solar eclipse isn't warning us of anything but the fact that the Moon goes around the Earth and sometimes blocks the light from the Sun, which we knew anyway.  And the Spring Equinox isn't about anything but axial tilt and the Earth going around the Sun, which most of us also knew, and which will eventually bring warmer weather even to the "four-season climates" like upstate New York.  I hear that this year, summer is scheduled for the second Thursday in July.  I can't wait.

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