Total Solar Eclipse Is an Encounter With the Creator, Invitation to Discovery: Jay Richards

(Photo: Reuters, Beawiharta)A total solar eclipse is seen from the beach of Ternate island, Indonesia, March 9, 2016.

The total solar eclipse on Monday will be an invitation to encounter the Creator of the universe and its astounding divine design, says Christian professor Jay Richards at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. 

"If you watch videos of people during total eclipses they gasp and scream and cry, and so there is some kind of primordial connection that we have to eclipses that is very hard to account for," Richards said in a phone interview with The Christian Post on Thursday.

And this celestial phenomenon showcases how planet Earth is one "privileged planet," added Richards, an assistant research professor in the Business and Economics Department at the university and co-author of the 2004 book, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery, which was subsequently made into a documentary film.

In light of all the buzz about the Aug. 21 Great American Eclipse, Richards believes it has not been sufficiently appreciated how Earth is the one place in the entire solar system where one can observe a total solar eclipse.

For centuries astronomers considered this celestial phenomenon as an interesting coincidence, he noted. The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun but 400 times closer to the Earth, thereby creating this perfect match when an eclipse happens. But such a perfect match isn't merely coincidental and is in fact directly connected to two key things that make the Earth habitable.

"You have to be the right distance from your host star, in the 'goldilocks zone' in order to have liquid water on the planet, so that's going to set the size of your host star in the sky," Richards said.

"You also have to have a large, well-placed moon like we have, for all sorts of reasons. If we didn't have a moon the Earth would wobble around erratically on its axis."

Those two independent factors are needed to build a habitable planet. And when put together it produces solar eclipses that can be seen from the planet's surface.

"By itself that would just be sort of neat, but when you realize the profound role that eclipses have played in the history of scientific discovery, I think you get a hint that there's something else going on there," he said.

Amid notable Christian voices such as Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham, and Pastor Mark Blitz who have suggested that Monday's eclipse might represent a sign of divine judgement, Richards cautions Christians against viewing this through such a prism, echoing the words of Christian astrophysicist Jeff Zweerink whom CP interviewed last week.

"We know in Scripture, it says in Genesis 1, that the heavenly bodies can be used for signs. God uses them for signs," Richards said, mentioning the star of Bethlehem. "And the heavens declare the glory of God," he continued, referencing Psalm 19.

"There's always the kind of temptation to create these kinds of complex scenarios because there's all sorts of improbable events happening all the time. And so, I think we need to be very discerning ... that we're not trying to read tea leaves and entrails of animals."

When Christians start to look for such things "we're likely to miss the remarkable fact of eclipses and the way it connects for evidence of design," he said, adding that because of the current cultural climate and bad things happening in the country right now, "we assume this might be a portent to doom."

"But maybe, on the other hand, if you look at the way people actually respond to eclipses, they respond to it with gratitude and awe," Richards offered.

The more one studies how precisely tuned and orderly the universe is, the more it also sets up the conditions for discovery, he went on to explain.

"The natural world is like a book that is written with the signature of the Creator. If we learn how to read it, we read through it like we read through a book, to the meanings of its author. I think we should look at the created order as we look at literal Scripture as types of revelation," Richards said.

"Why couldn't [Monday's eclipse] be a really good well-timed blessing for millions of people to stop thinking about themselves and to look up at the heavens and think for a minute that there's something more than us out there?" he asked.

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