So while my wife and I were on our way to find a good spot to watch the solar eclipse, a strange thought came to me – What if scientists had predicted the eclipse but it didn’t happen? What if it were made up, or the math was all wrong? At that moment, Jana, who was looking through an opening in an old 3.5″ floppy disk, announced that she could already see the moon blocking part of the sun. Okay…that was a dumb thought after all I supposed.
But think about it for a minute. For days before the eclipse, we all talked to our friends and coworkers about the eclipse and made plans to meet up with our friends to watch it. No one ever suggested that it actually wouldn’t happen or that the science behind the prediction was bunk. Christians and secularists found nothing controversial about the matter because we all knew it to be true. The mainstream media reported the eclipse as being an exciting event and we all looked forward to seeing it. We simply took for granted that it was true. For it to be untrue would require an enormous conspiracy between professional and amateur astronomers.
Contrast this with another prediction that had been made almost exactly a year ago – that being that the apocalypse would take place. Harold Camping was inexplicably able to cobble together a following of thousands of people who warned the rest of us that judgment was nigh. International media coverage brought us the news and late night talk show hosts made the matter the butt of many jokes. To some, the foretelling of something they wished to see happen was all the goading they needed to dive off the deep end into hysteria. The good news is that rational people (including most religious people) knew that it wasn’t true and they were not caught up in the craziness. The reason was simple…this was an extraordinary claim that had absolutely no evidence and was based entirely on superstition.
So why do I bring up this event and non-event together at the same time? There is a day that a person making a prediction about a solar eclipse based on the science we now take for granted would have been branded a heretic. And the branding would have been done by the crazies who thought Jesus was coming last year. Now fast forward to the 21st century. The crazies had a few followers in this case but they eventually had to admit unequivocally that they were wrong. And instead of being branded heretics, the world simply accepted the verity of the predictions about the eclipse without a challenge.
Some of the first people to be able to see the eclipse were in west Texas, near where I grew up. I hope there is at least one person out there living in a rural sea of superstition (like where I grew up) who took a few moments to reflect on the value of science over superstition. My hope is that they come to a greater appreciation regarding where the answers to the mysteries of the universe can be found.
Maybe it’s the rarity of the event or the singular nature of being in the exact right place at the right time that gives us pause and prompts us to reflect on our place in the universe. Whatever the case, there is something magical about knowing that a world of religious zealots can not and will not challenge the science, or the scientist, who told the rest of us about the event. These people have been forced to lay aside at least a part of what at one time would have been part of their core (and incorrect) beliefs. Science may not be winning quickly, but it is winning indeed.
And when science wins, there are no losers.