Last night I had received a text from a young man wanting my opinion about a very disturbing thing he’d run across. Apparently, an “engineer” is saying that on the date of the winter solstice this year (21 December 2012) our pale blue dot will align perfectly with the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, passing through the Dark Rift, which will set several catastrophic events into motion which perfectly align with the terrible judgments we read about in the Book of Revelation.

It took me several texts in response to assure this young man (who I congratulated for being Berean enough to want to double- and triple-check his facts before panicking) that this “engineer” is a complete, utter, total, unqualified flake. Not only does he betray a singular lack of scientific understanding, he also (apparently) doesn’t believe the Bible he refers to.

Basically, my quick-shot texts examined and then dismissed the “engineer’s” claims.

  1. Neither the Winter Solstice or the Summer Solstice (which happens to be June 20th this year) have any bearing whatsoever on any imagined alignment with any point in the sky. The solstices (and the equinoxes) involve the axial tilt of our planet relative to our orbital plane around the sun. During the Summer Solstice, as perceived in the northern hemisphere, our axial tilt (currently approximately 23.5°) appens to increase our obliquity of the ecliptic – which means we’re “tilted toward” the sun. The angle of insolation (the infall of sunlight) becomes steeper, which means that more of its energy is absorbed by our world in the form of thermal energy and less is reflected back into space. I.e., it gets warmer. This clears up a common misperception about our seasons, BTW; many people think that our closeness or farness from the Sun causes the seasons – untrue. We still had Winter this year, even though we were at perihelion (closest approach to the sun in our not-quite-circular orbit) the evening of January 4th this year. Granted, that helped make Winter less severe than usual, but we still had a winter – hence the snow in my driveway. So, the fact that the winter solstice corresponds with an imagined “alignment with the center of the galaxy” is about as important as whether or not it happens on a Tuesday.
  2. The “engineer” made a huge to do about the “Dark Rift.” He made it sound like some deeply ominous thing – when in fact if there was anything headed our way, the “Dark Rift” is our bestest friend. The Great Rift (the more correct phrase to use) is simply a vast conglomeration of light-absorbing molecular clouds which happen to partially occlude (block our view of) one of the galactic arms – not even the galactic center. The Rift is a visual phenomenon; the band of the galactic plane itself – from which our Milky Way galaxy derives its name – is the result of the starshine of billions of other suns, and corresponds with the bulk of the plane of the galactic disk. The Rift stands between us and part of the Sagittarius Arm (we currently inhabit the edge of the Orion-Cygnus Arm); it is what we see, in our line-of-sight, of several vast clouds of interstellar dust (probably something on the order of one million solar masses’ worth). Therefore, if it truly was between us and the galactic core, it (really, they) would serve to absorb ionizing radiation. Making a big deal out of the Dark Rift is like making a big deal out of a thousand thousand dust bunnies.
  3. I have no idea what anyone would even mean by an “alignment” with the galactic core. We are always in alignment with the galactic core…since we are always in line-of-sight of it. If conjunctions and superconjunctions of the planets in our own solar system don’t measurably affect us, then any supposed “alignment” with the galactic core would also be noteworthy for its very lack of measurable affect.
  4. Which brings up the inverse square law. Essentially, any force (such as gravity) reduces in strength by a proportion which is inverse of the square of its distance with whatever it is acting upon. In other words, the closer you get to a source, the stronger its effects become by geometric proportions. Likewise, the farther you get from a force, the weaker its effects become, until they drop off entirely. That is why Mars, which is a little more than half an AU farther from the Sun than is the Earth, receives only 36% the insolation of our home world. Gravity, being a fundamental force, obeys the same law. This is why the Moon, which is only 1.2% as massive as the Earth, has a more direct affect over the tides than does the Sun, which is roughly 333,000 times more massive than the Earth (and thus unimaginably vastly more massive than the Moon) – because the Moon is closer. Yes, Sagittarius A* (the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy) is probably 3.7 million times more massive than the Sun; but the Sun is on average 93 million miles from us, whereas Sagittarius A* is probably something close to 147,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s 147 quadrillion miles, or 147 million million) miles away. So whereas its gravity does affect us, it does so by helping constrain our solar system’s orbit around the center…and that’s pretty much it. In fact, it’s more the aggregate mass of all the stars in the galaxy (especially closer to the core) which affect our system’s orbit than it is the relatively much smaller mass of Sagittarius A*. If you can imagine that.
  5. Finally, even if Sagittarius A* did affect us, we’d know the affect was coming long before it arrived – we’d see evidence of the shockwave front propagating outward from the galactic core. Any effect must travel slower than light, and at that distance (25,000 light years) any core event’s light cone would far outrace whatever wavefront it originated from. That’s why we can detect distant supernovae, then wait for the neutrino shower that followed them. The light from any supernova outpaces the neutrinos ejected during and from it – which is mind-boggling, since neutrinos travel very, very fast.

I won’t even get into the “engineer’s” odd views regarding gamma ray bursts (he apparently thought that we were looking down the barrel of a GRB from Sag A, even though GRBs propagate from the poles of quasars rather than from their equators, which is more of what we’d be in the line of). Or his misunderstanding of the hypothesized internal structure of a black hole (which he kept referring to as “opening up,” as if the event horizon was a physical barrier of some sort).

But I will comment on his misunderstanding of Scripture.

The “engineer” was apparently tying all of this to Bible prophecy – that the supposed catastrophic events which are going to be brought on by our “alignment” with the galactic center correspond with the terrible judgments of Revelation.

First, Jesus specifically stated that we can know neither the day nor the hour in which He is returning – and therefore any attempts to pinpoint the timing of the Rapture (which is what pinpointing the timing of any Tribulation judgment involves by mathematical necessity) is automatically doomed to failure – and equally automatically invalidates the one doing the pinpointing.

I can appreciate a desire to “prove” the Bible by showing how the Bible anticipates modern science. But vastly more harm than good is done by taking barely understood facts grossly out of context and slapping them together in a faux-scientific chimera of an explanation to “prove” the Bible. We don’t need to “prove” the Bible. We simply need to believe it and let it say what it says where it says it. Besides, I think a desire to “prove” the Bible shows that we fundamentally lack an abiding trust in it and its Author – we’re looking for “outside verification,” as if God Himself wasn’t trustworthy enough.

Yes, true science always winds up validating the Bible (or rather, the reverse is true).

Emphasis on true science.

Evangelasticity does nothing but confirm the atheists’ canard that we as Christians are anti-science by our very misuse of science.

We can do better than that.

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