Synchronicity! Convergence! It must be significant.

I’ve been seeing more examples recently of theists pointing at the ‘miracle’ of solar eclipses. It’s amazing the the diameter of the moon as seen from Earth is almost exactly the same as the diameter of the sun, as seen from the same position. That couldn’t possibly be by chance — it must be a sign from a god.

Except…sorry, this kind of thing is exactly what can happen by coincidence. It’s a neat phenomenon, but not at all persuasive of the existence of a deity.

But here’s another miraculous coincidence: both Adam Lee and Gregory Paul have written about this same event, and both are saying it’s not evidence for a god. A miracle! So unlikely.

Both Lee and Paul explain the physical basis for eclipses, and suggest it’s nothing but chance. Lee points out the fallacious reasoning behind thinking this is causally significant.

Creationists love talking about the “rare Earth” idea: the argument that Earth is specially and uniquely fine-tuned to support life. It orbits in the habitable zone, not too close or too far from the sun, which is a stable star without massive flares. We have a regular day-night cycle, a mostly stable axial tilt, a magnetic field that screens out cosmic radiation, and so on. The creationists claim that this is evidence of God’s special favor.

The fallacy of the rare-Earth argument is that it’s an inference based on incomplete data. Just as you can’t compute the probability of a particular hand of cards unless you know what’s in the deck, we have no basis for proclaiming how common Earthlike planets are. Our sample size is too limited (although it’s growing all the time).

Paul wonders why a super-powerful cosmic being who can juggle stars and planets is trying to impress us with a meaningless, illusory light show.

Wrapping this up by looking at the really big picture, it’s important to understand that the beautiful total eclipses should be seen as compelling evidence of God thing is part of a greater cover-up conspiracy. It is a use of a wowzer but trivial item to help divert mass awareness away from the far larger issues that tell a very different tale about the state of our existence. Theists have long been working to get us to focus on the supposed sheer existence of a creator via the beauty of our Lord’s creation. That’s because they don’t want us to pay due and necessary attention to the deeply dark underside of the proposed super intelligence. The universe may be pretty, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, is correspondingly arbitrary, and can cover profound dysfunction or evil. Far from the universe being truly fine-tuned for intelligent life, it is in many respects hostile to it, to the degree that Earth is a toxic blue dot so infested with lethal microbes that diseases have killed off half of humans born, to the tune of fifty billion dead children ( and see part 2 too). There is nothing pretty about that.

Let us assume the following. That children are immune to diseases, so that few if any kinds die young. Rather than the 5,000 that will die around the globe on April 8. Such a world would be pushing happenstance way beyond its logical, natural cause limits. Such benign protection of the lives of the most vulnerable and innocent would not only constitute solid evidence for the existence of a truly intelligent designer of immense power. It would demonstrate that the entity really is ethical and in fact cares about the free will of humans. As it is, we dwell on a kid-killing planet that, regardless of its awe-inspiring aspects including total eclipses, is fully and far more compatible with amoral natural origins than with loving design, and there is nothing trivial about that terrible fact.

Yeah, I wonder too why a god would rather play shenanigans with the lighting than actually do something about all those suffering, dying kids. It’s not a good look, God. It makes you look like a clown in the cancer ward, tossing kids out the window.

I’m not going to indulge in the spectacle. I think we get about 60% totality here in Minnesota, and that’ll have to be good enough for me. It’s all going down on a school day, you know, and I’m not traveling to some ungodly place like Indiana or Texas for a brief period of darkness.


  1. robro says

    Not all eclipses are the same. In some of them, annular eclipses, the moon is slightly further from the earth so its position does not completely block the sun. God is sloppy.

  2. bcw bcw says

    What, you don’t rate “water into wine” as highly as “cure for smallpox?”

  3. dontlikeusernames says

    Having been able to see a solar eclipse in my tiny home country a few years ago — the next one happening about 100 years from now — I can say that it was very nice and a real “oh, those astronomers are quite decent at predicting eclipses” moment. Not that I had any doubts… I’ve seen the Saturn Voyager image :)

    It was very NEAT. Religious, not so much.

  4. Deanna Gilbert says

    The fact we don’t get a total solar eclipse every month is evidence that a supreme being DOESN’T exist. The fact that even on those occasions where we do, sometimes that moon is ever-so-slightly closer than it needs to be and we don’t get the nice total display.

  5. robert79 says

    Even IF the evolution of life required some exceedingly rare circumstances like having a moon with the same angular diameter as the sun… With gazillions of stars in gazillions of galaxies it may happen somewhere. Even if the chance of life evolving is ONCE per the volume of a couple of visible universes (which may be the case, if you ask me), it’s bound to happen somewhere, even though it’ll be quite thoroughly alone. So saying “life is incredibly rare” is not an argument, it’s like saying that since someone somewhere won the lottery, and winning the lottery is highly unlikely, the lottery must’ve been rigged!

  6. Snarki, child of Loki says

    And yet, those anti-science yahoos who “do their own research” and “don’t trust the experts” don’t wonder how it can be that the solar eclipses can be predicted YEARS in advance, to within a fraction of a second, and centimeters over thousands of kilometers.

    Oh, maybe it’s because the RWNJs haven’t turned it into a political issue. Yet.

  7. John Morales says

    I’ve seen a couple of those. First time was mildly interesting, second time it was meh.

    (Seen one, seen them all, basically. Might as well be excited by the day/night cycle)

  8. chesapeake says

    In 2003 this book was published to some fanfare arguing that planets were rare and animals even more rare.
    Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe: Ward, Peter D., Brownlee
    Within 10 years there was evidence that one in six stars hosts an Earth-sized planet in a close orbit and there are 100 billion planets and 17 billion earth-like planets in our galaxy alone.
    From amazon:
    Reviewed in the United States on January 8, 2013
    .. A new look at this problem suggests that planets may indeed be quite rare – and thus presence of animal life rarer.
    ….. Now that numerous stars have been examined, it appears that only 5% or 6% of examined stars have detectable planets. .. Perhaps it indicates that planets as a whole are rare as well..

    From the book Rare Earth by Peter Ward & Donald Brownlee.. Page No. 268

    Fast forward to January 8th, 2013 – BBC News

    Astronomers say that one in six stars hosts an Earth-sized planet in a close orbit – suggesting a total of 17 billion such planets in our galaxy.
    The result comes from an analysis of planet candidates gathered by Nasa’s Kepler space observatory.
    The Kepler scientists also announced 461 new planet candidates, bringing the satellites’ total haul to 2,740.
    100 Billion planets (atleast) in Milky Way alone – Caltech
    That’s the conclusion of a new study by astronomers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) that provides yet more evidence that planetary systems are the cosmic norm. The team made their estimate while analyzing planets orbiting a star called Kepler-32–planets that are representative, they say, of the vast majority in the galaxy and thus serve as a perfect case study for understanding how most planets form.

    “There’s at least 100 billion planets in the galaxy–just our galaxy,” says John Johnson, assistant professor of planetary astronomy at Caltech and coauthor of the study, which was recently accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. “That’s mind-boggling.”


    To write a review of this book.. I had to wait for 11 years. Hope these guys must be eating their words now!

    Sent from my iPad

  9. gijoel says

    Jesus did cure the sick and raise the dead. Unfortunately, he never bothered to tell anyone how he did it. He came to earth to teach humanity about love, but honestly he would have done a better job if he had taught us about crop rotation and penicillin.

  10. imthegenieicandoanything says

    I enjoy watching a magic trick, even a simple one. I enjoy it even more once it’s explained to me – if I can’t figure it out by myself, which is usually the case, since I haven’t practiced magic myself. Sort of like most science, actually/

    And I enjoy the same trick even more, when it “works” despite my knowing how it works.

    Optical illusions are the same. And really odd coincidences.

    But the “bad” sort of believers (individual, religious (a majority) and political (a significant minority) don’t want to enjoy anything at all, really: not simple magic, not even what they call miracles.

    They want excuses to abuse others.

  11. gijoel says

    Also the whole miracles thing was probably bullshit propaganda written in by his followers after his death.

  12. StevoR says

    @8. chesapeake : For a book that takes on and demolishes or at least raises serious points against the Rare Earth idea see biologist Jack Cohen and mathematician Ian Stewart’s. :

    Which I read, enjoyed, would reccommend and think did a prettty good job of pointing out why Earth might not be all that “rare” after all.

  13. Reginald Selkirk says

    @1 You’re darn right not all eclipses are the same. Once a day, the Earth comes between me and the sun, making it seem dark. This averages out to about half the year being experienced under such eclipse conditions. The sophisticated scientific term for these events is “night.” And yet, it doesn’t get hyped up in the mainstream media the way solar or lunar eclipses do.

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    We have … a magnetic field that screens out cosmic radiation…

    Some have suggested that the life-sustaining rarity of Earth derives from the fact that we have such a large (relatively) moon, which stirs up the molten-iron core and thus generates a strong enough magnetic field to protect large complex molecules over long periods. My amateurish pokings around the Web and through pop-sci literature have not, so far, uncovered anybody with the right credentials either supporting or denying this claim, but it would seem at least as important as orbit-within-the-liquid-water zone as to whether other planets might develop biospheres.

    Anybody here have solid info on this?

  15. Robbo says

    total eclipses are spectacular. and rare. its not nearly the same thing as “night.”

    it gets dark, you see stars, the corona, and a 360° sunset/sunrise effect. the a few minutes later, back to normal.

    you probably won’t see one unless you travel to see it, or just get lucky.

    the next 6 eclipses in North America are: 2024, 2033, 2044, 2045, 2052, 2078, 2079

  16. raven says

    Theists have long been working to get us to focus on the supposed sheer existence of a creator via the beauty of our Lord’s creation. That’s because they don’t want us to pay due and necessary attention to the deeply dark underside of the proposed super intelligence.

    The reason the earth seems habitable to us isn’t because it was designed that way.

    It is more that we were designed or shaped for the earth. Not by the gods but by evolution and natural selection.
    If the earth were different enough, we would also be different and shaped to survive under those conditions.

  17. Deanna Gilbert says

    @13: Perfect example of “Tell me you’ve never seen a total solar eclipse without telling me you’ve never seen a total solar eclipse.”

  18. Nemo says

    To me, it doesn’t even rise to the level of “coincidence”. Consider: If there’s a moon that — at any point in its existence — is large enough and close enough to its planet that it appears larger than the Sun (check); and if that moon gradually spirals outwards in its orbit over millions of years (check); then there will inevitably come a time when the two bodies appear approximately the same size in the sky. And that time is, roughly, now. But that’s only a “coincidence” if you pre-suppose that “now” is a time of special significance… which, IMHO, there is no reason to do. Otherwise, it’s just a thing that happened, and this is when it happened, but so what? It was gonna happen anyway, sometime in the past, or in the future.

  19. Alan G. Humphrey says

    I’ve seen several total and partial eclipses and enjoy them each time. I don’t look at the actual eclipse anymore, because once you’ve seen the various types then that does become boring. But now I wander around the neighborhood looking for other phenomena. The best thing I saw in last October’s total eclipse in my area was the sight of light fountains displayed on building walls when the wind blew and the many sickle-shaped images of the sun, both before and after totality, made the normally mundane pin-hole camera effects move eerily like water. The size and shape of the trees and their leaves make for different effects, too. This next one will reach about 70% here and unfortunately, the larger plane and ash trees nearby will not yet have leaves, so I’ll have to wander farther out to find suitable alternatives.

  20. Nathaniel Hellerstein says

    Fine tuning? Bah, humbug. 99.9999999+% of the Universe is cold dark irradiated vacuum, uninhabitable by all known forms of life. It’s fine-tuned against life; 99.9999999+% is pretty good fine-tuning. I call that the Misanthropic Principle.

  21. pilgham says

    When Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter, he reasoned there must be intelligent life on Jupiter because otherwise why would God give other planets moons unless someone was there to see them?

    As for here, I try to remember that, excluding plants, bacteria comprises three quarters of the life on Earth. That’s by weight. We are a fraction of a fraction of a fraction.

  22. suttkus says

    I used to have a file with a list of absolute non-coincidences that would have been very hand coincidental. For example, if I were a divine being designing a solar system for my favored critters, I would be sure to make the year evenly divisible by the length of a day. And I’d make sure the year, when divided by days, produces a highly divisible number, so you can split the year into any number of conveniently even units. 365? that’s 5*73! How often do you find it convenient to divide the year into 5 chunks of 73 days? (or 73 chunks of 5 days) And those are your ONLY options for dividing it evenly. It’s a terrible number of days in a year, even if it wasn’t actually followed by a bunch of decimals.

    And, if the speed of light

  23. chrislawson says

    @23– The speed of light? It’s further proof of Divine Creation because God made it exactly c.

  24. thewolf says

    the other thing is, that of course the life that evolved on Earth is suited to the habitable conditions here. we have no idea what other life forms–possibly not carbon-based or water-dependent, may have evolved on worlds far away in other, unobservable but potentially habitable zones.

    the hubris is astounding!

  25. kenbakermn says

    If aliens who could change their appearance and tour the galaxy were a thing (yeah, I know, just bear with me for a sec), a total eclipse on Earth would be a good place to look for them. It’s such a rare thing that it would be a popular tourist destination.

  26. birgerjohansson says

    David Waltham, in Lucky Planet argued thst a moon big enough to have a stabilising effect on the axial tilt of a planet automatically will orbit further and further away (tidal interactions), and after the very long time needed for complex life to arise the angular size of the satellite as seen from the world can be expected to be roughly what it is today.

    And since G stars are a favorable compromise between long life span (not burning energy too fast) and brightess strong enough for a planet not needing to be close enough to the star to get ‘locked’ rotation (because of tidal effects between star and planet) you can expect the star viewed from a world in the ‘goldilicks zone’ to have an angular diameter similar to the sun.
    There is also the possibility of a planet without a big moon, but rotating so fast the axial tilt remains stable on its own. But such a world may have a climate that is ‘too stable’ – there will be no periodic ice ages shaking up evolution.

  27. birgerjohansson says

    In @ 27 I brought up the arguments for synchronicity being common.
    But suppose it is not?

    Connie Willis wrote a fun little story about the eclipses making the Earth something of a tourist attraction in the galaxy for undercover aliens.
    For instance, on the day of the eclipse, the parks have more public ‘sculptures’ depicting spaceships than there used to be.

  28. birgerjohansson says

    Myself @ 28
    For other ‘Alcibiades wannabees’, see the awful role of the Duke of Austria during the first mongol invasion of Hungary.
    More recently, see how the post-Lincoln presidents fucked up the South and the situation for the blacks.
    Or, wossname, the owner of Vickers and how he dragged Greece into WWI which resulted in the greeks in Asia Minor eventually getting subjected to ethnic cleansing.

  29. Rob Grigjanis says

    Nathaniel Hellerstein @21: That’s a common misunderstanding of the meaning of ‘fine tuning’. It just means that there are parameters which, if changed only slightly, would result in a very different universe.

    There are indeed such parameters. For example, if the second excited state of the C12 nucleus differed (plus or minus) by 0.8%, there would be a drastic reduction in the abundance of elements with atomic number 6 (carbon) and higher. That would include rocks, and life!

    Some theists have made a big deal of this. Some theists make a big deal of anything. I just ignore them.

  30. rietpluim says

    Well OBVIOUSLY two random objects having roughly equal size and distance-from-earth ratios is proof of God. Duh.

  31. KG says

    The fallacy of the rare-Earth argument is that it’s an inference based on incomplete data. Just as you can’t compute the probability of a particular hand of cards unless you know what’s in the deck, we have no basis for proclaiming how common Earthlike planets are. – Adam Lee quoted by PZM

    That’s beside the point. If there are cosmically rare features required to make a planet a hospitable place for life to emerge, persist and diversify (my hunch is that there are), of course Earth will have them, or we wouldn’t be here. That’s a version of the “Weak Anthropic Principle”, which unlike the “Strong Anthropic Principle” (such features of Earth or the Universe must have been intentionally provided for us), is sound.

Leave a Reply