Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Predicting Pascal's Wager

On our way to drop off my son at Camp Quest Texas, we drove by a peculiar billboard that caught the attention of everyone in the car.  In bright yellow text, with an amateurish speech balloon around the date "8/2/2027", and what looked like a stock picture of a total solar eclipse as the backdrop, the billboard read, "Christ Stands on Mt. Olivet Amos 8:9 - At NOON."  Of course, they also provided a link to their website.  As much as I hate even giving these guys the network traffic, if you're interested in their claims you are more than welcome to follow the link.

(I'll update this post with a picture of the billboard if I can get one.)

Before anyone starts snickering and scoffing, let's see what the Bible actually says in Amos 8.  I'll skip the first few verses of the chapter where the "Sovereign Lord" showed Amos a basket of fruit and then threatened to fling bodies everywhere, and just give the relevant verses for this prediction:
The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done.
Will not the land tremble for this,
    and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
    it will be stirred up and then sink
    like the river of Egypt."
"In that day," declares the Sovereign Lord,
"I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
    and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
    and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
    and the end of it like a bitter day."
"The days are coming," declares the Sovereign Lord,
    "when I will send a famine through the land -
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
    but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
People will stagger from sea to sea
    and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,
    but they will not find it.
In that day the lovely young women and strong young men
    will faint because of thirst.
Those who swear by the sin of Samaria -
    who say, 'As surely as your god lives, Dan,'
    or, 'As surely as the god of Beersheba lives' -
    they will fall, never to rise again."
So excluding the intimidating first portion of Amos 8, and excluding everything else I've provided from that chapter, these people focus their prognostication on verse 9 only.  The one with, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight."  Since this is the word of god, I'm guessing that we are to believe that the Sun will actually "go down"; not be hidden by the Moon mind you, but actually go back down.  Oh, and then  it really gets nasty with worldwide famine, dehydration, fainting, and of course the sheer brutality of being forced to shave your heads and wear sackcloth.

The horror!  EEK!

Ah, but rather than cower in the corner waiting for August 2, 2027, to do whatever it's going to do, let's do some science instead!

First of all, I'm sure we're all well aware that the Earth is a spheroid spinning about an axis to give us day and night depending upon where you happen to be standing on the planet.  So, even if the Earth were to miraculously spin faster for a few minutes to make the Sun dive back down below the horizon, we'd all be dead anyway!  After the massive earthquakes, tremendous volcanic eruptions, extensive seawater flooding about the equator and subsequent rebound, etc, etc, just about everything on the planet over the size of an amoeba would be killed.

Second, eclipses are nothing more than the Moon casting it's shadow as it passes in front of the Sun. From anywhere other than behind the track of the Moon's shadow, the Sun will appear perfectly normal.  Nothing magical about it.

Also, total eclipses  in Jerusalem are not all that uncommon - just as total eclipses are not uncommon ANYWHERE on our planet.  Here is a total eclipse from August 30, 1905 with a very similar track to the one coming in 2027.  And another total eclipse (annular) from March 28th, 1922.  And another from August 21, 1933...

You get the idea.

The point is that our species understands basic celestial mechanics whereas the authors of the Bible did not.  We can reliably predict when and where these events will occur on the Earth and can let everyone know precisely what time to go outside to enjoy it.  Thus, using celestial events like this as a forecast to some localized Biblical phenomenon does nothing more than announce your profound stupidity to the rest of the world.

Next, if you look at the track of the eclipse on August 2, 2027, the totality doesn't actually pass over Israel - much less the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.  This means that all of Israel will get a partial eclipse, not a total eclipse that this billboard suggests.  The maximum total eclipse occurring at noon in that region's standard time zone will be seen from El-Ghanayem, Egypt.

And this point may be a bit petty, but keep in mind that Israel observes daylight savings time.  So there's an issue here with the "Sovereign Lord" not realizing that his chosen people might be late to the party because they all have their watches set an hour ahead.

Finally, why concentrate on just that single chapter and verse in Amos?  Did they not bother to read on to chapter 9?  The almighty really goes on a mass murdering spree in that chapter - with a sword no less.

Granted, the producers of this website make sure to include concessions such as:
  • This is NOT the exact day of the rapture
  • This is NOT the exact day of the second coming
  • This is NOT the exact day of the return of Christ (same as above?)
  • This is NOT the end of the world
Okay, fine.  But what it IS doing, is trumping up fear in anyone gullible enough to believe it.  So they make sure to admit that some of this may happen, and the Bible suggests that an eclipse might be a sign... So what?  They're still preying upon those that are simply not educated enough to realize that the verse they quote has happened countless times and will continue to happen countless more so long as Earth still has the Moon we all know and love.

Now mark my words - as the date of that solar eclipse approaches, more and more Christians will steadily convert from mellow skepticism to cautious acceptance for no other reason than a dependence upon a bare bones, celestial version of Pascal's Wager.

Just wait and see.

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