Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Miracles of Astronomy?

Miracle is an overworked and sometimes misunderstood word. In everyday usage, the term is applied to many everyday events, including personal health events in which we observe extraordinary recovery from various maladies. Everyday events are described as miracles if the events are significantly out of the ordinary. In 2012 I submitted a blog post entitled “Mundane Miracles:” In retrospect, the post could have been labeled using a less suggestive title. I meant to imply that truly unusual, noteworthy, and thankworthy events occur in our lives virtually every day. With this meaning, the title was appropriate using the term miracle rather loosely.

Similar flexible usage of terminology is sometimes used to describe the formation of our Solar System. When we describe our Sun and its family of planets, we describe a truly unique assemblage. Hundreds of parameters must be individually finely tuned to an unimaginable degree in order for life as we know it to exist. The probability that all of those factors could be collectively present to produce a life-sustaining solar system like ours is exceedingly remote. The use of miracle to describe the system is subject to linguistic debate. The impression of design, however, is not.

Our previous post, “Order-keeping Jupiter,” presented opportunity to assign very special status to the role of planet Jupiter in our early and current Solar System. Theologian John Jefferson Davis proposed the term “extraordinary providence.” Davis may call the special role Jupiter plays in the formation of our Solar System “extraordinary providence.” By this he means God works through “secondary causes” to bring about a result exceeding its ordinary potential. In the formation of Jupiter, God foreknew the potential of Jupiter to maintain planetary order through the ages and to fulfill its special assignment up to the present day.

Earth’s Moon is also a candidate for “extraordinary providence.” Some authors have used another term: “non-transcendent miracle.” This phenomenon falls short of New Testament miracles involving the instant reorganization of molecules in the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Christ, as well as in healing miracles such as healing of the blind and lame. These are transcendent miracles involving unusual and unique actions of divine origin.

How does our Moon demonstrate “extraordinary providence?” A widely accepted and credible theory tells the story. Early in our Solar System’s history prior to 4 billion years ago, the early planet Earth was struck obliquely by a giant colliding body the size of Mars. Some of the material was absorbed into the mantle of the earth as other material was thrust into space by the collision. The impact transformed the thick, stifling atmosphere to more life-favorable conditions in the ages to come. Discoveries by the Apollo astronauts from their visits to the Moon in 1969-1972 revealed the moon formed later than earth. The earth’s iron content, gained from the collider, later proved favorable for permitting a huge abundance of ocean-dwelling phytoplankton to support the oceanic food chain and generate oxygen for the arrival of advanced earth life. The debris scattered by the collision later condensed into a solid body, Earth’s Moon, which now acts to stabilize the obliquity of the earth’s axis at 23½˚. Today’s constant axial tilt provides for seasons and climate stability. This is an example of “extraordinary providence.”

Did God know how the “extraordinary providence” during Solar System planet formation would nourish the lives of creatures on this earth millions of years in the future? We believe God knew. God is the author of ordinary providence sustaining each everyday event, extraordinary providence of visualizing and authoring a future result for a special purpose, and occasional miracles of true transcendence which soar far beyond the ordinary laws governing nature. Such miracles have provided the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As God’s redeemed people we look forward to transcendent miracles when humanity’s earthly life is complete. Scripture refers to this future time as the New Creation in Revelation 21.