Psalm 8 goes beyond devotional significance into the realm of ancient science: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?…..O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the Earth” (vs 3,4,9 NIV). The Scripture quotations above contain references to (1) observation, (when I consider), a necessary scientific skill, (2) intelligent design, (the work of God’s fingers) (3) divine orderliness, (“set(ting) in place” of the moon and stars), and finally, (4) devotional worship (how majestic is your name,) an outgrowth of David’s recognition of God’s mindfulness of mankind and His care for them.
This psalm is well known in terms of profound theological and scientific significance. It was penned by King David long before the formalization of scientific method. The passage highlights observational skills and suggests an intelligent cause and effect relationship between the existence of heavenly bodies and the Creator’s role in forming them. The physical knowledge we possess of sequential events forming planets, the moon, and the stars, including our life-giving solar companion, focus our understanding on complex cosmic processes which seem unlikely to develop or exist purely by chance or accident.
The concept of intelligent design mentioned in the above two paragraphs may be a sticking point among secular scientists. Here is a link to our previous post (10/1/10) suggesting why human intuition paired with induction are valid indicators of intelligent design:
The deepest devotional thoughts of King David are apparent in Psalm 8. It was written about ten centuries before Christ, long before the concept of a spherical Earth was established in human awareness. Actual human photographic and visual evidence of Planet Earth’s circular profile did not occur until about 90 years ago, a startling truth in view of many other telescopic visualizations of astronomical bodies hundreds of years before. Even in the 1930s there was only an incomplete profile of the terrestrial sphere. Humans were intellectually aware of Earth’s curvature long before they were able to see it either visually or photographically. This speaks to the startling fact that the oldest residents alive in our day were unable to perceive the complete Earth sphere.
Commanders of balloon flights in 1931, 1933, and 1935 ascended to about 10, 12, and 14 miles above Earth’s surface. There is debate whether the subtle curvature of our planet was discernIble. Some have proposed the curvature of Earth may not be visible even at 120,000 ft.—almost 23 mi. In 1946 a photograph was taken at 65 mi. by a captured WWII V2 rocket. The curvature was clearly observable but we were not close to visualizing the entire planet at once.
The first complete Earth globe photograph was taken by the Russian satellite Molniya on May 30, 1966. Many other photographs taken by the USA were composites of multiple different surface pictures. The Russian communication satellite’s ability to produce such a picture was due to its very distant highly elliptical orbit.
The Apollo 8 Moon exploration program enabled scientists to produce our country’s first inspiring complete Earth photograph on December 24, 1968. It was entitled “Earthrise,” although the Earth never rises above a stationary angle of elevation. This is because the Moon is “tidally locked” to the Earth—one side of the Moon always faces Earth. However, the Earth appears to rise and set if observed by astronauts in orbit around the Moon!
Returning to King David’s exuberant Psalm 8 worship experience, we describe a mysterious phenomenon reported by modern astronauts—the “overview effect.” We quote a Wikipedia article which utilizes many sources: “The overview effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from outer space. It is the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, ‘hanging in the void,’ shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere…..” We link our previous post on the “Overview Effect:”
We cite two other popular instances of the human view of Planet Earth from outer space. The “Blue Marble” is a photograph of Earth as seen by the crew of Apollo 17 in December 1972. It has become one of the most famous photographs of all time. The Earth was nearly fully illuminated with the sun shining from behind the astronauts.
The “Pale Blue Dot” is a photograph of Earth taken about 4 billion miles from the sun, farther than the orbit of Neptune. It is a barely perceptible tiny dot in the photograph. It was produced by the Voyager I spacecraft in 1990 just before technicians switched off its cameras while the craft was in the process of exiting our Solar System. The picture was suggested by Carl Sagan who argued for one last “family” portrait of the Solar System. In Carl Sagan’s 1994 book “Pale Blue Dot” he wrote, “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.” He went further, describing Earth as “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” It may be the ultimate “overview effect” photograph.
We offer a partial timeline of astronomy discoveries: (1) spherical planets (other than Earth) and stars—observed ever since humans inhabited Earth (2) intellectual (non-visual) understanding of Earth as a sphere—500 BC (3) photographic and eyesight visualization of only a fraction of Earth’s curvature—1931-1966 (4) First visual and photographic proof of the complete Earth sphere—1966 (5) High quality complete visualization of the Earth globe—1968 to present (6) Extremely distant Pale Blue Dot Earth photographs—1990.
King David’s deepest spiritual emotions were expressed in Psalm 8. The Israelite King had experienced only discovery (1) in the timeline catalog offered above. How much more spiritual awe and wonder should we experience in the 21st century? Could we describe the experience as a spiritually heightened overview effect?