Sunday, August 4, 2013

ASTRONOMY


My parents usually drove us to school each morning, swinging by to drop us off at Battle Creek Academy before they headed to the appliance store that they ran.  Generally they weren’t able to pick us up from school in the afternoon, and beginning in about the fourth grade I took a city bus home from school each day.  The Academy had school buses, and I’m not sure why I took public transportation.  Perhaps it was less expensive or perhaps it got me home faster.  In any event, I would pick up the city bus a couple of blocks from the school and ride it downtown.  I would then need to transfer to a different bus that would take me past my house.  Occasionally I would get lucky and the connection between the first and second buses would be fast.  But most times I would have a wait that could be as long as 15 minutes or more.  Because the city library was only a block or so from the downtown bus stop, I began regularly to check books out of the library between bus transfers.

The library used the Dewey decimal system for classifying books, and soon I found myself most afternoons in the stacks numbered in the 500s, science and math, eventually gravitating toward astronomy. 
A lot of what I read early on related to planetary astronomy, essentially what is going on in our solar system.  This was in the late 1950s and early 1960s, at the beginning of the space race and the idea of traveling to the moon and to other planets was pretty sexy.  Eventually, though, I began reading more broadly about stellar astronomy, including books on the formation, composition, and ultimate fate of stars.  Others that I read dealt more broadly with the origin, history, and future of the universe.  By this time the general size of the universe, including the fact that it is expanding, had been well established.  However, this was at a time when the controversy over whether the universe had begun in a “big bang” or existed in a “steady state” had not yet been resolved.

Over the course of my high school years I read most of what our local library had to offer on the subject of astronomy, probably 50 or more books.  Some of them were over my head (figuratively, that is).  Others were more popularly written for the interested layman.  Many of the books covered a lot of the same ground, explaining not just what we know about the universe but what methods we use to gain that knowledge.  And though the books may have differed in some particulars (in part because a few were pretty dated), virtually all of them spoke to the great age and size of the universe and how we learned those facts.

All of them, that is, except one book.  I no longer recall the name of the book or its author.  But it was clearly different from all of the others in that it did not speak to the universe’s great age or its size.  Instead, it spoke more in terms of the universe’s grandeur and beauty.  In addition, it spoke specifically of something special about the great nebula in the constellation of Orion and that it seemed to form a pathway to somewhere else in the universe.  This was not the first time I had read about the nebula in Orion in astronomy texts; other books had referred to it as simply a prominent example of a gaseous nebula that appeared to be the site for recent and ongoing star formation.

More to my point, this was not the first time that I had been told that this nebula was special.  In fact, the Seventh-day Adventist prophetess, Ellen White, had specifically stated that during one of her “visions” she had learned that the Orion nebula was on the route that Christ would take on his way to earth at the time of his Second Coming.  Now I was very curious.  I had never heard of this book’s author, but at that point I did check the publisher:  Southern Publishing, run by the Adventist church.

I do not recall now whether I came across this book before or after my fateful visit to the museum that I spoke of in this blog’s initial post.  If before, then my recognition of the disparity between this book and all of the others was an important element in my personal philosophical journey.  If after, then it certainly served to strengthen my new perspective.  The fact that the Adventist book was so different from all of the others and, frankly, less sophisticated was critical.

I am now 50-some years removed from my intellectual affiliation with the Adventist church.  I don’t know if the church still emphasizes Christ’s imminent Second Coming.  My guess is that it is downplayed in favor of more general notions of what it is to live a Christian life.  That may be a good thing.  My guess too is that no one talks nowadays of the specifics of Christ’s itinerary for his Second Coming.  But I am curious.

© 2013 John M. Phillips

5 comments:

  1. His arrival is very much anticipated...knowledge shall be increased...look at the last 100 years, as compared to all the years before...its exponential...and men shall run to and fro...we are globally aware...what happens in any street in the world can be in front of your eyes live! We could and have the potential to soon be buying and selling by looking into a camera, or with the use of our thumbprint, or just a little chip ...it's being put in every form of ID. Our global economy could be, and is controlled by world leaders...we are at a time in history, that even we didn't imagine in our youth...Any message of God and His love could be revealed to the whole world in a day...we are at the brink of WW3...I would say if we don't self destruct first.. the "worst" of natural disasters are constantly in the news....and yet men cry peace and safety...we will see the end at His coming. I think He is delaying...His only desire is that all be saved...it must be so hard.

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  2. Hi, Lisa,

    I am trying to understand how your comment relates to my post. Are you saying that Christ's second coming is near and that there are amply signs pointing to its imminence? You are certainly correct that there has been an exponential growth in technology over the last 100 years. I believe, though, that that growth is evidence of the success that a scientific approach has had. I do not believe that the world is worse off that it was 100 years ago. On the contrary, there have been great advances in medical science that has led to greater general health and longevity, among others. We are certainly in a better place than we were 70 years ago, when we were in the midst of WWII. And we are better off than we were 50 years ago in the middle of a cold war that threatened mutual nuclear destruction. We are not out of the woods by any means. There are new threats and always will be. You might want to check out Stephen Pinker's book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, in which he argues that there has been a steady decline in violence over the past several thousand years.

    John

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  3. I agree that this growth is a great accomplishment in science and technology! And I don't think these advances make the world worse in any way. I just think that this is understood by Christians as an incredible change that the founders of the Reformation and then, later the years of revival in the 1800's could never have imagined. The possibility of giving a message to the whole world is at our fingertips. Yes, medical advances are there in abundance...we can live healthy lives and have clearer minds and understand the functions of the body like never before. Those in the counties of abundance have it all...and then there are those living poverty....how many I wonder? I see this world situation as ever evidence that the possibility of preaching God's love to the whole world is there...but where are the people living that love? That is where the world really sees what "gospel" means, in the lives of people...that is the Gospel according to Christ...not just words. Will that happen, I hope so, there are certainly people who want to be like that. Maybe that is why violence, according to Pinker's book has lessened. So yes, to answer your question, yes, I think we are close to that moment of Christ's return. Maybe not in my lifetime, but soon.

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  4. Hi, Lisa,

    You were a couple of years behind me in school, so you may not remember, but on one occasion in my senior year at BCA Mr. Young asked each of us seniors in turn when we thought Christ's Second Coming would occur. My recollection was that I was the only one that opined that it "would not be for a long time." (Of course, by then I had lost my faith in the church and in the Second Coming, but I was not about to say "never" as that would have created all sorts of problems for me.) Everyone else stated that it would be within the next year or at most a few years. I recall one classmate saying she hoped she would have a chance to get married since there would not be marrying or giving in marriage in heaven. Someone else said he hoped it would not be until after the world series because he wanted to know how it turned out. That was over 50 years ago. We are still waiting, and as far as I can tell are no closer than we were before.

    I recall that one of the requisites, if you will, for the Second Coming was that everyone living had to have an opportunity to receive the gospel, and in that sense we are closer.

    I'm not sure what you meant by the comment, "where are the people living that love? That is where the world really sees what 'gospel' means, in the lives of people." The majority of people worldwide are not Christians, of course, but I assume that does not mean that they don't have the same degree of love and concern for one another as do Christians. And speaking as a nonChristian myself, I feel I am as loving and caring as the next person. Perhaps I don't really understand what you are saying. Maybe you can clarify.

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  5. I think love is intrinsic...a part of human nature and it can grow and fill our lives to such an extent that that is all there is...We were created in the image of God and God is Love. Sin (separation) has warped that love and it is often disguised as self centeredness...getting something in return, and there is an alterior motive behind "love." We often love with strings attached. I'm certainly guilty... pure love is hard to come by.
    I mean a self sacrificing love...much like a women expecting a child is willing to sacrifice all for the well being of her child...both at birth and as a mother. Fortunately such love produces love in return so that it is a mutual sharing of this gift. And I think we see the two extremes in this world even more then ever...love that is real and evil that is rampant. Like the days of Noah...

    So yes, I believe you are loving...probably in a very "christian" way. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. You are probably one of those model citizens and I mean that in the kindest way...you always were. We all liked you, and still do!




    Th

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