There Goes The Sun

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “The Sun.”

solar mass ejection

Skylab image of one of the largest eruptive solar prominences ever recorded.

The sun. What is there to say about it? It’s hot. It’s bright. It makes day. It’s good to have. I like it.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to rethink about the sun.

And, really, why bother? Some friends of mine rethought the sun for all of humanity better than any of us are ever going to back in 1973, and you can read about their thoughts in the seminal space history volume Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story,available wherever, um, it is sold.

So, lacking any Earth-shaking insights about the sun, I’m going to go in a different direction. One, ironically, dealing with Earth-shaking insights about the sun.

The sun, they say, has about seven billion years of life left in it. Which, really, isn’t that bad, considering that 7 billion years, they say, is about half the age of the entire universe thus far. Of course, the Earth won’t receive the full benefit of those 7 billion years; the planet will be gone long before the sun in one of a variety of ways.

Somewhere around the 5 billion year from now mark, the sun will expand into a red giant, becoming so large that will encompass everything through the orbit of Mars, easily including the current orbit of this little planet we call home. For those not sure about the science, being inside a star would be hazardous to the health of any life on the planet.

Of course, I’m careful there to say the orbit of Earth, rather than Earth itself. There are those who believe that the sun will not, in fact, swallow Earth. By the time the sun expands that large, it will, they say, have lost such a substantial portion of its mass that the orbits of the planets will change, and that Earth will be spiraling outward into space as the sun expands. This, to be sure, doesn’t really help anyone on the planet any; rather than meeting a fiery end, they’ll meet a frozen one.

Other scenarios focusing on solar heating or rogue stars give a lifespan of anywhere from 500 million to 30 billion years for some form of life on the planet, give or take.

The point is this — We’re all doomed, so why bother?

Just kidding, of course. Sure, the planet’s doomed, but we individually are gonna be gone long before that, so Earth’s eventual demise shouldn’t affect your personal “why bother” meter either way.

The point, really, is this — the natural processes that govern our universe dictate a natural end to our world, in whatever form it may come.

Ultimately, I believe science and religion are two halves of one thing, the quest for understanding of creation and its Creator. You cannot truly understand one without the other. I believe in a God who has created a universe based on a finely tuned set of operating principle, and a believe in a universe that speaks to the nature of its Creator.

Going a step further, God has created a world with an expiration date. I do believe that God acts in addition to and sometimes outside of the operating principles he established, but I believe He generally lets them do their thing. And those operating principles dictate a world that, without requiring any action on His part, will come to an end.

Now, me, personally, I don’t believe the human race has another 30 billion years in it, of 5 billion, or even half a billion. But I do believe, left to its own devices, humanity will come to a natural end.

Again, that doesn’t mean that God won’t end humanity’s physical existence before that. But, increasingly, I’m not entirely sure how I believe about the end of the world.

I’ve struggled with the issue for a while. I believe God was deliberate in creation. It strikes me as very cool, for example, the way Earth has been designed to provide us with power of varying levels as our intellectual sophistication increases, starting with fire, which is both easily understood and easily harnessed, and going on through electricity, which has only been fully understood and harnessed during the lifetime of the United States, or the atom, not fully revealed until the last century. Throw things like petroleum in there, and the amount of planning ahead that He put into it is really pretty outstanding.

And then throw in things like antimatter and zero-point energy. History would indicate to us that if God created a universe in which it was possible to harness energy from the reaction of matter and antimatter, He did so with the idea that we would do so. He designed the universe that way not frivolously, but deliberately; it was another tool He created for us to use.

Likewise, He put the moon in our backyard, close enough that we could, eventually, touch it. I tend not to believe He did this unthinkingly; that He was surprised when we landed there. If that’s the case, then I tend to believe He put the other fun toys in our solar system there for us to play with as well.

We’re just not there yet.

And that makes me believe that He’s not quite done with us yet.

I’m not entirely sure what I do believe about eschatology, but I have a hard time agreeing with those that argue that the end is imminent, that God is going to end the party before we’ve finished opening His presents. I believe He put the moon touchably close so we would go there, and that He thought it was really cool when we did. I imagine God was beaming on July 20, 1969 in the way that only a proud parent of kids who have done something amazing can. I imagine if He doesn’t get to see us explore the really cool red planet he made for us and put right there in our neighborhood for us, He’s going to be kind of disappointed.

I’ve been reading lately, somewhat accidentally, on alternate schools of thought on Biblical prophecy. In particular, I’m intrigued by the view that most, if not all, “end-times” prophecy was actually fulfilled in the first century, as Christ indicated to his apostles it would be. I’m not entirely sure I fully understand that scriptural interpretation, but, then, I don’t really fully understand the more commonplace modern interpretations, either.

I also tend to believe that if those prophecies refer to something yet to happen, they are intended more for us to recognize them when they do than to try to figure out when they’re coming. I think there are far more practical things for Christians to do with their time than to try to puzzle out something even Christ said He doesn’t know. If it’s coming, it’ll come when it comes.

In the meantime, I think we should spend less time worrying about when bedtime is and more time enjoying the toys He gave us.