The orbit of the Earth around the Sun produces variations in the seasons with four orbital positions having particular significance. Today, March 19, 2020, the Sun will pass directly overhead at the equator. The exact time will be 11:49 p.m. EDT (0349 GMT March 20, 2020). We can rejoice that the vernal equinox arrives today!
This is the earliest equinox in the United States in 124 years! As you can see in the diagram, the usual date for the vernal equinox is March 20 or 21, depending on where you live on the Earth. The reason it arrives on the 19th this year in North America is somewhat complicated, but it has to do with leap years and daylight saving time. We won’t get into that, but I thought we should explain why the diagram differs from this year’s dates.
There is wonderful history of how the Greek scholar Eratosthenes of Alexandria used the equinox to measure the circumference of the Earth. He knew that on the equinox, a pole stuck vertically in the ground left little or no shadow at noon, depending on location. He compared the length of the shadow of a pole in Syene, a town in southern Egypt, with one in Alexandria in northern Egypt. Using the difference in the shadow lengths, he calculated the circumference of the Earth. His calculation was very close to the known circumference today, and it proved the Earth was round. He did that in 245 BC, long before Columbus sailed.
The four polar positions roughly predict the seasons that have been used by every culture to control planting, harvesting, and preparing the soil. In Genesis 1:14, God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of space to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” God not only instituted day and night, but He also positioned the Sun and Moon so they could be used to mark the seasons we would need to live on this planet.
As the vernal equinox arrives today, we wish you a happy equinox!!Enjoy the season and the official end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. We will have more on the spring equinox tomorrow.
Philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) told the story of a king who refused to eat until he knew with certainty that his food had not been poisoned. The more he thought about how little he knew with certainty about his chef and his attendants, the more concerned he became. He finally starved to death. This story makes the point that everyone is operating on faith.
Atheists ridicule Christians for operating on faith not realizing that they depend on faith, and so does science. A classic example was a Greek scholar named Eratosthenes of Cyrene born in 276 BC. Eratosthenes noticed that on a specific day of the year, the Sun was positioned so that it illuminated the bottom of a well where he lived. From that fact, he had faith that the Earth was spherical.
On the day that the Sun shone to the bottom of the well in Syene (modern Aswan, Egypt), Eratosthenes placed a vertical rod in the ground at Alexandria and measured the angle of its shadow. Using the difference in angle of the Sun’s rays and the distance between the two locations, he calculated the circumference and diameter of the Earth with high accuracy. He even established the concept of latitude and longitude from his measurements. Scholars of Eratosthenes’ day ridiculed his idea because everyday experience suggested the Earth was flat and endless. They indicated that he was mistaken or his measurements were wrong. Their criticism did not sway the strong faith of Eratosthenes in what he believed.
A modern-day Eratosthenes would be Albert Einstein. His radical ideas were still not accepted by many in the scientific community some 40 years after he originally proposed them. The critics were silenced only when Einstein’s ideas could finally be tested and proven correct.
For many scientific discoveries in the past, that pattern has been repeated. A scientist operating on faith expressed a hypothesis based on his or her observations. The hypothesis could not be tested when the concept was proposed, but from that faith, something important was eventually discovered.
The definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 fits this scientific concept of how discoveries are made: “Faith forms the solid ground of things hoped for, perceiving as real what is not revealed to the senses.” (Amplified Bible).