America’s total solar eclipse today

A total solar eclipse will bisect the USA today for the first time in 99 years.

It could be the most viewed total solar eclipse in history.  Millions will experience it for the first time, but another one will cross America in another direction seven years later on 8th April 2024.

The midday Moon, usually hidden from view, will pass in front of the Sun and totally block it out.  It begins to partially eclipse the Sun on the west coast of  Oregon about 9:04 a.m. and reaches totality about 10:15 a.m. local PDT time (British Summer Time is eight hours later 6:15 p.m.).  The path of totality is a swathe of land about 70 miles wide where the umbra (the Moon’s shadow) moves across the USA from the west coast to the east coast at South Carolina.  On the same day the UK’s world-famous bell Big Ben in London began its four-year silence for refurbishments to its clock tower, as if to signal the beginning of this once-in-a-century coast to coast solar totality.  Totality moves offshore about 2:49 p.m. with the last remnants of the partial eclipse finishing about 4:10 p.m. local EDT time (BST is five hours later than the American east coast).  During this time, millions will be over the Moon about being under the Moon in this unique situation.  Totality leaves the American coast about 7:49 p.m. BST, about the same time as the partial eclipse begins to be seen from the UK for about 40 minutes, clouds permitting  NASA will cover the event live here and the exact details at any location can be determined by clicking on this interactive map.

In any given place, this celestial event usually lasts less than 2½ minutes.  It occurs somewhere on Earth at least twice every year and occasionally up to five times in a year, the last occasion being 1935.  In theory a total solar eclipse can occur anywhere on Earth and they have taken place in the Arctic and Antartica, and at the north and south poles.

The Earth rotates from west to east and so the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west, as do the Moon, the other planets and the whole night sky – all because of the Earth’s rotation.  However, the Moon goes round the Earth in the same direction as the Earth’s spin and it travels faster, at about 61 km/min compared to the Earth’s spin of 28 km/min at the Equator, so when the Moon passes in front of the Sun, the Moon’s pinpoint shadow is cast on the ground in the west of America and will travel from west to east across the USA, so the shadow or ‘umbra’ races across America, taking only about 100 minutes to cross 14 states. The Moon’s shadow will turn day into night for about 2½ minutes at any given point along the path of totality, with the maximum duration being 2 minutes 40.2 seconds, where the pinpoint shadow hits the surface of the Earth head-on instead of at an angle and so the shadow is moving at its slowest speed and therefore lasts longest.

At totality the temperature drops a significant amount and the darkness approaches so quickly and in complete silence, the shadow of the Moon coming over the landscape travelling at 1,100 miles per hour at the Equator, but up to 5,000 miles per hour near the poles, that those who have witnessed totality always refer to the experience as exhilarating.  When a thin sliver of the Sun’s light shows, not only does this highlight the surface edge of the Moon to give Baily’s beads and the diamond ring effect, but the thin rays of sunlight make the shadows on Earth even sharper.  A combination of all these and other effects makes the experience of totality altogether unique and memorable.

Mankanda, Illinois, is the point of greatest duration and the largest nearby town is Carbondale, Illinois.  These places are at the crossroads of another coast to coast total solar eclipse crossing America to complete an X-pattern seven years later on 8th April 2024, so they are being billed as the Solar Eclipse Crossroads of America.  Hopefully by then Big Ben and his companion bells will have resumed their auditory duties in 2021.

However, the point of greatest eclipse will be about 160km away at Cerulean, Kentucky.  The longest eclipse that has been calculated thus far is the eclipse expected to take place on 16th July 2186 with a maximum duration of 7 minutes 4 seconds over northern Guyana, and the longest for thousands years.

Solar eclipses have been observed from ancient times and are a valuable resource for dating historical events precisely, from which other dates may be deduced.  In the Bible God says: ‘I will cause the Sun to disappear at noon, and I will darken the land in the clear light of day’ Amo 8:9.  Possibly this describes the solar eclipse on 15/6/763 BC.  An earlier total eclipse that occurred on 28/5/585 BC was so dramatic and unexpected that it ended a five-year war between the Lydians and the Medes.  The historian Herodotus notes that ‘just as the battle was growing warm, day was suddenly changed into night’.  Fighting stopped immediately, a peace treaty was signed, and a marriage between the two royal families sealed the deal. Even in this early age, the Greek astronomer and engineer Thales of Miletus is reputed to have correctly predicted the solar eclipse for the first time in recorded history.  Thales lived before Pythagoras and Euclid and derived his early mathematical and geometrical knowledge from the Egyptians, which he further developed.  Miletus is mentioned twice in the Bible in Act 20:15 and 2Tim 4:20.

The ratio of the distance from the Earth to the Moon and the Earth to the Sun is 1:400, which is also the ratio of the Moon’s diameter to the Sun’s diameter.  This means that they look the same size in the sky and so the Moon can eclipse the Sun exactly.  Without these ratios, we would not experience solar eclipses as we do, showing the corona around the Sun and the valleys on the edge of the Moon through which the Sun shines known as Baily’s beads, nor annular eclipses.  The corona is the Sun’s atmosphere and it is millions of degrees hotter than the surface of the Sun itself!  The 1919 solar eclipse gave scientists the opportunity to confirm Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is given a number from 1 to 10, then 20, 30 to 100, then 200, 300 and 400 for the 22nd and last letter.  So the first and last numerical glyphs (compare Egyptian hieroglyphics) in the Hebrew alphabet are 1 and 400. The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet are alpha and omega, sometimes known as ‘Christ’s signature’ Rev 1:8,11, Rev 21:6 and Rev 22:13.

The circumference of the Moon is 10,921km and of the Earth is 40,075km; when multiplied together and divided by 100, the result is 4,376,591km, comparable to the circumference of the Sun – 4,379,000km.

The rocks from the Earth and Moon are similar, with a much closer relationship than that of any other planetary body studied in our Solar System.

‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the night sky shows His handywork’ Ps 19:1.

Without night time, we would not be able to see the stars.  We would not be able to observe the Universe and we would know very little about it.

The cosmos is God’s fireworks display for our admiration of His glory.  It is also His laboratory given to man so that scientists on Earth can view experiments that they could never perform on Earth.



Big Ben falls silent at noon today

Big Ben is taking a rest for four years while its clock tower is refurbished.

Its iconic bong will not be heard except when it will be reactivated on special occasions such as heralding the New Year in the UK.  It will fall silent after announcing 12 noon on Monday 21st August 2017, or more memorably 12:00 21-08-2017.

However, it will still be heard on the BBC news.  Big Ben plays a crucial role at BBC Radio 4, its live chimes heralding the start of the 6pm and midnight news.   The BBC has decided to play a pre-recording of the Big Ben bongs for as long as the clock is out of action, which is part of a wholesale refurbishment of the aging Houses of Parliament.

Big Ben began its service in London almost 160 years ago and has been heard on the BBC for over 90 years.  It is now the world’s most famous and immediately recognisable bell.

Big Ben is the name of the 13.7 ton Great Bell in the clock tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster where the two Houses of Parliament meet in London.  The tower was recently renamed the Elizabeth Tower in commemoration of the 2012 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch and the longest-reigning queen regnant and female head of state in world history and the longest currently-reigning monarch in the world.

The current clock tower is 96 metres tall and commenced building in 1843, the year of the Disruption of the Church of Scotland.  The clock began ticking in 1859 the year of the Evangelical revivals.  The Great Bell is accompanied by four quarter bells which chime ‘the Westminster chimes’ every 15 minutes, a sound repeated in multitudes of grandfather clocks in domestic and stately homes throughout the country.  These chimes are one of my childhood memories from our own grandfather clock.

Westminster gives its name to ‘the Westminster Government’,  a popular term for the British Government.  The Westminster Standards is the collective name for the documents drawn up by the Westminster Assembly (1643–49), the most learned, international and godly assembly of divines assembled since the European Reformation, which held its meetings by order of the Westminster Parliament in Westminster Abbey . These documents form the doctrinal basis of Presbyterian churches throughout the world, and contributed to many Baptist and Independent confessional standards ever since.

Outside the Houses of Parliament stands the statue of the father of Parliamentary democracy – the godly Oliver Cromwell.

Not only will Big Ben fall silent, but the light behind each of the four clock faces will also be turned off.  It is remarkable and memorable that our great light – the Sun – will co-incidentally turn off the same day for millions in America, where a total solar eclipse will bisect the USA today for the first time in 99 years, beginning at 5:04 p.m. BST, almost exactly five hours after Big Ben falls silent, and crossing America from its west coast to the east coast in about 100 minutes, at the very time when Big Ben should be peeling the 6 p.m. news in London.  Millions of human beings will experience their first total solar eclipse, and it could be the most viewed solar eclipse in history.  Another one will cross America seven years later on 8th April 2024.  Hopefully by then Big Ben and his companion bells will have resumed their auditory duties in 2021.


Market research surveys

Do you know when you are filling in a Market Research survey?

Some people are happy enough to do so, but what if you do not know if you are doing so?

Today I was asked by a well-known retail chain for my email at payment.  Okay – it is in the public domain.  I was asked if I wanted a till receipt or an email receipt.  I opted for the latter.

When the email arrived it gave me an opportunity to give feedback on my visit to the retail store.  Being a keen believer in feedback I went through the ten minute survey explaining what was good and where things could be improved. Only at the end did I discover that this was not the retailer’s survey as such, but it was a Market Research company acting on behalf of the retailer.

It asked if I would allow them to share the feedback with the retailer – well, that is why I completed the survey so I said, Yes.

I then sent the following email to the Market Survey company:

Your survey says at the end
“Thank you for your time today and for sharing your feedback with [retailer].
The survey is being conducted on behalf of [retailer] by [….]  Research Ltd. If you have any queries or concerns about this survey please click here to email […] Research.”
This should have been put at the beginning as I thought I was supplying this information to [retailer], not to a Market Research company. If this is standard for the Market Research industry, it has put me off responding to such surveys in the future.
I will probably write a blog to alert folks to this practice.
The click “here” link does not work with my Firefox browser.

As we all know, emails and data are being assiduously gathered for marketing purposes.  However, customers need to be in control of what is happening, and today’s post is the latest in a series of posts about consumers taking back control.

Related articles about consumers taking back control:

1 Aug 2016 Dealing with cold callers

2 Sep 2016 BT and identifying cold callers

7 Jun 2017 Gmail disarray

21 Aug 2017: the market research company has responded – not with any suggestion that it will change its practice – but simply removing me ‘from our internal mailing list’ and interestingly, ‘We have also sent your request to [retailer] who aim to remove you from their mailing list within 2-4 weeks.’  I never asked for the latter, so the question arises if this is a blacklisting exercise disguised as respect for the consumer.  Note that there is no discussion to improve practices nor to educate the consumer whether they have the wrong end of the stick.  ‘Retailer knows best’ is a corporate equivalent of human behaviour common in our broken society.  Politicians and main stream media are learning that the public feel disenfranchised and other groups have still to catch up on this learning curve.



Peer group pressure is changing you

Cambridge Analytica, a company which specialises in behaviour change, is credited, along with Facebook, with Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential election victory on 8/11/2016.

The homepage of Cambridge Analytica’s website says “Data drives all that we do.  Cambridge Analytica uses data to change audience behavior [sic].’ This is an acknowledgement that peer group pressure controls the behaviour of most people.

Peer group pressure is the single most important factor controlling ordinary human  behaviour.  On the other hand, Christianity is counter-cultural as Jesus Christ taught His disciples to resist the wickedness of the times.

Jesus is the most radical teacher the world has ever known, and His teaching has changed the history of the world, turning it from its natural aggressive behaviour to loving one another through the love of God.

His radical teaching changed people’s views about God, man’s origins, man’s destiny, man’s behaviour in sex, marriage and divorce, money management, attitudes towards the poor and poverty and how to relate to and treat our fellow human beings.  He upset the religious establishment of His day and ever since.  He taught that Christian behaviour is counter-intuitive and thus it challenges peer group pressure.

Only the regenerating power of the Spirit of God can resist and break through peer group pressure.  Jesus taught: ‘If the Son of God shall make you free, you shall be free indeed’ Jn 8:36.

Jesus warns: ‘How can you believe, who receive honour from one another and do not seek the honour that comes from God only?’ Jn 5:44.  ‘I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you’ Jn 5:42.

When Saul of Tarsus, the rabid persecutor of Christians, was converted to Jesus’ teaching, he spread the message far and wide.  In his letters he guides the Christian church how to interact with a sinful world driven by peer group pressure.

Paul warns against this sin of submitting to peer group pressure, that so easily besets us Heb 12:1.  Peer group pressure can turn the Christian back to worldly behaviour and worldly religion, and it will divert them from running the Christian race towards heaven.  Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to peer group pressure.

Welcome to the liberating teaching of the Son of God, Who teaches you to break free from the chains of self-destructive thinking.


Whose sovereignty is it anyway?

The crisis in current democracy can be traced to a clash of sovereignties.

In the past, royal authority was supreme, and sovereignty resided in the monarch.

However the abuses of the Stuart monarchies in the 17th century, based on their idea of ‘the divine right of kings’, led to Parliamentary democracy being pioneered in Britain, and thus the doctrine of the sovereignty of parliament arose or, more accurately, the sovereign in parliament.

However, in Scotland the doctrine of ‘the sovereignty of the people’ clashes with this.

This difference of opinion has come to prominence recently in the use of Referendums to decide constitutional matters about the UK’s membership of the European Union and about Scotland leaving the UK.  Referendums are an acknowledgement of the sovereignty of the people, although some claimed that the Brexit Referendum was only advisory because the UK parliament has ultimate sovereignty to decide what to do. This challenge to the utility and result of national referendums is a debate not only about the democratic process but about sovereignty itself.

In the United Kingdom, there is a clash of sovereignty between the monarch, the Westminster Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, and the European Parliament. The doctrine of subsidiarity endeavours to solve these competing claims – that decision-making authority resides at the appropriate level of action. However, this does not prevent one authority encroaching upon the territory of another authority.

However, few realise that over all these is the sovereignty of God, and that God has delegated sovereignty to rulers over civil affairs, but also to parents over children. Currently the state is challenging the sovereignty of God, interfering with the sovereignty of parents over children, and now parliamentary sovereignty is being challenged by the sovereignty of the people in Referendums and in other forms of ‘direct democracry’.

Historically, challenges to national sovereignty were settled by international warfare, but also by civil war.

The 17th century English civil war was a battle between royal sovereignty and parliamentary sovereignty.

In 17th century Scotland there was civil conflict whether the king of Britain or the Lord Jesus Christ had sovereignty over the Church, fought by an oppressive, persecuting, abuse of civil authority and power, and won by the triumph of Christian ideas of liberty of conscience and sphere sovereignty over military might.

In the 18th century there was civil strife when the deposed Stuarts tried to regain the British throne, a clash between popular election opposed by the divine right of hereditary kings, settled by the old method of military warfare.

In the 19th century, the British parliament tried to impose its authority upon the Church of Scotland and led to the 1843 Disruption of the Scottish church, the biggest national event of 19th century Scotland.  Thus began the modern concept of diplomatic settlement of disputes and the introduction of ‘sphere sovereignty’, long understood in Scottish Presbyterianism, but slowly understood and adopted by English Erastianism.  This Christian refusal to use violence to settle disputes also explains how the Highland Clearances were accomplished by brutal landowners against a subservient Christian population who did not rise up with violence against their ungodly and violent oppressors.

There is nothing new in such conflicts. Ever since the two-year old child began to pull rank on its new-born siblings, human beings have sought to impose their will on others. Solutions have been varied, and often forgotten by each generation.

Currently we are experiencing an anti-democratic movement that will not accept the result of elections.  Not only are the two referendum results in the UK being challenged with calls for their repetition in the hope of reversing the results, but Donald Trump’s unexpected Presidential election victory on 8/11/2016 is not accepted by many.

Referendums differ from general elections. Referendums acknowledge the sovereignty of the people on constitutional matters, and by their nature tend to be once in a generation or more, whereas general elections are regular opportunities to choose who will govern the country. These are different issues. Whether the form of government is monarchial, oligarchal or representative parliamentarian is a constitutional matter, but how we are governed is flexible. Direct democracy is growing because of the internet and social media and more people are able to interact with the governing process and the priorities of government than in the past.

These are exciting times, but government must draw upon history and remember its subordinate delegated authority from the sovereign God, and all those in authority must remember that ‘every one of us shall give account of himself to God’ Rom 14:12 and that they are responsible for how they use the authority given by God to them, and its abuse ‘shall receive greater condemnation’ Jam 3:1.

For guidance, let them look to the readiness of the Lord Jesus Christ to humble Himself while on Earth.  Christianity has always been counter-cultural because it is aiming at a higher culture where people love one another instead of seeking to dominate one another.


Hyper Evolution and the fear of Robots

So we can create robots in a few years, but God cannot create man in a day?

The inability of secular minds to imagine the power and creativity of God as Creator is wonderful to behold.

Hyper evolution is the new term to hype up man’s creativity.   It is astonishing to see what man can create, but secularists don’t have the imagination to imagine what God can create.  They cannot even imagine God.

Robotics took off in Japan in the 1980s, where the philosophy of animism promotes the idea that the spirit in man is the same as the spirit in all material things.  In the western world we are used to the secular concept that there is no difference between man and animals, but animism believes that there is no difference between man and machines.  It is an old theological debate, but secularists don’t bother with theology and spirit.   This is a blind spot in their thinking – ideologically driven by their fear of the concept of God, infinity and eternity, just as Pythagoras and Aristotle didn’t like infinity in mathematics, and it took a thousand more years before the Indians inserted zero into mathematics.

Robotic evolution is developing hybrids of biology and technology (industrial robot arms with designer claws, or legs with wheels instead of feet), and animism is a hybrid between pure secularism (no spirit) and theism (spirit is more essential than matter and God is the supreme Spirit).   Animism agrees with secularism that there is no transcendent God but disagrees with secularism that there is no spirit.  This hybrid suits some secularists, just as islam suits some religious people who want to believe in one god but not in Christ’s explanation of God as Trinity – one God existing as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is an old debate, and the difference is explained in the theological terminology of theism (belief in God), atheism (belief in no God nor spirit) and pantheism (everything is god or spirit).  The latter is poorly known nor understood in western society but it is common in African cultural animism and in Japan.  So the Japanese are not as frightened of robots as those in the west, who are afraid that robots will 1. take over our jobs and 2. take over the world.

The first fear is Luddite and shows a lack of imagination about human adaptability, and the second fear arises from the mistaken belief that artificial intelligence (AI) will match and outperform human intelligence.  AI will certainly outperform many human actions and abilities, but not intelligence because machines do not have spirits like human beings nor animals.  Animals have different spirits from human beings.  Secular science has still to determine this, which is intuitively known to small children but ideologically suppressed in secular adults – ‘who suppress the truth in unrighteousness … as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge’ Rom 1:18,28.

The boundaries between man, animal and machine are clear to human intuition, but secularism blurs the distinctions for ideological reasons, out of fear of God, the infinite and eternity.  Jesus Christ addresses these fears and one of the commonest phrases in the Bible is ‘Fear not’.

‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has torment.  Whoever is afraid has not been perfected in love’  1Jn 4:18.

Jesus says: ‘This is the will of Him that sent Me, that every one who sees the Son of God and believes on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day’ Jn 6:40.

Welcome to the love of God and salvation from fear.

Browbeating by secularists

From referendums to climate change, secularists will not tolerate differences from their opinion.

The failure to accept election results is a manifestation of the teenage tantrums of modern society – recent well-known examples being the Scottish Independence Referendum on 18/9/2014, the Brexit referendum on 23/6/2016 and Donald Trump’s Presidential election victory on 8/11/2016.

The secularist section of our society cannot abide the public expression of views that it opposes.  However, it goes further than this – they want to silence these views, whether it is debate on global warming or aggressive homosexuals wanting to silence the opposition.  “There should be NO debate any more about climate change” says physicist and broadcaster Jim al-Khalili.  Let us be clear – he wants to close down debate.  He means what he says.

Where things are well known, people tend not to debate them.  People debate because they are not convinced.  Some secularists have still to learn this.

Why single out secularists?  Because most people of religious faith understand the need for debate and to convince by ‘commending ourselves to every man’s conscience’ and not by diktat.  The apostle Paul’s approach was ‘by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God’ 2Cor 4:2, and Christianity has embraced the globe since then.

Related articles:

21 Jun 2017 Control freakery is running wild