Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Cosmic Order

May 17th, 2014 by Man SL

Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years

Genesis 1:14

Several years in early December ago my cub scout packs wanted to do an astronomical activity. We agreed to meet in a field with telescopes. I said I’d bring star maps.

I knew very little about the skygazing. (Conversation from when I was younger man — Friend: Girls really like it when you can point out the stars to them. Me: why would a girl care that a star was F-type main sequence?) But I got some online resources and some dark blue poster board and painstakingly painted out various constellations in luminescent paint so that when you held each board up the constellation on it would be in the proper orientation to the sky, making it easier to stop.

A heavy snow cancelled the activity.

The snow didn’t cancel what I had learned. I started popping outside a few nights a week for a few minutes for the pleasure of seeing the constellations and the stars. After a while I figured out that phases of the moon corresponded to its methodical movement across the sky. Somehow I had never learned this before. I began to experience the order of the heavens. It made me happier than I was.

Most religions have a astronomical and calendrical tone. Mormons less than most, because we don’t have a yearly liturgy as such. But the symbolism of the sun, the moon, and the stars are part of our creation account and are deeply intertwined with our view of the afterlife. Uniquely LDS scriptures even state, in some sense, that the order of the heavens *is* the order of heaven.

While religion responds to the need for cosmic order in the sky and in our calendars, it didn’t create it. It’s something innate that comes from seeing the succession of the seasons and from looking into a night sky.

Bruce Charlton argues that modernity’s loss of its religious heritage is alienating because it means the weekly calendar no longer makes sense. Probably true. But the monthly calendar hasn’t made sense for even longer than that, because we’ve lost the history and the classics that help to understand where it comes from. And even if those were regained, it would be hard to truly understand the months without managing C.S. Lewis’ feat of not dismissing the old time myths out of hand as just silly fictions.

Comments (3)
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May 17th, 2014 09:05:34

Bruce Charlton
May 17, 2014

I have the impression that *most* of the population believe that the moon rises at night (in contrast to the sun which rises during the day).

I would guess that less than one percent know that the new crescent moon is only visible after sunset, and the old crescent moon before sunrise (and the ‘new moon’ is not visible at all).

And a fraction of these, that the old and new moons are mirror images – and that this is not arbitrary but depends on which side of the sun the moon is located.

But this kind of thing *should* be taught to every child at every school. It is basic to our situation in the universe.


Interestingly JRR Tolkien made several errors about the phases of the moon –


– and indeed the writing of Lord of the Rings was held-up for more than a year 1944-6 by muddles over the phases of the moon – this was when the Notion Club Papers was drafted.

Ben Pratt
May 20, 2014

I doubt Tolkien made this mistake, but the Annie Lennox song during the end credits of The Return of the King film posits a pale moon rising across the sea…which is to the west.

John Mansfield
May 21, 2014

As a new missionary, I started tracking the moon. It doesn’t take much to watch the moon, but the dry sky, low levels of artificial light at night, lack of obstructing mountains or trees, and abundant hours outside inclined me to want to. Looking overhead a few hours after sunrise to find a usually unnoticed quarter moon is more conspicuous than gazing toward the horizon soon after sunset at a crescent in the west or mostly full moon in the east. After a while my missionary companion found himself looking up. “Now you’ve got me doing it.”

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