Monday, October 11, 2021

"I Personally Vaccinated The Star of Bethlehem Against COVID-19!" Says Noted Expert

 Someone local shared this meme on Facebook today:

I recognized right away that it was about last year's much-publicized planetary conjunction, and indeed the original post was dated December of 2020.  The person who re-posted it didn't bother to look at the date.  But that's normal on Facebook.  Whenever someone posts a missing-person notice, I count it as a positive if it's less than five years old, and in almost every case the missing person was found a day or so after the original alert went out.

So I wrote a comment explaining what was wrong with this meme: not only was it out of date, but the conjunction of 2020 was not what it was cracked up to be in the first place.  Contrary to the gushing of some science correspondents, Jupiter and Saturn were never going to look like one spot of light, let alone "slow dance" or "kiss."  That was one alarming aspect of the whole thing, not only that religious hustlers were misrepresenting the event but that devout believers in Science, including some scientists, were doing so.

Why would they do such a thing?  I still don't know, but I suppose that it was partly a misguided or condescending attempt to show that Science and Religion are not necessarily enemies.  I don't happen to agree that misrepresenting the science is a good way to win over religious believers, but I'm not a scientist.  Or, just as likely, it was an attempt to market Science to the masses, again in a condescending way. What could show more contempt for laypeople than promising them that a highly exciting planetary pole dance was going to dazzle them and their children in the night sky?  (Maybe announcing that one had personally vaccinated Santa Claus against COVID comes close.)

A few other people pointed out that the meme was a year old, and I got a screengrab just before the poster deleted it, after she commented "Oh, darn, I was really hoping it was true!"  I really wanted to ask her why she hoped that, even apart from the fact that the announcement was a year out of date.  If the Star of Bethlehem appeared in the night sky in 2020, nothing happened.  Did she think it was a harbinger of the Second Coming?  If so, why didn't Jesus return when it happened in 1226?  In fact the same conjunction occurs roughly every twenty years, but rarely is it as close at it was last December (not very), and often it happens during the day so it can't be seen.  Maybe she just wanted to see this big sky spectacle, I don't know.  I was about to ask her when the post and all the comments disappeared.

As I reread my posts on the conjunction from last year, another thought struck me.  As I pointed out then, the Star of Bethlehem as it's described in the gospel of Matthew is a moving, low-hanging object that leads the Magi to the very house in Bethlehem where the baby Jesus and his parents were staying.  A conjunction couldn't do that; nor could the other popular "scientific" candidates purporting to explain the Star, such as a comet or a supernova.  The astronomers who've offered these pseudo-explanations don't believe that Matthew was remotely describing actual events, they're just promoting scientific authority to interpret the Bible. And that indicates that despite their valorization of Facts, they don't care very much about facts after all.

What's odd is that so many Christians are willing to play along, which brings me to something else I've noticed among conservative believers.  Okay, scientists may not notice that their speculations don't fit the biblical stories, but shouldn't Bible-believing Christians notice it?  Very often apologists trying to defend the reliability of the Bible distort their own sacred text in the process.  They don't really care that much about the inerrancy of the book they claim can't be broken.