Culture At Large

Blood moons and confirmation bias

Jonathan Downie

Talk of the End Times is in the news again. April 15 saw the first of four lunar eclipses within 18 months, a phenomenon astronomers call a tetrad. Based on Scripturalreferences to “blood moons” and the fact that these eclipses coincide with Jewish festivals, some Christians believe this points to a “world-shaking event.”

Personally, I am not so sure. My reasoning is not based on previous failed predictions or even on close exegesis of the passages involved as much as it is on the idea of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is that insidious and almost inescapable tendency we humans have of giving more weight to the evidence that backs what we already believe.

In the case of the four blood moons, it would be incredibly tempting to want to see a link between previous eclipses and historic events, especially those connected to Judaism. Yet who is to say that the Holocaust (during which there were no years with four eclipses) is less significant than the Six Days War (in a year when there were four eclipses)?

My own confirmation bias might be making me only see the case against the significance of the eclipses.

To be clear, I believe in the literal return of Jesus Christ to Earth. I also believe that the Bible is the only inspired Word of God. I also believe that God wants us to use the gifts He has given us (including critical thinking, language skills and reasoning) in partnership with the Holy Spirit to understand that Word. So I am not dismissing the claims out of hand. After all, my own confirmation bias might be making me see only the case against the significance of the eclipses.

Thankfully, there are ways out of this impasse. The first is shock – to be suddenly shown that what we assumed to be true may not actually be the case. I’m an interpreter by trade, and when I started my PhD research on what people expected from church interpreters, the evidence proved to be far more complex than the assumptions I had going in. The other way out is humility. When we accept that our views – even the moderate ones and even our pleadings for peaceful dialogue – are subject to human frailty and weakness, then we are on the right road. When we realize that only God’s theology is perfect, then we can start to grow in our own.

So what should we do with these blood moons? Whatever happens in the next 18 months, Christians should be living the same way. Loving God and loving people are the top two commandments, whatever the season or time.

Topics: Culture At Large, Science & Technology, Science, Theology & The Church, Theology