February 22, 2011

Copernicus Catches a Glimpse into the Mind of God

Jan Matejko's
"Astronomer Copernicus Conversation with God"
 By Francis Nye

A few days a go was February 19th.  February 19th is a special day for me personally. It is one of my daughter’s birthdays.  Coincidently, it is also the birthday of Copernicus.  For those of you that don’t know who Copernicus was; he was the Renaissance astronomer and first person to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology, which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe.

The Christian Church's doctrine was pretty much solidified 1500 years ago when Copernicus was alive. It had been heavily influenced by Greek and Roman philosophers, especially in its views of science. The accepted doctrine by the church that the earth was the center of the universe (geocentric universe) was espoused by Ptolemy around 150 CE.  This made sense of course to the Church.  After all we are God’s chosen creation.  Why wouldn’t the universe revolve around the earth?

Nicholas Copernicus never really cared much for the Earth-based view of the universe, yet he never publicly announced his views until he was old and this was due to the Church. Anyone who opposed Church doctrine was branded a heretic.  Other than destroying your reputation the church could also put you in prison or even sentence you to death for going against it.  So it was dangerous to put forth an idea that the sun was the center of the solar system and not the earth.

Copernicus did not invent the idea of a heliocentric - sun-centered - system, but he was the first modern person to advance it. The heliocentric model was able to easily explain things that the geocentric system had a hard time doing, most notably the seemingly retrograde motion of the planets. The planets usually follow an eastward direction in the sky, but sometimes they mysteriously flip and travel westward. The geocentric model attempted to solve this by adding extra orbits upon orbits that the planets would follow. However, the heliocentric model explains this with the Earth simply reversing direction of movement relative to the planet being observed.

Copernicus' publication On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres was not published until after he died in order for him to avoid being persecuted by the Church. The book was published in Latin, so the general public was not able to read it. Academics could, but few learned people were willing to face the Church and risk death. It wasn't even until 73 years after it was published, 1616, did the Church consider it important enough to place on its Index of Prohibited Books.  However, it did put heliocentric views out in the restricted open, and it was useful to people such as Galileo to help revolutionize astronomy in Europe.

Heliocentrism (lower panel) in comparison to the geocentric model (upper panel)

In today’s world its funny to think that scientist had to hide their insights into the natural world from the public for fear of death or imprisonment. But, not so long ago this was a real concern.  It makes me sad that religion has always been more of a determent to mankind’s advancement than a positive force for it. 

Some of today’s religious followers now scoff at things like evolution, the age of the earth and that people are not born gay that it is a choice and therefore a sin.  You would think that one would learn after time and time again that science is almost always proven right.  It is hard to scoff at these scientific advancements in the face of an avalanche of evidence but yet some do because they are blinded by church dogma that can’t keep up with proven facts.

I can understand why this is.  They think they know the mind of God. These detractors operate under the false premise that they represent unchanging religious truths. They don’t understand science describes creation in the way God truly intended the universe to be. It is not the way it was written in the bible or some other sacred tome.  A creation story written by a nomadic people trying to understand a universe they could never hope to comprehend with their limited understanding of the natural world.  So once it is understood that the bible or whatever sacrosanct book they happen to be studying is not a true historical or scientific document then the religious of this world can stop being a millstone around the neck of human advancement.  Just think of it, without religious interference then someday we as the human race can solve the mysteries of disease; solve world hunger; and take flight to distant worlds at an even faster rate than we now dare too imagine. Ω

What are your views on this situation?  Please let me know in the comment section below.


Part II: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nM005RLmpi8&feature=related

Video of Interest:
Stephen Hawking: Physics Leaves No Room for God

For information about Earth’s location within the universe go to: https://sites.google.com/site/earthsplaceintheuniverse/

Also see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth's_location_in_the_universe

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