Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Scripture and Cosmology VI

Greenwood, Kyle. Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible between the Ancient World and Modern Science. DownersGrove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. 

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV, Part V

In chapter 6, Greenwood lays out the massive paradigm shift that is often labeled the Copernican Revolution. The three major players in this paradigm shift were Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Johannes Kepler.  Copernicus, unsatisfied with the ability of the Ptolemaic system to account for
celestial phenomenon, posited the earthshaking idea that the sun, and not the earth, was the center of the universe.  Instead of the heavenly bodies revolving around a fixed earth, the heavenly bodies revolve around the sun, while the earth rotates on its axis.  Galileo confirmed Copernicus' new model of the universe with the help of the newly invented telescope. Nevertheless, Copernicus' new model was not perfect and the problem lay in the fact that he posited circular orbits for the planets around the sun.  Kepler, a contemporary of Galileo, solved this problem when he posited elliptical orbits for the planets. This world view with the planets revolving around the sun and the earth rotating on its axis are common sense today, yet at the time, these findings were simply astonishing. Yet, these three astronomers and mathematicians revolutionized humans' understanding of the cosmos and forever changed human history in the process.  

Greenwood then goes on to discuss the effects of this scientific paradigm shift on the religious communities of the time.  Copernicus was spared much difficulty as he did not publish his work until shortly before his death. Galileo was not so lucky.  The Roman Catholic church brought Galileo before the inquisition and charged him with heresy.  He was forced to recant. 

Both Protestants and Catholics had a difficult time accepting the new paradigm as it seemed to go against he "plain sense" of many biblical passages. The Bible clearly states that the earth is set on firm foundations and does not move (Ps 104:5), and further, the sun, not the earth, was commanded by Joshua to stand still and it did (Josh 10:12). These statements are hard to reconcile with the new Copernican model. 

Nevertheless, the Copernican model, though imperfect, won the day.  It's scientific and mathematical explanations of the cosmos were impossible for biblical literalism or Papal authority to overturn. Kepler improved on Copernicus with his elliptical orbits, Newton improved on it further with his laws of motion, and Einstein improved it further with his theory of relativity.  Now, no one seriously disputes the finding of the Copernican revolution and its subsequent improvements through science, It was left to Christians of all varieties to adjust their biblical interpretations to match the new scientific discoveries.  Most Christians today have no difficulty believing in biblical authority while also holding to a modern scientific understanding of the cosmos. 

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