Copernicus: simply science?

From: Ted Davis (
Date: Mon Aug 06 2001 - 10:01:40 EDT

  • Next message: Moorad Alexanian: "Fw: Copernicus was wrong?"

    I beg to differ with Moorad. Copernicus did indeed offer a scientific
    "discovery"--a new, highly detailed hypothesis to explain celestial
    appearances without equants (though with lots of epicycles)--but his
    discovery was hardly one confined to astronomy, or even more broadly to
    science generally. Thomas Kuhn's The Copernican Revolution illustrates
    quite well what was involved. Moving the earth *did* wreak havoc with
    traditional ideas in many fields, incl. theology (it was almost universally
    thought, e.g., that the Bible prohibits this idea). The question on the
    table, was whether Copernicanism upset human dignity, and the point I made
    was simply that moving the earth out of the center was not understood in
    this way at the time.

    However, to offer just one further example, the fact that accepting
    heliocentrism forced one to accept a universe of immense size (at least 1000
    times in radius larger than traditionally thought)--since annual parallax
    could not then be seen, and thus the stars had to be so much farther
    away--did cause some consternation. Thus, two of Descartes' prominent
    correspondents (Princess Elizabeth of the Palatinate and Queen Christina of
    Sweden) worried about whether God could still find us, if the world were
    infinite in size, and even Pascal expressed anxieties about the vastness of
    space. These worries may perhaps underlie the modern myth about devaluing
    humans, though of course they express a quite different concern.

    Ted Davis

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