View by:







The Birth of Modern Cosmology

In the history of science few developments have been more important than the advent of the new heliocentric cosmology in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Whereas most of the ancient Greeks and European medievals had believed the earth was at the center of the universe - with the sun, moon, planets, and stars orbiting around us - in the sixteenth century a new idea began to emerge. According to this new way of thinking, it was not the earth but the sun that was at the center of the cosmic system. This revolutionary idea was famously proposed by Nicholas Copernicus in his book "On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres", published in 1543.

In the early seventeenth century, Copernicus' concept of a heliocentric universe was further developed by the great German mathematician Johannes Kepler - the first true astrophysicist. It is to Kepler that we owe the discovery that all the planets revolve around the sun in ellipses. This was the first of his three famous laws of planetary motion, which describe mathematically how the planets move through the sky. Moreover, with truly prescient insight, Kepler suggested that the planets were kept in orbit by a force emanating from the sun itself. This radical idea was eventually demonstrated by Isaac Newton later in the century. With his own law of gravity Newton showed that the same force which keeps our feet anchored to the ground was also responsible for keeping the moon in orbit around the earth, and the planets in orbit around the sun. Thus the heavens and the earth were united by one grand universal force.

From the point of view of religion what is important here is that all three founders of modern cosmology saw their new vision of the heavens as an offshoot of their theology. Kepler had originally intended to become a Lutheran minister before he discovered his lifelong passion for the stars. But in his own eyes the two fields were both different forms of worship. As he wrote in 1595: "for a long time I wanted to become a theologian ... now, however, behold how through my efforts God is being celebrated in astronomy."

In the same vein Isaac Newton has been accurately described as a "religious fanatic", and indeed his whole life work can be seen as a search for God. He wanted nothing more than that his science, especially his cosmology, would help to convince people of the existence of God. In answer to a question from a young clergyman on this subject he responded: "When I wrote my treatise about our system, I had my eye upon such principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a deity; and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that purpose."

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Margaret Wertheim

Topic Sets Available

AAAS Report on Stem-Cells

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms

Agency: Human, Robotic and Divine
Becoming Human: Brain, Mind, Emergence
Big Bang Cosmology and Theology (GHC)
Cosmic Questions CD-ROM Preview...
Cosmic Questions Interviews

Cosmos and Creator
Creativity, Spirituality and Computing Technologies
CTNS Content Home
Darwin: A Friend to Religion?
Demystifying Information Technology
Divine Action (GHC)
Dreams and Dreaming: Neuroscientific and Religious Visions'
E. Coli at the No Free Lunchroom
Engaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
Evangelical Atheism: a response to Richard Dawkins
Ecology and Christian Theology
Evolution: What Should We Teach Our Children in Our Schools?
Evolution and Providence
Evolution and Creation Survey
Evolution and Theology (GHC)
Evolution, Creation, and Semiotics

The Expelled Controversy
Faith and Reason: An Introduction
Faith in the Future: Religion, Aging, and Healthcare in the 21st Century

Francisco Ayala on Evolution

From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions
Genetic Engineering and Food

Genetics and Ethics
Genetic Technologies - the Radical Revision of Human Existence and the Natural World

Genomics, Nanotechnology and Robotics
Getting Mind out of Meat
God and Creation: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Big Bang Cosmology
God, Humanity and the Cosmos: A Textbook in Science and Religion
God the Spirit - and Natural Science
Historical Examples of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)
History of Creationism
Intelligent Design Coming Clean

Issues for the Millennium: Cloning and Genetic Technologies
Jean Vanier of L'Arche
Nano-Technology and Nano-ethics
Natural Science and Christian Theology - A Select Bibliography
Neuroscience and the Soul
Outlines of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)

Perspectives on Evolution

Physics and Theology
Quantum Mechanics and Theology (GHC)
Questions that Shape Our Future
Reductionism (GHC)
Reintroducing Teleology Into Science
Science and Suffering

Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (CTNS/Vatican Series)

Space Exploration and Positive Stewardship

Stem-Cell Debate: Ethical Questions
Stem-Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

Stem-Cell Questions
Theistic Evolution: A Christian Alternative to Atheism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design...
Theology and Science: Current Issues and Future Directions
Unscientific America: How science illiteracy threatens our future
Will ET End Religion?

Current Stats: topics: >2600, links: >300,000, video: 200 hours.