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Infinitely Reasonable: Science Revises the Heavens 

The publication of Copernicus' theory of a heliocentric universe profoundly challenged Europe's concept of the universe and the authority of the Church.

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James Burke ...
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The publication of Copernicus' theory of a heliocentric universe profoundly challenged Europe's concept of the universe and the authority of the Church.

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16 April 1985 (UK)  »

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Astronomy, Cannons, Feathers, Calculus.
28 October 2012 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

Martin Luther's Reformation began the Catholic church's Counter-Reformation. At the Council of Trent, around 1560, the church condemned Protestantism and reaffirmed things like the veneration of relics, the literal interpretation of the Bible, and Aristotle's view of the universe.

Aristotle thought (sensibly enough) that everything went around the earth, including the sun. The planetary orbits were a little screwed up but the idea was basically sound. Each planet was fixed in a crystal sphere that held it in place, and each was moved by angels. If you listened closely on a quiet night, you could hear the music those crystal spheres made, rubbing against one another.

On a quiet night in San Diego, California, I was listening to June Christy singing a song on the radio while I read Andrew Dickson White, "On the Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom." As I read the words "the music of the spheres," the singer's voice repeated them at exactly the same moment. Carl Gustav Jung would call this "synchronicity." I'd call it a coincidence of a very low order of probability. In any case, it has nothing to do with this series. I just had to get it off my chest.

Anyway, the Reformation got the church in an uproar. It brought about the index of condemned books and a reaffirmation of Aristotle's earth-centered view of the universe. It didn't work out. A lot of people began simple observations and experiments that contradicted both Aristotle and the Bible. I won't go into it but Burke skims over Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Tycho Brahe, Copernicus, and Descartes.

I don't mind Newton and the rest, although I feel sorry for Galileo. Brahe, whose name is enshrined as a giant crater on the moon, left behind a jumble of disorganized astronomical measurements and was a rotten guy to boot. But I don't think I can ever forgive Descartes. His "duality" business was bad enough, but then he went and invented calculus, independently of Leibniz, and I had to struggle through it. Burke shows how calculus can mathematically determine the trajectory of any object but, thank God, treats it as a joke.

Burke's final dictum is pretty bleak. Who are we? "Just a cog in the universe."


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