iSoul In the beginning is reality.

Tag Archives: Cosmology

Observability of the rotation of the earth

This interesting paper deserves to be known more widely: “And Yet It Moves: The Observability of the Rotation of the Earth” by Peter Kosso, Northern Arizona University, published in Foundations of Science, (2010) 15:213–225. Excerpts:

Abstract A central point of controversy in the time of the Copernican Revolution was the motion, or not, of the earth. We now take it for granted that Copernicus and Galileo were right; the earth really does move. But to what extent is this conclusion based on observation? This paper explores the meaning and observability of the rotation of the earth and shows that the phenomenon was not observable at the time of Galileo, and it is not observable now.

In our own time there are lots of outstanding scientific questions regarding objects and events that cannot be observed, but few rise to the intensity of genuine controversy. One that does is the issue of evolution. We cannot observe the origins of life – here it is, after all, well along – and we cannot observe the long process described by evolutionary biology. The controversy, the run-in with creationism and intelligent design, arises from the combination of this inability to observe and the challenges the theory presents to significant cultural ideals. It is exactly this pairing of unobservablity and cultural challenge that made the movement of the earth more than merely an academic detail. p.214

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Fourfold history and cosmology

As a generalist I tend to think of the big picture and push global conceptions, which can get speculative, but should provide insight in some way. There are many ways of slicing up history that show a pattern, but we crave meaning and so expect patterns. For example, it is helpful to adopt a rather conventional division of history into periods of primeval, ancient, medieval, modern, and post-modern (for lack of a better term). At least this gives us something to start with and modify or clarify later on.

I have written before briefly about the fourfold Church. Here is a division of Christian history and cosmology that corresponds to the fourfold Gospel and the fourfold Church:

Patristic period – ca. first through fifth century, which is championed by the (Eastern) Orthodox Church. Their authoritative writings are the Bible and the seven ecumenical councils. This corresponds to a cosmology of the seven celestial bodies visible to the naked eye (Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn).

Medieval period – ca. fifth through fifteenth centuries, which is championed by the (Roman) Catholic Church. Their authoritative writings are the Bible and that of the Magisterium centered in Rome. This corresponds to a geocentric cosmology in which space and time are absolute.

Modern period – ca. fifteenth through twentieth centuries, which is championed by the churches of the Reformation. Their authoritative writings are the Bible and the various confessions or statements of faith. This corresponds to a heliocentric cosmology in which time is absolute.

Post-modern period – ca. from the twentieth century, which is championed by the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Their authoritative writings are the Bible and the writings of the various spirit-led teachers. This corresponds to a relativistic cosmology in which space and time are relative.

When we learn about history, we should learn the importance of the change from a geocentric to a heliocentric cosmology. Changes in cosmology go beyond theories of physics or astronomy. They correspond to spiritual changes as well.

From Newton to Darwin

Ancient Greek astronomy distinguished the ordered cosmos of the superlunary world from the disordered chaos of the sublunary world [see Remi Brague’s book The Wisdom of the World, English translation 2003, University of Chicago Press]. Isaac Newton undermined this distinction with his laws of physics published in 1687 by showing that universal gravitation accounted for both superlunary and sublunary movements.

His followers “proclaimed Newton’s intellectual achievements as a model and justification for social order, political harmony, and liberal but orthodox Christianity.” [Margaret C. Jacob, Newtonianism and the Origins of the Enlightenment: A Reassessment. Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Autumn, 1977), p. 1] The Enlightenment had begun.

The result was people looked on the universe as an ordered place and came to expect order, not chaos, disruption, and catastrophe. This led to the adoption of Steno’s principles of geology, which looked on the earth as an ordered place and expected an orderly progression to account for its features. This in turn undermined the commonly accepted ancient accounts of a great deluge that would have had a large impact on the earth’s features.

Charles Darwin built on this a progression of generations to account for all the diversity of life. The ancient principle of Natura non facit saltum (Latin for “nature does not make a jump”) had triumphed.

But the human desire for order, the Enlightenment confidence that order has been found, and the 19th century belief in progress all depend on culture, not on nature. If a culture comes to disbelieve in progress, if worldwide catastrophe comes to be expected, if confidence in order is lost, then a different science would result. We live in such a time.