Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilee and Charles Darwin changed the way we look at the world and also burst our bubble vision of what we are and where we are.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) was a mathematician and astronomer who proposed that the sun was stationary in the center of the universe and the earth revolved around it. Disturbed by the failure of Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the universe to follow Aristotle’s requirement for the uniform circular motion of all celestial bodies and determined to eliminate Ptolemy’s equant, an imaginary point around which the bodies seemed to follow that requirement, Copernicus decided that he could achieve his goal only through a heliocentric model. He thereby created a concept of a universe in which the distances of the planets from the sun bore a direct relationship to the size of their orbits. At the time Copernicus’s heliocentric idea was very controversial; nevertheless, it was the start of a change in the way the world was viewed, and Copernicus came to be seen as the initiator of the Scientific Revolution.
Copernicus formulated the scientific theory that the earth rotated on its axis and revolved around the sun. After Galileo publicly championed the Copernican theory, the Catholic Church ordered him not to discuss it further and then it condemned the Copernican theory as false. Galileo was quiet for a while, but he publicly defended his views in 1632 and was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” forced to recant and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.
Despite the attempts to squelch this scientific advancement, Galileo is proclaimed the father of modern astronomy. Copernicus and Galileo changed the knowledge of the world. This knowledge was a terrible affront to the Christian sensibilities of the day that a literal reading of the Bible was not correct such as Psalm 93:1 (“The world will surely stand in place, never to be moved.”)
Further discovery showed that the sun is only at the center of our solar system, not the center of the universe as the Copernican theory postulated and is merely one of millions of stars. Since then scientists have discovered more than one galaxy. All these discoveries forever changed our understanding of the world we live in. For the first time the biblical and popular notion that the earth is the center of the universe was seriously confronted by an unwanted reality. Science forced Christians to take a new look at the Bible and what was meant when we say it is the “word of God.” Haha.
Another fundamental change in understanding our world was precipitated by Charles Darwin when he published his Origin of Species in 1859. This time the challenge was not so much to the order of the physical universe but to life itself, including human life. His studies concluded that human being is not the pinnacle of creation as depicted in the Bible. Rather we humans have evolved from other forms of life just as all forms of life have evolved over billions of years. Darwin was troubled by his own conclusions because they didn’t mesh with the commonly held belief that the world was only a few thousand years old. Later scientific discoveries on the age of the world pointed to the validity of Darwin’s studies. His studies also tell us how interconnected all living beings are, whether human, animal or plants. We truly are one with the world around us. Many are still grappling with the consequences of Darwin’s studies.
The Catholic Church’s response to Darwin stands in stark contrast to its position on Copernicus and Galileo. The church was no longer the center of life and Darwin was not a Catholic. In 1859, Pope Pius IX expressed much concern about modern ideas which he dubbed modernism. He even created a Syllabus of Errors and banned books. It is significant that Darwin’s Origin of Species did not make that list. In our own time Pope John Paul II apologized for the church’s treatment of Galileo and supported evolution. Pope Benedict XVI has stated emphatically that the clash between creationism and evolution is an “absurdity.”
The science of evolution has itself evolved since 1859. In continuing the study of the origin of species begun by Darwin, scientists have discovered that evolution is taking place right before our eyes. For example they have observed the evolution of the mosquito Culex molestus from its ancestor species Culex pipiens between 1898 and 1998. Other examples abound. In all of these cases, a population of the original species still exists, and is unable to interbreed with the new species. Perhaps one of the most striking and undeniable example is the evolution of our plentiful and rich agricultural corn from the rather pathetic Mexican field grass teosinte under the artificial selection by the Native Americans.
The science of evolution continues to open new doors of understanding life in our world. We would do well to remember and honor Charles Darwin and his work, especially this month of November that marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species.
Haha. And thus, in this way the works of Copernicus, Galileo and Darwin worked together to install sanity and common sense in society and without them, the world would have been a mental asylum with no freedom of speech for the sane and only the mad men would have been allowed to speak.
These 3 men have a lot of teach us ranging from their groundbreaking contributions to the world to their own working schedules and regime.
Great men often turn out to be very different from what we expect. Haha.
I would like to quote the genius Oscar Wilde at the end, “The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world it’s own shame.”