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Category: Science

Copernicus

In the 16th century, the world went through a radical reorienting of our place in the universe.

For centuries, astronomers tried to make sense of the strange motion of celestial bodies across the sky we now know are planets. While the stars traveled a predictable path across the sky, the planets danced in strange patterns. Renaissance astronomers built elaborate models to try and predict the motion of the planets in the sky. But because they believed the sun, moon and stars revolved around the earth, they could never get their models quite right.

Model of the Copernican (Heliocentric – Sun centered) and Tychonian (Geocentric – Earth centered) orbital systems.  In the lower right, you can toggle between them. Other controls allow you to speed up or slow down the rotations, show the moon phase, show the zodiac and set the date. 

The idea that the heavens revolved around the Earth was no insignificant belief; it was founded on what religious authorities believed to be the clear teaching of the Bible. Any model astronomers proposed had to be consistent with this geocentric worldview. This limited their ability to see possibilities contradictory to biblical and clerical authority.

All of this changed in 1543 when Nicolaus Copernicus published “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.” In it, he demonstrated the motion of the heavens can only be explained without the Earth being the geometric center of the system. In fact, rather then stationary, the Earth revolved around the sun. Conceptualizing this heliocentric model required a wholesale reorienting of the relationship of the earth to the heavenly bodies. Worldview quite literally meant a different view of our world.

The Copernican Revolution was one starting point for the Scientific Revolution of the 16th century. But it did not come without resistance. It took 200 years for this new heliocentric model of the solar system to replace the geocentric model.

The Copernican revolution seems insignificant to most people today. The revolution of the earth around the sun is such a broadly held conviction it seems irrelevant. But the shift in worldview caused by the revolution was far-reaching, especially for Christianity.

Hans Kuhn wrote: “To describe the innovation initiated by Copernicus as the simple interchange of the position of the earth and sun is to make a molehill out of a mountain… If Copernicus’ proposal had no consequences outside astronomy, it would have been neither so long delayed, nor so strenuously resisted.” 1

It was the beginning of a slippery slope in which science examined evidence, proposed a hypothesis, and come to a conclusion that sometimes interfered with the Bible. It forced religion to reassess the relationship of the Bible and clerical authority to the physical world, a conflict that goes on today. Copernicus showed us the universe did not revolve around the earth. We soon learned, It didn’t revolve around the church either.

 

1 (Kuhn, Thomas, The Copernican Revolution. Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought.)

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Scientific Literacy and 21st Century Faith

Adam and Eve by Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto

In 2010, new discoveries in genomic research challenged a fundamental Biblical teaching: that humankind originated from a unique couple: the biblical Adam and Eve. Christianity Today reported:

According to a consensus drawn from three independent avenues of research, the history of human ancestry involved a population “bottleneck” around 150,000 years ago—and from this tiny group of hominids came everyone living today. …the size of the group was far larger than a lonely couple: it consisted of several thousand individuals at minimum – The Search for the Historical Adam | Christianity Today 1/16/15

While some dismissed this as an attack on faith, many Christian scientists conceded research’s validity. A BioLogos paper co-authored by Dennis Venema, biology chairman at Trinity Western University, and Point Loma Nazarene University biologist Darrel Falk declared flatly: The human population, “was definitely never as small as two … The data are absolutely clear on that.”

This story highlights a huge problem for Christianity. What should we make of scientific discoveries that create complications for the Bible? These discoveries threaten many people’s biblically informed Christian beliefs. Skeptics use research as ammunition to dismiss Christianity. And the media misuse research to cynically grab headlines.

The kneejerk reaction has always been to reject anything that contradicts the traditional understanding of the Bible. Research is blamed as a godless attack on true faith. And individuals who wrestle with these problems are accused of lacking faith.

Unfortunately, this unwillinginess to engage modern science has resulted in an exodus from Christianity. Many people now believe that to be a Christian, you need to check your head at the door, or at least keep it down to avoid detection. Others simply walk away.

Christian leaders must educate congregants in a new literacy. Rather than be afraid of the sciences, we need to learn to understand and engage them. This doesn’t require a degree in biology or astronomy. It requires understanding the process and tools of scientific study and the tools available to tell fact from fiction. Above all, we need to learn how to engage our faith in the modern world, and build bridges between believers and people who have been disenfranchised from Christianity as a result of these conflicts.

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Wanna destroy the Earth? Harder then you might think

If we’re going to get a new Earth, God must have some pretty serious TNT up his sleeves.  Sam Hughes at Things of Interest says at http://qntm.org/destroy

“You’ve seen the action movies where the bad guy threatens to destroy the Earth. You’ve heard people on the news claiming that the next nuclear war or cutting down rainforests or persisting in releasing hideous quantities of pollution into the atmosphere threatens to end the world.

Fools.

The Earth is built to last. It is a 4,550,000,000-year-old, 5,973,600,000,000,000,000,000-tonne ball of iron. It has taken more devastating asteroid hits in its lifetime than you’ve had hot dinners, and lo, it still orbits merrily. So my first piece of advice to you, dear would-be Earth-destroyer, is: do NOT think this will be easy.”

Putting aside Biblical prophecy, it struck me this week

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The assault on reason

I’m currently listening to a fabulous book called “The assault on reason,” by Al Gore. Insightful to be sure, but he is an amazing writer. I plan to write about it but in the meantime, I thought I’d make people aware of what it is about. This is his description of the book from his blog. Hope it inspires a few people to give it a look.

In the months following the release of An Inconvenient Truth, I began to focus on why our democracy has been so slow to deal with the climate crisis. The unwillingness to solve this problem is not only the result of a lack of political will, but it has also been caused by the emergence of a new political environment dangerously hostile to reason, knowledge, and facts. In the long-term, this poses a threat to the very basis of American democracy: the ability of a well-informed citizenry to use the rule of reason to hold government accountable. This Assault on Reason is the focus of my new book. When George Bush launched his preemptive war in Iraq, more than 70% of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was linked to the terrorists who caused 9-11. After the 2004 election, when asked what stuck in their minds about the campaign, voters in Ohio named two ads playing to the fears of terrorism paid for by the Bush Campaign. One pattern that has held true since 2001 is that this White House is less interested in openness and truth than any previous administration. We are facing so many long-term challenges, from the climate crisis and the war in Iraq to health care and social welfare. To solve these problems and move forward we need to reverse the damage done to our democracy. We have little time to waste. My goal in The Assault on Reason is to explore why our public forum now welcomes the enemies of reason. More importantly, the book focuses on what we can do together, individually and collectively, to restore the rule of reason to our democracy.

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Discoveries

 

Google Moon On the anniversary of the first manned moon landing on July 20th, 1969, Google releases Google Moon, a map of NASA photos and Google style points showing all the moon landings.

The Word Gospel blues band that performed at this year’s Bonnaroo music festival. Download the mp3’s of the concert here.

Without God

Call Him By His Name

I Shall Not Be Moved

Jam

Untitled

Band Intros

At The Cross

Waiting On My Wings

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Discoveries

MusicGrid: Video Collaboration in Action

Reaching out via voice has changed the world, through landlines, cell phones, and now Skype and cousins. What effects will broadband video have? An article on Canada’s MusicGrid project, explores a real-life case study involving hundreds of geographically-distributed students, teachers, and musicians – all collaborating over broadband video networks:

Convergence of Science and Religion On a Sunday morning two years ago, a staff member of THINK flicked on the radio and, by chance, tuned in on a provocative discussion. Dr. Charles H. Townes, the distinguished scientist, was talking with a Bible class. The subject was the relationship of science to religion, and Dr. Townes was urging that scientific and religious thought, far from conflicting, are today finding more and more in common and are destined ultimately to merge.

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Mars WOW!

In case you haven’t seen them yet, you really owe it to yourself to go to the Mars Spirit Rover Site and the Mars Opportunity Rover site. One of my favorite authors Tom Peters talks about the importance of Wow! in our experiences. I haven’t experienced wow like this in a long time. Makes me feel like a boy all over again.

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