View by:  Subject  Theme  Question  Term  Person  Event

The Challenge of Copernicus

No, the challenge to the traditional sacred geography came not from Columbus, but from the northernmost diocese of Poland, where a visionary canon conceived of an entirely different blueprint for the cosmos. Yet, the discoveries of Columbus helped set the stage for the coming Copernican revolution, for, at the end of the 15th century, the ancient Alexandrian, Claudius Ptolemy, was probably better known as a geographer than as an astronomer. The discovery of America not only shook traditional theology because the New World was populated with beings who had never heard of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, but it also filled the map with lands never dreamt of by Ptolemy. If Ptolemy as geographer-cosmographer could be challenged, what about Ptolemy as astronomer-cosmologer?

It’s necessary to be quite clear that the Copernican revolution was of an entirely different type from the Columbian discoveries. It was not a matter of Copernicus using his eyes and with fresh observations showing the universe was arranged in a way other than his predecessors had believed, for in his day there was no observation that could distinguish between a geocentric and a heliocentric universe. And, as Galileo later said, he could not admire enough those who accepted the heliocentric doctrine despite the observations of their senses. Why, in fact, did Copernicus choose to defend such an unorthodox arrangement?

Contributed by: Dr. Owen Gingerich

Cosmic Questions

Did the Universe Have a Beginning? Topic Index
Scientific Cosmology Meets Western Theology: A Historical Perspective

The Challenge of Copernicus

Two Mythological Arguments
Objections to Copernicus
Osiander's Introduction
Hubble's Expanding Universe and Lemaître's Primeval Atom
The Steady-State, Big Bang and Religion
Too Easy an Answer?


Owen Gingerich

Related Media:

Did the Universe Have a Beginning?
Was the Universe Designed?
Are We Alone?
Interview Index
The Copernican Solar System
Ptolemy's Solar System
  Media Index

Other Resources:

The Rise of Copernicanism
The Galileo Affair
Glossary Terms
Bonus Material Home...