Main   Terms   People   Interviews   Resources   Events


A cosmology with the sun at the centre of the universe.

Nicolai Copernicus (1473-1543) is the first modern to suggest that the earth moves round a central sun (heliocentrism) rather than the sun moves around a central earth (geocentrism), with the publication of De Revolutionibus in 1543. However, the reception of this theory is surprisingly muted. It was certainly not accepted immediately, as there are too many problems and too few advantages. Not until Kepler and Galileo is it taken as a serious challenge, in cosmological terms, to the Ptolemaic system. It is seen to be useful by astronomers for simpler methods of predicting the motions of the heavens.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) greatly simplifies the new cosmology by showing that the planetary orbits are in fact simple ellipses around the sun (discovered 1605, published 1609). He is the first to break with Plato’s idea of regular circular motion.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) is the first to make systematic use of the telescope (1609/10 on), and finds a great deal of evidence against the old system, and some evidence in favour of the new. He also does important work in producing new theories of motion which do away with many important objections to the heliocentric system, based on Aristotle’s views.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) finally cements this revolution with the 1/d2 gravitational law, which gives a proper explanation of the elliptical orbits of the planets, and of motion on the earth.

Above all, it is important to recognise that the Copernican system was not significantly more accurate than the Ptolemaic system it replaced. However, it is a more elegant explanation of retrogression, as due to relative motion of earth and planets. There is a proper ordering of planets and estimation of planetary distances, for example it yields as explanation of why Mercury and Venus are always seen near sun. The real improvement is its simplicity - instead of those fearsome Ptolemaic devices for the apparent motions of the planets, and in particular retrogressions, we have simple orbits around the sun.

Related Topics:

The Relation of Science & Religion

Contributed by: Richard P Whaite

To return to the previous topic, click on your browser's 'Back' button.

Topic Sets Available

AAAS Report on Stem-Cells

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms

Agency: Human, Robotic and Divine
Becoming Human: Brain, Mind, Emergence
Big Bang Cosmology and Theology (GHC)
Cosmic Questions Interviews

Cosmos and Creator
Creativity, Spirituality and Computing Technologies
CTNS Content Home
Darwin: A Friend to Religion?
Demystifying Information Technology
Divine Action (GHC)
Dreams and Dreaming: Neuroscientific and Religious Visions'
E. Coli at the No Free Lunchroom
Engaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
Evangelical Atheism: a response to Richard Dawkins
Ecology and Christian Theology
Evolution: What Should We Teach Our Children in Our Schools?
Evolution and Providence
Evolution and Creation Survey
Evolution and Theology (GHC)
Evolution, Creation, and Semiotics

The Expelled Controversy
Faith and Reason: An Introduction
Faith in the Future: Religion, Aging, and Healthcare in the 21st Century

Francisco Ayala on Evolution

From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions
Genetic Engineering and Food

Genetics and Ethics
Genetic Technologies - the Radical Revision of Human Existence and the Natural World

Genomics, Nanotechnology and Robotics
Getting Mind out of Meat
God and Creation: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Big Bang Cosmology
God, Humanity and the Cosmos: A Textbook in Science and Religion
God the Spirit - and Natural Science
Historical Examples of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)
History of Creationism
Intelligent Design Coming Clean

Issues for the Millennium: Cloning and Genetic Technologies
Jean Vanier of L'Arche
Nano-Technology and Nano-ethics
Natural Science and Christian Theology - A Select Bibliography
Neuroscience and the Soul
Outlines of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)

Perspectives on Evolution

Physics and Theology
Quantum Mechanics and Theology (GHC)
Questions that Shape Our Future
Reductionism (GHC)
Reintroducing Teleology Into Science
Science and Suffering

Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (CTNS/Vatican Series)

Space Exploration and Positive Stewardship

Stem-Cell Debate: Ethical Questions
Stem-Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

Stem-Cell Questions
Theistic Evolution: A Christian Alternative to Atheism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design...
Theology and Science: Current Issues and Future Directions
Unscientific America: How science illiteracy threatens our future
Will ET End Religion?

Current Stats: topics: >2600, links: >300,000, video: 200 hours.