Today’s Google Doodle (2/19/13) is a model of our solar system, celebrating what would have been Copernicus‘ 540th birthday. He did a lot in his day, but perhaps what he’s best known for is leading the scientific charge to prove that the earth revolved around the sun, and not the other way around.
Copernicus was a devoted Christian–there technically were no scientists back then, but he did study math, the stars, economics, medicine, and more. In those days, everyone ascribed to geocentrism-the belief that the sun, moon, planets, and other stars all revolve around the earth.
Makes sense on the surface if you’ve ever looked up at the sun or night sky. Plus, the Bible backs the idea up:
“The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved.” I Chronicles 16:30
“The Lord set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” Psalm 104:5
“The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.” Ecclesiastes 1:5
The Bible, conventional wisdom, and plain old common sense taught people one “right” way of thinking about the issue for thousands of years.
But Copernicus (who was a devoted Christian) and many others weren’t satisfied with traditional explanations. What about the fact that Venus and Mars appear to revolve around the sun? If we assume the sun is at the center, all our other calculations make sense. Just for the sun to provide heat and light to the planet from a great distance, it has to be many times larger than the earth, and that would make it likely that the earth is subject to the sun, not the other way around–call it heliocentrism.
Maybe, just maybe, God made the earth revolve around the sun.
Whoa, that’s crazy talk in the 15th century! People were kicked out of the church, put on house arrest, and even killed for pressing this theory forward. “The Bible makes it plain, so why don’t you just leave it alone, Copernicus?”
He couldn’t leave it alone because the facts told a different story. It wasn’t good enough to accept what he had been taught by other people. He was on a quest to discover what revelations if any God had for the current time.
It must be pointed out that even though he went against what the majority of Bible believing folks believed, and even though he was more right than they were, he didn’t have it completely correct either. The most notable hole in his theory is the concept that the entire universe revolves around our sun. Astronomers building on his work later discovered that our sun is one star out of billions in our galaxy, and our galaxy is one of billions of known galaxies in the universe.
Copernicus’ work didn’t set out to “prove the Bible wrong,” nor could it. The people who wrote the Bible were inspired. Copernicus was also inspired, and he had the benefit of more knowledge. The Bible says “the earth can’t be moved,” but in fact it’s moving around the sun at about 67,000 miles per hour and spinning on its axis at 1000 miles per hour. Whether those facts go against your biblical interpretation or not–you’re along for the ride.