Lecture 12: Heliocentrism and Religion

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    Dr. J,

    in Lecture 12 you mentioned that (according to some Christian writers) heliocentrism has sometimes been used as an excuse for ignoring God. Could you perhaps elaborate on this? I wonder who did this and what their reasoning was.

    Jason Jewell

    David, among many agnostics/atheists the expression of the view that heliocentrism disproves Christianity is almost a commonplace. Now, obviously, the more intellectually cautious in this camp avoid this kind of language, but survey texts regularly insert some statement to the effect that Copernicus and/or Galileo disproved that mankind occupies a unique or special place in the universe.

    Gary North traces some of this history and the reasoning employed in Appendix A of his book “The Dominion Covenant,” which is available free online at http://garynorth.com


    It seems rather silly to me to interpret humanity’s special status in Christianity astronomically as opposed to metaphysically (i.e., as referring to rationality and free will). This confirms that atheists aren’t always as rational as they think they are.

    Unfortunately, North propagates the myth of the incompatibility of science and Christianity. Like many atheists, he tends to conflate science with certain philosophical positions that are allegedly derived from, or presupposed by, science. He also implies that teleology only refers to conscious goals, and he doesn’t clearly distinguish between Aquinas’s and Paley’s arguments for the existence of God. On these issues, Edward Feser’s writings are very instructive.

    Jason Jewell

    J.R.R. Tolkien felt compelled to offer a reply to the “heliocentrism disproves Christianity” line of thinking in his “Ainulindale,” the first section of the posthumously published Silmarillion.

    I don’t have the book in front of me right now, but there’s a passage that comes shortly after Iluvatar (the story’s creation deity) creates the material universe in which the narrator scolds those who think that Arda’s (Earth’s) comparatively small size in the cosmos implies that it is unimportant or not central to divinely ordained events.

    I point this out because it shows that this atheistic argument has been circulating for a long time.



    Just to play Devil’s Advocate here…

    If God was truly omnipotent, what would be the need of creating a sun and so many other planets and galaxies and such if the only truly important beings he created were humans?

    While I wouldn’t presume that heliocentrism “disproves” religion, I would say that it could potentially cast some serious doubt on some of the prevailing religious doctrines of the times, much in the same way that dinosaurs and carbon dating methods and evolution cast doubt on certain religious tenets, but do not necessarily disprove the entire notion of a creator. Presumably, if we ever had contact with an alien race, many secularists would declare that as “proof” that religion is wrong, but in reality it would simply cast doubt on conventional interpretations of religion.

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