Friday, May 23, 2014

The Depths of God: Copernicus and Kepler

As the heavens declare your glory, O God, and the firmament shows your handiwork, we bless your Name for the gifts of knowledge and insight you bestowed upon Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler; and we pray that you would continue to advance our understanding of your cosmos, for our good and for your glory; through Jesus Christ, the firstborn of all creation, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I was delighted today to discover that our 12:10 service would be celebrating the astronomers Nicholas Copernicus and Johannes Kepler.  And, admittedly, from the start of the Collect of the Day, printed above, to the readings, all I could think about was how foolish the church had been back in the 16th-17th Century to not see that their scientists of the day were not contradicting Scripture nor condemning God.  On the contrary, science then and now has the power to open our eyes further to the wonders of the created order.

Copernicus was the one who proferred that the earth is not the center of the universe; the sun is.  Kepler, writing about 60 years later, built upon the heliocentric work of Copernicus, and offered that the all the planets move in an elliptical orbit around the sun.  A morning hymn came to mind:

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise!
Triumph o'er the shades of night:
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear.

Of course, as anyone who has studied church history can tell you, Copernicus and his heliocentric revolution challenged the Aristolean geocentric philosophy of the Renaissance church.   This would be even more evident when Galileo built his telescope, and saw for himself that the planets had moons and were moving around the sun and not the earth.  Copernicus, who was also a Catholic priest among many other things, had not originally caused a ruckus with his 1543 work documenting his theory, but as the Ancient Greek science was giving way to new discoveries, and forcing the Church to rethink, the Roman Catholic Church responded by saying that it was Copernicus' book, "On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres," that was out of line.  Kepler, who subscribed to the heliocentric approach of Copernicus, argued that a sun-centered universe supported the existence of a creative God.  He said the cosmos was a reflection of God, with the Father as the Sun, the stellar sphere corresponded to the Son and the intervening space is the Holy Spirit.  Talk about a vast expanse of interstellar space to describe the Holy Trinity!

It seems silly, here in the 21st century, that these discoveries would cause anyone in the Church to have had angst, or to argue that what these men were saying was contrary to Scripture.  Especially in light of the readings heard today.  Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinithians, talks about the mysteries of God, hidden and secret, from human eyes, which would seem to bolster the work of all scientists:

‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
   nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him’— 
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.(1 Cor. 2:9-12)

We keep learning the new depths of God, thanks to our scientists today.  A few years ago, as scientists in Europe used the supercollider to search for the Higgs-Boson, they released a recording of the sounds inside as sub-atomic particles slammed around.  I was fascinated that the sounds they picked up had distinct notes, and, at times, mimicked some of the pieces I've heard on CDs played during massage therapy.  While some have said the discovery of Higgs-Boson casts doubt on the existence of God, I see it as the Spirit revealing more of who God is to us through the work of the scientists.  Thankfully, I haven't found any literature that says the physicist Dr. Peter Higgs has been brought up before some ecclesiastical court for his work in particle physics. 

Maybe we will one day stop this nonsensical war between science and religion and instead see them as opening the doors to more discovery and more mystery.


1 comment:

Phoebe McFarllin said...

The hymn that came to my mind:

When, in Awe of God's creation,
We view earth from outer space,
This mysterious floating marble
Strewn with clouds and bathed in grace!
How can we not pause in wonder,
Seeing earth as one and whole,
Then, confessing our divisions,
Make earth's healing our prime goal.