scientific observation and mathematics, can become an inquisitor's call to arms
Ptolemy's geocentric model of the universe almost worked, but was hopelessly flawed
Claudius Ptolemy was a Greco-Roman mathematician and astronomer who lived in Alexandria, Egypt. He lived from approximately 100 to 170 AD during the years of the fledgling post apostolic church. His geocentric model of the universe did not arouse any disputes with the church. To the contrary, his geocentric (earth centered) model would have conformed nicely to the Judeo-Christian sensibilities and popularly held perceptions of the day.
In an effort to understand the movements of celestial objects, Ptolemy developed a magnificently complex model placing the earth at the center of the universe, with spheres rotating at different speeds and various angles of momentum while expanding outwards to the "fixed" background of stars. The entire universe rotated around a stationary earth.
His model consisted of seven rings representing those celestial objects visible to the naked eye, which appear to be in motion. The sun, the moon, and five of the planets.
His ideas more fully developed the long-standing theories of Plato and Aristotle, which postulated a series of rotating crystalline spheres consisting of an aetherial, transparent element or quintessence.
In it's day, what Ptolemy had devised was an elegant solution which was surprisingly close to working, considering the enormity of the flawed premise. In particular, observed retrograde anomalies threw the whole model out of balance. These he tried to explain with small circular motions called epicycles, but could never quite make his system conform to observation. Nonetheless, the model of the universe Ptolemy had hypothesized stood as the best explanation of the cosmos for over a thousand years.
Fast forward 1400 years and a Polish astronomer takes a fresh look at Ptolemy's universe, and starts a slow rolling earthquake that would rock the worlds of science and religion. Nicolaus Copernicus lived from 1473 to 1543, a period of time that encompassed the discovery of the "new world," and the Protestant Reformation which was beginning to take root. New ways of looking at things and fresh ideas seemed to be the order of the day. He was born in the city of Thorn, in Royal Prussia, a region of the Kingdom of Poland. He became a man of many accomplishments, but is best known as the astronomer and mathematician who developed a heliocentric cosmological model of the universe. His hypothesis placed the sun at the center of the universe, with the earth and planets in motion around it. Incidentally, a Greek astronomer, Aristarchus of Samos, had formulated a similar heliocentric model of the cosmos as early as two hundred years BCE, but the ridiculous idea never caught on.
He wrote an initial outline of his theory around 1514, which was never intended for publication, and which described the heliocentric mechanisms that he believed would govern the movements of the earth. The theory, however, was not fully developed because he hadn't provided the mathematical support. While his model was orders of magnitude superior to Ptolemy's, he still relied on epicycles to explain certain phenomena. While he had many other responsibilities, mainly involving economic and financial management, he continued making observations and measurements of the heavenly bodies, and worked on revisions to his original outline from 1515 to 1519.
By around 1532 he had essentially completed the manuscript for what would become the seminal legacy of an extraordinary genius, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). However, despite the urging of close friends, he did not wish to openly publish the work for fear of ridicule. He knew the heliocentric cosmology was so unconventional, and so brazenly defied normal human sensibilities, that he feared he would be exposed to mockery and criticism. So he held off, and yet, he continued editing and revising.
Nonetheless news and rumors began to circulate concerning this novel theory, as his ideas were shared with friends and colleagues, so that educated people all over Europe were becoming aware of his theory. When it got to Pope Clement VII, it aroused enough curiosity that in 1536 Copernicus was asked to send relevant written materials, explaining his work to Rome.
In 1539 a young mathematics professor from Wittenberg named Georg Rheticus came to call at Copernicus' home in Frauenburg, Poland. Copernicus' knowledge of astronomy was well known by then, and the young man had an interest in the subject. He had come, eager to learn. Rheticus wound up staying for a couple of years, and the two men became good friends. It was the passion of Rheticus for the hypothesis that encouraged Copernicus to finally finish his manuscript.
He entrusted Revolutionibus to Rheticus, who took it to Nuremberg, Germany for printing. In late 1542, Copernicus suffered a stroke and was paralyzed. He died a few months later in 1543 at the age of 70. His friends were able to show him a copy of the published book before he passed away. He was never criticized or persecuted by church officials due to the fact that he had held off publication until just before his death.
It took 73 years before the Vatican decided to place Revolutionibus on its list of banned books. There were two reasons it took so long to ban the book. First, the Vatican was distracted by the Council of Trent (1545-1563), and fending off the challenges of reformers who were raising one doctrinal issue after another with the the church. Secondly, the book was generally not well received after being published, and therefore, the church had little cause to pay much attention. The intellectual environment of the day held fast to Ptolemaic astronomy, and did not find the Copernican theory to be particularly compelling.
It would be another half century before the work of Kepler and Galileo rose to the defense of Copernicanism, and began to build upon it. That was when the church began to take notice, and Revolutionibus was added to the Vatican's index of banned books. However, the barn door had already been left open.
Leading the knee-jerk opposition to the Copernican heliocentric model was the well known theologian-astronomer, Giovanni Tolosani, of the Dominican Order. He was well known because he had presented his own ideas on improving the Julian calendar using elements of carefully measured solar observations, while remaining well within the geocentric standard. He had received a copy of Revolutions in 1544, before publication, and wrote a critical commentary on the theory the following year.
Tolosani declared Copernicanism absurd because it had not been proven scientifically. Copernicus had assumed the motion of the earth while offering no basis or theory whereby this motion could be proven. He accused Copernicus of having come up with the outrageous idea and then seeking out phenomena to support his outlandish conclusions. He was accused of working in reverse, rather than first making observations of phenomena, and then deducing the cause.
The theory had not yet been perfected mathematically (Copernicus still held the idea that orbits should be perfectly spherical), and this gave Tolosani the opportunity to drive home his criticism. He concluded that Copernicus' biggest error was that he had started with "inferior" fields of science (astronomy and mathematics) to make pronouncements about "superior" fields (physics and cosmology). This again, was backwards.
While Tolosani granted that Copernicus was an expert in mathematics and astronomy, it was insufficient to support his theories, stating, "his arguments have no force and can very easily be taken apart. For it is stupid to contradict an opinion accepted by everyone over a very long time for the strongest reasons, unless the impugner uses more powerful and insoluble demonstrations and completely dissolves the opposed reasons. But he does not do this in the least."
religious controversy came later, not only from Rome, but from a host of Protestant Reformers as well.
While Tolosani focused his criticism on the assertion that Copernican theory was scientifically unprovable, others would focus more on theological conflicts. One of the primary objections revolved around the account of the Battle of Gibeon (read in strict literalism):
Even before Revolutionibus had been published, Martin Luther had heard of it, and is said to have remarked, "So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth."
On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a human being. Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel! - Joshua 10:12-14
the heliocentric model devised by Copernicus
Rheticus had taken a copy of his own, Narratio Prima (first account) which was an introduction to Copernicus' heliocentric theory, and gave it to Luther's close friend Philipp Melanchthon. He believed the calm and cerebral Melanchthon would be receptive to the novel idea. However, Melanchthon would write to another friend, condemning the theory and suggesting it should be squelched by force of government. He wrote, "certain people believe it is a marvelous achievement to extol so crazy a thing, like that Polish astronomer who makes the earth move and the sun stand still. Really, wise governments ought to repress such impudence of mind."
Melanchthon would continue his criticism not only of the theory itself, but made obvious personal attacks meant to discredit the character of Copernicus, stating he was motivated, "either from love of novelty, or from desire to appear clever." The great Lutheran theologian went on to cite scripture including Genesis, Joshua, Ecclesiastes, and the Psalms, declaring, "Encouraged by this divine evidence, let us cherish the truth and let us not permit ourselves to be alienated from it by the tricks of those who deem it an intellectual honor to introduce confusion into the arts."
In 1609 a Roman Catholic Jesuit named Nicolaus Serarius called Copernicus' work heretical citing the Joshua passage. The clamor of criticism grew and spread both among Catholic and Protestant leaders. In the case of Copernicus, searching out and finding scripture to repudiate his irritating idea became something of a priority. Notwithstanding the fact that the idea has nothing to do with Biblical teaching, but merely challenges and exposes puny human perception. Nonetheless, the theory was published and would fall into the hands of some who would find merit in the counterintuitive heliocentric proposition.
Kepler was a German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer born in 1571. In his day, cosmological models still assumed that celestial bodies traveled in circular motions. But observers were well aware of an odd anomaly whereby some, most notably, Mars, would appear to stop, reverse course, then stop again and resume its course. A curiosity known as the Mars retrograde. Ptolemy and Copernicus had both tried to explain this phenomenon with the addition of miniature circles, or epicycles (circles within circles). Kepler not only defended the heliocentric idea, but he also revealed that planetary paths were not perfect circles. His descriptions of planetary motions became known as Kepler's three laws.
Using Brahe's meticulous observations, Kepler came to realize that the planets do not move in circular orbits, but rather in elongated elliptical orbits. The fact that planets travel on elliptical paths is known as Kepler's First Law. This realization led to his solution of the Mars retrograde problem.
Next he noticed apparent changes in the velocity of planets, and came to the conclusion that they speed up when closer to the sun and slowed down as they got further away. In their orbits around the sun, the planets sweep out equal areas in equal times. This led to his second law which he published in 1609.
Thirdly he calculated the relationship between the period of two planets, the time they take to orbit the sun, is connected to their distance from the sun. The square of the time to complete one orbit is proportional to the cube of the average distance from the sun. He also contributed theories about the invisible forces of gravity, and suggested that it was the gravitational forces of the moon that caused the tidal movements of earth's seas. Galileo would mock this theory, but Newton would later use Kepler's laws to establish universal gravitation.
However, his work in astronomy coincided with a remarkable new advance in related technology which we now know as the "telescope." The first working designs of a refracting telescope were made by a German-Dutch lensmaker named Hans Lippershey in 1608. Lippershey was a master of grinding lenses and making spectacles. He would use his new design, according to his patent application, for "seeing things far away as if they were nearby."
Kepler boasted he would solve the Mars problem in eight days, but in fact it took nearly eight years. Using Brahe's detailed records, Kepler managed to unravel the mystery why the planets appear to move the way they do. Brahe died suddenly the following year, in 1601, and Kepler assumed his elevated position in the imperial court. Kepler managed to pilfer the treasured notes and charts, and used them for nine years. This would lead to legal problems later with Brahe's heirs.
Galileo Galilei was an Italian astronomer, physicist, and engineer. He was a contemporary of Johannes Kepler, living from 1564 to 1642. He supported and promoted Copernican heliocentrism, even at a time when this was a risky position for an academic. But he disagreed with Johannes Kepler on a couple of important points. He was dismissive of the idea that the moon affected the tides, and he paid no attention to Kepler's wild ideas of planetary elliptical orbits.
Cardinal Bellarmine wrote in 1615 that the Copernican theory could not be defended because it lacked the physical proof needed to disprove the commonly accepted geocentric system. Galileo rose to the defense, developing a theory of planetary tidal motions that might possibly provide the physical proof. He believed the tides were caused by the sloshing back and forth of the waters of the seas due to the earth's rotation on its axis and movement around the sun which would cause a slowing and speeding up. However, it was pointed out by his peers, that this theory would result in only one high tide per day rather than the two, about twelve hours apart. As it turned out, his tidal theory would not stand to the challenge of Bellarmine.
This study will look at only a handful of men that made enormous strides in human understanding of the cosmos, and our solar system. These men were all men of great accomplishments in various fields of engineering, physics, economics, optics, mathematics, and wide ranging contributions in many areas of human endeavor. However, for the purposes of this study we will focus on their achievements in the field of astronomy and physics for which they are most famous, and the disputes, criticism, and discomfort their discoveries provoked with church officials.
Galileo had heard rough descriptions of Lippershey's telescope design, and built his own in 1609 which had about a 3x magnification. He would later build improved versions with magnifications up to 30x. Using his telescope, in January of 1610, Galileo discovered the four largest moons orbiting Jupiter. This news was revolutionary. A planet with smaller planets orbiting around it was impossible under the principles of Aristotelian cosmology. As the discovery was confirmed by others, it shook the world of astronomy.
He went on to observe and report that Venus went through phases like the moon, as predicted by Copernicus, but impossible in the Ptolemaic model. He made detailed observations of the great ring around Saturn, sunspots, and the mountains of the lunar surface. The invention of the telescope created a shockwave that generated the first real cracks in the old established order. Galileo was one of those at the forefront, and for this he became famous among Europe's educated elite. It was his defense of Copernican heliocentrism that brought criticism to his door, and ultimately got him in trouble with church authorities, many of whom felt the need to defend the common-sense perceptions of normality. How could the earth be in motion around the sun? What about the scriptural passage from Joshua 10?
The point should not be lost, that the Bible was never intended to be a scientific dissertation, providing theories or proofs of the divine architecture of the universe. More accurately, and more importantly, it's a review and commentary on the human condition, and humanity's fallen relationship with the Creator. In matters of cosmic phenomena the Bible brushes by lightly, focusing instead on more pertinent issues, while remaining within the cognizant sensibilities of the people for whom it was written. At any rate, the sum total of all human knowledge is far too Lilliputian, when juxtaposed against the concerns of the Creator in dealing with His wayward creation. The writers of the Bible merely provided physical observation only insofar as these related to the larger implications of God's interactions with His human creation.
a fact that is merely counterintuitive is bound to arouse suspicions of religious heresy
Kepler and Galileo both lived in an era when there was little distinction between astronomy and astrology, but there was a strong division between astronomy as a branch of mathematics, and physics as a branch of natural philosophy. It would take a little more time for science to sort these things out.
In 1610, Galileo, using his new telescope discovered four moons orbiting Jupiter. He published his discovery under the pseudonym Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger). Galileo sought the opinion of Kepler, because Kepler could lend credibility to his observations. Kepler responded generously, endorsing Galileo's observations and offering a range of speculations about the meaning and implications of Galileo's astonishing observations. He also offered his opinions on the implications of telescopic methods, astronomy, optics, as well as on cosmology and astrology (yes, astrology).
After hearing of Galileo's telescopic discoveries, Kepler began his own study of telescopic optics using a telescope borrowed from Duke Ernest of Cologne. In 1611 he published the theoretical basis of double-convex converging lenses and double-concave diverging lenses, and how they are combined to produce a Galilean telescope, as well as the concepts of real vs. virtual images, upright vs. inverted images, and the effects of focal length on magnification and reduction. He also described an improved telescope, which became known as the Keplerian telescope, in which two convex lenses can produce higher magnification than Galileo's combination of convex and concave lenses. Kepler made major contributions to the study of optics, while Galileo made telescopic observation a respectable branch of astronomy.
Kepler believed that God provided the laws of nature, like a trail of breadcrumbs, which the human mind could learn and grasp. God wanted us to recognize and follow these because after creating us in His own image, we could then share in His thoughts. We could then appreciate how God "decorated the world."
All of Kepler's writings revealed his deep religious convictions. Yet, he saw the Bible as a spiritual and not a scientific guide. He held human reason to be the authority in matters of natural philosophy, while Scripture was the ruling authority in matters of religion and spirituality. In this incredible dynamic, he saw himself as a priest of nature, whose discoveries glorified the name of God.
He had attended university to become a Lutheran minister, and it was in university that he was introduced to the work of Nicolaus Copernicus. In 1596 he
was teaching mathematics at the Catholic seminary school in Graz, Austria, when he boldly wrote his first public defense of Copernican heliocentrism. At the time, He suffered no persecution for his affirmation of the Copernican model, however, it was his refusal to convert to Catholicism that led to his dismissal in 1600, and he was forced to move his family to Prague.
Even though he was in complete agreement with the Augsburg Confession of 1530, the Lutheran church denied him communion because of his unorthodox theological opinions. He disagreed with Luther on the issue of Christ's literal presence in the eucharist. Instead, he preferred the Calvinist way of stressing "remembrance." But he couldn't accept the Calvinist insistence on predestination. In Roman Catholicism he rejected the orthodox submission to the papacy. Therefore, he never really fit in with any of the major Christian religions that dominated the area where he lived - he found fault with them all.
Still, his deep theological convictions prompted his efforts to uncover the connection between all things physical and all things spiritual. His scientific pursuits led him to believe he had discovered God's geometric architecture for the universe. In Kepler's view, the creation itself was the image of God.
In need of a place to work, he was offered a position as assistant to Tycho Brahe, the court mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II. Brahe was a Danish nobleman with an obsession for astronomy. He had built an observatory in Prague to pursue his work. He was known to have produced the greatest collection, and most accurate notes and charts tracking the movements of celestial bodies available anywhere. But he was also known to guard these jealously. In 1600, Kepler was invited to assist him, and while Brahe was unwilling to share all of his extensive charts with his new assistant, he assigned Kepler to solve the problem of the Mars retrograde.
The matter of heliocentrism was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, which concluded that the idea of the sun occupying the center of the universe was, "foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture." Galileo's writings on heliocentrism were brought to the attention of Father Niccolo Lorini who asserted that Galileo and others were trying to reinterpret the Bible, which looked dangerously like Protestantism. Cardinal Bellarmine, acting on orders from Pope Paul V, called Galileo to appear before him in 1616, and ordered the astronomer "... to abandon completely... the opinion that the sun stands still at the center of the world and the earth moves, and henceforth not to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatever, either orally or in writing." For the next ten years, Galileo steered clear of the controversy.
In addition to the account at Joshua 10:13, there are scatterings of scriptures which seem to suggest a Biblical confirmation of the geocentric model. Church fathers began pulling out everything in their arsenal to beat down the Copernican model, and bring an end to the heresy. A few examples;
"The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure." - Ps. 93:1
"Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity." - Ps. 96:10
"Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!” - 1 Chronicles 16:30,31
"He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved." - Psalm 104:4,5
"The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again." - Ecclesiastes 1:5-7
The Inquisition condemned Copernicus' Revolutionibus and referred it to The Index librorum prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books). The "Index" was Catholicism's catalog of publications deemed heretical, or contrary to morality by the Sacred Congregation of the Index, and thus forbidden reading material for Catholics. Galileo, though, while having been warned against advocating the Copernican theory, had not been prohibited from "discussing" heliocentrism as a mathematical and philosophical idea, so long as he did not present it as physical truth. They had provided him with the proverbial loophole.
Cardinal Barberini was elevated to the papacy in 1623, taking the name Urban VIII. Barberini had been a friend and admirer of Galileo, and had opposed the condemnation of Galileo in 1616. Galileo had begun writing a book that was intended to present both sides of the debate between geocentrism and heliocentrism. He wanted to present the arguments in such a way that he wouldn't be accused of teaching the forbidden theory. His book, known as Dialogue (Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems), was published in 1632, with formal permission from the Inquisition and the Pope.
In 1632, Pope Urban VIII issued an order almost immediately demanding that the publisher cease printing. It was printed in Italian, not in Latin like Revolutions, so all of Italy was able to read it, and the Pope was outraged at what he perceived as a personal offense. Galileo had (probably unintentionally) provoked the hostility of his most important and powerful supporter. The insult was in the name Galileo had given to the defender of Ptolemaic geocentrism - Simplicio - meaning in Italian "simpleton." In the two-way Dialogue, Simplicio comes across as the fool, while the argument for heliocentrism comes across as an intellectual defense of the forbidden theory. Even though Galileo had explained in the preface that the character was named after an Aristotelian philosopher, it didn't read that way, and Urban believed Simplicio was a mocking characterization of him. A personal and unjustified insult.
Galileo was brought before the inquisition in 1633 and questioned extensively. In the end he received a sentence consisting of three primary elements:
1. Galileo was found "vehemently suspect of heresy," namely of having held the opinions that the sun lies motionless at the center of the universe, that the earth is not at its center and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture. He was required to "abjure, curse and detest" those opinions.
2. He was sentenced to formal imprisonment at the pleasure of the Inquisition, but on the following day, this was commuted to house arrest, which he remained under for the rest of his life.
3. His offending Dialogue was banned, and in an action announced after the trial, publication of all of his works was forbidden, including his past works and any he might write in the future.
Galileo was permitted to return to his villa near Florence in 1634, where he remained under house arrest. He continued working and writing until he went completely blind in 1638. He was allowed to travel for medical purposes. He continued to receive visitors until 1642, when he died of a fever at the age of 77.
Sir Isaac Newton's greatest gift to humanity was his invention of the "cat-flap." The little flappy door that allowed his cat to get in and out without disturbing him - obviously an Englishman. Leibniz, of course, declared that he had been first to invent the katze-klappe . . .
Newton was a mathematician, a physicist, astronomer, and theologian. Generally thought to be one of the most influential scientists of all time. Born in 1642, attended Trinity College in Cambridge, knighted by Queen Anne in 1705, died in 1727 at the age of 84. He never married.
Sir Isaac Newton
His most famous work came with the publication of his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), generally referred to as Principia. In it, he determined the three laws of motion for the universe.The first describes how objects move at the same velocity unless an outside force acts upon it. A force would be anything that causes or changes motion. An object travels at the same speed unless it interacts with another force, such as friction.
His second law of motion provided a calculation of how forces interact. The force acting on an object is equal to the object's mass, times the acceleration it undergoes.
Newton's third law states that for every action in nature, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If one body applies a force on a second, then the second body exerts a force of the same strength on the first, in the opposite direction. From all of this, Newton calculated the universal law of gravity. He found that as two bodies move farther away from one another, the gravitational attraction between them decreases by the inverse of the square of the distance. Thus, if the objects are twice as far apart, the gravitational force is only a fourth as strong.
However for the purpose of this brief article we're not going to go into any detail concerning Newton's many achievements, or his long-running dispute with
Gottfried Leibniz over which of the two had been first to invent calculus. We're more interested in the unusual relationship he developed with the Anglican church of his day, his unorthodox beliefs, and how they related to his position at Cambridge. He regarded religion and science as interrelated, science indeed, being the handmaiden of religion, insofar as there could be no fundamental conflict between these two great fields of human interest.
Besides being one of the world's great scientists, Newton was a devout Christian who would turn his unique genius and powers of reasoning to his extensive studies of the Christian religion and the Bible. As our idea of the universe expands, so too, does our concept of God. He clearly was a Biblical creationist, writing in Principia, "The most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion on an intelligent and powerful Being." In other words, the universe, governed as it was by universal "laws," validated the principles of intelligent design in creation.
However, many of his unorthodox beliefs would have got him labeled a heretic, so his copious notes and manuscripts related to his religious studies, were never published during his lifetime, and kept unknown until long after his death. Nonetheless, many of his colleagues held strong suspicions, even as he discreetly maintained a pretense of Anglican orthodoxy. Simply put, he rejected the trinitarian doctrine, a core theological underpinning of the Anglican church, as well as Catholicism. Rather, he took the side of Arius of Alexandria, in the long standing religious dispute between monotheism, and the trinitarian heresy of Nicaea. A polytheistic heresy that had victimized countless innocent, unsuspecting people through the post-Nicaean generations.
He even undertook exhaustive research on the scripture of 1 John 5:7, writing an unpublished manuscript on the questions this particular scriptural passage raises. The problem was that he could not find theological conformity between these words, and the rest of scripture. His study was taken from the King James Version and reads:
"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." - 1 John 5:7
From his position at Cambridge, he had access to the post-apostolic Christian writers such as Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, and others of the early church shepherds in the original Latin and Greek manuscripts. But when he found himself grappling with differing interpretations, or interpretations that didn't quite make sense, he began to apply the same principles of inquiry he used in his scientific studies. First principles. This led him to distinguish between the words taught in the days of the apostles, and the doctrinal teachings that came later. Newton was the quintessential "restorationist." He wrote, "The first Principles of the Christian religion are founded, not on disputable conclusions, opinions, or conjectures, or on human sanctions, but on the express words of Christ and his Apostles; and we are to hold fast the form of sound words. 2 Tim. 1:13. And further, it is not enough that a proposition be true or in the express words of scripture: it must also appear to have been taught in the days of the Apostles.” This is why the words from chapter 5 of 1 John troubled him so, supposedly written by an apostle, they presented a concept that was at odds with the rest of scriptural teaching.
He compared the text from the King James Authorized Version to the Latin Vulgate, and then the original Greek manuscripts. He wrote concerning this passage that it, “was neither in the ancient Versions nor in the Greek but was wholly unknown to the first churches, is most certain by an argument hinted above; namely that in all that vehement, universal, and lasting controversy about the Trinity in Jerome’s time, and both before and long enough after it, this text of the Three in Heaven was never thought of." He concluded that the text from 1 John was a false, later addition. He added further, that he believed the beginning of church apostasy could be traced to the corruption embodied in the trinitarian doctrine.
Scholars today agree that the passage from 1 John was a spurious addition that never appeared in the early Greek manuscripts. The text, likewise, was never quoted by any of the Greek fathers, who would surely have used it during the Nicene debates. Newton's instincts had been proven reliable, and he grew in time to detest the trinitarian doctrine for its corrupting influence on true teaching. To Newton, the Athanasian Creed (see Creeds) was a complete exercise in theological crookedness with its explicit statement of the trinitarian doctrine, a teaching contrived by men, after the time of the apostles.
It was risky to hold the beliefs that he did, and therefore, Newton kept it all quietly to himself. However, in 1669, at the age of 27, Newton was named to the Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics at Trinity College, in the Cambridge University system, a prestigious appointment recognizing his scientific contributions and potential. The problem was that all "fellows" of Cambridge were required to be ordained ministers of the Anglican church. Newton was not, and had a serious problem of conscience on issues of Anglican doctrine.
When he accepted the appointment, he promised to take the "holy orders" of ordination in the near future, but managed to postpone the rites for several years. Struggling with the dictate, he considered giving up the position, rather than acquiesce to the mandate of priestly ordination. There were other, less prestigious positions available, that didn't require the ordination. In 1675 he boldly applied to King Charles for special consideration. To his surprise, the king consented, granting the dispensation, and adding that all future holders of the chair be exempt from the holy orders. As head of the Church of England, Charles used his discretion to bend the imperatives of the church and the university in order to accommodate an extraordinary intellectual asset.
Newton was a believer in applied prophetic interpretation, writing lengthy commentaries on the books of Daniel and Revelation. He wrote, "If you now compare all with the Apocalyptic Visions, and particularly with the flight of the woman into the wilderness and the reign of the whore of Babylon, they will very much illustrate one another: for these visions are as plain as if it had been expressly said, that the true Church shall disappear, and in her stead an idolatrous church reign in the world.”
In the parable of the wheat and tares, Newton saw the corrupted Christian church which was allowed to stand until the harvest. Yeshua explained the meaning of the parable to His apostles:
"He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." - Matthew 13: 37-43
The history of the Christian church is lugubriously written in this parable. For Newton, the great apostasy was trinitarianism, and worshipping the Messiah as God was idolatry. By his studies of the earliest Greek and Latin scriptural manuscripts he was able to prove that words had been altered from the original texts to falsely support trinitarian teaching. Not only the passage from 1 John 5:7, but also 1 Timothy 3:16 which speaks of the Messiah and reads:
Here he proved that the simple false insertion of the word "God" completely altered the meaning of what was supposed to be inspired scripture. To Newton there was too much in the way of deliberate malfeasance on the part of the church in debating the greatest mysteries of church teaching. It wasn't until the 19th century that Bible publishers began to correct these passages.
Many wonder why he had not the nerve to publish his theological works in his lifetime. Perhaps because he had witnessed the treatment of his friend, William Whiston. Whiston had taken the position at Cambridge in 1701 as assistant to the renowned mathematician Isaac Newton. When Newton vacated the chair in 1703, Whiston assumed the professorship, and apparently some of his predecessor's radical religious views. Whiston was less discreet in his promotion of Arianism or anti-trinitarianism, denying the full divinity of Christ. He organized a society for the revival of primitive Christianity, or restorationism, holding meetings in his London home. In 1711 he lost his professorship due to his unpopular religious radicalism. He would formally quit the Anglican church in 1747.
Newton fell short of what was his ultimate goal, to develop a theory of everything. He wanted to explain how everything was interrelated with everything else. From structures infinitesimally small to unimaginably large, encompassing both the physical and the spiritual realms. He was a world-famous scientific intellectual in his own day, the proverbial rock star. He was never persecuted for his blasphemous heresies, which he had kept well hidden until after his death. Because he disagreed completely with such fundamental aspects of Anglican doctrine, he remained a closet theologian. Yet on his deathbed, in 1727, he exposed his contempt for church theology by refusing the Anglican last rites.
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”
Bruno was a Dominican friar from Italy, born in 1548 in the kingdom of Naples. In addition to theology, his intellectual interests included philosophy, mathematics, and cosmology. He became known for his cosmological theories that took the Copernican baton and ran with it in ways that may have been more intuitive than based on sound scientific observation.
Most of Europe's educated, including the Catholic clergy, had rejected the Copernican theory of a heliocentric universe, holding fast, instead, to the Aristotelian geocentric model, which placed the Earth at the center, with all heavenly bodies revolving around it. The transcendent God resided outside the visible universe, and from His motionless heavenly realm He was the prime mover and first cause, controlling the movement of the fixed background of stars. The visible planets were fixed to crystalline spheres, which allowed for their motion. Very few astronomers of Bruno's time were willing to challenge accepted Aristotelian norms, but Bruno would.
He completed his studies as a novitiate and was ordained as a priest in 1572 at the age of 24. He had developed a taste for free thinking and banned books, including the writings of Desiderius Erasmus, which would provide fuel for the inquisitors later. Still, he was able to remain within the monastic system for a time, until brothers began to take notice of some of his
peculiar ways and actions. Twice he was accused of throwing away "graven images" of the saints, but while such an offence might be tolerated, suspicions would get serious over time. He found this out when he was accused of defending the Arian heresy of anti-trinitarianism, and there is nothing more likely to provoke the passions of the superiors. When he learned formal charges were being prepared against him with the inquisitors, he left the monastic habit behind and fled Naples.
He went through a personal period characterized as "wandering," though this period became his most productive. He wound up in Geneva in 1579 where he adopted new clothing so that he would no longer be recognized as a priest. Yet, while he never showed any real interest in Calvin's new communion, he remained for a while in Geneva because he found an element of liberty and safety.
However, after publicly criticizing a respected Calvinist professor, and being stubbornly unapologetic, he was forced to leave the city. From there, he went to France, settling for a time in Toulouse, where he completed his doctorate in theology. Around this time he was beginning to gain fame for his extraordinary memory. However, when religious conflict broke out between the Catholics and Protestants around Toulouse, he retreated to Paris.
After a time in Paris, he moved to England as the guest of the French ambassador. There, he lectured at Oxford, where he sought a teaching position, but was denied. His controversial views and assertive manners began to erode the support he had been enjoying. Notably, George Abbot, who would later become
the Archbishop of Canterbury, mocked Bruno for endorsing the opinions of Copernicus and heliocentrism. Yet, controversy aside, while he was in England, Bruno was able to publish some of his most important works, including a number of cosmological writings, and he put forth the preposterous idea that the universe was infinite, and that it had no center. In 1585, after the French embassy in London was attacked by a mob, he was caught up in a tense political predicament, prompting him to leave London for Paris, along with the ambassador.
He was not in Paris for long, as his tactless expressions of criticism down-shifted him quickly out of favor with colleagues in the scientific community. He moved to Germany. He was allowed to teach "Aristotle" at Wittenberg for a couple of years, but soon felt the ill will of his peers, ultimately being excommunicated by the Lutherans. In 1591 he was invited to Venice by a wealthy patrician named Mocenigo who desired instruction in the art of memory. He knew returning to Italy would involve an element of risk, however, Venice, at the time, was considered the most liberal state in Italy, he believed he would find a safe haven from the inquisition. Thus, Italy's prodigal son returned home - a fatal error in judgment.
In short order, his abrasive manners predictably provoked the anger of Mocenigo, who denounced him to the Venetian inquisition, and Bruno was arrested in May of 1592. He was transferred to the custody of the Roman inquisition in 1593. In Rome, he was kept in confinement for the duration of his trial, which lasted seven years. Some of the documents related to his trial have been lost, but enough have been saved for scholars to piece together a rough outline of the proceedings.
Based on his writings and eye witness accounts, he would have been charged with holding opinions contrary to Catholic teaching, and speaking against it. Speaking against the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the incarnation. Holding opinions that denied the immaculate conception of Mary, the mother of God, and speaking against both transubstantiation, and the Mass. These charges were essentially derived from Catholic concerns of Protestant heresy, which the Church at this time was working to suppress with extreme prejudice. But in the case of Bruno, there were even deeper layers of offense. These involved his outlandish cosmological theories, such as his claims of the existence of a plurality of worlds and their eternity. There were also accusations of magic and divination, which were probably related to his reputation for possessing an extraordinary memory, which may have seemed "supernatural."
The trial was conducted by Cardinal Bellarmine, who insisted on a full recantation on all counts. While Bruno was willing to make some concessions on the basis of philosophy, but on other counts he would not budge. He was declared a heretic by the pope in January, 1600, and sentenced to death. He was reportedly hung upside down and naked, before being burned at the stake. His ashes were thrown into the Tiber River, and all his written works were placed on the index of banned books.
Among his theories, he postulated the definition of a "sun" as a celestial body that emitted its own light and heat, as opposed to the "earths," which move around the suns, receiving the light and heat from them. From this he deduced that all the visible stars in the heavens were in fact suns, and perhaps all of them included planetary systems. He also wrote that other planetary worlds, "have no less virtue nor a nature different from that of our Earth," and like Earth, may "contain animals and inhabitants." He believed that the endless, infinite universe consisted of a substance he called a pure air, or aether, which offered no resistance to the movement of heavenly bodies.
The Copernican theory of heliocentrism was not a religious heresy, and the silly speculations of "astronomers" were generally relegated to the dumping ground of harmless philosophical applesauce. His writings on these matters, while not heretical, contributed to his irritating unpopularity with church officials. His condemnation, instead, was made to rest upon his stubborn theological deviations from orthodoxy.
The Vatican has since expressed regret over the sad episode of Giordano Bruno, but nonetheless, defend his prosecution. The Vatican has pointed out that the inquisitors were perfectly justified in condemning him, and in recent years has offered a weak apology, stating, "regrettably, violence is sometimes committed in the service of truth." One might well ask, which Christian truth is served by violence?
the basic Aristotelian model of the universe
The Roman Catholic church, historically, had benevolently commissioned and supported astronomical observations, largely for very practical reasons. An accurate calendar was necessary, not only for agriculture, but for determining the holy days of the liturgical calendar. In the 16th century it had become all too obvious that the Julian calendar (adopted by the Romans in 45 BCE) was falling behind and drifting out of sync with solar observations.
The Spring equinox is a seasonal, solar event, and along with lunar observations is used to determine the date of Passover by the Jewish calendar. Thus, it is used by the church to calculate the date of the Sunday celebration of Easter. Due to the importance placed on the date of Easter (see - Easter), Pope Gregory XIII decided to call astronomers and mathematicians to the task of devising a new and more accurate calendar. The Julian was remarkably close to the actual length of a year, but even with leap years, would drift off by nearly a full day every 128 years. By 1582 the calendar had drifted 10 full days out of solar sync. Reform actually began during the reign of Pope Paul III, and included the welcome recommendations of the astronomer Clavius.
Gregory would ultimately order his new calendar into use in 1582, causing no small controversy. The Gregorian Calendar was slow to catch on, but would gradually become the accepted civil calendar in use throughout the world. Thus, the church's incorrect calculation for the dating of Easter was saved by astronomy and mathematics. The sound of angelic singing still rings through the heavens. (see - Easter)
Edwin Hubble - beyond our galaxy - raising some new questions
While Sir Isaac Newton stands tall in the grassy field of physics, when it comes to observational cosmology and extragalactic astronomy, the name that stands out is one Edwin Hubble. He was an American, born in 1889, and while it can be argued that he stood on the shoulders of others, his contributions to astronomy and our understanding of the universe are uncommonly extraordinary.
He never suffered any harassment from religious officials, and though he was raised as a Christian, his personal views concerning God and creation are unclear. He passed away in 1953, and was buried without a funeral, in a location kept secret by his wife.
He was a man of various impressive accomplishments, but he had held onto an interest in astronomy throughout his life. As it turned out, he lived and worked in a propitious period of time when telescopes were getting bigger and better, and astronomers could see further, higher, faster (to borrow a little from the USAF).
Science had long assumed the visible stars of the night sky, were the sum total of the universe, because they were all congregated neatly together in a single galaxy our ancient ancestors had dubbed the Milky Way. Hubble discovered that many objects previously thought to be clouds of dust and gas and classified as "nebulae," were actually other galaxies beyond the Milky Way. He opened a door into new realms of study, and the size of the known universe suddenly exploded.
What Hubble showed us is that the universe - what we know as the creation of God the Father - is so much larger than any human had ever even thought to imagine, that the distances alone are beyond the comprehension of a puny human brain, let alone the numbers of stars contained therein. Beyond comprehension. As is the Creator. Holy Guacamole, what a Creator.
But this exponential growth of the known universe also leads us into the questions always raised by atheists, agnostics, 'Coast to Coast' true believers, and others. With so many stars in so many galaxies, simple statistical analysis suggests 'x' number of habitable planets accommodating intelligent life. It's written in the laws of probability and statistics. However, the Laws of God routinely defy the laws of humans, including the laws of human mathematics, so who among us can say?
They say, God didn't create this enormous universe, just to put intelligent beings on this one little planet, orbiting this one little star, in this one little galaxy, in this one little corner of the universe, did he? If he did, what a waste of space! How do you answer that? There is, of course, the Humphrey Bogart paradigm, "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine." It was fate, but an accident of fate, or intelligently directed?
The Bible gives us so little in the way of clues, but there are a few things we can discern concerning creation and the creation of life in particular. After all, it seems stars and planets are quite common in the universe, but what about life? What we do know, it didn't start with the earth. The first born of creation was Yeshua, and through him all things were made. He was a spirit being residing in another universe we know almost nothing about. It is probably older than the physical universe we know. It is the realm of angels and various other 'spirit creatures'. It's a separate dimension, and it seems to be a Law of God, that one cannot pass between the spirit and physical dimensions without the permission of God the Father. He does allow it from time to time when it suits His purposes i.e. when angles deliver a message, or the miracle of the Messiah's carnal birth.
It's unclear if there is yet another dimension that might be referred to as 'Hell'. Maybe, or maybe it's metaphorical. We'll all find out soon enough. The pebble in the shoe, though, is that science cannot say what are the origins of life. The theory of evolution is so filled with holes, it's scientifically embarrassing, and even so, it side-steps the question of 'origins'. From the standpoint of simple human logic, life should not exist in the universe at all. The universe is an incredibly inhospitable place for life and living things. Yet, here we are.
when scientific discovery challenges the established religious view of God's creation
know your faith - grow your faith