Three hundred years before the birth of Christ, ancient teachers like Aristotle and Ptolemy taught that all of the celestial bodies of the heavens revolved around what was considered the entire universe, the earth. The Holy Roman Catholic Church adopted and held this viewpoint.
Cracks in the papal authority were formed in 1517, when Catholic cleric, Martin Luther, posted his Ninety-Five Theses, onto the entrance of the University of Wittenburgh. His primary disagreement with the church was its practices of selling of indulgences, and the unquestioned ability of the Pope to free lost souls from a purgatory state. No one before had so publicly challenged the church’s authority as Luther did. This, the very beginning of the Protestant Reformation, inspired others to re-think papal wisdom on not only faith but the disciplines of the natural world as called for in scripture.
“Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'” Genesis 1:28
Polish astronomer and Christian, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), challenged the accepted belief of the church by asserting that the earth and the other celestial planets revolved around the sun. This was no small matter, for those who crossed the church faced possible excommunication, persecution or even death. Holding to his Christian belief that it “..was my loving duty to seek the truth in all things, in so far as God has granted that to human reason” he put his thoughts into writing and made them public shortly before his death. The church naturally rejected it. It wouldn’t be until the time of Galileo (1564-1642) that Copernicus received his rightful due of credit for his revolutionary deduction on the matter.
Unfortunately, 400 years after coming to this understanding of the correct mechanics of our solar system, what became known as the Copernicus Principle or The Principle of Mediocrity (hereinafter referred to as “the Copernicus Principle”) lead many to believe that the earth was no longer special. The reasoning was based on the assumption that since the creator’s earth was no longer the center of everything then it must be just another insignificant orb, like all the others seen in the heavens. Its relationship to the other planets in our solar system, in the galaxy and even the universe relegated it to being of no special significance.
In the early 1920’s, astronomer Edwin Hubbell (1898-1953) looked through the eye piece of what was then the world’s largest telescope, as it pierced a California evening sky, to discover that the universe was composed of countless galaxies. What he saw made him conclude that the universe was expanding, further reinforcing the Copernicus Principle. His finding eventually lead to the next logical assumption: If the earth wasn’t a special place why couldn’t there be perhaps millions of planets with intelligent life that are searching the heavens to find out if they too were not alone in the universe? This question was reinforced by the popular media culture (books, magazines, movies and even television) late in the late 19th and through the first half of the 20th Century, eventually leading to the creation of SETI (the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) in the early 1960’s.
In February of 1990, as the Voyager spacecraft was about to permanently leave our solar system, it looked back and photographed the tiny speck of light which was the earth, sitting in a vast sea of space.
The late astronomer, Carl Sagan, commented on it:
“Because of the reflection of sunlight the Earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light, as if there were some special significance to this small world… Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.”
Coming from the scientifically trained mind of a person like Dr. Sagan, it’s a bit depressing isn’t it? Yet, what does Christ show us about the matter? What facts serve as evidence that should make us believe the earth is unique and special? If you haven’t already do visit the entries asking the general questions: Is the earth unique for scientific exploration, and by its existence alone?