by Bill Nugent
Desecrators of the Bible often point to the Copernican revolution in astronomy and the “Galileo Affair” of 1616 as a way to try to discredit the Bible. This article will show the folly of this line of criticism and prove once again that there’s no contradiction between the Bible and science.
Copernicus (original name: Nicolaus Koppernigk) lived from 1473-1543 and was a doctor of canon law. (Canon law is the body of laws concerning church doctrine and discipline.) He was also a brilliant mathematician and astronomer. Copernicus’ great contribution, which revolutionized astronomy, was to disprove the astronomical system of the ancient Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy (a.k.a. Claudius Ptolemaeus c. 90-168 AD).
Ptolemy taught that the earth was the center of the universe with the sun and planets revolving around it. Copernicus, in his bookDe Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestus published in 1543, described the earth as rotating on its axis and revolving around the sun with the sun being at the center.
Copernicus lived in obscurity, quietly attending to his church and civil government related duties. He delayed publishing his book for 36 years and received the published version as he lay on his deathbed. Copernicus’ book was largely ignored for many decades.
It remained for Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and the invention of the telescope to bring Copernicus’ system to the forefront. Galileo, in his defenses, attempted to show that the Bible confirmed Copernicus’ theory. (see Moyer& Cairns Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church page 156).
In spite of the fact that Galileo found biblical support for Copernicus’ view the Roman Catholic Church suppressed Copernicus’ book and also suppressed the teachings of Galileo in 1616. It should pointed out that the leading astronomers of the day also opposed Galileo.
In the present day we all know that Copernicus’ theory has been confirmed as scientifically accurate. Critics of the Bible have pointed to two passages, namely Psalm 19:4-6 and Ecclesiastes 1:5. These passages refer to the sun as rising, moving along a course and setting. Critics claim that this description is unscientific.
This attack on the truthfulness of the scriptures is quite easily rebutted. One way that the Bible is defended is to say that these passages are poetic, not to be taken literally and that everyone including scientists refers to the sun “rising” in the East.
To say that the sun “rises” is to use phenomenological language. In other words, from the perspective of someone standing on earth the sun appears to be rising. The phenomenon that we see is the sun rising. So we say that the sun rises even though we know full well that the sun only appears to be rising. Even scientists use phenomenological language. It should not surprise us that the Bible also uses phenomenological language.
I will do more than this simple “poetic” defense, however. From a strictly scientific, astronomical perspective the two Bible passages are accurate because the sun does indeed move to a small degree in relation to earth. Astronomers now know that the sun, being pulled by the gravitational force of the earth and the other planets, moves in a small orbit of its own.
When an object in space orbits around another object it is never the case that one object (the heavier) is perfectly still while the smaller object does all the moving. Objects in space alwaysrevolve around a common center of gravity that falls somewhere between the two objects! Additionally, Consider that the sun is also moving in its orbit around the Milky Way galaxy.
The sun does indeed move in a circuit or path just as the Bible says. The Bible is once again proven true in relation to science. God’s inspired book is scientifically accurate as we should expect it to be.