Re-enchanting the world after Copernicus

Italian armillary sphere, by Joannes Paolo Ferreri, Rome, 1624. AST0634.

I have a friend who sometimes claims that “a lot of philosophers” call the Copernican Revolution “the second fall of man.” I’ve tried finding this identification and failed. I even used Yahoo! on my wife’s computer so the algorithms wouldn’t just keep giving me information about Númenor. It seems Google knows what I like.

Now, I started looking for this idea because the same fellow had shown me part of this super-long video by a flat-earther arguing that every arch built by our ancestors is actually a massive horseshoe electro-magnet. Likewise the domes. How else could our “primitive” ancestors have built these things? And why did our “primitive” ancestors put carved flowers in coffered ceilings when they seem to be purely decorative? Answer: Microwave emitters. And the baptistery beside the Duomo in Florence? Battery.

Yup.

Well.

I was a bit mentally exhausted after watching some of this video. The entire, insane journey is 5 hours long.

So I tried finding what on earth sources I could about any of this. Nothing credible. The closest to credible was a documentary called Principle — at least, if you watch the trailer. Turns out all the quotes from physicists are cherry-picked, and the quotes that are most important for the thesis presented by the film are by the filmmaker, not the famous names. All the scientists involved, as well as Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek: Voyager who read narration for the film reject the central thesis of the film, which is that Copernicus was wrong, and the cosmos is geocentric.

So, back to Copernicus and the “second fall of man.”

Until this event, I thought that flat-earthers were benign lunatics (round-earthers who are geocentric not being on my radar until now), and I was thankful for them for forcing us to rethink the evidence for the roundness of the earth and making us question our certainties. A little instability is good for us.

But now I see that not only is their science bad, not only is their logic flawed, but their theology is bad, too. I have a friend (not, to my knowledge, a believer) who likes to point out to me that belief in aliens and ghosts tends to lead to or stem from bad theology. So here.

We’ll stick to the geocentric problem.

What’s the bad theology? Simply put: If humans are God’s special creation made in His image and likeness, and if earth is the special staging ground for God’s particular interactions with the created order, this theological significance must have a parallel physical significance.

Now, I get it a little. The geocentric universe of Dante is beautiful and magnificent and glorious. It can easily point us to God and his own beauty, magnificence, and glory. The world since Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Descartes — it is disenchanted.

But to re-enchant the world does not require bad science.

Indeed, the vast conspiracies required for the world to be flat or the earth to be the centre of the universe and for all of modern science to be wrong on this point are untenable. It is much easier to believe that the geocentric universe is a view that made sense before modern instrumentation but has been discarded since then.

And as far as flat-earthers go, the flat earth has never been accepted by the majority of the educated, evidence for which is abundant (although it seems Tacitus might have thought it was — but Ovid seems not to…?). And as far as geocentrism, Ptolemy is not the only game out there; there were heliocentric views as well, even if a minority.

What the task of theologians, poets, novelists, preachers, and others involved in articulating the grand Christian vision of the universe is, is to show how this tiny, weak speck that orbits a sun orbiting the centre of a galaxy floating about in space is still deeply beloved by God.

Rather than undermining an enchanted universe, I would posit that modern science glorifies the God Who woos its inhabitants. If God were like a human, what are humans that He is mindful of us? (To paraphrase Psalm 8.) Consider the vast reaches of interstellar space! Think upon the images taken by the Hubble Telescope. God has some really cool stuff to occupy His time.

But good theology teaches us two things: a. God doesn’t exist in time. b. God made all that stuff. And of all the stuff He made, it seems that God likes humans best (although, if there are other rational beings out there, maybe He loves them just as much and has played out His own drama of love on their planet(s) as well).

Moreover, the theories of language and poetry and symbol and life articulated by the likes of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Owen Barfield, or the somewhat different tack of CS Lewis, or different yet again, JRR Tolkien — and, among the living, Malcolm Guite, these theories do not require a pre-modern cosmology for symbol to operate, for the universe to be sacramental, for God to be lurking behind every corner.

It is not Copernicus’ fault that we have lost our grasp of the enchantment of the universe.

It is our own.