Chapter two of the book by
SYLVIA LOUISE ENGDAHL,
known as :
THE PLANET-GIRDED SUNS.
But if that infinate suns we shall admit,
Then infinate worlds follow in reason right,
For every sun with planets must be fit,
And have some mark for his farr-shining shafts to hit. . . .
No serious man will count a reason slight
To prove them both, both fix'ed suns and stars
And centres all of several worlds by right;
For right it is that none a sun debarre
Of planets, which his just a due retinue are.
Historians do not know to what extent the growth of belief in other worlds was due to Bruno's influence. It is difficult to determine because when he was sentenced to burn, it was also decreed that his books should be burned, and people who belonged to the Catholoic Curch were forbidden to read them. Naturally, some hid copies and read them anyway, but they could scarcely quote from them approvingly in their own writings. Most protestants did not want to quote Bruno either, since they were equally opposed to many of the religious ideas he had expressed. The idea of an infinite universe filled with inhabited worlds flourished as part of Coperican astronomy; but as to just how it became a tenent of Copernicanism, there are mysterious gaps. Seventeenth-century writers who favored it treated it as a common idea that was already widely discussed.
It is frequently said that the discovery that the earth is not in the physical center of the universe was upsetting to people because they considered the center the place of greatest dignity. Scholars who have studied midieval beliefs in detail, however, point out that this is not true. The center was not thought to be in a position of honor by Aristotelians; it was the lowest place. It was the farthest from heaven and the closest to hell - in fact hell was presumed to be occupy the center.
Furthermore, the earth was supposed to be composed of elements inferior to those found in the celestial spheres surrounding it. Both Christian and Jewish philosophers wrote a great deal about how small, base and corrupt Earth was in comparison to those spheres. One of the things that angered people most about the new cosmology was its assertion that heavenly bodies themselves were imperfect. Galileo, in his first book about his telescopic discoveries, wrote, "We shall prove the earth to be a wondering body surpassing the moon in splendor, and not the sink of all dull refuse of the universe." Such statements were considered by some to be blasphemous.
Most modern historians, therefore feel that the Copernican theory was not a threat to man's dignity, at least not at first, Even the concept of the earth's motion served to suggest that Earth shared the "perfection" associated with the circles in which celestial bodies were thought to move. Nevertheless, the cosmology that developed from the Copernican theory - which was often called "the new philosophy" - did strike a blow to human pride. It did so by implying that man was not the center of the universe in a spiritual sense: in other words, that this world is not the only one of importance, and that the universe does not exist merely for man's benefit. In addition, it taught something much more frightening than the removal of Earth from the physical center of the universe. It taught that the universe has no center at all.
Bruno, and other philosophers who speculated about infinity, found the idea of no center frightening. The majority of people who tried to envision an infinite universe felt differently.They wanted a neat, orderly cosmos with a plan they could understand. They were deeply disturbed at the thought of space going on and on forever, with stars scattered here and there at unpredictable distances from each other. There are still people today who are frightened by the vastness of space; some of them think that if no clear pattern is apparent in it, then no pattern exixts. Some believe that such that such a universe reduces man to total insignificance. These feelings were far worse among seventeenth-century people, who were suddenly told that the arrangement of things was not as it had been pictured for countless generations. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal spoke for so many with his famous statement, "The eternal silence of these infinate spaces terrifies me."
Perhaps that was one reason the controversy about the new cosmology focused upon the theory of Copurnicus. Perhaps people did not like to talk about other things. The solar system was closer to home, and it was a less upsetting topic of debate. Moreover, it was obvious that if the earth was not a planet that revolved around the sun, none of those other issues would need to be raised. Whether or not this was the case (and there was no way of really knowing) the advocates of the "new philosophy" were called Copernicans although most of them believed things things Copernicus had never suggessted. Also, their opponants started to place more and more emphasis on the assertion that the movement of the earth was contrary to the Bible: an assertion that had rarely been taken seriously before the full implications of the Copernican theory were seen, However, not everyone interpreted the Bible in the same way, and many people felt it did not say anything with which Copernicanism did not fit.
The conflict between the old and new cosmologies should not be viewed as a conflict between religion and science. Many scientists were Aristolians, and they resisted Copernicanism because it was not compatible with the current theories of physics. On the other hand , the Copernicans believed that nothing found to be true could be contrary to religion; they considered truth about the arrangement of the universe as vital to religion itself as to astronomy.
Part of the trouble was that religion, in that era, was mixed up with politics. For more than a hundred years Catholics have fought against Protestants and Protestant sects had fought against each other. Anything that weakened the authority of an established church also endangered the kings who belonged to it. It was a turbulent time, and there were sincere theologians who felt that uneducated people would lose their faith if the church's teachings about the universe were allowed to be challanged. Especially they felt that it was the place of the church to decide what the Bible meant. One of the biggest issues between Catholics and Protestants concerned the right to interpret the Bible; when Copernican scientists like Galileo began to write thier own interpretations, they were attacking the church not with fact, but with scientific fact, but with competition in it's own field.
Their attack on orthodox physics was even more audacious. The Aristolian scientists argued that if if the earth moved there would be a wind strong enough to blow trees down, that birds could not fly fast enough to keep up, and that the world itself might be torn apart. There were also technical, mathmatical arguments backed by sound logic. The unproven assumptions demanded by the new cosmology seemed less justifiable than those of the old. For example, it was correctly reasoned that slight differences in the positions of the stars could be observed if the earth moved around the sun. Since no such differences could be measured, it had to be assumed that the stars were much farther away than had been thought, and therefore much larger. To many, these assumptions were unnecessary and unreasonable - more unreasonable than revolution of the sky. After all, mans senses proclaimed that the earth did stand still; there was no observational evidence that it did not. Nor was there any physical theory to explain its motions, or those of any other planet, what caused such motions what kept them regular? The Aristolians had a detailed explanation based on the crystal speres; the Copernicans, at first, could offer none.
The first scientific evidence for the fact that stars are suns, and that moons and planets are worlds, came in 1609 when Galileo first looked at heavenly bodies through a telescope. Galileo himself did not believe in worlds outside our solar system - at least he never said that he did. However, he was arrested by the Inquisition for teaching Copernican theory as fact, and unlike Bruno he did recant. He retracted his critisism of Aristolian cosmology. It has been suggested that his memory of Bruno's fate may have had something to do with this; but the two cases are not comparable. Galileo honestly agreed with the Catholic Church in most religious matters, and he was therefore in the position of having to choose between his religion and what the telescope showed. He knew that the telescopes evidence would not be affected by his denial of it. If Bruno had recanted, his ideas would have been discredited, since he had nothing but his own words to support them. That was not true of Galileo. People went on looking in telescopes, despite his recantation, and meanwhile he was able to complete other important work.
Galileo's book Dialogue Concerninjg the Two chief World Systems did a great deal to publicise Copernican ideas, perhaps more than it would have if it had not been banned. His greatest contribution to science was not that book, however, more significant was his role in developing a new theory of physics. Among the other seventeenth-century scientists most influential in the development of physics were Kepler, Descartes and Newton, of whom more will be said later. All these men believed in the existence of other inhabited worlds, but without their work as physicists and mathmaticians, their new philosophy would never have gained acceptance. Only by overcoming the valid objections of traditional science could Copernicanism advance.
As gradually. it did advance, the larger implications Bruno had seen took hold. These implications frightened people, yet at the same time facinated them. Not so long before, Columbus and other explorers had discovered a "New World" on the opposte side of the earth. The church had previously taught that there could be no inhabitants there, and had been forced to revise it's teachings, a fact that believers in plurality of worlds lost no oppurtunity to point out. If there were unknown lands in one place, why not in another? To the average man, who knew nothing of philosophers and their arguments, the idea of an "upside down" continent was scarcely less strange than that of a distant planet.
The old ways of viewing the world were too deeply shaken to be preserved. Though thoughtful people were disturbed by the revolutionary new cosmology, many were drawn to it despite their fears. Possibly some who voiced the loudest objections were the most attracted underneath; it is often so when traditions lose their power.
The traditional conception of the universe lost its power to symbolize religious faith. But faith itself was neither lost nor separated from astronomy. Soon, in fact, the idea of extrasolar worlds became a symbol of the wisdom and majesty of God.
* * *
That change, of course, did not take place overnight. The controversy lasted for many years, years during which steady progress was being made in astronomical science.
It was Johannes Kepler who first abandoned the assumption that all heavenly bodies move in perfect circles. His laws of planetary motion were a great advance. Kepler, however, did not accept the idea of an infinate universe without a center. he was convinced that the sun was the center, and to Galileo he wrote, "From none of the fixed stars can such a view of the universe be obtained as possible from the earth." He also wrote that he rejoiced that the telescope had not discovered any planets revolving around other stars, saying that this freed him from great fear that had gripped him when he first heard about Galileo's book.
Kepler referred to Bruno's belief in infinate worlds, "that dreadful philosophy." He meant, literally, that it filled him with dread, for his own theory of the universe was an orderly one based on a symbolic correspondence between the positions of the planets and geometrical shapes.
Yet kepler did not lack mental daring. He not only believed that the moon and planets of our solar system were inhabited, but made the first suggestion that man would someday travel to those planets. "As somebody demonstrates the art of flying," he said in his letter to Galileo "settlers from our species of man will not be lacking . . . . Given ships or sails adapted to the breezes of heaven, there will be those who will not shrink from even that vast expanse . . . . Does God the Creator . . . . Lead mankind, like some growing youngster gradually approaching maturity, step by step from one age of knowledge to another? . . . How far has the knowledge of nature progressed, how much is left, and what may men of the future expect?"
One of ther best-known and earliest protests against the Catholic decree that Copernicanism could be taught only as a mathmatical calculating device was the Defense of Galileo by Thomas Campanella, who wrote it while confined in a dungeon. Campanella like Bruno, was a monk and had been accused of heresy; but his prison sentence was the result of involvment in political conspiracy. The church did not object to the publication of his book, which was a detailed, impartial analysis of the arguments on both sides of the question that pertained to religion.
(Not being a scientist, Campanella did not discuss the issue of physics.) In particular, he pointed out that past theologians had made statements supporting plurality of worlds, and supporting interpretations of the Bible that did not rule out motion of the earth or life on other planets. he did not say that he himself believe any aspects of the new cosmology, but he declared that it was a mistake to supress such ideas. His book was read and quoted for many years by educated men throughout Europe.
Two other influential books were written in 1638 and 1640 by John Wilkins, a Bishop of the church of England. They were titled The Discovery of a New World; or, a Discourse tending to prove that their may be another habitable World in the Moon, with a Discourse concerning the Possibility of s Passage thither, and A discourse concerning a New Planet; tending to prove that it is probable that our Earth is one of the Planets. These were long books discussing the religious objections to existance of other worlds in detail, as well as the possible nature of the moons inhabitants. the chapter headings give a good idea of the contents: they include, for instance, "That a plurality of worlds doth not contradict any principle of reason or faith;" "That the heavens do not consist of any such pure matter which can priviledge them from the like change and corruption as these inferior bodies are liable unto;" and even, "That it is possible for some of our posterity to find a conveyance to his other world' and if there be inhabitants there, to have commerce with them. "
In this last chapter Bishop Wilkins said, "I do seriously, and upon good grounds, affirm it possible to make a flying chariot, . . . the perfecting of such an invention would be of such excellent use, that it were enough not only to make a man famous, but the age also wherein he lives. For besides the the strange discoveries that it might occasion in this other world, it would be also of inconcieveable advantage for travelling, above any other conveyance that is now in use."
It may seem strange that he imagined moonships before plane and used for air travel as an afterthought. But science had not yet defined the difference between air and space. There was no real need of a "flying chariot" merely to get to the other side of the earth; only passage to another world demanded a means
of flight. And while such voyages were sometimes described in fiction, seventeenth-century science fiction was intended mainly as satire. Very few people shared Bishop Wilkins' optimism in regard to flight as an actual possibility.
((( (I will see if this posts and finish the chapter, please wait to post until after the second posting of this the second chapter if you will...thanks! ))))