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Enlightenment Reading: Uniting the Heavens and theEarth

Since the dawn of time, many people around the world believed the heavens and the earth to be completely separate places, with separate laws. For many religions, the heavens we're a world of the gods, of perfection, and of immortality, while the earth was a land of mortality, change, and imperfection.

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Why would so many people across the world share the same belief? Because when they looked to the heavens, they saw proof of perfection, and proof of immortality. Even if things on earth we're not perfectly ordered, the heavens were. Even if things changed on earth all the time, the heavens we're always completely predictable. And even though things on earth died, this was not true in the heavens.

The heavens, then, we're proof that some kind of perfect, immortal substance existed. Because of this, astronomy and religion went hand in hand: what could be more important than studying the perfect order and perfect substances of the heavens and how they might affect human life?

However, around 1600, a scientist named Galileo began to disprove many of the ideas about the heavens being perfectly ordered. Before Galileo, Europeans assumed that all of the stars we're in different layers in the heavens, and that these layers rotated around each other. Galileo proved that the stars, rather than being in layers, we're scattered all over the place and we're very distant from each other.

More importantly, Galileo was able to prove that the paths that the stars and planets took across the sky we're not completely stable, but changed over time.Finally, with a telescope, he was able to view mountains on the moon, proving that the moon was not some kind of pure substance at all, but made of material just like the earth.When he turned his telescope on the sun, he viewed sunspots for the first time.Not even the sun was made of some kind of perfect, unchanging, immortal material.

These discoveries all had major religious significance.They caused people to question the idea that some kind of perfect, unchanging, immortal substance existed in the first place.Theories of the soul, and of the afterlife had been based on these ideas.If no immortal substances existed, did that mean there was no soul?Did the fact that the heavens we're not perfectly ordered after all mean that there was no divine plan?Galileos discoveries seemed to threaten the foundations of Christianity, and he was sentenced by the Inquisition to house arrest for the last ten years of his life.

However, scientists all across Europe continued to investigate the heavens. None was more important than Isaac Newton. Newtons discoveries completely erased the great distinction between the earth and the heavens. As Traditions and Encounters describes it, his Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy "united the heavens and the earth in a vast, cosmic system. He argued that the law of universal gravitation regulates the motions of bodies throughout the universe, and he offered precise mathematical explanations of the laws that govern movements of bodies on the earth." No longer could people believe that one system of laws governed the heavens, and another the earth.

Enlightenment thinkers, however, did not abandon religion. The Enlightenment gave rise to a type of religious belief called Deism. Most Enlightenment thinkers including most of the American Revolutionaries, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson we're deists. Deists believed in the existence of a god but denied the supernatural teachings of Christianity, such as Jesus' virgin birth and his resurrection. To the Deists the universe was an orderly realm. Deists held that a powerful god set the universe in motion and established natural laws that govern it, but did not take a personal interest in it's development or intervene in it's affairs. In a favorite simile of the deists, the god was like a watchmaker who did not need to interfere constantly in the workings of his creation, since it operated by itself according to rational and natural laws."

To some members of the church, the discoveries of Galileo and Newton seemed to threaten cherished religious ideas.But for the thinkers of the Enlightenment, these new scientific laws simply proved that God was indeed a perfect Creator.

 

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Posted in Churches/Faith/Religion Post Date 02/10/2017


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