Saturday, April 5, 2014


More than eighteen centuries separate them with similar results. Although Aristarchus apparently wasn't charged with "impiety."

At the top Aristarchus of Samos lived about 310 BC to 230 BC. Below Galieo 1564-1642. Aristarchus had a theory of the solar system that put the sun at the center of the system with the earth revolving around it along with the other planets. For this theory, one Cleanthes, a Stoic, suggested that he be tried for "impiety." 

Copernicus may have known of Aristarchus' work. A citation appears in a manuscript of his work on the heavens but isn't in the final copy. Working from Copernicus and from his own observations Galileo also put the sun at the center of the solar system. And we all know how well that worked out for him. He tried to get around the Vatican's prohibition on publishing his work by writing a thinly disguised work of fiction. I loved an apologetic for the church who basically said "well the Vatican told him he couldn't publish." Arrrrrrrrgh!

"The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other." Nineteenth century English historian John Draper in his book Conflidt Between Religion and Science. The book was aimed mainly at the Catholic Church. The doctrine of Papal Infallibility had just been announced but he included conservative Islam and Protestantism in his criticisms. Two thousand years and nothing has really changed.  

It was another two hundred years, give or take a decade or two and the observations of William Herschel,1738-1822,  before there was enough evidence from actual stellar observations to begin to prove the theories of both Aristarchus and Galileo. Herschel was a great builder of telescopes. And at a time when they weren't housed in buildings. He did his work out in the open in foggy, boggy England. His largest had a reflecting mirror forty feet in diameter. 

Aristarchus had the original idea, but he didn't have the technology or the stellar observations made by his contemporaries that Herschel was able to compare with his own observations. The only way you can prove we're moving is to compare where we are now relative to certain close stars with where were say two thousand years ago. And there are still scientists and church men who refuse to acknowledge the evidence. As though living on a planet in an rather ordinary part of the galaxy makes us less than special. I don't know about "us" but as far as we know this is the only ball of dirt with living things on it. That makes our battered Mother Earth pretty damn special in my book. 

No comments: