Kepler: Scripture vs Astronomy Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:06:56
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Johannes Kepler was one of the first natural philosophers that defended the design of the cosmos created by Nicolas Copernicus. Kepler argued that Copernicuss system of the universe was not only the correct structure that man had been searching for, but also that by knowing this, he was able to more fully understand the thinking of his Creator. In this paper I will demonstrate how Kepler was able to use Christian theological principles in order to connect the physics and astronomy that defined the Copernican cosmos. Kepler did not see a separation between science and religion; inversely, he believed that astronomers must always remember the divine goodness and wisdom of the Creator, and acknowledge the gift of more penetrating vision for man to discover what God has created.

Kepler was born on December 27,1571 in Wurtenburg, Germany to well known, but not wealthy family. As he grew up, his talents were recognized at a young age and he received a scholarship to the University of Tubingen in order to become a Lutheran minister (Donahue ix). During this time in the 16th century, all Lutherans were required to sign a statement of faith called the Formula of Concord, but Kepler was not able to bring himself to endorse this document (Barker 96). Because all Lutheran ministers were required to subscribe to the formula of Concord, Keplers brave decision changed his career path. The consequences of Keplers choice was to either become a Catholic, or flee the city and leave everything behind. In 1594, Kepler took an assignment of teaching high school mathematics in Styria, Austria (Barker 96). While teaching, he was able to begin researching and writing his first book, Mysterium Cosmographicum, which was published in 1596 (Donahue ix).

Keplers first book, translated to mean Sacred Mysteries of the Cosmos, drew the attention of a prominent astronomer of the time, Tycho Brahe. Impressed by Keplers knowledge, Tycho Brahe offered Kepler a job to come work for him. Eventually Kepler declined the job offer, but through Tycho, Kepler was able to meet Emperor Rudolf II and got the opportunity to create the astronomic tables, called the Rudolfic Tables. In 1601, Tycho unexpectedly died but while on his death bead, he sent a message to the emperor to ask for Kepler to be his replacement. With this new promotion, Kepler was able to move to Prague and take over Tychos observatory where he had access to state of the art observation equipment and could do great research. At this observatory, Kepler was able to write and publish several more books in which his greatest work came from his defense and additions to the Copernican system of the cosmos.

Kepler was the first major supported of the Copernican system, but yet what made him unique was the fundamental principles of his arguments were theologically based (Barker 89). Kepler believed that all other systems for the cosmos were incorrect because previous astronomers did not take into account the visual deception played on man when looking into the heavens. The most important advancement Kepler made to modern astronomy came through his first planetary law which stated Every planet travels around the sun in an elliptical orbit, with the sun at one focus. The moon, in the same way, travels in an ellipse round the earth (Russell 2). Kepler backed up this law by stating that astronomers before him were not able to recognize this due to their visual deception caused by a moving earth and plants around them. To solidify his point, Kepler relates the concept of visual deception to the scriptures when he states The Hole Scriptures speak with humans in a human manor, in order to be understood to them. This makes use of what is generally acknowledged, in order to weave in other things more lofty and divine (Donahue 19). This same concept applied to astronomy for Kepler.

He made the wise assumption that, when man has tried to observe the heavens, the actual truth of things is at odds with the senses (Donahue 18). Kepler also made several other connections to theology to form the basis o his astronomy and physics. One example comes in his introduction to his book Astronomia Nova when he alludes to the scripture Genesis 1:6. The content of this scripture deals with the celebration that the earth is the foundation of all things. Even though no one truly knows what the earth was created from, Kepler affirms that the earth and heavens were so brilliantly constructed that they have not been torn down, cracked apart, or fallen in throughout the test of time (Voelkel 15). In his writings, Kepler proposed the idea, that because the heavens seem so perfect, and move with such complexity and beauty, that the cosmos were literally an image of God (Barker 103). This formed to one of Keplers strongest arguments to persuade Christians into accepting Copernicans system, since no faithful Christian could describe the image of God, but yet everyone always desired to know.

Kepler made a strong case to convince Christians that Copernicans system was Gods true plan. By appealing to Christians through theology based physics and astronomy, it called on them to take a leap of faith, not only so they can understand the cosmos around them, but also so they could truly fathom the intricate workings and actual image of God all around them. What devout Christian would not desire this? Because of Keplers persuasive argument, it made Christians thirst for more knowledge of how this system works and how they could become closer to God.

Once Kepler established the theological foundations of his work, he further defended his Copernican system through physics and mathematics. Keplers major discovery for how the mathematics and physics of the Copernican system worked came to him in the middle of a lecture while still in his teaching career. One day when Kepler was teaching his students of the great conjunctions for the planets Saturn and Jupiter against the backdrop of the zodiac, Kepler realized this oddly resembled a series of triangles inscribed within the circle of the zodiac. Kepler immediately associated the inscribed circle and the zodiac circle with the gaps between celestial spheres in the Copernican system. He believed the boundaries of the celestial spheres were determined by geometrical figures of the 5 regular solids. Using the five regular solids (moving outward from the sun: octahedron, icosahedrons, dodecahedron, pyramid, cube), they filled the gaps in close agreement with the distances of the planets.

Although these geometrical objects were not meant to represent physical bodies, they worked perfectly in explaining how our Creator conceived the mathematics and distances of the planets. During the 16th century, many natural philosophers held the belief that math was the universal language instituted by God. Thus, Kepler determined that through the geometry he discovered, God planned to reveal his great design. When Kepler was question why God used geometrical solids as the basis for the plan of the world, Kepler answered that it was because the Creator benevolently wished to provide a means for his creatures to come to know his providential design (Barker 102). As Kepler stated I think that from the love of God towards mankind, many causes of things in the world may be deduced (Barker 102). Once again, Kepler was able to associate this physics and mathematics of the cosmos, back to theological principles.

Through his several books, Kepler brilliantly persuaded Christians to believe in the system he had developed. Even though not all of Keplers discoveries still stand as true today, his greatest achievement toward modern astronomy came through his innovative idea to place the sun as the center of the cosmos. Because Keplers arguments were religiously and theologically based, they were able to guarantee for Christians the laws of physics that made this system plausible. Although not all of Keplers discoveries were undeniably defined by todays standards, Kepler proved to Christians that he had discovered Gods providential plan for the cosmos and the laws that regulated the moving parts.

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