Philosophy 167: Class 2 - Part 8 - Copernicus' Place in the History of Astronomy: In What Senses Did Copernicus Inaugurate a Revolution?.

Smith, George E. (George Edwin), 1938-


  • Synopsis: Reviews the challenge Copernicus posed to religious authority, and the dominant worldview.

    Opening line: "There were Copernican revolutions. The one revolution is a challenge to authority."

    Duration: 5:51 minutes.

    Segment: Class 2, Part 8.
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There were Copernican revolutions. The one revolution is a challenge to authority. And that ended up taking the authority of the Bible. And in the battle of Jericho, God stopping the sun. That is, there were Biblical texts that simply said, Copernicus can't be right. It became a challenge to that authority.
And that was a revolution at the time. Probably the greatest revolution was a revolution in worldview. If we're not in the center of things how important are we? There's a further conclusion I'll get to later. Copernicus is saying the stars are much, much further away than anybody has been thinking they are.
So that means not only are we not in the center. We're off center in a very tiny part of the universe. So in that regard I think of it, and we've got people in here are more authoritative than me. I think of a Copernican revolution in the view of world view of humanity that's comparable to the Darwin revolution.
That we're put in a totally different place than we were before in our own self image, and that was surely a major revolution there was a revolution in how little you could trust appearances. Because, and of course that's going to be reinforced profoundly three weeks from now, when we read Galileo's Starry Messenger.
And you look thru a telescope and realized the human eyes seeing a little tiny fraction of what you can see thru a telescope in the sky, but it started this thing of appearances cannot be trusted. You must have fairly complicated theory to work your way past appearances to any claims of truth.
Then there's a revolution in mathematical astronomy, but that's the least revolution there was. It was a revolution transforming transformation of colony that had been largely accomplished beforehand into a new mathematics, a heliocentrisim, but to an enormous extent old astronomy. I'll make that point. I've got two minutes before I wanna break.
This book, which I'll pass around, I put this on reserve too, a copy of this. Planetary Astronomy From The Renaissance To The Rise Of The Astrophysics. This starts not with Copernicus because he's considered not part of modern astronomy anymore. It starts with Tycho. And they say, at the beginning, Copernicus is now, really should be regarded, and the phrase Swerdlow and Neugebauer use in their book on Copernicus, he is the last of Marageh school of astronomers.
Maragheh is an observatory in Iran, set up by Tamerlane the Great. And Ibn al-Shatir was part of that complex. So the view is Copernicus's not even treated anymore as a modern astronomer as a consequence of all of this. He just didn't do that much to alter mathematical astronomy.
In the second half tonight I'll talk more about what he did. Now you asked the question and you implied a question of well why Coon is not that authoritative too, I have you read it, there's a second reason. Coon and I talked. I was the person he was talking to about his incomplete manuscript the last eight months of his life.
We differ profoundly about science. We once co-taught a course, and my approach is, science is evidence driven. And his approach is, evidence is probably the least important thing to science. That evidence constrains the formation of coherent world views. I look on scientific knowledge as far more local, far more precise than world views.
I look on world views as discreditable with out the science being very much affected. If he were in the room, he would start in a fairly loud voice, arguing with me about this and giving examples, and Copernicus is probably his best example. Of this, because Copernicus didn't do any new science in the certain sense.
What he did was do a recasting and a different world view of prior science. But that said, you'll get, can't help but get, my emphasis on evidence all through the two semesters of this course and so the other reason I gave you Coon to read is to give you some counteractive to me.
It is a view that just, Coon's view has come to dominant a great many people about science. And what science does is empirically constrain philosophy in so many words. We'll come to other people who say that later on. My whole career has in a way been trying to counteract Coon's view, for long before I got to know him, and I thought from the beginning, there's something deeply wrong about this.
Evidence is more important than he's saying, but the problem is the way evidence is presented. And you'll see this later tonight, the way evidence is presented in philosophy of science, you can't see it and that's why I started looking in detail in heavens. But any rate, that's why I gave you the Copernican Revolution.
It gives you a general picture. I only gave you parts of it too, you wanna read the parts about how it changed humanity, go read the rest of the book.