07-04-2004, 11:23 PM
Since someone posted about the Bible seeming to indicate a flat Earth, time for me to toss this question I've often wondered about. Many cultures have considered the sun to be a manifestation of god. It seems to me from a theologically aesthetic perspective to assume that what would be at the center of the universe is god. After all, god is the most important thing in the universe. Thus, would it not make sense to assume that the world revolved around god, and not the other way around? Given this, I'd have thought that at least some cultures would have believed in a Heliocentric universe.
[And, before someone points this out, YES I know Aristarchus in ancient Greece posited the idea of a Heliocentric universe C. 310 BCE. However, the idea never did catch on. Which somewhat surprises me, given if one assumes a heliocentric model it explains away neatly the retrograde motion of the planets.]
07-05-2004, 11:01 PM
Well, for starters, not every ancient culture had a physical cosmology linked to a mathematically complex model of astronomy involving circular motions. Greece, China (?), Sasanian Iran, and India are the only ones that occur to me off the top of my head, and they were all somewhat interrelated. (The Babylonians did have a very sophisticated mathematical astronomy, from which the abovementioned versions were to some extent derived, but we don't know what geometric models, if any, their astronomers associated with its computational devices.) So the issue of finding geometrically elegant solutions to problems like retrograde motion, say, is not as powerful or universal an incentive as you might think.
You're also probably somewhat biased by your early indoctrination in the reality of the heliocentric solar system, and you just don't dig how completely self-evident and indisputable the immobility of the earth appeared to most pre-modern cultures. Not having a model for phenomena like, say, frictional coupling in the Ekman layer of the atmosphere, most ancient scientists were convinced by their everyday physical intuition that the earth couldn't be whizzing around through the sky at superhuman speeds without stuff getting continually swept off it, which obviously doesn't happen.
The fifth-century Indian astronomer Aryabhata did adopt a cosmology involving the earth's daily rotation (although not its yearly revolution about the sun), but even his own followers generally disagreed with him and subscribed instead to the more common belief that the whole universe rotated about the earth. Using the same sort of physical-intuition arguments that were employed up through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by European opponents of heliocentrism, they objected that if the earth were really swooping around like that, then birds would be carried away from their nests, stones and arrows from their targets, etc. etc. etc.
In short: Ancient cultures did not believe in a heliocentric universe primarily because of the apparently overwhelming and incontrovertible physical evidence that the earth isn't moving. And geocentric models could be made to fit the observed data quite well enough for most purposes, so why postulate something as obviously counterintuitive and silly as heliocentrism?
It seems to me from a theologically aesthetic perspective to assume that what would be at the center of the universe is god. After all, god is the most important thing in the universe. Thus, would it not make sense to assume that the world revolved around god, and not the other way around?
This is exactly the sort of juiced-up Neoplatonist mysticism that Kepler, for example, used to defend his view of the heliocentric model. Like many other such grand theological aesthetic analogies, it proved very convincing to the already-convinced, but didn't strike most others as particularly plausible.
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