Pearcey and Thaxton on Copernicanism and Supposed Anthropocentrism


In The Making of the Modern Mind historian John Herman Randall writes that the Copernican revolution “swept man out of his proud position as the central figure and end of the universe, and made him a tiny speck on a third-rate planet revolving abut a tenth-rate sun drifting in an endless cosmic ocean.” ¶ The implication is that Christians mobilized against Copernicanism to resist this shattering of their cozy cosmology, but the literature of the day does little to support this portrayal. It is true that medieval cosmology, adapted from Aristotelian philosophy, placed the earth at the center of the universe. But in medieval cosmology the center of the universe was not a place of special significance. Quite the contrary, it was the locus of evil. At the very center of the universe was Hell, then the earth, then (moving outwards from the center) the progressively nobler spheres of the heavens. ¶ In this scheme of things, humanity’s central location was no compliment, nor was its loss a demotion. In fact, in Copernicus’s own day a common objection to his theory was that it elevated man above his true station. In medieval cosmology, human significance was rooted not in the earth’s central location but in the regard God showed toward it. Hence, the idea that Copernican theory threatened the Christian teaching of human significance is an anachronism. It reads back into history the angst of our own age.