In the year 1609 a man looked through a telescope and unleashed a revolution that would change the world forever. His name was Galileo Galilei. But how did this simple act of looking through a telescope unleash a revolution? Because Galileo Galilee was looking at the surface of the moon, and saw that it was full of craters and mountains. To you and I this is old news, but to Galileo and the people of his day it was a terrifying revolution. Galileo had grown up learning what everyone in his day “knew” to be “fact”. The earth was the changeable, imperfect, impure centre of an unchangeable, perfect and pure universe. And this universe spoke powerfully of God and humanity’s place in it. The earth was placed at the centre of the universe because humankind was at the centre of God’s concern. The various elements of the universe – the sun, moon and stars, existed for our benefit and ours alone. We were the focus of God’s unfathomable love. The heavens, being the creation of a pure, perfect and unchangeable God, were likewise pure, perfect and unchangeable. All that is, except the earth, which had become impure, imperfect and changeable as a result of human sin. Being at the centre of God’s concerns God had sent Christ to atone for our sin and reconcile us to himself.
But with one glance through his telescope Galileo’s view of the world was changed forever. The heavens were not perfect, pure and unchangeable and the earth was not the centre of the universe. Rather, the earth was a ball of mud floating through the vast, dark expanse of space. And so it raised the question. If we were not the physical centre of the universe, were we the centre of God’s love and purposes?
In the year Galileo died another great scientist, Isaac Newtown was born. Newton was the towering genius of his day, who demonstrated that the earth was part of an infinite universe governed by a variety of laws. These operated with mathematical certainty. If we knew those laws and the precise details of each circumstance we could accurately predict every event that would happen. Not just some events like the appearance of comets, but every event of the future. This seemed to make a miracle working, involved God impossible. God was removed from the ever-present helper to the Divine Watchmaker, who made the clock, then wound it up and let it go.
All however was not lost. Though we came to discover we were floating on a ball of mud through an infinite expanse of space governed by unmovable laws of nature, we take comfort that we human beings were created by God in 4004BC and created distinct from the animals to occupy a special place in his creation. But the comfort was ever so brief. For hot on the heels of Newtown came the geologist James Hutton and his argument that the earth’s shape was the result of tiny but continual changes taking place over aeons of time. Now we were not only a speck in space but a speck in time. Then came the final, dizzying blow to our sense of place, Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. We were not the special, unique creation of God but the distant descendents of prehistoric microbes and the cousin of the ape.
This has become the dominant story of our culture, the mental map by which we navigate life. We see the world around us that we can see and touch as what is truly real. We pursue the only logical goal in such a world – individual happiness – and believe we’ll find it solely in what we can see and touch – possessions, relationships, work, leisure.
Source: Scott Higgins