Dinesh D Souza, The Greatness of Christianity: Table of Contents
Cf. Dinesh D’souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, at Amazon
“We will never know completely who we are until we understand why the universe is constructed in such a way that it contains living things.” —Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos
COPERNICUS IS DEAD. Yes, I know the famous astronomer died in 1543. That’s not what I mean. Nor do I mean that the Copernican theory—that the earth revolves around the sun, and not the other way around—is dead. But Copernicus’s heliocentric revolution was not merely a scientific revolution. It also became (in hands other than his) an intellectual revolution that denied that man has a special place in the cosmos. New discoveries, however, are reversing the lesson of Copernicus. We seem to live in a universe in which we do have a special position of importance. The latest scientific research shows that we apparently inhabit a world specifically crafted for us.
From leading atheists we see familiar expressions of the conventional wisdom about the Copernican revolution. In his recent book God: The Failed Hypothesis, physicist Victor Stenger writes, “It is hard to conclude that the universe was created with a special, cosmic purpose for humanity.” Physicist Steven Weinberg writes, “The human race has had to grow up a good deal in the last five hundred years to confront the fact that we just don’t count for much in the grand scheme of things.” Astronomer Carl Sagan invokes the Copernican revolution to challenge “our posturings, our imagined self- importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe.”
Although these are not scientific statements, they are invoked with the full authority of science. What we have here is a metaphysical narrative about science that shapes the way many scientists approach the world and the way in which our culture understands what science has demonstrated. The Copernican revolution can be understood as establishing the principle of mediocrity. This principle simply says that we human beings are nothing special. We inhabit a tiny insignificant planet in a relatively undistinguished galaxy in a distant suburb of an unimaginably vast universe.
The principle of mediocrity, derived from the Copernican revolution, has had profoundtheological implications. The heliocentric revolution was not revolutionary because it contradicted the claim of the Bible that the earth is at the center of the universe. The Bible makes no such claim. Nor did the medieval Christians believe that the earth occupies the most important place in creation. For Christians, no place can be more important than heaven. The earth was viewed as occupying an intermediate position, with the heavens above and hell below. This was the portrait of the cosmos that we find in Dante’s Divine Comedy. I mention this cosmology not to defend it, but rather to challenge the false presumption that Copernicus undermined some fundamental Christian doctrine of earth’s special place in the universe.
Yet in a deeper sense the religious worldview was threatened by the Copernican revolution. After all, it is a core belief of the major religions of the world—specifically Judaism, Christianity, and Islam— that man occupies a privileged status in God’s creation. The universe was, in this view, made with us in mind, perhaps even for our sake. How can these traditional beliefs be reconciled with the discovery that we live in a vast universe with numerous other planets, innumerable other galaxies, and hundreds of billions of stars, some of them so far away that they are completely burned out by the time their light reaches the earth? When we look through a telescope we feel the eerie emptiness of space and with it a hint of cosmic alienation. It’s hard to avoid the question: if man is so central to God’s purposes in nature, why do we live in such a marginal speck of real estate in such a big, indifferent universe?