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?