A More Perfect Heaven

When I was in school, a new Science unit would usually start off with some History talk. As in, say “We’ll be doing the Laws of Motion. That Newton was quite a character.” I liked it because it was like story time and you didn’t have to worry about scribbling down a bunch of equations. It’s been a while since I had to copy down a lot of Physics equations but I’m still fond of a good Science story.

I guess because I didn’t take a lot of Astronomy classes, I don’t remember much about Copernicus so Dava Sobel’s A More Perfect Heaven was all new to me. Or maybe I didn’t know much about him because his life was kind of boring. Okay, he did lots of stuff – he was a Catholic canon, a doctor and an astronomer – so that’s maybe unfair. But there aren’t stories about him getting burned at the stake or fighting dragons or anything. He didn’t publish his work till the end of his life mostly because he didn’t want to deal with the inevitable freakout a moving Earth would surely cause.

That freakout is at the end of the book, which is by far the most interesting part. It’s so hard to imagine the Earth orbiting the Sun as a shocking idea. Didn’t we all make model solar systems in elementary school? Doesn’t it seem so wholesome and uncontroversial? (Except for maybe that time Pluto got kicked out of the Planets Club.) Who would get out their Bible and argue that it isn’t so?

To be fair, I don’t think a moving Earth is obvious at all. It’s easy enough to accept when you’re young and impressionable and making papier mache planets, but if you had to convince me from scratch I might not believe you. I don’t think I’d accuse you of heresy and ban your book, but that’s just me. After all, I’m in the habit of asking Google things, not in the habit of trawling the Bible for obscure Astronomy references.

I couldn’t help thinking about Evolution. Like when I saw a quote from Kepler advising to “regard the Holy Spirit as a divine messenger and refrain from wantonly dragging Him into Physics class” my first thought was to swap Biology for Physics. And yet I know no one pushing for a heliocentric universe on religious grounds. Y’all, that sounds like progress! Maybe one day it will happen for Darwin too.

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2 Responses to A More Perfect Heaven

  1. I’m VERY fond of a science story, although I do not recall my own teachers telling us about that Newton fellow at the start of our units. In fact hardly ever! I didn’t even know the story about Galileo saying “Well, it DOES move” rebelliously (and apocryphally) until I read about it years later in some other book. LM Montgomery or someone.

    • I think our textbooks usually had a little history blurb at the beginning of the units. Maybe it was actually on the curriculum? (Never Math though, sadly. I would’ve totally listened to some Pythagoras stories.)

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