Not the Center of the Universe; Not Even Close

Reality Bites

Reality Bites

The Bronze Age goat herders who wrote the Old Testament of the Bible thought that human kind were the center of the universe, that the sun and the stars spun around them and their little piece of the planet. The Old Testament God built the whole thing for them and them alone. Pretty recently, too.

The classsical Greek philosophers knew that was wrong, but at that date it wasn’t a religious war, folks weren’t commonly burnt at the stake for claiming otherwise.

But as Christianity and biblical literalism dominated Western Civilization, that world view became unquestionable. Just ask Galileo.

But it was wrong.

Eventually, the majority of the worlds religions came to accept that the earth and its sister planets orbited the sun. It was the solar system that was created uniquely for man.

Wrong again.

Less than a hundred years later, stars were recognized as suns, although the question of whether stars were solar systems was still undetermined. But at least God had created just one galaxy of stars, the Milky Way, as a home for human kind.

Wrong again.

Another hundred years and we knew for sure that there were galaxies beyond counting, each containing stars beyond counting. Our solar system circled one minor star in one insignificant arm of one galaxy among billions of galaxies. But at least God had only created one solar system, one group of planets.

Wrong again.

In just the last ten years or so, science has documented hundreds of stars with orbiting planets. So far, science hasn’t definitively confirmed any exoplanets in the “Goldilocks Zone,” the right size of planet the right distance from the right kind of star to support liquid water and life as we know it. Partly, that’s because of the limits of sensitivity of current equipment; partly it may be a relatively small sample size.

But only a a fool or a Christian literalist would bet we won’t.

WC wonders how much of the entrenched, willful ignorance in the United States is a product of the shock of discovering that, from the perspectice of the universe, humankind is utterly, utterly irrelevant? Is the stubborn, ignorant fundamentalism of religious sects really just a coping mechanism?