Thursday, May 27, 2010

Copernicus's Sun Rises

On Saturday, May 22, 2010, Copernicus received a hero’s burial. . . . nearly 500 years after he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave, condemned by the Roman Catholic Church as a heretic.

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was the founder of the heliocentric theory – the belief (now substantiated) that the earth revolves around the sun. In his time, the Church held that Earth and its human inhabitants were at the center of the universe – that everything revolved around us. Let’s call that theory ‘terra-centric.’ We were God’s creation – the center, focal point and, surely, the purpose of all creation. So any statement that we were less than the center was blasphemy.

Last Saturday, after a several week tour, Copernicus’s casket, blessed with holy water, was ceremoniously placed in a cathedral tomb in Frombork, Poland. The local archbishop praised Copernicus for his hard work and scientific genius, while Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk, the Primate of Poland, said that he regretted the “excesses of zeal” that led the Church to brand Copernicus a heretic. After centuries in an unmarked grave, his remains are now identified by a black granite tombstone with six planets orbiting a golden sun.

Today, most of us accept that we are on a planet that, along with seven or eight others, revolves around the sun. And that our solar system is but one tiny component of a vast universe. So we tend to be a little smug about our superior understanding and to sneer at the 16th century’s orthodox folly.

But just how superior is that understanding? Sure, we’ve got the cosmos stuff down but, let’s admit it, most of us, at some level, believe that humans are indeed the whole point of creation. That we the people are the grand and final product of eons of protein development.

There’s a problem with that.

I looked it up: “Homocentrism is the attribution of Human qualities to non-human beings, such as God. A homocentric cosmology is one that holds that the Universe was created and fine tuned for the creation of our species in particular.”

If we are the whole point then it follows that everything else is here for our benefit. And we shall have dominion over everything else.

Frankly, that belief really screws things up.

If instead, we held that every component of the universe was of equal value – that it should be treated with equal respect, things might go a bit better.

In fact, if we started treating pelicans, trees, polar bears and reptiles as if they were essential components of the fabric of life – of which we are but one small element – the chances for the survival of all life would improve exponentially.

It’s worth a try. It doesn’t feel as though we have another 500 years to figure this out.

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