Seven days that changed the heavens

408 years ago today, Galileo’s discovery changed our understanding of the solar system forever.  His astronomical observations irrefutably confirmed the hypothesis formulated by Copernicus 100 years earlier that the Earth was not the centre of the solar system. This was an Earth-shattering discovery.

Between 7th and 13th January 1610, Galileo discovered and observed the four Moons orbiting Jupiter and put the nail in the coffin of 2000 years of Aristotelian cosmology.

The overweaning Roman Catholic regard for Aristotlian authority held up Christian theology and scientific progress for a long time.  The mold was broken by the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 16th century.

Copernicus was persuaded by Rheticus, a mathematician from the new Lutheran University of Wittenberg, where Luther introduced the European Reformation, to publish his early thoughts on the Sun being at the centre of the solar system.  Reluctantly, because of fears of papal reprisals, he finally published On the Revolution of the Heavens in 1543, his 70th year and the year of his death.

Copernicus was not the first with this hypothesis, and Aristarchus of Samos in Greece, living in the third century BC, is usually credited with being the first to advance the opinion that the Earth orbits the Sun.  Copernicus knew about Aristarchus’ opinion but it is difficult to prove if he was dependent upon him for the idea or not.  At least, Copernicus is credited with popularising and breaking the paradigm in European thought, just as Martin Luther broke through the religious paradigm in Roman Catholic Europe at the same time.

In the medieval world, Aristarchus’s Heliocentrism was not well-known—just as in our day biblical teaching is not well-known.  Long before Aristarchus of Samos, the prophet Isaiah in the 8th century BC told us that:

‘God sits above the circle of the Earth, Who stretches out the heavens as a curtain and spreads them out as a tent to dwell in’ Isa 40:22.

As far as written records can inform us, most people believed in terra firma in ancient times, that the Earth was fixed and immovable. Upon such an opinion the geocentric hypothesis had been developed and held sway for thousands of years.

One may wonder nowadays why intelligent people could not see that the heavens were not turning but that the Earth was turning. Possibly they did – but the significant point is who wrote it down?  Possibly Isaiah did, and he was probably not alone in thinking so.   It is common for people who are unfamiliar with the Bible to think that the ancient Hebrews were an unscientific people.  In fact, the most scientific book in the Bible is its oldest book, the book of Job, which is based in the Mesopotamian civilisation where the Babylonians were intimately involved in mathematics and astronomy. The Hebrews were not themselves involved in astronomy, which was often associated with false religion in those times, but this did not mean that they were ignorant and unscientific. The Hebrews had the book of Job as part of their Scriptures and had their own views of the natural heavens. Possibly Isaiah and his contemporaries understood that the Earth was revolving, and not the visible heavens.

Some academics know so little about the Bible, its teaching and its history that they repeat the academic mantra that Herodotus is ‘the father of history’.  As he lived in the 5th century BC, during whose lifetime the Hebrew Old Testament was being completed, this title suggests to the popular mind that the biblical narratives are not history, which is indeed the opinion of some academics.  However, this story will need to wait for another blogpost.

2 thoughts on “Seven days that changed the heavens

  1. Colin Mansfield

    Dear Donald,
    We seem to be living in a era of a “Scientific Papacy” where new concepts, new discoveries, new theories, are not allowed to interrupt the growth of mankind’s “Tree of Knowledge” that has been planted and left to grow, cultivated since Babylonian times.
    Earth spinning around the Sun was to be accompanied by burning at the stake: Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) insisted that the earth revolved around the sun, that there are infinite worlds inhabited by intelligent beings, and that the sun is essentially a star. For these and other beliefs, he was tried by the Inquisition, and burned as a heretic.
    Recantations under threat of torture, long-term home arrests (Galileo, for 10yrs to his death), and other threats, book-bannings were commonplace. Most new cosmological discoveries have to be tried and tested against a “fossilised tree” of knowledge where hangs the reputations of scientists past & present. If a new discovery contradicts the status quo of written knowledge in accepted books, then it can’t be good or useful, and hybrid shoots and suckling stems at the base of the trunk of the “tree o knowledge” have to be surgically removed forthwith.
    The new religion for the Humanists is Evolution & Cosmology by Chance, as opposed to Creationism & Theology by a benevolent God.
    Isaac Newton, a genius in his own days, was also guilty of extreme egotism, and carefully tended his own contributions to mankind’s tree of knowledge, not above stealing other scientists methodologies, and denouncing rivals (Hooke). Newton’s life and work in relation to his achievements was also guarded by his hostile arguments with such people as Robert Hooke, John Flamsteed – the first Astronomer Royal, and Gottfried Leibniz- the co-discoverer of the calculus. Although an astounding genius, Newton was a deeply flawed human being, what you could call a “scientific pope” and a religious heretic to boot as well.
    Even today, such egotism in cosmology is much defended, one can call to mind Prof Stephen Hawking and his battles against scientific newcomers, in order to preserve his own legacy on black-hole theories, the spinning plugholes where we will all be sucked into one day. His mantra: Oh to “know the Mind of God” ~ but a God he didn’t believe to exist anyway.
    Now we have to listen to the dismal world of Prof Brian Cox: everything is dying away, becoming grains of sand then turning to dust, the Universal Light flickers and goes out ~ everything diessssssssssss after trillions of years. Sad isn’t it? Well, Things can only get Better!
    But in reality it is the rotten branches of the tree of knowledge that need to be sawn off, perhaps even down at its lower trunk. God did that often, once with the Babylonian-Dream Kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:10-15, 19-22). Today, we now appear to live in a “Scientific- Cosmological Kingdom” who’s time has now come to fruition. Let’s shed some New Light on the matter and where the axe may fall.
    Interestingly enough in 1987, a Norman-Setterfield paper on “Light problems” was published, and another paper on light speed appeared, written by a Russian, V. S. Troitskii. Troitskii not only postulated that the speed of light had not been constant, but that light speed had originally been about 10^10 times (that’s 10 to the power of 10) faster than now. ~~~ What!!
    Since then, a multitude of papers on cosmology and the speed of light have shown up in journals and on the web. The theories abound as to what is changing, and in relation to what, and what the possible effects are. There is one person who is continuing to work with the data, however. As the storm around the 1987 report settled down, Barry Setterfield got back to work in Australia, investigating the data rather than playing around with pure theory. E=MC^2, might not be a safe branch for egotistical Einstein to perch on any longer.
    Meanwhile, halfway around the world from Australia, in Arizona, a respected astronomer named William Tifft was finding something strange going on with the redshift measurements of light from distant galaxies. It had been presumed that the shift toward the red end of the spectrum of light from these distant galaxies was due to a currently expanding universe, and the measurements should be seen as gradually but smoothly increasing as one went through space. That wasn’t what Tifft was finding. The measurements weren’t smooth. They jumped from one plateau to another. They were quantized, or came in quantities with distinct breaks in between them.
    When Tifft published his findings, astronomers were incredulous and dismissive. In the early 1990s in Scotland, two other astronomers decided to prove him wrong once and for all. Guthrie and Napier collected their own data and studied it. They ended up deciding Tifft was right. What was going on? Barry Setterfield read the material and studied the data. The universe could not be expanding if the red shift measurements were quantized. Expansion would not occur in fits and starts. So what did the red shift mean? While most others were simply denying the Tifft findings, Setterfield took a closer look. And it all started to make sense. The data was showing where the truth of the matter was. While many articles continued to be published regarding theoretical cosmologies, with little regard for much of the data available, Setterfield was more interested in the data anomalies.
    The “Scientific Papacy base in its Vatican at CERN, and from its Cathedrals of science elsewhere” moved quickly, and swung about to block this new heresy. Any new creed over the speed of Light must be stopped, but then large branches of the “Tree of Knowledge” are now beginning to sag, to go rotten & fall off, taking cherished reputations and erstwhile funding, with them.
    There is a reason that Setterfield’s work is not being referenced by mainstream scientists – or even looked at by most. If he is right about what the data are indicating, we are living in a very young universe. So we shouldn’t expect intergalactic messages coming from far-distant civilisations. This inevitable conclusion will never be accepted by “fossilised tree” standard science, as Evolution requires billions of years to sort itself out.
    by Colin Mansfield, FBCS.


    1. Donald


      I have Barry Setterfield’s 1987 paper “Atomic Constants, Light, and Time” and have placed a photocopy on my study door since then of his graph plotting the historical results showing the decay in the speed of light. His brief comment on this can be read here

      The history of the long debate about the decay in the speed of light, and Barry’s place in it, part of which you have inserted in your comment, can be read in context here:

      More comment can be found here:

      Setterfield’s work and Russell Humphreys’ “Starlight & Time: Solving the Puzzle of Distant Starlight in a Young Universe”, see
      are significant Christian contributions to cosmology.


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