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Science & Religion

The First Paradigm: The Moving Earth

Peter Eyland, 02/09/06, Updated March 2014

The second paradigm is about does the Earth Move, or is it stationary.

Peter’s Slideshow on " Historical Christian responses to scientific paradigms: The Moving Earth"

This was recently given on the Pacific Princess cruise over the Pacific Ocean. (February 2014)

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Additional Information

The first paradigm is about the Bible’s reference to a flat unmovable Earth.
1 Chron 16:30, “the world stands firm, never to be moved”.
Ps 93:1 and 96:10 “the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved”.
Ps 104:5, “You set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be upended.”
These verses show that the Bible assumes and describes an immovable Earth.

Copernicus (1473 - 1543)


Copernicus’ original manuscript Commentariolus was written in 1512. In 1540, Copernicus published a work titled Narratio Prima, which asserted that the earth rotated on its axis once daily and traveled around the sun once yearly. Commentariolus, and De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium were published in 1543. De Revolutionibus, was placed on the Index of forbidden books in 1616 and only removed in 1835.

The idea that the Earth moved was seen as contradicting the Bible’s stationary Earth. Both Luther and Calvin rejected the Copernican system as heretical.

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Martin Luther

Anthony Lauterbach, who dined with the Luthers, quotes the conversation pertaining to Copernicus: “There was mention of a certain astrologer who wanted to prove that the earth moves and not the sky, the sun, and the moon. This would be as if somebody were riding on a cart or in a ship and imagined that he was standing still while the earth and the trees were moving. [Luther remarked] "So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing that others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth [Jos. 10:12]."

Theodore G. Tappert, editor and translator, "Table Talk," Luther's Works, Vol. 54, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967, pp. 358-359.

John Calvin (1509-1564)

John Calvin

Calvin wrote: "Those who assert that 'the earth moves and turns'...[are] motivated by 'a spirit of bitterness, contradiction, and faultfinding;' possessed by the devil, they aimed 'to pervert the order of nature.'"
John Calvin, sermon no. 8 on 1st Corinthians, 677, cited in John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait by William J. Bouwsma (Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), A. 72
He also wrote: "The heavens revolve daily, and, immense as is their fabric, and inconceivable the speed of their revolutions, we experience no impact -- no disturbance in the harmony of their motion. The sun, though varying its course every diurnal revolution, returns annually to the same point. The planets, in all their wandering, maintain their respective positions. How could the earth hang suspended in the air were it not upheld by God's hand? (Job 26:7) By what means could it [the earth] maintain itself unmoved, while the heavens above are in constant rapid motion! Did not its Divine Maker fix and establish it? Accordingly the particle, aph, denoting emphasis, is introduced -- YES, he has established it."
John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Psalm 93, verse 1, trans., James Anderson, Eerdman's, 1949, Vol.4, p.7

Galileo (1564 - 1642)


Galileo argued convincingly for the Copernican view that the Earth did move. Christianity (both Protestant and Catholic) at first strongly opposed him. They wanted concordance between scientific and Bible descriptions of the Earth, in fact they saw their very salvation as dependent on it.

Cardinal Bellarmine 1615, argued for concordance during the trial of Galileo:  "To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus Christ was not born of a virgin."
Richard Blackwell, Galileo, Bellarmine and the Bible, 1991

Galileo's response was to cite Cardinal Baronius (1598): "The Bible was written to show us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."
Stillman Drake, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo

Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon (1561–1626) abandoned the idea of concordance by his reference to ‘two books’ – The book of God’s Word and The book of God’s Works. He said that it is possible to hold faith in God and the Bible for matters of the spirit and soul, and at the same time have faith in science for matters of this physical world.
He wrote: "Some of the moderns have indulged this folly with such consummate inconsiderateness, that they have endeavored to build a system of natural philosophy on the first chapter of Genesis, the book of Job, and the other parts of Scripture, seeking thus the dead amongst the living."
Novum Organum, book i, Aphorism LXI. Great Books of the Western World, 28:114.

Christians have generally responded since then by accepting the two books explanation. Scientists of various Christian persuasions became enthusiastic about uncovering the wisdom of God in Nature. The idea was that science and theology give different kinds of insights into the same things. Science answered how things work i.e. it explained the mechanisms of the cosmos, and the Bible answered why things are as they are, i.e. it gave meaning and purpose.

Thus began the age of such Christian professing scientists as Hooke, Boyle, Pascal, Newton, Leibniz, Faraday, Maxwell, and Ampere.  They were inspired by the idea of a rational universe controlled by a single God who did not act upon whim, or caprice, but within the natural laws that he had set in operation. They were all key players in bringing about the scientific revolution.

Other Christian professing scientists include Babbage, Becquerel, Johann Bernoulli, Bessel, Biot, George Boole, Bragg, Jacques Cassini, John D. Cockcroft, Compton, Coulomb, John Dalton, Humphry Davy, Augustus De Morgan, Descartes, Eddington, Euler, Alexander Fleming, Foucault, Fraunhofer, Fresnel, Galvani, Gauss, Gibbs, Gilbert, Edmund Halley, William Harvey, Herschel, Heinrich Hertz, Huygens, James Jeans, Edward Jenner, Joule, Carl Linnaeus, Lister, Gregor Mendel, Georg Mohr, de Moivre, Morley, Napier, Olbers, Pasteur, Jean Picard, Henry Norris Russell, Rutherford, Stokes, Rayleigh, J. J. Thomson, Torricelli, Venn, Vernier, Vesalius, Volta, William Whewell, and Thomas Young.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)


Alexander Pope summed up the spirit of the age:
"Nature, and Nature's Laws lay hid in Night.
God said, 'Let Newton be!' and all was Light."

The mechanistic triumphs of 17th century natural science generally grouped Christians into being Deists and Theists.


Deism is belief in a deity who wound up the universe like a cosmic clock and just set it going according to his unchanging natural laws. God's care was expressed in ordinary natural processes rather than through one who would intervene in nature to save an individual sinner. Order and a tangible, consistent way of viewing nature and society were the preferred position.

Deism seems to have been first developed by Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648).
In De Veritate (1624) he has "Five Articles":
• Belief in the existence of a single supreme God.
• Humanity's duty to revere God
• Linkage of worship with practical morality
• God will forgive us if we repent and abandon our sins
• Good works will be rewarded (and punishment for evil) both in life and after death.

A number of American revolutionaries were Deists, e.g. John Quincy Adams, Ethan Allen, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, possibly George Washington, Thomas Paine (who published The Age of Reason, a treatise that helped to popularise deism throughout America and Europe).


Theism emphasises God’s immanence, i.e. his involvement with creation. God was not seen as remote but continually upholding his laws to be the natural cause of events, but not confined by his laws. That is, he had freedom to tinker when necessary.
Typically in this time, low-church Anglicans were Deist and the high-church Anglicans were theist. John Wesley presents an interesting case because he sided with the high church on science.

John Wesley (1703-1791)

John Wesley required his following of preachers to read like his Oxford students did. He asked them to read Euclid’s Mathematics, and challenging scientific material like Newton’s Principia and Optics. His advice was that to read only the Bible was “rank enthusiasm.” Wesley counseled his preachers that they should read science books at least 5 out of every 24 hours — or else, simply “get out of the ministry.”
Shaun Henson

Wesley not only read in the sciences but also did his own experiments. Wesley was impressed by the fact that the natural world ... from dust to man ... could be arranged in a gradation of infinitesimally different organisms. This idea of a Chain of Being, was held by a long line of thinkers from Aristotle to John Locke, and has been viewed as a precursor to the concept of evolution.
John Hedley Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 175-176.

Wesley linked scripture and nature in a non-confrontational way emphasizing the values and limits of each mode of God's revelation. This attitude characterized 19th century Methodism, which remained friendly toward science even with the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species (1859).

Wesley felt that scripture did not provide a scientific account of nature: "the inspired penman in this history [Genesis]...[wrote] for the Jews first and calculating his narratives for  the infant state of the church, describes things by their outward sensible appearances,  and leaves us, by further discoveries of the divine light, to be led into the  understanding of the mysteries couched under them."
Wesley's Notes on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Francis Asbury Press, 1987), p. 25.

His comment on Gen. 1:3 notes, "He made the stars also, which were spoken of only in general, for the Scriptures were written not to gratify our curiosity but to lead us to God".
Wesley's Notes on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Francis Asbury Press, 1987), p. 25.

Yet he happily noted, "I was strengthened in the belief of the holy word, which had so great congruity with these [scientific] truths."
John Wesley, A Survey of the Wisdom of God in the Creation: or, A Compendium of Natural Philosophy, 3rd ed. (London: J. Fry and Co., 1777), 2:463.

Deism and Theism had effectively replaced concordance. The laws of nature were now God’s laws. Law and order was not only confined to the sphere of science, even the hymns reflected that social ideal.
Cecil Frances Alexander (1818 – 1895) wrote in her "All things bright and beautiful"
“The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.”

Summary 1st Paradigm

Mainstream Christianity generally accepted a moving Earth.
Wesley and others linked scripture and nature in a non-confrontational way emphasizing the values and limits of each mode of God’s revelation.

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