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One reason that early Christians stuck in the medieval mindset resisted the sun-centered model of the solar system was probably that they felt such a
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Why care that the earth is not the center of the universe?
Posted: 05 December 2006 01:58 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Maybe this isn’t such an interesting poll, but I was just curious wether there was anyone out there that thought that this was not a reasonably true statement.

By "Medieval mindset" I mean:
The mindset that the Earth is a sphere near the center of the universe, the other heavenly bodies existing within their own super-natural material spheres rotating around the earth and that this whole system was originally set into motion by the "primum mobile", or "Prime Mover" Who exists on an outermost sphere.

By "highly regarded" I specifically don’t mean ‘special’ in any scientific meaning of the word.

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Posted: 06 December 2006 02:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Well, the whole reason for believing in a personal God is that you believe humans are special, isn’t it?  “Created in God’s image” and so on.  That’s the only reason they still resist the theory of Evolution.  I’ve met quite a few Christians who don’t have any problem with evolution, until it comes to Human Evolution.  They have to believe we’re so special God had to specifically make us, “by hand” as it were.

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Posted: 06 December 2006 03:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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[quote author=“advocatus”]Well, the whole reason for believing in a personal God is that you believe humans are special, isn’t it?  “Created in God’s image” and so on.  That’s the only reason they still resist the theory of Evolution.  I’ve met quite a few Christians who don’t have any problem with evolution, until it comes to Human Evolution.  They have to believe we’re so special God had to specifically make us, “by hand” as it were.

One does have to point out that this is an odd position by their lights as well. I mean, who’s to say god didn’t just set things up so that humans evolved eventually?

Of course, you still have to explain all those extinctions, and the billions of years without us, and the trillions of planets without us, etc. ...

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Posted: 06 December 2006 10:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I accept that the early Christians probably believed that the movement of stars in the heavens communicated messages of personal importance, that they believed they were given dominion over the earth and it’s creatures, and that they did feel themselves to be important for so many reasons-

But I want to isolate this one issue: Do skeptics believe that one of the reasons early Christians thought themsleves to be highly regearded in the grand cosmic scheme of things was because the Earth was at center of universe?

I personally believe that this is a misconception held by skeptics and will explain why later.

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Posted: 06 December 2006 11:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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[quote author=“Riley”]Do skeptics believe that one of the reasons early Christians thought themsleves to be highly regearded in the grand cosmic scheme of things was because the Earth was at center of universe?

No, I expect it was the other way round. Early Christians (and people from other religions as well) tended to believe themselves the focus of cosmic concern; the fact that the earth appeared to be at the center of the cosmos was separate but convenient. Indeed, at that time it was not at all clear how large the cosmos was. For all they knew, much or most of spatial reality was earth. (And early—including medieval—Christians did not even believe the earth to be a sphere; this is a separate but crucial issue).

However, later Christians—let us say around the time of Galileo—did appear to believe that the earth’s location at the center of creation was doctrinally important in that (among other things) it clearly made us special in god’s eye.

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Posted: 08 December 2006 02:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I go along with Galileo—I mean, Doug.  They started with the idea that humans were the center of their conceptual universe, and then assumed that therefore the Earth must be in the center of the actual physical universe.

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Posted: 12 December 2006 02:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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[quote author=“advocatus”]They started with the idea that humans were the center of their conceptual universe, and then assumed that therefore the Earth must be in the center of the actual physical universe.

But technically, as far as they were concerned, the more exact center of their universe was Hell. As such, it would seem to me that being centered would not be a source of pride.

Also, from what I have read, very few educated people during even the early period of the Middle Ages, believed that the earth was flat. And most of the educated people in Europe at the time were members of Catholic institutions.

Here’s my understanding of what were the central Medieval Christian Mythology world views:
—————————————————————————————————————————-
1) Almost no one thought that the world was flat, but the paradigm was still an up and down approach to thinking about things. Philosophically, they weren’t thinking of themseves as being at the center so much as being at the bottom: Heaven was up near the top, and the earth was down near the bottom.

2) In place of a Newtonian theory of gravity, early Christians used an adapted Aristotilian explanation for “natural motion”. Natural motion was explained by the tendency for each element to strive to reach its allotted place in the universe, up and down along a heirarchical one dimensional continuum measured by degrees of “perfection”. The correct alloted place for each element was determined by each element’s relative “perfection”: with elements that were most perfect (regular, constant, ‘pure’) moving upward and elements that were least perfect (irregular, chaotic, ‘dirty’) moving downward.

3) This one dimensional continuum of the universe that ranged from perfection at one end and chaos on the other was stratified by concentric spheres. These spheres accounted for the entire universe. In the outermost spheres existed things and beings of perfection - this was the place to be, in the presense of God at the “center of it all” in the sense that most mattered. As you travelled further toward the center spheres, things and beings became more and more dis-ordered and unpleasant - at the very very center, existed demons and devils: hell.

—————————————————————————————————-
Being near the center (or bottom) of the universe was not a source of pride, it was a source of shame and self loathing - an explaination for all the sufffering and misery in the world.
—————————————————————————————————-

As such, I don’t believe that the Christians who fought against the sun-centered universe model did so for any reason having to do with feeling that such a model knocked them off a pedestal where they were highly regarded. I think their ojections were a matter of politics, resistance to backing off their literal interpretation of the Bible, along with a lot of other difficult to accept notions that came along with the sun-centered model (if we’re turning corners around the sun at such great speeds, why don’t we fly off of the earth? Why don’t we feel a wind from this movement? How do you explain the moon not falling to the earth? etc. - all reasonabe questions I think).

No doubt Christians thought themselves to hold a special role in God’s creation for many other reasons, but that thought I believe had nothing to do with being near the center of the universe.


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Posted: 12 December 2006 03:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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The natural (not “supernatural”) explaination predominant among Medieval thinkers (hundreds of years before Gallileo) built upon the Aristotelian concept of “Natural Motion” to explain upward and downward forces. My reading of the idea behind Natural Motion is that it conflated the forces of gravity and forces of buoyancy into one force: the “natural motion” force.

“Natural Motion” was explained by the buoyancy of the fundamental elements of the cosmos. Such elements sank(fell) or floated to their proper places in the cosmos relative to one another: wood for example that floats in water, floats because it’s a mixture of air and earth, where air is the dominant element. If every element in the cosmos were to seperate into its pure form and settle into its proper place, the universe would be made up of layered concentric spheres of: earth, water, air, fire, and the unidentified elements of the moon (the moon didn’t fall because it wasn’t made of the same elements found on the Earth - and so it floated on the air above the earth), the sun, and the stars (if in fact the stars weren’t just holes in the substance of one of the outer spheres).

So their logically reasoned explaination for why the moon and the stars where “up there” and the earth and water “down here” was merely an extention of their observation that rocks sank and smoke rose-up through the air - for them, it was air pressure all the way up to the sun and the stars! So, if the moon didn’t sink, it must not be made of rocks, or water or any of the other terrestrial elements. Obviously, otherwise it would have sank down here!

Sinking and floating was the explaination for the vertical position of everything in the cosmos.

In this sense, earth’s position nearer to the bottom-end on the spectrum of cosmic elements was for them not unlike red’s position near the left-end on the spectrum of visible light. Nothing special about it.

—Riley

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Posted: 12 December 2006 03:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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This is a very, very complex issue. Part of the problem has to do with who we are talking about. “Early Christians”, by which I take us to mean, say, 2nd to 10th c. CE, did not know much about Aristotle. Most of Aristotle didn’t exist in Latin until the great translations around 11th-13th c. CE.

In the earlier period I don’t believe there was much of a coherent cosmology; most scholarship was basically biblical in nature. The Bible was read to establish a flat, stable earth with “heavens” that were a solid “firmament” above, resting on “pillars” (Job 9:6)

For a good run-down of this sort of early Christian cosmology, see HERE .

So far as I know, there was no real accompanying notion of the location of hell. Traditionally it may well be that people located it underground, especially since that was where lava, steam vents and volcanoes came from. But I don’t believe there is anything particularly biblical about that particular cosmology, so it wouldn’t be the sort of thing that was very well established.

Aristotle believed in five elements: earth, air, fire, water and aether. Each had its particular location or home, and its particular direction of motion. Earth is the heaviest, so sat at the bottom. Water was lighter. Both earth and water had a downward direction of motion. Air was lighter than earth or water. Fire had its place of abode up in the heavens, its motion is upwards, so when you see a flame going upwards, that is the fire rising up to join its home in the sun and stars (including the Moon, which would have been a fiery element on the aether). The fifth element, aether or the “quintessence”, was the firmament upon which the stars rotated. It had a circular direction of motion.

However, Aristotle didn’t have any particular opinion as to the location of “heaven” or “hell”, since he didn’t believe such places existed.

Once these Aristotelian (and Ptolemaic) cosmological notions were translated into Latin in the 11th-13th c. CE, they became incorporated into Christian cosmologies, by the medieval philosophers and theologians like Thomas Aquinas. What resulted was a good deal more sophisticated than “early Christian” teachings, although still without much in the way of experimental verification.

So it depends which early Christians we are talking about ...

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Posted: 12 December 2006 05:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Doug,

Take a look at this Wikipedia “flat-earth” reference and tell me what you think. It states among other things:

[...]The dominant textbooks of the Early Middle Ages supported the sphericity of the Earth. For example: many early medieval manuscripts of Macrobius include maps of the Earth, including the antipodes, zonal maps showing the Ptolemaic climates derived from the concept of a spherical Earth and a diagram showing the Earth (labeled as globus terrae, the sphere of the Earth) at the center of the hierarchically ordered planetary spheres.

Thanks for correcting me on my dates concerining the introduction of the Aristotilian cosmology.

—Riey

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Posted: 12 December 2006 07:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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[quote author=“Riley”]Take a look at this Wikipedia “flast-earth” reference and tell me what you think.

Good info, thanks. It’s been a number of years since my coursework on medieval science ...

My understanding is that there was some conflict both in the early church and the early middle ages about the shape of the earth—that some believed it flat and others not. The info on Wikipedia shows that the belief in a flat earth was really confined to Christians in the “ early church ” period (4th-6th c. CE), with people like Lacantius, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom, Diodorus of Tarsus, Severian, and Cosmas Indicopleustes. It appears to be a minority opinion in the early middle ages already.

What might be interesting to know about is how the idea of the spherical earth was established, given the lack of translations from the greek natural philosophers. In particular, the ideas would likely have come from Ptolemy, and yet, if we look HERE , for example, we find that Ptolemy’s famous Almagest was “only made available in Latin translation (by Gerard of Cremona) in the 12th century.” As for Ptolemy’s Geographia, “The maps in surviving manuscripts of Ptolemy’s Geographia, however, date only from about 1300, after the text was rediscovered by Maximus Planudes.”

So it seems that Ptolemy’s major works remained untranslated into Latin until the 12th c. at the earliest. Presumably, his ideas must have come through secondary sources; that is, from Latin writers of late antiquity like Macrobius, 4th-5th c. CE (in his commentary on the Dream of Scipio):

[quote author=“Wikipedia”] [M]any early medieval manuscripts of Macrobius include maps of the Earth, including the antipodes, zonal maps showing the Ptolemaic climates derived from the concept of a spherical Earth and a diagram showing the Earth (labeled as globus terrae, the sphere of the Earth) at the center of the hierarchically ordered planetary spheres.

One might assume that Macrobius did not have access to the original greek texts of Ptolemy, but was working with secondary or even tertiary sources. At any rate, he appears to have been writing at the same time or after many of the flat-earth early Christians that I cited above.

This just demonstrates the confusion in the period of late antiquity/early church/early middle ages, where there were many differing opinions about such subjects, and likely relatively little communication between far-flung monks and scholars.

But at this point the work probably needs to be done by a professional historian ...

(NB: in none of these sources does it appear there is any mention of the location of hell ...)

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Posted: 15 December 2006 06:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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It’s possible also that he may not have needed a source. A sea fairing nation that could observe the procession of a ship’s mast into visibiility as the ship drew nearer and nearer, may have just assumed that the earth must have been round.

As for the locatioin of Hell:

The Apostles’ Creed:
“[Christ] descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. “

Ephesians 4:9 - 10
“Now that [Jesus] ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the Earth. He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.”

Matthew 12:40
“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly: so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. “

Dante’s Divine Comedy is I think another reliable source for what was the popular notion and location of Hell both because I think it was an indication of an already commonly-held idea of Hell, and because it was such a popular book over hundreds of years, that there is reason to believe that it further popularized the notion.

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Posted: 15 December 2006 06:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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[quote author=“Riley”]As for the locatioin of Hell:

Matthew 12:40
“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly: so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. “

Ephesians 4:9 - 10
“Now that [Jesus] ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the Earth. He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)”

I’m not sure these establish the location of hell, though. They establish that Jesus died and was put below ground, perhaps, for a certain amount of time.

[quote author=“Riley”]Dante’s Divine Comedy is I think another reliable source for what was the popular notion and location of Hell both because I think it was an indication of an already commonly-held idea of Hell, and because it was such a popular book over hundreds of years, that there is reason to believe that it further poluarized it.

Absolutely. Much of our everyday notion of hell comes more from Dante than from the Bible. My knowledge of Dante is pretty limited, but looking HERE it seems as though his notion of hell came much more from the Greeks than the Bible: we have the presence of the rivers Acheron and Styx, the pilot Charon, Minos the judge, Cerberus, etc., etc.

Now, as to whether and how much Dante’s view of hell was the “popular” one at the time, and how much Dante constructed of whole cloth out of a knowledge of Greek myth, I don’t know. But it would be an interesting study.

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Posted: 15 December 2006 07:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]I’m not sure these establish the location of hell, though. They establish that Jesus died and was put below ground, perhaps, for a certain amount of time.


You missed my reference to the The Apostles’ Creed which I added (before I saw your post):

The Apostles’ Creed:
“[Christ] descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. ”

These passages are all refering to the same event. In one instance the term “hell” is used as the place where Jesus goes after death, in another instance the term: “heart of the earth” is used. I think you’d have to be pretty hard nosed not to recognize that it’s the heart of the earth that is being described as the location of Hell. Also, there are no passages that I can find that contradict this notion.

[quote author=“dougsmith”]
Absolutely. Much of our everyday notion of hell comes more from Dante than from the Bible. My knowledge of Dante is pretty limited, but looking HERE it seems as though his notion of hell came much more from the Greeks than the Bible: we have the presence of the rivers Acheron and Styx, the pilot Charon, Minos the judge, Cerberus, etc., etc.

Now, as to whether and how much Dante’s view of hell was the “popular” one at the time, and how much Dante constructed of whole cloth out of a knowledge of Greek myth, I don’t know. But it would be an interesting study.

The simple concept of Hell being underground, is not settled by Dante, but I think it’s further strengthened. This book written in a populist form and language relied heavily upon the audience’s acceptance of the premise that Hell was underground and Heaven in the sky.

And according to the Wikipedia source, it was popular for 400 years,  during the sweet-spot before the “age of enlightenment”. The fact that there are prominent paintings and literary references to Dante and the themes of the Divine Comedy commissioned during that period, should serve as dramatic testimony to the effect that this literary work had on the popular Christian European world-view.

 

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Posted: 15 December 2006 08:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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[quote author=“Riley”]You missed my reference to the The Apostles’ Creed

Well, the Apostles’ Creed is an interesting example: it isn’t from the Bible, but an early Christian attempt to formulate doctrine. And if we look here for instance:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostles’_Creed

(Even though it doesn’t display properly in BBCode ... hmph).

... we see that not all versions of it refer to Christ going to hell.

For example, the United Methodist Church says: “... was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, ...”

The English Language Liturgical Consultation (an ecumenical version) says: “...crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again ...”

This isn’t entirely surprising, since for one thing, many Christian denominations reject the existence of hell. For another thing, it sounds odd to say that after dying, Christ spent time in hell. Instead, he spent time either beneath the ground (if we are literalists) or in some fictional limbo-type area that souls would go to before ascending to heaven. But since ex hypothesi Christ was without sin, I can’t see that he would have needed to go to hell at all.

(I know that some Christian denominations believe that Christ went to hell in order to pardon some of the innocent people residing there, e.g., the ones who died before hearing his “good news”, etc., but that is clearly nothing more than an ex post facto confabulation. I mean, justice has clearly not been done if a single innocent person is punished by god for any period of time).

[quote author=“Riley”]The fact that there are prominent paintings and literary references to Dante and the themes of the Divine Comedy commissioned during that period, should serve as dramatic testimony to the effect that this literary work had on the popular Christian European world-view.

Absolutely. Dante’s writings, I think, crystallized a lot of views about heaven and hell, and to that extent his fictional writings continue to have impact to this very day.

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Posted: 17 December 2006 07:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]Well, the Apostles’ Creed is an interesting example: it isn’t from the Bible, but an early Christian attempt to formulate doctrine.
[...]
And if we look here for instance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostles’_Creed ... we see that not all versions of it refer to Christ going to hell.

Concerning the existance and location of Hell, the Apostles’ Creed is significant to reference as an indicator of what the predominant Medieval Christian world-view was because before the Reformation, the Catholic church was the Christian church in Europe, and all catholics were expected to recite the creed. So from at least 724 - 1517, this was the unifying Christian doctrine actively propagated by an institution which held hegemonic influence over nearly all aspects of Europe during that period, as such we have every reason to expect that the Apostles’ Creed reflected the predominant European Christian world-view. The United Methodist Church doesn’t even become part of the picture until the 19th century, after the sun-centered universe had been widely accepted.

To the extent that there was, and still is debate about wether or not Christ went to Hell or not, notice that the debate is not about wether Hell was at the center of the Earth, only simply wether or not Jesus did in fact go there.


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