Second of Two Parts

The Harvard astronomer Shapely sees us as now living in our “fourth adjustment” of cosmic perspective: the shifts have been from an anthropomorphic universe to a geocentric universe to a heliocentric universe to a galactocentric universe to an agonizing realization that man is very likely not the highest form of life. This is a moving description, for it speaks to our condition. But in reality, Christian man has known all along that man was not the highest form of life in the universe, for his life is derived from a Source above all other sources. With the psalmist he looks up at this juncture and confesses, “In thy light we shall see light.”

It was Newton more than any other scientist in the seventeenth century who helped shape the new astronomy. Laplace reminds us that Newton was “not only the greatest genius that ever had existed but also the most fortunate, inasmuch as there is but one universe and it can therefore happen to but one man in the world’s history to be the interpreter of its laws.” This is perhaps excessive praise, but Laplace, like a good umpire, was calling it as he saw it.

Actually, Newton believed the laws he had discovered were God’s way of maintaining the stability of the universe. He felt that continued divine activity was necessary to avoid collapse. Surely here is robust, admirable faith in a God who continues to work in his world. After allowances are made for the difference of the time in which he lived, we still find Newton anchored in the concept of a living God who cares about his creatures.

The words of Laplace are valuable for another reason. In them we see a tendency to regard the scientific model of a particular epoch as virtually final and literally true. This, from the ...

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