What the Size of the Cosmos Doesn’t Say about Mankind
by Melissa Cain Travis
Is humankind the crown of all creation or a temporary collection of particles inhabiting an unremarkable bit of rock? Pop science journalism, which is an increasingly influential voice in our culture, often suggests the latter, reinforcing the secular message that the Christian conception of man has been made obsolete by the findings of modern science.
Here’s a case in point. Adam Frank, a theoretical and computational astrophysicist at the University of Rochester who describes himself as an “evangelist of science,” recently gave an on-air audio essay entitled, “Does the Size of Space Freak You Out?” The essay was subsequently posted at the NPR blog, 13.7: Cosmos and Culture.1 Frank cheerfully affirmed that we are all inconsequential specks within the incomprehensible vastness of the universe and as such, even our greatest terrestrial concerns simply don’t matter, since “the whole stage of our lives with all its immense joy and sorrow is really part of a much larger and much grander play.”2
Where Did This Idea Originate? Frank is just one among a host of others who propagate an updated version of the so-called Copernican principle, which involves drawing philosophical conclusions about meaning and significance based on physical attributes of the universe. Nicolas Copernicus was not the first to suggest a heliocentric solar system, but the elegance and relative simplicity of his mathematical model made his name synonymous with that paradigm. Copernicanism was the main spark that, albeit nearly a century later, ignited the scientific revolution.
The removal of Earth from the center of the system of heavenly spheres was mistakenly seen by some as a demotion that effectively reduced the significance of mankind and cast serious doubt on the existence of God. Essentially, geocentrism was philosophically linked to anthropocentrism, and loss of the former was considered a loss of the latter. In other words, if mankind’s home is not in a privileged position (the center around which all else revolves), then humans must not be central in importance, as Christianity teaches. Rather, they are…mediocre…
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