Monday, May 25, 2009

Guided by the sky

I learned this week that this is the International Year of Astronomy, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo's telescope and of the publication of Johannes Kepler's Astronomia Nova. As part of their observance of the IYA, the editor's column in this week's Science News discusses a claim by Henri Poincaré that astronomy "has given us a soul capable of comprehending nature."

Apparently Poincaré believed that it was success in the science of astronomy that inspired scientific investigation of other topics. "Under heavens always overcast and starless, the Earth itself would have been for us eternally unintelligible," he wrote.

That's an impressive theory. My knowledge of scientific history is insufficient to judge its merits, although the Science News editor is credulous enough to lend some weight to this claim. I would like to think humanity would have muddled into the realm of science even without the help of the night sky. Still, it's intriguing to think about the stars in their courses showing humans that nature obeys strict laws, and that careful observation can discover those laws.

Many religions assume the universe was created for humanity. In discussions of this assumption, it's sometimes asked why, if humans are the point of the universe, so many stars were created. On the face of it, assuming a human-centric Creator, the size of the universe seems incredibly superfluous. But the "stars as a guide to science" theory offers a nice response.


1 comment:

claire said...

i like this.