Man's view of cosmology changed in the mid eighteenth century, 2,300 years after Daniel's remarkable vision of the ram and the he-goat.
The period is called the Enlightenment, a time when the old world-view, with its closed-shell universe, was discarded. Along with the changed cosmology, men everywhere turned away from an oppressive Church-dominated system, and embraced science and discovery.
About this time, Isaac Newton's Principia was published in various languages. Previously it was available only in Latin, and was understood by only a relatively few mathematicians, and the conclusions were not generally accepted. Some of the scholars considered them to be inconsistent with the cosmology of the scripture.
Foremost in publicizing Newton's work were Francios Marie Arounet, better known as Voltaire (1694-1778) [See biography], who published an English exposition of Newton, and his mistress, Emilie de Breteuil, Marquise du Chastelet (1706-1749) [See biography], who translated Newton's Principia into French. Both French and English editions of Voltaire's Elements of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy were published in 1738. Voltaire thought Newton's discoveries were too important to remain in obscurity. He wrote:
Newton's Philosophy has hitherto seemed to many as unintelligible as that of the Ancients; but the darkness of the Greeks proceeded from their having in reality no light at all, while that of Newton arises from his light's being too remote from our eyes. He has discovered truths; but he has searched for, and placed them in an abyss, into which it is necessary to descend, in order to bring them out, and to place them in full light.
The story of Newton contemplating the falling apple is due to Voltaire.
In Russia, Mikhail Vasilievich Lomonosov (1711-1765) introduced Copernican cosmology and Newton's theory at the Academy of St. Petersburg, where he was professor of chemistry. He became a founder of Russian science. He helped found Moscow State University in 1755.
Soon after 1750, Galileo's writing was taken off the Church's Index of Forbidden Books.
James Ferguson published Astronomy Explained by Sir Isaac Newton's Principles in 1756. He claimed astronomy provided strong evidence of creation, because the mechanical principles which governed the universe showed it could not be eternal.
The return of a great comet in 1758 as predicted by astronomer Edmund Halley (1656-1742) [See biography] on the basis of Newton's theory was a stunning confirmation of the new science. It was Halley who financed the publication of the original edition of Newton's Principia.
Musician William Herschel (1738-1822) [See biography] of Hanover migrated to England in 1757, having fled from the French occupation, and became interested in astronomy. His improved telescope and diligent observations led to the discovery of the planet Uranus in 1781. He demonstrated the sun's motion through space, and discovered over 800 multiple stars, and more than 2,500 nebulae and star clusters in his lifetime.
Copyright © 2011, 2013 by Douglas E. Cox
All Rights Reserved.