Challenging Nature
published by Ecco/Harper Collins, 2006
Professor of molecular biology and public policy in the Woodrow Wilson school of Public & International Affairs at Princeton University
Lee Silver photo
Challenging Nature
Previous books
Princeton teaching
Pre-Copernican interpretation of science and religion in the New World
Click on photo to see the heavenly bodies in more detail
I found this fresco depicting one Christian version of the heavenly realms on the wall of a monstary in Quito, Ecuador. It was painted in about 1620. In this interpretation of the conjunction of astronomy and religion -- painted in the New World -- the earth is obviously a globe (barely visible at the bottom), but the scientific discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo have not been absorbed, and all the "heavenly bodies" still revolve around us. The lowest heavenly realm contains the moon, the second and third contain Mercury and Venus, respectively, and the sun marks its presence in the fourth layer of heaven. The fifth, sixth, and seventh heavenly realms contain Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn (which decrease sequentially in brightness and have sequentially longer orbital times). Above all the planetary realms is an eighth realm of stars, and then, in a higher realm, Jesus and God sit facing each other -- holding the earthly globes in their hands -- with the Holy Spirit (represented as a dove) between them. (The bearded man on the left is the high priest of Quito, who claimed the ability to see and communicate with Jesus and God.)
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