Monday, September 6, 2010

Is God a geometer?

On Friday at work we had a very interesting Physics department colloquium by Marcelo Gleiser about his recent book.

One thing I learnt was that Johannes Kepler firmly believed that "God was a geometer". He found that he could relate the size of the orbits of the 6 known planets to the 5 "perfect" Platonic solids (see above). The Wikipedia entry about his first book,  Mysterium Cosmographicum (1596) states:
... Kepler thought he had revealed God’s geometrical plan for the universe. Much of Kepler’s enthusiasm for the Copernican system stemmed from his theological convictions about the connection between the physical and the spiritual; the universe itself was an image of God, with the Sun corresponding to the Father, the stellar sphere to the Son, and the intervening space between to the Holy Spirit. His first manuscript of Mysterium contained an extensive chapter reconciling heliocentrism with biblical passages that seemed to support geocentrism.
....Kepler received permission from the Tübingen university senate to publish his manuscript, pending removal of the Bible exegesis and the addition of a simpler, more understandable description of the Copernican system as well as Kepler’s new ideas.....
Later Kepler published Harmonices Mundi which applied to planetary motion the idea of the "music of the spheres" an idea of Pythagorus concerning musical harmonies and geometry.
Some of the laws of planetary motion that Kepler discovered were incredibly important for overturning the geocentric universe and for Newton. However, all these ideas which claimed a theological basis were overturned as more data became available.
To me this showings the danger of mixing theology (particularly preconceived ideas of how the world should be) and science.

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