17th century cosmology redux.

After I had written and posted my piece on 17th century cosmology I read a paper on 17th century Jesuit cosmology that contained the following passage, which I found so close to my own views that I thought I would quote it here:

Some time ago serious historians of geology abandoned the heuristic of categorizing various early 19th-century figures as either uniformitarians or catastrophists. To so over-simplify the diversity of views from which the discipline of geology emerged frightfully obscures our understanding while doing little to enlighten […]. Similarly, given the diversity of cosmological views circulating in the mid-17th century, it seem equally misleading simply to characterize that debate as the collision between the Copernican and the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic worldviews – although this rhetorical trope was famously employed by Galileo in his 1632 “Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems”. When Galileo wrote that dialogue, the Ptolemaic system already had been set aside, at least among mathematical astronomers.

Beati’s cosmic section poses a striking anomaly for any historiography preoccupied with the advance and eventual triumph of Copernicanism over Aristoteliansim. If we insist upon only two pure alternatives, we reify as timeless ideals what were in themselves mutating traditions. Riccioli’s frontispiece [see my post] indicates that Copernicanism was admired as the standard by which the mathematical aspects of other systems were judged, but alternatives proliferated rapidly as the search for observable distinguishing evidence bogged down. Transformations of systems threw all in doubt. Some systems were not just empirically similar, but geometrically equivalent. We have not considered the systems of Gilbert or Ursus with a rotating central Earth. More oddly still Riccioli relayed an account of a lunar-centric system, a hypothetical transformation ad adsurdem.

Kerry V. Magruder, Jesuit Science After Galileo: The Cosmology of Gabriele Beati, Centaurus vol. 51, 2009, pp. 189-212. Quote pp. 208-209.

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Filed under History of Astronomy, Myths of Science

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