Reconceiving god

In his efforts to account for the movement of the planets across the night sky, the second-century Greek astronomer Ptolemy put Earth at the center of the universe and the Sun, Moon, and five known planets in eternal rotation around it. His geocentric model agreed well with what was observed celestially at the time, but it soon became apparent as more precise observations became available that the model had problems accounting for some of the finer details of the planets’ orbits. While other astronomers worked to try and solve these problems over the centuries within the Ptolemaic framework, this could only be done by making unlikely and complicated modifications, and this left it in an increasingly ugly state.

In the sixteenth-century, the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus boldly proposed to resolve the situation by doing away with geocentrism entirely. Putting the Sun at the center and having Earth move around it instead, Copernicus’s heliocentric model was an extremely challenging idea for many people at the time, but it just works far better to model the solar system that way.

  Astronomer Copernicus, or Conversations with God.  Jan Matejko, 1873

Astronomer Copernicus, or Conversations with God. Jan Matejko, 1873


Humanity stands in need of yet another revolution in our thinking today. From a religious vantage point all of the following questions have the utmost importance: What has god said and done? What does he want from us? What are the consequences of living in accordance or discordance with his expectations? How best can someone live in a way that god approves of?

None of these questions are sensible to ask in the way they are intended. Indeed, to think about what god would be like, simply in virtue of being divine, is to see at once how questions like these must surely hold no relevance. What interest or desire could god possibly have in being worshipped and obeyed? If truly divine in nature, the answer is simple: none

In the vacuum of these questions losing their meaning, a new spiritual one comes to the forefront: what do we want for ourselves, given the fact that we exist? 

For billions of people around the world, this displacement is likely to be experienced as highly challenging, disorientating, and unsettling. This makes it something of a challenge in itself to bring people around to it. Yet with great effort, even profound changes in our understanding of reality can be accomplished—the Copernicans themselves showed us as much.