A Brief History of the God Problem: Were Kepler, Galileo, and Newton Creationists?

This is an excerpt from The God Problem: How a Godless Cosmos Creates by Howard Bloom (Prometheus Books, 2012). Reprinted by permission from the author.

The God Problem—the problem of how the cosmos creates—is not as old as you might imagine. Why? Because most of the fathers of modern science felt the answer was obvious. Kepler, Galileo, and Newton believed in God. They believed in an intelligent designer. In fact, the greats of early science were creationists. They believed in the biblical account of the creation of the world. With a few minor modifications.

Early in the 1600s, Johannes Kepler, an intense-looking mathematics teacher at a religious seminary in Graz, Austria, got the chance of a lifetime. He was offered a job as mathematician to the Holy Roman emperor in Prague. He took it. Then he squeezed out extra time to pursue an obsession. He worked as assistant to one of the most phenomenal astronomers and compilers of data on stars and planets of all time. That phenom was a Dane acting as the imperial astronomer in Prague,[62] an astronomer who had replaced a nose he’d lost in a duel with a bionic nose made of silver and gold[63]: Tycho Brahe. Meanwhile, Kepler invented a new kind of refracting telescope, watched the stars and the planets at night, wrote down his observations, puzzled over their mysteries, scraped away at Brahe’s ever-growing mass of data on the pinpricks of light in the nighttime sky, and wrote letters to another man obsessed with the same puzzles in the distant Italian city of Pisa: Galileo Galilei.

Kepler kept this up for decades. What did he get for his years and years of pattern seeking? He discovered that the orbits of the planets were elliptical. And he stripped bare the three laws of planetary motion.[64] Kepler pulled off this glimpse of nature’s inner workings by using one of the most intriguing tools of science, a tool that would still be crucial to Albert Einstein three hundred years later—geometry. To be specific, Kepler worked out the infernally tricky patterns of the five known planets of the day—the loops and wiggles traced in the sky by Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, and Venus, plus the movements of Earth around the sun—by squeezing geometrically shaped boxes into what he thought might be the planets’ orbits. By squeezing geometric shapes into the planets’ “spheres.” Why did Kepler try to solve what he called “the mystery of the cosmos”[65] with geometric shapes? Because, said Kepler, “Geometry…is God himself.”[66]

Did Kepler puzzle over the God Problem? Did he ask how the cosmos creates without a hulking, bearded king of heaven in a bathrobe? No, Kepler was a creationist and a believer in an intelligent designer.

In the beginning, said Kepler, there was nothing but God. And God had geometry at his heart. God had curves, straight lines, triangles, squares, and circles in every inch of his immeasurable consciousness. “Why waste words,” wrote Kepler in his 1619 Harmonices Mundi, his Harmony of the World, “Geometry, which was before the origin of things was coeternal with the divine mind and is God himself.”[67]

So Kepler’s God mapped out the heavens using guess what? Geometry. With geometry, God created. But Kepler missed out on the heart of the God Problem—how does the cosmos create itself? Kepler calculated with absolute precision that in 3993 BCE, during the summer solstice, God had created.[68] Created what? The universe, presumably cranking out the entire thing in seven days, just like the Bible said.[69] And how, in Kepler’s view, did the creator God pull this off? He used the same geometry that the Greek mathematician Euclid had perfected in Alexandria, Egypt, over two thousand years ago in 300 BCE. Geometry, said Kepler, “supplied God with the patterns for the creation of the world.”[70] Presumably God made light, the sun, the stars, the plants, the animals, and the Garden of Eden pretty much as the Bible claimed. But he did it with a compass and a straightedge. He did it with geometry.

Then, says Kepler, God made man in his own image. He made Adam. Needless to say, Adam, in Kepler’s view, was shaped, seized, and shaken by geometry. So geometry, said Kepler, “passed over to Man along with the image of God.”[71]

The result? Said Kepler, the ability to grasp mathematics and geometry was built into the very foundation of the human mind. Or, to put it in Kepler’s words, man’s math skill, “the recognition of quantities…is innate in the mind.”[72] Math is riveted from birth into your thinking machinery and mine. If you struggled in agony to grasp math in high school and college, you might disagree. But Kepler believed that geometry is central to the way that you see the book in front of your eyes, the ceiling above your head, the walls on either side of you, and everything else from the curls in the tails of chipmunks to the curves of girls in tight skirts and to the hip-shoulder ratio of men who work out more than you and I do. Says Kepler, “the recognition of quantities…dictates what the nature of the eye must be.”[73] Yes, even your eyeball was built by math, built by geometry.

In studying the newest data coming in from the astronomy of Tycho Brahe and from his own observations, then puzzling out their patterns with geometry and writing up his results in sixteen books, what did Kepler feel he was accomplishing? He was presenting his reports, his dispatches, his bulletins, what he called his “envoi on the work of God the Creator.”[74] He was reading God’s mind. And he was peeping through the cracks of the material world to see something Kepler felt that God himself wanted man to discover. Kepler was scoping out what he called the “patterns for the creation of the world,”[75] the deep structures that God had used to create sticks and stones, bones and beasts, dust, dirt, dramas, and dreams. But most important, Kepler was groping for the patterns and deep structures that the creator had used to craft the heavens and their mirror,[76] the thoughts of human beings.

Every scientist who makes breakthroughs does it with the use of a tool, a central metaphor. What was Kepler’s central metaphor? Circles, triangles, and the five Platonic solids. Geometry. And why does metaphor work? How do things you can draw with pen and paper, things you can sketch with the fluorescent pixels of a computer screen, or things you can imagine with the three pounds of meat we call a brain, how do these things manage to crack the codes of slowly moving dots of light in the heavens and of jittering particles on the earth? The mystery of metaphor will prove vital to the secret heart of the God Problem. So will deep structures. But we’ll save the role of metaphor for later.

What was Kepler’s contribution to solving the God Problem? He passed down the concept that the cosmos is based on very simple patterns, Kepler’s “patterns for the creation of the world.” Repeated patterns. Patterns that can be grasped by drawing pictures. Patterns you can get a grip on by making wooden models of things with four sides, six sides, twelve sides, and even twenty sides: the tetrahedron, the cube, the dodecahedron, and the icosahedron.

Would Kepler prove to be right?

Excerpted from The God Problem by Howard Bloom. Copyright © Howard Bloom, 2012. All rights reserved.

[62] John Robert Christianson et al., eds., Tycho Brahe and Prague: Crossroads of European Science, Proceedings of the International Symposium on the History of Science in the Rudolphine Period (Frankfurt: Harri Deutsch, 2002).

[63] M. M. Woolfson, The Formation of the Solar System: Theories Old and New (London: Imperial College Press, 2007), p. 30.

[64] Johannes Kepler, New Astronomy, trans. William H. Donahue (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992), originally published in 1609 as Astronomia Nova; Johannes Kepler, The Harmony of the World, trans. E. J. Aiton, Alistair Matheson Duncan, and Judith Veronica Field (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1997), p. 408, originally published in 1619 as Hamonices Mundi.

[65] Johannes Kepler, Mysterium Cosmographicum (Munich: C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1938).

[66] Kepler, Harmony of the World, p. 304.

[67] Ibid.

[68] David A. Weintraub, How Old Is the Universe? (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), p. 14.

[69] Kepler, Harmony of the World, p. 130.

[70] Ibid., p. 304.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid., p. 491.

[75] Ibid., p. 304. See also Johannes Kepler, Concerning the More Certain Fundamentals of Astrology (New York: Clancy 1942), p. 15.

[76] Ibid.

Howard Bloom has been called “next in a lineage of seminal thinkers that includes Newton, Darwin, Einstein, [and] Freud” by Britain’s Channel4 TV, “the next Stephen Hawking” by Gear Magazine, and “The Buckminster Fuller and Arthur C. Clarke of the new millennium” by Buckminster Fuller’s archivist. Bloom is the author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History (“mesmerizing” – The Washington Post), Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century (“reassuring and sobering” – The New Yorker), The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism (“Impressive, stimulating, and tremendously enjoyable.” James Fallows, National Correspondent, The Atlantic), The God Problem: How A Godless Cosmos Creates (“Bloom’s argument will rock your world.” Barbara Ehrenreich), How I Accidentally Started the Sixties (“a monumental, epic, glorious literary achievement.” Timothy Leary), and The Muhammad Code: How a Desert Prophet Gave You ISIS, al Qaeda, and Boko Haram – or How Muhammad Invented Jihad (“a terrifying book… the best book I’ve read on Islam,” David Swindle, PJ Media).

Bloom explains that his field is “mass behaviour, from the mass behaviour of quarks to the mass behaviour of human beings.” That specialisation gives him a wide scope. His scientific work has been published in: arxiv.org, the leading pre-print site in advanced theoretical physics and mathematics; PhysicaPlus, another physics journal; Across Species Comparisons and Psychopathology; New Ideas in Psychology; The Journal of Space Philosophy; and in the book series: Research in Biopolitics. In 2005, Bloom lectured an international conference of quantum physicists in Moscow – Quantum Informatics 2006 – on why everything they know about Schrodinger’s Equation is wrong, and the concepts Bloom introduced were later used in a book proposing a new approach to quantum physics, Constructive Physics, by Moscow University’s Yuri Ozhigov.

Bloom’s second book Global Brain was the subject of an Office of the Secretary of Defense symposium in 2010, with participants from the State Department, the Energy Department, DARPA, IBM, and MIT. Bloom is founder and head of the Space Development Steering Committee, a group that includes astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Edgar Mitchell (the sixth man on the moon), and members from the National Science Foundation and NASA. He has debated one-on-one with senior officials from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Gaza’s Hamas on Iran’s global Arab-language Alalam TV News Network. He has also dissected headline issues on Saudi Arabia’s KSA2-TV and on Iran’s global English language Press-TV. And he has probed the untold story of the Syrian Civil War with Nancy Kissinger.

In addition, Bloom’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Knight-Ridder Financial News Service, the Village Voice, and Cosmopolitan Magazine. He has appeared 199 times for up to five hours on 500 radio stations on the highest-rated overnight talk radio station in North America, Clear Channel’s Coast to Coast AM, discussing everything from the biome in the gut and the evolution of the stars to the mechanism of the Great Recession of 2008 and North Korea’s rocket programme.

Bloom has his own YouTube series, Howard the Humongous, which gets up to 790,000 views per installment. His website, howardbloom.net, has had between four and five million hits. Follow him on Twitter at @HowardxBloom.

The God Problem: How a Godless Cosmos Creates
By Howard Bloom
Prometheus Books; New edition (February 2, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1633881423
ISBN-13: 978-1633881426

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