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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 23.2 > Humbling Humanity

Humbling Humanity

Reality Need Not Diminish Our Concept of Our Place In the Cosmos

IN THE INTELLECTUAL CHILDHOOD of Homo sapiens, before the appearance of science a few centuries ago, most of the Western world held the egocentric view that we are the center and purpose of the universe, created and cared for by God. As scientific knowledge grew, this notion became obsolete, but many monotheists still think we are uniquely favored.

The initial (and biggest) shocks to this anthropocentric view were heliocentrism and Darwinian evolution. Both had influences far beyond their initial scientific implications, and both were strenuously opposed by religious believers. But those humbling developments were only two of many that upset the traditional picture. Here are a few of the ways that scientific discoveries have put our place in the cosmos into perspective.

Earth’s size: The ancient Greeks proved that the Earth is a sphere of immense size. They also estimated even greater distances, such as the distance to the Moon.1 The realization of our insignificance had begun.

Earth’s Shape: Aristotle (384-322 BCE) found that the Earth is not flat by noting that as one travels north, different parts of the heavens are visible. He also observed that during an eclipse of the Moon, the Earth’s shadow on it is a circular arc.2 The literal biblical view was flatly contradicted.

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About Skeptic

THE RISE OF THE NONES Imagining No Heaven — The Rise of the Nones and the Decline of Religion; Never Doubting God — Surveys on Belief in God’s Existence; Persistence of Belief in a Purposeful Universe; Honor, Dignity, Victim — A review of The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars; The SkepDoc — Premature Ejaculation in the News: How Headlines Influence Our Thinking; Is the Earth Flat? Flat Earthers Are Back — How do You Best Make the Argument for a Round Earth?; Conspiracy Theorists and the Harm They Do; Bruce Perkins and Another Terrible Tragedy of the Recovered Memory Movement; Deterrence and Its Discontents: Now That Nuclear War Seems to Be Getting More Likely Again, It’s Time to Turn a Skeptical Eye on Deterrence; Reality Need Not Diminish Our Concept of Our Place in the Cosmos; Junior Skeptic — Perpetual Motion; and more…