30th September 2014

News, Alumni news

Learn how the heavens were discovered and mapped by leading astronomers from 1500 onwards in a new book by Wadham’s Allan Chapman (1972, DPhil History of Science).

  • Dr Allan Chapman

Stargazers: Copernicus, Galileo, the Telescope and the Church: The Astronomical Renaissance, 1500-1700 is a comprehensive history of the heavens.

Building on the work of the Greek and Arabian astronomers before him, the idea of a sun-centred universe was proposed by a physician and church lawyer called Nicholas Copernicus. It was later popularized by Galileo—a fantastic debater whose abrasive style won him many enemies—who presented new telescopic evidence, which suggested that the earth might move in space. This thorough examination of Galileo explores both his achievements and influences. It goes on to trace the impact of his ideas on those who followed him, including Sir Francis Bacon, Dr John Wilkins, Dr Robert Hooke, Sir Isaac Newton, and Rev Dr James Bradley.

Chapman investigates the Church’s role and its intriguing relationship with the astronomers of the day, showing that the supposed conflict between the Church and science is a modern myth. The support and involvement of the Church meant that many new lines of research were be undertaken, for the Church’s interpretation of Scripture was never fundamentalist. Indeed, in 1615, Galileo even quoted Cardinal Boronius by famously declaring, “the Bible is to teach us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go.” In 1728, the theory of the moving earth was finally proven by the young Revd Dr James Bradley.

Dr Chapman adds: “Stargazers has two chapters with Wadham connexions: one on John Wilkins as the first English language populariser of the ideas of Galileo and Kepler, and another on the early Royal Society and 'The International Fellowship of Science'.  

Commenting on the book, alumnus, journalist and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg writes: "The gold in the book for me is the conclusive demonstration that modern science came out of western religion which is integral and even essential to its launch and direction. This is a much needed radical addition to the prevailing notions of the Enlightenment."

The book is 155,000 words long, paperback, with in-text explanatory drawings, and about 25 black and white and colour plates, including the portrait of Bishop Wilkins which hangs in Wadham Hall.

Stargazers, published by Lion Books, will be available from 17 October 2014.

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