|by T. M. Moore|
|May 15, 2012|
You have to be a little crazy to do the work of science.
I am free to give myself up to the sacred madness, I am free to taunt mortals with the frank confession that I am stealing the golden vessels of the Egyptians, in order to build of them a temple for my God, far from the territory of Egypt.
- Johannes Kepler, The Harmonies of the World
And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”
- Acts 26:24
People who offer opinions, views, and theories contrary to the prevailing worldview run the risk of being considered odd or perhaps even a little crazy.
Paul certainly understood that, but it didn’t bother him one bit. He had come to the knowledge of the truth, and though that truth “opposed the dogmas of Caesar” and the prevailing order (Acts 17:1-9), he was resolved to proclaim and defend it, come what may.
Kepler must have seemed a bit loony to some of his own peers as he set out to construct a different understanding of the structure of the cosmos from what most of his contemporaries understood. In his resolve to publish what his “sacred madness” had led him to conclude, we can see some useful insights into how the work of science – and of all knowing – proceeds.
It begins with questions. Like Copernicus, Kepler understood that the existing explanation of the order of the cosmos did not answer every question. So uncertain was the prevailing view, in fact, that it was almost impossible for Church officials to determine the liturgical year, since they had no reliable way of establishing the exact length of a calendar year.
Questions unanswered lead to more questions in the inquiring mind of one determined to know. Kepler took to reading whatever he could get his hands on, to see if other perspectives on the harmony of the cosmos had ever been promulgated or considered.
In his reading he was delighted to find Ptolemy, writing from Egypt, musing on the same question in book III of his Harmonies. Kepler did not require more witnesses to spur him on in his calculations. This one, who agreed with where his own thinking was beginning to lead, was all that was required in Kepler’s thinking to render his investigations – though “mad” – legitimate.
He pressed on in his work, as we know, and the rest is history. Except to note that Kepler devoted his work, not to the exaltation of science or to celebrating the genius of man, but to contributing to building the temple of the Lord. He came to see, as he prayed later in the dedication of his The Harmonies of the World, that God had “made all Thy works one.” The order of the vast cosmos had implications for the order of everyday life, even for the right ordering of the Church. His observations of the cosmos led him to pray, “Holy Father, keep us safe in the concord of our love for one another, with the Holy Ghost…and that from bringing Thy people into concord the body of Thy Church may be built up in the Earth, as Thou didst erect the heavens themselves out of harmonies.”
The work of science proceeds from questions, to research and observation, through calculations and experimentation, to conclusions and applications. In Kepler’s case, his joy over discovering the “harmonies” of the heavenly bodies led him to hope that what science was through him beginning to disclose about the creation might encourage the Church in practicing concord and studying unity throughout the Body of Christ (cf. Eph. 1:22, 23).
Kepler was afflicted with what his contemporaries may have regarded as a form of madness, but he understood it as a “sacred madness,” a calling from God to serve God and take every thought captive to make it obedient to Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5). Kepler’s Christian faith both inspired and guided his work as an early scientist and builder of the foundations of the modern scientific enterprise.