Cosmopolis: How Astronomy Affects Philosophies of Human Nature and Religion

  • Nancey MurphyEmail author
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 107)


It is often said that Copernican astronomy had a significant effect on humankind’s self-understanding by displacing us from the center of the universe. I claim that the effect was much more dramatic, but indirect – through the necessary rejection of Aristotelian physics. Humans had been understood since the late middle ages in a holistic-dualist manner: their souls were the immanent forms of their bodies. Reject Aristotelian hylomorphism in favor of the corpuscular physics of Galileo and others, and human nature had to be reconceived. Descartes retrieved a radical Platonic dualism, which, I argue, has had deleterious effects on modern western religion, and through the church, on all of western society. The good news is that now philosophy, Christian theology, and science (largely neuroscience, but not unrelated to astronomy) are together creating a new “nonreductive physicalist” account of human nature, with important implications for ethics and politics – a new cosmo-political synthesis.


Human Nature Downward Causation Christian Theology Religious Believer Copernican Revolution 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Brown, Peter. 1967. Augustine of hippo: a biography. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 240Google Scholar
  2. Campbell, Donald. 1974. ‘Downward causation’ in hierarchically organised systems. In Studies in the philosophy of biology: reduction and related problems, ed. F.J. Ayala , and T. Dobzhansky, 179–186. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  3. Crick, Francis. 1994. The astonishing hypothesis: the scientific search for the soul. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 3.Google Scholar
  4. Dyson, Freeman. 1979. Disturbing the universe. New York: Harper & Row, 250.Google Scholar
  5. Gillman, Neil. 1997. The death of death: resurrection and immortality in Jewish thought. Woodstock: Jewish Lights Publishing.Google Scholar
  6. Juarrero, Alicia. 1999. Dynamics in action: intentional behavior as a complex system. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  7. Lash, Nicholas. 1986. Easter in ordinary: reflections on human experience and the knowledge of God. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 69.Google Scholar
  8. Martin, Raymond, and John Barresi. 2006. The rise and fall of soul and self: an intellectual history of personal identity. New York: Columbia University Press, 106.Google Scholar
  9. McMullin, Ernan. 1981. How should cosmology relate to theology? In The sciences and theology in the twentieth century, ed. A.R. Peacocke, 17–57; 39. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  10. Meyering, Theo C. 1989. Historical roots of cognitive science: the rise of a cognitive theory of perception from antiquity to the nineteenth century. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Murphy, Nancey. 2006. Bodies and souls, or spirited bodies? Cambridge: Cambridge University PressCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Murphy, Nancey, and Warren S. Brown. 2007. Did my neurons make me do it? philosophical and neurobiological perspectives on moral responsibility and free will. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Rorty, Richard. 1979. Philosophy and the mirror of nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University.Google Scholar
  14. Scott, Alwyn. 2004. A brief history of nonlinear science. Revista del Nuovo Cimento 27(10–11): 1–115.Google Scholar
  15. Toulmin, Stephen. 1990. Cosmopolis: the hidden agenda of modernity. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fuller Graduate SchoolsPasadenaUSA

Personalised recommendations