Problem of the Planets Book Report

Pages: 13 (4178 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 13  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

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The Problem of the Planets

The problem of the planets relates to their movement. The Ancient Greeks were the first to address the issue thoroughly, and one of their men - Ptolemy - came up with a theory about how planets moved (Knox, n.d.). This was needed, because the Greeks said there were "wandering stars" that did not seem to move in the same way as other stars. They did not understand why this was the case, and they looked for ways that could be used to explain why some planets appeared to defy the "normal" way of moving across the sky (Knox, n.d.). If some of the planets were not in sync with the rest of the planets, what was the reason behind that? What did it mean for the Universe and for the Earth?

Ptolemy created a way to avoid most of the worry. He stated that the Earth was the center of the Universe, and that the planets all revolved around the Earth (Tarnas, 1993). To explain away some of the anomalies, Ptolemy stated that some of the planets' circular orbits also moved in a circular orbit (Knox, n.d.). Even with all of those explanations - what Ptolemy called "epicycles" - the planets that were expected to show up during certain times did not do so (Knox, n.d.). Eventually, what Ptolemy had created was discredited. That was after many revisions and changes that were designed to make the ideas acceptable. Because everything was alleged to move in a circle, the number of circles and epicycles grew exponentially until it became ridiculous to think that the planets moved in that method - there was simply too much confusion (Knox, n.d.).Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Book Report on Problem of the Planets Assignment

Eventually, the Sun was deemed the center of the Universe instead of the Earth. This brought other complications, because the calculations that were needed to create tables about the planets and how they moved were a great deal more complicated once the Sun was placed at the Universe's center (Knox, n.d.). In addition, there were parts of the Bible that were interpreted to mean that the Sun went around the Earth. Because the Church had been teaching that for a very long time, changing what was taught and finding a good explanation for the changes was very difficult and would be an uphill battle that would continue for a long period of time (Knox, n.d.). The Sun being at the center of the rotation of the planets was eventually accepted, but it was also determined that it was only the center of the galaxy and not the center of the Universe as was previously assumed by Ptolemy and others.

One individual who had a difficult time with the problem of the planets was Plato. He believed that order equated with divinity (Tarnas, 1993). Since he had that belief, it was very difficult for him to see the planets as non-orderly. What would that mean from a divine perspective? His faith was endangered by the movement of the planets, and he felt that the entire faith of mankind might also be endangered because of the planetary concerns. Humans needed a good foundation politically and ethically, and Plato believed that foundation was based on the divine. By calling celestial bodies "wandering stars" or "wanderers" Plato believed that people were committing blasphemy (Tarnas, 1993).

A large part of the religious bulwark that made up Plato's philosophy was at stake with the lack of order in the planetary alignment and movement. Plato did not simply ignore the issue, however. After much thought and study he determined that the planets were not "wandering." Instead they were moving in perfect orbits for each planet, just as the Universe required. He put his faith in the idea that this was the case, and he believed that time would prove him right and show the empirical data that would allow the movements of the planets to be calculated with certainty. Mastering mathematics and astronomy was the way to solve the riddle that was the Heavens.

The belief that divinity and geometry were linked was what actually caused Plato and other Greeks the problem. They were insistent that the Universe had to be able to be explained mathematically, and when the way they had things figured did not turn out the way they expected, they were at a loss to know what to do next. Plato's willingness to consider his philosophy and adjust how the Universe was calculated mathematically meant that he was open to change - but not that he wanted to change his philosophy as a whole. He was more interested in saying that his philosophy was correct and there may have to be a better or different way to show that.

Tarnas (1993) addresses many issues that tie science and religion and/or philosophy together. One of those is the problem of the planets - and whether it is actually a problem at all. The main concern for Tarnas (1993) in this regard is that there are many Western-influenced ideals that are masculine, and women have not been able to become a significant part of culture and thought on spiritual and scientific levels. The problem of the planets was a male issue, as well. Plato, Ptolemy, and all of the great thinkers who wrestled with mathematical and philosophical concerns were male, and there was no mention of females who contributed to the thoughts and ideas of that time period.

However, Tarnas (1993) does see the problem of the planets as being highly significant. In fact, he calls it "the single most important factor giving both dynamism and continuity to the Western mind's attempt to comprehend the physical cosmos" (Tarnas, 1993: p. 48). That is a very powerful statement, and one that indicates how Tarnas (1993) really felt about the problem of the planets. It would appear that he feels this way because there is both a logical (mathematical) and emotional (spiritual) side to the issue. That dichotomy is valuable to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Western mindset and how it came about. Because of that, Tarnas (1993) works to emphasize the value that Plato created and refined so long ago.


Knox, E.L.S. (n.d.) The problem of the planets. The scientific revolution. History of Western Civilization. Boise State. Retrieved from

Tarnes, R. (1993) The passion of the western mind: Understanding the ideas that have shaped our world view. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

The Scientific Revolution

The Scientific Revolution was a time period in history in which new ideas transformed what was thought about the world. A new understanding came with this revolution, but it was not without its problems. This revolution occurred mostly during the 16th and 17th centuries and brought new knowledge in areas such as chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, and astronomy (Marquin, 1994). Medieval and ancient views were transformed and the foundations were laid for what would become modern science. The end of the Renaissance period in Europe saw the beginning of the Scientific Revolution, which continued all of the way through the end of the 18th century (Taton, 1963). That later period has been called the Enlightenment (Pedersen, 1993).

In 1543, there were two works published that started the entire Scientific Revolution. These were written by Vesalius and Copernicus (Marquin, 1994). They were two of the key figures of the Scientific Revolution, and their work would become central to getting things started down the path to scientific advancements. In the Middle Ages, a base was established for what would later become modern science (Smith, 1929). Scholars began to look at the world in a new and different light, and superstition and fear were replaced by knowledge and reason. Naturally, that became a problem for the Church at that time, because religion - for the first time - started to take a back burner to science.

Science and faith did not completely separate from one another, however, because Kepler, Newton, Copernicus, Brahe, Galileo, and others remained devout in the faith that they had already developed before they started making scientific discoveries (Taton, 1963). In other words, religious ideas were not completely discounted by everyone, and a large number of people remained serious about their religious faith. They simply tempered that with information about science. They found ways to put science and the Bible together, so that they were able to make both of them important in everyday life (Pedersen, 1993). The Church struggled with that concept for some time, but eventually it changed and adapted so as not to lose too many of its followers.

Some who were previously religious decided that they were more interested in science and that religion was no longer relevant to them, but they were not in the majority. Mostly, the Scientific Revolution was coupled with a philosophical revolution that caused people to begin to think more deeply about what they believed and why, instead of just blindly believing in something that they had been taught in the past.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Problem of the Planets" Book Report in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Problem of the Planets.  (2011, October 7).  Retrieved August 4, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Problem of the Planets."  7 October 2011.  Web.  4 August 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Problem of the Planets."  October 7, 2011.  Accessed August 4, 2021.