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Introduction to The Great Change

One week Sam’s history teacher is on a course and while she is away they have a supply teacher called Mr Carpenter. He is telling them about the Renaissance, and says “At the beginning of the 17th century everybody stopped believing that the Sun went round the Earth and started believing that the Earth went round the Sun.”

Katie asks “Why?”, but it is obvious from his reply that he really does not have a clue - children are not fools. Eventually Katie says “Why don’t you ask Sam?”

Actually Sam does not know: although he knows a little about what happened he has never really thought about why it did, and why it happened then. So he keeps his mouth shut. This makes Mr Carpenter very angry and he shouts at both Katie and Sam. After School Sam comes to see me. He is still very upset, but I am able to tell him that Mr Carpenter has been asked not to come back. But then Sam does something that I had hoped he would not do: he repeats Katie’s question. But “Why did ordinary people start believing the Earth goes round the Sun, when everyone who has ever lived can actually watch the Sun going round the Earth, and why did it happen then?” is a question very seldom asked by 21st century people, adults or children, and even more seldom correctly answered. I tell him that it is not easy to explain in a way which a twelve year old child, particularly a 21st century child, can understand, you need a good knowledge of science and history and maths and human nature and lots of other things, and it’s a long story, but he just asks me to try.

He likes my explanation and and asks me to share it with his friends. If you like my explanation I would love to hear from you.

This explanation is in two sections, which I have called “Astronomy before 1600 CE” and “Astronomy after 1600 CE” although 1600 CE is not an exact cut-off point.

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© Barry Gray September 2019