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The Copernican Myths

Hal Harris's picture
Sun, 12/02/2007 - 01:00 -- Hal Harris

When asked by one of our students about the significance of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) and his revolutionary (pun intended) theory of the solar system, most of us would recite the folkloric tale. A brilliant astronomer, dissatisfied with the inaccuracies of Ptolemy, devised a completely new model for the solar system. His "demotion of mankind" from a privileged position at the center of the universe led to fierce opposition by the Catholics, who burned Giordano Bruno at the stake for championing heliocentrism. Unfortunately, what most of us know about Copernicus is wrong. Mano Singham points out in this article that opposition of the Catholic church was not immediate, that Protestants were even more vociferous in their opposition, that Bruno's other heretical views might have gotten him scorched anyway, and that the bottom of the universe was not necessarily the most desirable position, in the opinion of theologians. This article is a very nice supplement to the Hal's Pick of October, 2004 -"The Book Nobody Read", by Owen Gingerich.

Pick Attribution: 

Mano Singham

Publication Date: 
Thursday, December 20, 2007