Sunday, May 4, 2008

Copernican Revolution

While educated men since at least the ancient Greeks had known that the earth was round, they believed that the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars revolved around the earth, because that it is what they saw every day. As records of the movements of the planets grew more detailed during the scientific advances of the Renaissance, and were more widely disseminated following the invention of the printing press, discrepancies in the orbits became noticeable, places where the planets didn't show up where they should have according to the accepted theories. One astronomer, Nicholaus Copernicus (1473-1543), studied the records and wondered if there was a better model to explain their apparently irrational behavior. He finally decided that the earth must revolve around the sun, along with the other planets; the moon was the only body that still revolved around the Earth.

When he first published this information, Copernicus dedicated his book to the Pope, since the Catholic Church was interested in his work in its efforts to fix the calendar, which was no longer in synch with the seasons. However, after the tug-of-war of the Reformation, church authorities decided that they didn’t like the Coperinican theory because it meant that man, created in God’s image, was no longer at the center of the universe; it also meant that “up” and “down”, the traditional locations of heaven and hell, no longer existed, which turned the theology topsy-turvy. "'No attack on Christianity is more dangerous,' Jerome Wolf wrote Tycho Brahe in 1575, 'than the infinite size and depth of the universe.'" But the improved explanation of the planets' movements won it adherents anyway; in spite of the Church’s disapproval, sailors routinely used Copernicus’s observations because, theologically correct or not, they improved navigation on the open ocean.

Quote source: Manchester, William: A World Lit Only By Fire p. 229

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