I think there’s a danger of reading the current unhealthy polarisation of “Scientists v Fundamentalists” back into the Copernican story - especially given the fog blown over it by Andrew Dickson White, etc, in the last century. The repetition of the Warfare Hypothesis only goes to hide just how untypical the US Church’s situation over evolution is.
The fact is many “scientists” rejected Copernicus’ theory because of what it failed to solve, or because it overturned “settled science” and a host of other reasons: and many theologians rejected it because of accepted interpretations of the Bible, or because it seemed arrogantly to cock a snoot at settled science (remembering they’d all done compulsory science at university), and a host of other reasons.
Meanwhile others both in science and theology accepted it, or bits of it, for reasons good and bad. What’s interesting is that Lutheran Wittenberg was one of the first universities to discuss it, accomodate it in its own teaching program - and that here, objections to it were seldom theological, but scientific.
Owen Gingerich, a respected historian of science, points out how little we actually know of either Luther’s or Calvin’s views here.
A very readable blog takes a wider look at the mythology surrounding Copernicus and the Lutherans here, making the very important point that it was Phillip Melanchthon’s initiative that sent Wittenberg’s Rheticus to Copernicus, and enabled his publication.
Finally, a scholarly article here looks at the matter in more detail, pointing out how easily we mythologise the actual complexities of those times, and the mixed and nuanced responses to an incomplete new theory like Copernicus’. The article will repay those willing to take time to read it, but a couple of points are worth drawing out here.
First, the author points out that Lutheran Wittenberg did not see Copernicanism as a threatening new paradigm, but as a new theory whose good points could be absorbed within the old paradigm:
If we were to look at the early reception of Copernican astronomy at Wittenberg
through Kuhnian spectacles, therefore, we should have to make the paradoxical
statement that it had been welcomed respectfully into the fold of Ptolemaic
normal science-a situation which should never occur by Kuhn’s reckoning.
In other words, Lutherans were in the “Extended synthesis” camp, rather than amongst the the “Third Way” revolutionaries (to put it in current evoliutoionary theory terms).
Secondly, the paper examines just why Rheticus became what can only be called a “zealous convert” to the new theory, and concludes that it had as much to do with resolving inner psychological conflicts as with intellectual persuasion. That shouldn’t surprise us, because it’s true to life, which is more complicated than any version of the “hidebound tradition versus openminded innovation” myth.
So my word to “grog” is that Chris is quite right to draw the parallel between the fact that heliocentrism was widely seen to oppose faithful biblical Christianity, but actually didn’t, and that the same is true of any scientific work.
But to see how that works, serious thinking is required to avoid falling into simplistic answers that do threaten biblical faith. Fundamentalism is one (by refusing to engage with science in the understanding of Scripture and resorting to simplistic literalism). Scientism is another (by failing to see how many complex human factors are involved in the business of science and resorting to simplistic ideas of “science as progessive truth”).