When Nicholas Copernicus made his case for a heliocentric universe in 1543, initial opposition came from adherents to Aristotelian physics. As Copernicus's ideas gained currency, Christian detractors also advanced criticism of the solar-centered universe.Continue Reading
Suggestions that the sun was the center of the universe did not originate with Copernicus. Aristarchus of Samos, a Greek mathematician from the 4th century B.C., proposed a heliocentric cosmos. Because of Archimedes's reference to Aristarchus' work, heliocentric ideas were known in Europe beginning in the High Middle Ages, yet heliocentric notions of the cosmos were not seriously entertained until Copernicus.
Embracing a heliocentric cosmology was absurd from a common-sense and physical point of view in the late 16th century, and the Aristotelian division between the heavens and the earth had deep intellectual roots. Accepting Copernicus's system meant abandoning Aristotelian physics, which provoked many profound questions and deeply challenging conclusions.
The idea of a stationary sun and moving earth also clashed with many biblical passages. Protestants and Catholics alike dismissed heliocentrism. In the long run, Protestants, who had more freedom to interpret the Bible personally, accepted heliocentrism sooner. Catholics, especially in Spain and Italy, were more cautious in the religious climate of the Counter Reformation, which opposed reforms initiated by Protestants. Christoph Clavius, a noted Jesuit mathematician, used biblical arguments against heliocentrism until his death in 1612.
In 1632, however, the publication of Galileo's "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems," was a watershed moment in the cosmological controversy, and increasingly, heliocentric notions of the universe gained favor with scientists and intellectuals who changed popular and religious opinion.Learn more about Renaissance & Reformation