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Copernicus: National Geographic tries to get the history right

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Setting the story of the heliocentric conception of the universe in the context of its time is more interesting than TV talking points:

A man of both science and faith, Copernicus lived during a time of great change in Europe. A new flowering of humanist thought was spreading throughout the continent, as scholars and artists looked back to the classical era and brought its influence to bear on art, architecture, literature, politics, and science. After Martin Luther published his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, a religious revolution began that would roil the Catholic Church and form new denominations. Throughout all this tumult, Copernicus held fast at the center, methodically crafting his own astronomical revolution…

A century before Galileo’s persecution, the church’s attitude to- ward astronomy was more open. The Julian calendar, then in use, had become so inexact that it fell out of time with the seasons. Copernicus submitted a statement to a 1512-16 council convened to address the problem, in which he called for more accurate observations. A new “Gregorian” calendar with leap years was introduced under Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 and is still in use today.

Ernest Kowalczyk, “Copernicus’s revolutionary ideas reorganized the heavens” at National Geographic

The calendar problem was beginning to interfere with agriculture and business. Calendar reform, more than an intellectual thesis, was the astronomy project of the age. Copernicus thought that the calendar couldn’t be reformed using the Ptolemaic system. That, rather than a “war of faith vs. reason” was his driving idea.

Incidentally, if someone had come along and claimed that there is an infinity of infinities of universes out there, including many just like our own, in which anything and anything and nothing can happen, someone else would probably cough politely and say, “Methinks, your worships, that he hath found his way betimes to the mead-cellar … “

See also: What Copernicus Really Thought… Not Your Usual Lecture Room Platitude

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3 Replies to “Copernicus: National Geographic tries to get the history right

  1. 1
    DarelRex says:

    Another factual flaw in NatGeo’s story: “A new ‘Gregorian’ calendar with leap years was introduced under Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 and is still in use today.” No. The Julian calendar had leap years, it just had them every four years no matter what. The difference is that the new, Gregorian calendar *skips* leap years every so often. If the Julian calendar hadn’t had leap years, the seasons would have slipped 372 days in the 1,536 years since the year 46 — more than a full year!

  2. 2

    Darel Rex,
    the issue was how many days are in a year. Julian calendar had 365.25, whereas the Gregorian had 365.2425. The difference was that centuries lost the leap year (365.24) but added it back if the century was divisible by 4 (eg. 365.2425) Then an extra day per century meant that from the time of Julius Caesar to 1500, the calendar was off by 15 days, or roughly 2 weeks. Not a big issue for us, but for farmers told to plant, say, at May 1 to avoid frost, they were suffering 2 weeks of lost income.

  3. 3
    OLV says:

    See also: What Copernicus Really Thought… Not Your Usual Lecture Room Platitude

    https://uncommondescent.com/philosophy/what-copernicus-really-thought-not-your-usual-lecture-room-platitude/

    In the given video the so-called spaceman said something about Kepler and the phonetics of Son and Sun that doesn’t seem right, because Kepler’s main language wasn’t English

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