Tim O’Neill, blogger at History for Atheists, offers a compendium of the Great Myths, including the warfare thesis myths on science and religion, a sure seller among the half-educated. Consider, for example, The Great Myths 6: Copernicus’ Deathbed Publication [on Earth as orbiting the Sun]:
In a 2014 blog post full of typical historical howlers, new atheist grumpy uncle PZ Myers sneered at a mention of Copernicus as a “Catholic astronomer”, snarling “[Copernicus] delayed publication out of fear; only saw his ideas in print on his deathbed [and his] book was prohibited by the Catholic Church in 1616”. And just a few weeks ago in an error-filled article rehearsing the hoary myth of Giordano Bruno as a martyr for reason, the atheist blogger Rick Snedeker also repeated the deathbed publication story…
Now, just a smidgen of the reality:
To begin with Copernicus definitely did not keep his ideas secret at all. He not only discussed them widely with his continent-wide circle of friends and compatriots, but around 1512 he also wrote an eight chapter summary of his theory – the so-called Commentariolus – which then circulated in unpublished form among interested astronomers and mathematicians. He seems to have sent a copy to the Cracow cartographer and historian Bernard Wapowski and it is this copy that probably found its way into the library of Matthew of Miechów, where its appearance in that library’s catalogue in 1514 is the first recorded mention of Copernicus’ theory. Copernicus’ friend and supporter, Bishop Tiedemann Giese of Culm, was almost certainly one of those who circulated the Commentariolus and he seems to have either sent a copy or at least written about the theory to the great Humanist scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam – though another mathematician in Cracow, Johannes Broscius, later described Erasmus’ reception of the thesis as “temperate”.
Audiences in Rome, on the other hand, were rather more enthusiastic. In 1533 the German scholar and theologian Johann Albrecht Widmanstadt (or Widmannstetter) was serving as a secretary to Pope Clement VII and was invited by the pope to give a lecture on Copernicus’ theory. Widmanstadt gave at least one lecture (or it may have been a series) in the Vatican gardens for the pope and leading members of the Curia and Papal court, including Cardinal Franciotto Orsini, Cardinal Giovanni Salviati, the Bishop of Viterbo Giampietro Grassi and the papal physician Matteo Corte. The pope was fascinated by the theory and rewarded Widmanstadt, who was a famous orientalist and Grecophile, with a precious manuscript of Alexander of Aphrodisias’s De sensu et sensibili, with Widmanstadt proudly inscribing the circumstances in which he received this gift in its front pages… Tim O’Neill, “The Great Myths 6: Copernicus’ Deathbed Publication” at History for Atheists
O’Neill plans to update the series every two or three months. So far:
The Great Myths 1: The Medieval Flat Earth
The Great Myths 2: Christmas, Mithras and Paganism
The Great Myths 3: Giordano Bruno was a Martyr for Science
The Great Myths 4: Constantine, Nicea and the Bible
The Great Myths 5: The Destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria
The Great Myths 6: Copernicus’ Deathbed Publication
Should be very handy. At one time, it would take time to sort through all the rubbish to get actual facts on these topics. Today, there is little excuse for retailing the myths, unless the purpose is just to tell an inert audience what it too easily believes.
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See also: What Copernicus really thought. Not your usual lecture-room platitude