From medievalist Tim O’Neill (an atheist) at History for Atheists:
The Church had always accepted that the Bible could be interpreted in a non-literal manner and that it should be if Biblical exegesis and rational analysis of the world conflicted. That’s why all those Biblical references that talk about a flat earth had long since been regarded as poetic rather than literal. So in 1615 Cardinal Bellarmine made it clear in his letter to Paolo Foscarini that the same could potentially happen with passages that were traditionally interpreted as saying the earth was fixed and unmoving:
“[I]f there were a true demonstration that the sun is at the centre of the world and the earth in the third heaven, and that the sun does not circle the earth but the earth circles the sun, then one would have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary, and say rather that we do not understand them than what is demonstrated is false. But I will not believe that there is such a demonstration, until it is shown to me . . . . and in case of doubt one must not abandon the Holy Scripture as interpreted by the Holy Fathers.”
The problem was that Bellarmine was correct: in 1615 there was no such demonstration and the overwhelming scientific consensus was that Galileo and the handful of other heliocentrists were wrong. That consensus did not begin to change for another 90 years. So it was not a case of scientists challenging dogma and theologians ignoring science. It was a case of one or two scientists championing a fringe theory that was still full of holes and using it to reinterpret the Bible and the Church pointing to the scientific consensus of the day and saying they could not do this. The Church had science on its side.
The only other example that people who see medieval science as under the heel of massive theological restriction and “Renaissance” science freeing itself from this oppression is … Giordano Bruno. But as I’ve detailed elsewhere, his condemnation had nothing to do with science. The idea that medieval natural philosophy was constrained by theology and that later science was not is a fantasy, based on ignorance of the subject and patent ideological bias. More.
False history is a big problem in science. To the extent that we can learn anything from history, the first step is to get the story right.
Of course, if you just want to look as cool as a TV anchor’s hair, don’t read stuff like this.
See also: The warfare thesis exploded In general, do not trust science writers on topics involving religion. Too many are shallow thinkers with an aversion to homework. Some give the impression that getting the story wrong doesn’t matter. If we pay any attention to them, they are right.