Copernicus didn't publish his book - and this is in dispute - Sophie's World says in fear of disrupting the natural order of the world. Other places I've looked say that he was a bit of a perfectionist and he wanted his data squared away with his conclusions. The following website states why his findings were a bit disconcerting to the Middle Aged mind:
"Man, it was believed (and still believed by some) was made by
God in His image, man was the next thing to God, and, as such, superior,
especially in his best part, his soul, to all creatures, indeed this part was
not even part of the natural world (a philosophy which has proved disastrous to
the earth's environment as any casual observer of the 20th century might confirm
by simply looking about). Copernicus' theories might well lead men to think that
they are simply part of nature and not superior to it and that ran counter to
the theories of the politically powerful churchmen of the time."
So what if we lived on a planet that rotated around the sun instead of the other way around? Well, that was just the beginning. Italian scientist Giordano Bruno took it a step (or five) further by suggesting that space is infinite and that our solar system might just be one of many systems out there in space, and .... (wait for it)...there might be life on other planets! For this leap of logic, he was burned at the stake by the Inquisition (don't we have the cable news networks for that today?).
Galileo discovered 4 additional moons of Jupiter (1610), observed a supernova (1604), and the detailed surface of our own moon (1609) with his new and improved telescope - a discovery that shattered the idea of a universe that never changed (if scientists like Aristotle didn't find the moons or the supernova, then they shouldn't be there - forget the idea that G might have improved his telescope). Also, in 1632, his book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems supported the Copernican system and the not the discredited Ptolemaic system. That was enough for the Pope and the Church which had him recant his ideas and placed under house arrest for the rest of his days. 2
Kepler published his laws of planetary motion in 1609 that were consistent with the Copernican system (The Roman Catholic Church kept fighting these new discoveries and stuck to their guns, while some new Protestant churches accepted these new scientific findings, so the science took on a whole other political / religious dimension). Kepler also supported Galileo as well but was soon caught up in the poltical battles in Germany and Austria and lost his post in 1630.
Isaac Newton came up with his laws for gravity and motion that not only tied all of this together but did it with the simplicity of math - he used the math to show that this new Copernican interpretation was God's intention all along. He synthesized Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler and tied it all together in one neat system that in many ways still stands up today. 3
After all of this, however, I was wondering about the moral ramifications of a scientist's discoveries. In this case, these men upset the natural order of the known scientific world. As we'll read later, Darwin will knock mankind from his pedastal w/ his Origin of Species in 1859. Then later Einstein will usher in the age of relativism w/ his theory of relativity (historian Paul Johnson asserted that this theory blew down the boundaries of right and wrong and made EVERYTHING relative - you don't have to agree w/ him; it's his theory). After that, we had nuclear bombs and germ (bio) and chemical warfare available for use.
1. Is he or she (scientist or discoverer) responsible for the ways that their discovery is used / abused? Why or why not? What are the implications of holding someone accountable for their invention?
2. If you discovered something potentially dangerous or blasphemous, how would you handle it? Would you pull a Copernicus and publish posthumously (after death)? Would you release the results and try to protect and defend the discovery like Galileo and Kepler? Or is there another alternative?
150 words minimum - Due Tuesday, October 13.
2. The Galileo Project - Rice University - http://galileo.rice.edu/index.html
I would like to recommend a very readable book about this tumultuous period - it has the science but it isn't overwhelmingly technical. It's Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel. Good stuff!