Rheticus, 1514-1574

by Jindan Chen*

Following the study in my spring course of Science and Religion, I spent part of my summer researching how the Copernican theory was first read by the Lutheran scholars at the University of Wittenberg (the University of Martin Luther) during the sixteenth century. Robert Westman’s 1973 article captures the nature of this reading which he terms “the Wittenberg interpretation”. The hallmark of the interpretation is the divided treatment of the mathematical model and the cosmological claim of the Copernican theory. The mathematical part is diligently studied and genuinely admired by Lutherans and applied to produce a number of greatly-improved astronomical tables, whereas the cosmological part, which says the sun lies in the center of the universe, is almost completely neglected. The question here that engages my attention is why the first reading of the Copernican theory fails to be a realistic interpretation.  In other words, does the fact that a full acceptance is delayed mean the religious values are preventing science from moving forward, which is an unambiguously claimed view in Andrew White’s well-known doctoral thesis?  Continue reading