Bible Review 15:4, August 1999

Going Around in Circles

Science and religion are still doing a wary dance around each other.

By Ronald S. Hendel

Bible Review

News accounts of the Pope’s visit to Poland this past June reported that John Paul II visited the birthplace of Nicholas Copernicus and praised the astronomer’s scientific discoveries. This gesture of praise would be unremarkable for anyone else on the planet, but for the Pope to praise this Renaissance scientist (who lived from 1473–1543) is deeply symbolic. Copernicus, as any schoolchild should know (if they still teach such things), discovered, on the basis of evidence and mathematics, that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa. He didn’t have all the details right (it was Isaac Newton who later realized that the planetary orbits were ellipses, not perfect circles), but his theory changed the face of science and began a crisis in Western religion that has lasted to the present day.

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