The overwhelming reaction of the sixteenth century scientific community to Copernicus’ new book On the Revolutions, first published in 1543, was contemptuous rejection.
The Greek astronomer, Aristarchus of Samos, had proposed in the third century B.C. that the Earth was the third planet from the Sun, and not the center of the universe. The crazy idea that the massive Earth, the archetypal example of something totally immovable, was tearing around the Sun at 18 miles a second had been clearly disproved in ancient times. The Earth motion notion was clearly contrary to the scientific consensus, a consensus established for centuries.
The science was in! Copernicus was an Earth-center denier!
The attacks against Copernicus are astoundingly similar to the attacks on scientists like myself who are critical of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). The great Copernican scholar, Edward Rosen, who was a distinguished professor at the City University of New York, compiled a wonderful source of original documents on Copernicus in Copernicus and the Scientific Revolution. Rosen records that a friend of Copernicus sent a copy of On the Revolutions to Pope Paul III, the man to whom Copernicus had dedicated his great work. Paul III gave the book to his personal theologian Bartolomeo Spino who, we are told, “planned to condemn it” but died before he could do so. The task of criticizing Copernicus was transferred to Spino’s close friend, the Dominican Tolosani, who penned the following:
The book by Nicholas Copernicus of Torun was printed not long ago and published in recent days. In it he tries to revive the teaching of certain Pythagoreans concerning the Earth’s motion, a teaching which had died out in times long past. Nobody accepts it now except Copernicus. [The Pythagoreans had proposed a non-mathematical Earth-motion theory before Aristarchus.]
[Copernicus is] an expert in mathematics and astronomy, but he is very deficient in physics. … Hence, since Copernicus does not understand physics … it is not surprising if he is mistaken in this opinion and accepts the false as true, through ignorance of those sciences … it is stupid to contradict a belief accepted by everyone over a very long time for extremely strong reasons, unless the naysayer uses more powerful and incontrovertible proofs, and completely rebuts the opposed reasoning. Copernicus does not do this at all. For he does not undermine the proofs, establishing necessary conclusions, advanced by Aristotle the philosopher and Ptolemy the astronomer.
Aristotle absolutely destroyed the arguments of the Pythagoreans. Yet this is not adduced by Copernicus in his ignorance of it.
Almost all the hypotheses of this author Copernicus contain something false, and very many absurdities follow from them. … For by a foolish effort [Copernicus] tries to revive the contrived Pythagorean belief, long since deservedly buried, since it explicitly contradicts human reason.