Anniversary Post: Copernicus Makes the Index of Forbidden Books!

Nicolaus CopernicusOn this day in 1616, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. But I put it that way because I’m suffering from heartburn and feeling very old today. (It is my little sister’s 51st birthday today!) Anyway, the book in question is Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, and it was placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books.

As I’ve noted before, Copernicus had the right idea, but his theory was a mess. Since he assumed that the planets go around the sun in circles, his predictions weren’t good. It would take Johannes Kepler — who was working this all out just as Copernicus was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books — before we got a proper theory of the solar system.

I was thinking, though, that maybe it’s not wrong to withhold distressful information from people. To me, it is more a matter that the idea would never occur to me. That way of thinking is so foreign to me that I’ve never given it any real thought. Obviously, that’s mostly due to the time and place of my birth. But I know a lot of people who are always jumping to the conclusion less information is better. And I just find it bizarre.

Of course, it doesn’t appear that Copernicus’ book was banned because the Church was concerned that it was going to cause riots. It appears it was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books for the same reason that most government documents are classified: because it was embarrassing. It’s not like the Church had made countless reversals previously without everyone losing faith in the Church.

And note: this all happened over 70 years after the book was published. And the book was published after Copernicus died, because he was a careful man. And the Church didn’t care that much anyway. It was just that Galileo was making a lot of noise, and there are always people, as I said, keen to stop the flow of information.

19 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Copernicus Makes the Index of Forbidden Books!

  1. So I read recently about who has the biggest meteorite collections. The Smithsonian, naturally. The Pentagon; I guess that makes sense, they’re interested in how things go zoom from the sky onto a target. Also, the Vatican.

    Huh? What? Yep, the Vatican. I’m not making this up:

    My favorite line: “We in the Church study creation so that we may come to know more deeply the Heart of the Creator.” Sounds like God needs an EKG and blood-pressure pills.

    • You have to understand that for a long time now, the Catholic Church has not been fundamentalist. It is very pro-science. I always say that if you want to know God, you should study math. But science is close. I’m still trying to figure out how they concluded that the soul enters the egg the moment a spermatozoa wiggles its way in. Sounds pretty arbitrary — and unscientific.

      • Wasn’t it believed at one time that each sperm contained a homunculus? Maybe that’s the origin of the soul entering the egg idea.

        • For a long time, it was thought that women were just incubators for little humans shot out by men. But that was way before Thomas Aquinas argued that the soul entered the fertilized egg at roughly 3 months. That was 13th century. So I figure the argument that the soul enters the egg at conception is much more recent. But I suspect that it is like free will. The Church decided that it needed these bits of dogma so it worked backwards to get them. I understand free will: without it, Christianity is a farce. I’m no so sure about the egg thing except that Christianity is part of noble tradition of hating women.

          • *reads* Looks like nothing has changed.

            Oh no, the incubator has attained sentience! we can type!

            • The fact that Catholic St Aquinas was far more evolved on this 8 centuries ago than a third of the American people today is really quite upsetting.

              • Not a big surprise though. It is the end result of lack of education+hostility towards education+dislike of feminine sexuality.

                • I also think that Aquinas actually believed. He was trying to find the truth. I think, as you know, that Christianity is mostly a cultural signifier for Americans.

                    • What was that? I’m very uncomfortable with just how comfortable we’ve become with having God in our political discourse.

            • I think it’ll be a great day when someone perfects the artificial womb. I’m a fan of Lois Bujold’s novels which include this as a trope but her incubators are strictly mechanical. Fred Pohl (Heechee stories), and probably others have combined this idea with the notion of full-fledged AI’s, but I don’t know if these devices could type.

              • I knew we agreed on something.
                The day that uterine replicators become a viable alternative will be a wonderful day.

      • I can see why they might want to stop the flow of information. One theory about the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was that since the church had made a huge effort to educate a lot of people over decades led to them writing to one another to revolt in the spring of 1381.

        More recently is the Republican strategy to never educate voters resulting in the rather predictable mess we are currently dealing with.

        • Democracy is a liberal idea. Conservatives have never liked it, and most of them will tell you that if you get a couple of drinks in them.

          Knowledge is a form of power. The power elite do not like competition. This is why there has been a hard press since the 1990s to turn education into job training. Educate the people just enough so that they are good workers but not enough that they would ever question the system.

          • Good, if supremely depressing, point. Of course they are also kept very distracted by shiny new toys.

            • The education issue is very important to me. Of course, the other side of this is that it allows the power elite to pretend that inequality is all about education, so that we can waste another generation doing nothing about inequality. “Oh, you mean the wages of biologists have stagnated too?! Who could have known!” Rat bastards!

          • “Educate the people just enough so that they are good workers”

            Some of the early advocates for public education were quite explicit about their goal of creating a docile workforce. I’m absolutely in favor of universal public education, but the history is what it is.

            • When working the coal mines at 7 wasn’t enough. But you are right. Education, as I think of it, has traditionally been something reserved for the rich. But like so much in this country, we don’t need to have scarcity. We have it out of habit and out of the desire of the rich to be categorically different from the rest of us.

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