Field of Science

The face of Copernicus and Luther's analogy

Scientists have verified that a skeleton found under a Polish cathedral is that of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) (Guardian, Politiken). They reconstructed his face from the cranium, and matched DNA in the bones to that of two pieces of hair found in a book that he owned. (Click image for larger size.)

Copernicus wasn't the first to hypothesize a universe with the planets revolving around the Sun, but he was the first astronomer to formulate a scientific theory of heliocentric cosmology (note that the Sun was then the center of the Universe, not just the solar system).

Martin Luther apparently didn't like this idea at all. He is quoted saying
There was mention of a certain astrologer who wanted to prove that the earth moves and not the sky, the sun, and the moon. This would be as if somebody were riding on a cart or in a ship and imagined that he was standing still while the earth and the trees were moving.
No it wouldn't. This tactic of arguing by analogy is very much in use today as well. By creationists, for example. However, it is the easiest thing in the world to make up an analogy to support any argument. Trying to convince a creationist that he shares an ancestor with a gorilla is like reading The Origin of Species to a gorilla in the hope that he will evolve into a human. Not going to happen.

Besides, Luther's analogy of the earth and trees moving is very much how Einstein thought about relativity. The "Does Chicago stop by this train" idea. Perhaps we should give Luther some credit for this.

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