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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/130

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

church would receive his work favorably. His doctrine had been known to them since 1530. He knew, however, that several powerful university teachers—Fracastor for one—opposed it. Ought we not to interpret the apology as an address to men of science? Whewell justly remarks that Copernicus seems to consider the opposition of divines as a 'less formidable danger' than that of astronomers. It is difficult to admit that Osiander dared to prefix this note without the authorization of Copernicus, or, at least, of Rheticus. There seems to be no reason to doubt that it was addressed solely to men of science.

The words of the apology represent the exact point of view of the ancients, and are entirely opposed to the attitude of modern science. Centuries of experience have taught the modern world that there is one and only one solution to a scientific problem. Modern science is a search for such unique solutions. Anything less definite is an hypothesis to be held tentatively and temporarily, it may be even alternatively with another, or others. The theories of the Greek philosophers were, in general, held by them primarily as hypotheses. Their whole attitude towards scientific certainty was thus entirely different from our own. In the time of Copernicus the minds of most men were cast in the ancient temper. It is, in fact, from his century that the new insight dates. This is not to say that colossal geniuses like Archimedes or Roger Bacon did not work in what we call the modern spirit. It is simply to confirm that most of the contemporaries of Copernicus belonged, in this respect, to the ancient world. The apology expressed exactly their attitude. The attitude and temper of the modern world are entirely different; they are perfectly formulated in these words of Pascal: "Ce n'est pas le décret de Rome sur le mouvement de la terre qui prouvera qu'elle demeure en repos; et, si l'on avait des observations constantes qui prouvassent que c'est elle qui tourne, tous les hommes ensembles ne l'empêcheraient pas de tourner, et ne s'empêcheraient pas de tourner avec elle."

It required this very book of Copernicus to suggest the pregnant phrase of Pascal.

In the letter of dedication to the Pope—Paul III.—Copernicus speaks in his own name. His words are simple and serious, full of dignity and conviction:

I dedicate my book to your Holiness in order that both learned men and the ignorant may see that I do not shrink from judgment and examination. If perchance there be vain babblers who, knowing nothing of mathematics, yet assume the right of judging on account of some place of Scripture perversely twisted to their purpose, and who blame and attack my undertaking, I heed them not and look upon their judgments as rash and contemptible.

He is here referring to divines. The following is addressed to astronomers.