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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/133

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COPERNICUS.

proved to be true, in its essential feature, until Galileo discovered the phases of Venus, in 1610. Is it any wonder that doctors of the church five years afterwards were not convinced? They were profoundly ignorant of science and not in the least interested in science as such. Any one of them could recollect that Tycho Brahé, the greatest astronomer of his time, had in 1587 made a theory of the world which placed the earth at its center. He, then, did not agree with the theory of Copernicus. He expressly rejected it. It could easily be recollected, also, that in 1597 Kepler had proposed his first theory of the world, in which the planets were arranged according to fanciful and false analogies with the shapes of the five regular solids of Plato. It is now known that the systems of Tycho and of Kepler were both false. Ought the church doctors to have accepted them when they were proposed? In 1609 Kepler proposed a second theory of the world based on elliptic and heliocentric motion. How could the doctors know that this second system was the true one, as indeed it was? Kepler was still alive. How could they know that he would not propose a third theory? They had seen the doctrine of Ptolemy denied by Copernicus; the doctrine of Copernicus denied by Tycho; the doctrine of Tycho denied by Kepler's first system; the doctrine of Kepler's first replaced by that of his second system. All this had occurred within their own memories. In scientific theories as such they had no interest whatever; they were solely concerned for religion. Is it surprising that they did not promptly accept a theory which they did not understand?

It was, however, a profound and inexcusable error for them to condemn it; and by so doing they, unwittingly, dealt a heavy blow to the church. For once, theology engaged in a warfare with science; and the issue was an overwhelming and deserved victory for science. There have not been many such conflicts. Very exceptional conditions are required to bring them about, as may be seen in the long history of Galileo.

It is very difficult to form a vivid conception of the whole character of Copernicus either from his works or from his portraits. We know far too little of his history and too little of the time in which he lived. I have found no summary in any of his biographies that can be called satisfying and I have never been able to make one for myself. I venture to reprint that of Bertrand, and to enclose in parentheses those parts that we positively know to need modification or correction.

Capernic est pour nous tout entier dans son livre. Sa vie intime est mal connu. Ce qu'on en sait donne l'idée d'un homme ferme, mais prudent, et d'un caractère parfaitement droit; tout entier à ses spéculations et comme recuelli en lui-même; il aimait la paix, la solitude, et le silence. Simplement et sincèrement pieux, il ne comprit jamais que la verité pût mettre la foi en péril, et se réserva toujours le droit de la chercher et d'y croire. Aucune passion