From my mailbox:
Would you please mind telling me if Luther said this?
"People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system, which of all systems is of course the very best. This fool [or 'man'] wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth."- Martin Luther, Table Talk
This quote is a version of Table Talk statement 4638:
No. 4638: Luther Rejects the Copernican Cosmology June 4, 1539Rather than reinvent the wheel, the article "Luther and Science" by Donald H. Kobe gives the following explanation for the discrepancies of the two quotes:
There was mention of a certain new 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. [Luther remarked,] “So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing that others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth [Josh. 10:12].”(LW 54: 358-359)
To put this remark in perspective, it was made four years before the publication of Copernicus's book On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. Another version of the same conversation by John Aurifaber uses the expression "that fool" (Der Narr) instead of "that fellow". It is the expression "that fool" which has led to the intemperate remarks about Luther mentioned earlier. Lauterbach's version of the "Table Talk" is generally more reliable than Aurifaber's version. Even if Luther had called Copernicus, who was not mentioned by name, a fool, that would have been a rather mild epithet coming from Luther. The "Table Talk" was based on notes taken by students of Luther. The notes were compiled and first published in 1566, twenty years after Luther's death. Thus the remark cannot be construed as part of a concerted attack on Copernicus or Copernicans. The use of the word "astrologer" in the introductory remarks should not necessarily be interpreted as disparaging, since at that time the terms "astrologer" and "astronomer" were often used more or less synonymous.The entire article by Kobe is worth checking out. Kobe argues that Luther held to the generally accepted geocentric view of his day. Kobe states:
Luther's view of the Copernican theory was certainly not a reactionary one for his day. After all, there was no direct evidence for the Copernican theory in 1539. According to Edwin Burtt
It is safe to say that even had there been no religious scruples whatever against the Copernican astronomy, sensible men all over Europe, especially the most empirically minded, would have pronounced it a wild appeal to accept the premature fruits of an uncontrolled imagination, in preference to the solid inductions, built up gradually through the ages, of men's confirmed sense experience... Contemporary empiricists, had they lived in the 16th century, would have been the first to scoff out of court the new philosophy of the universe.
Genuine evidence for the Copernican system had to wait until the work of Johannes Kepler and Galileo in the early seventeenth century. Acceptance or rejection of the system before that time had to be based on nonscientific grounds, such as mathematical simplicity. Herbert Butterfield dates the breakdown of the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic system from the time when Galileo (circa 1600) formulated the principle of inertia. This principle, which states that a body moving with constant velocity continues to move with constant velocity unless acted on by an external force, helped to explain why everything would not fall off the earth if it were in motion. Of course, the earth does not move with constant velocity around the sun, so the Copernican view was not fully accepted. For most of the seventeenth century, the Copernican system competed with other alternatives, including Tycho Brahe's system which held that the earth is stationary, the sun revolves about the earth, and the other planets revolve about the sun. Only after Isaac Newton formulated the universal law of gravitation and the laws of mechanics, which unified terrestrial and celestial mechanics, was the heliocentric view generally accepted. Newton published his results in the Principia in 1687, almost 150 years after Luther's offhand remark.