So much of science education, especially when it comes to the place of science in context of religion, is based on caricature and misrepresentation. For example, the idea that human and chimp DNA is “99% similar” is completely and utterly bogus, even by admission of contemporary geneticists, yet this is a “scientific fact” that is constantly cited to portray opponents of evolution as kooky, irrational, and unscientific.

Another common distortion is the idea that Christians rejected and suppressed the Copernican heliocentric model for religious reasons. This is meant to show that religious institutions, by their very nature, oppose clear science and clear reason in order to preserve their authority. By extension, if we want to be truly reasonable, scientific people, we need to discard our religious commitments and look at the world in an “objective” light. Religion is thus inherently a hindrance to discovery and progress.

Too bad this is all a gross distortion. In fact, Copernicus was a devout Catholic and the Catholic Church had no problem with his model when he proposed it and nearly a century thereafter. His heliocentric model did not gain immediate prominence because, as a matter of fact, the model was not as accurate as the geocentric model of Ptolemy, which had been the gold standard for centuries before Copernicus. Copernicus’ model also was not as mathematically simple as Ptolemy’s. To correctly track the motion of the planets, Copernicus had to incorporate a greater number of epicycles into the planetary orbits than even Ptolemy, and this, of course, contributed to the increased complexity of the Copernican model. Point being, the Copernican model was not more intuitive from a mathematical perspective than the Ptolemaic.

Finally, there was no empirical evidence at that time to suggest that the heliocentric model was correct. Therefore, there was no strictly scientific reason to adopt heliocentrism at that point. As far as anyone could tell, geocentrism was slightly more plausible because it’s predictions were more accurate.