More on Cosmos and Giordano Bruno:
Bruno is the poster boy of the Draper-White Thesis – the idea that science and religion have always been at war and an idea beloved by the New Atheist movement despite the fact it was rejected by actual historians of science about a century ago. Try to engage in an attempt at intelligent discussion of the real and much more complex and nuanced interrelations between religion and what was to emerge as modern science in the medieval and early modern periods and Bruno is usually brandished as “proof” that the Church was the implacable and ignorant foe of early science. After all, why else did they burn him for daring to say the earth wasn’t the centre of the universe and that the stars were other suns with planets? For those who prefer simple slogans and caricatures to the hard work of actually analysing and understanding history, Bruno is a simple answer to a intricate question. Nuance and complexity are the first casualties in a culture war.
DeGrasse Tyson assures us that he [Bruno] “dared to read the books banned by the Church and that was his undoing.” We then get a sequence of Bruno reading a copy of Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things which he has hidden under the floorboards of his cell. The first problem here is that Lucretius’ work was not “banned by the Church” at all and no-one needed to hide it under their floor. Poggio Bracciolini had published a printed edition of the book a century before Bruno was born and it had never been banned when the medieval manuscripts Bracciolini worked from had been copied nor was it banned once his edition made it widely available. The idea that the Church banned and/or tried to destroy Lucretius’ work is a myth that Christopher Hitchens liked to repeat and which has been given a lease of popular life via Stephen Greenblatt’s appalling pseudo historical work The Swerve, which somehow won a Pulitzer Prize despite being a pastiche of howlers.