History is strange, with people grabbing on to bits and pieces of the past instead of the truth. For example, tomatoes are a fruit, not a vegetable. The seeds are inside, not outside, so scientifically, they are fruit. The Supreme Court classified them as a "vegetable" to exempt them from an import law. Likewise, abortion was once completely legal in the US. It was made illegal by doctors trying to force midwives out of business. The circumcision campaign in the US was not done out of cleanliness and other ideas, but as a way to curb masturbation. Did that idea work at home for anybody?
The history of science versus religion is a strange one. This current Hatfields and McCoys atmosphere, with science attempting to remove all religious influence and religion trying to remove all scientific influence, is a relatively recent one, starting around the 20th century. Some suggest it was the infamous debate in 1860 between Bishop Wilberforce and Darwinist Thomas Henry Huxley, but most of what happened there is anecdotal, there is no true official record of what was said. Before that, the church in general not only long supported scientific theory, but encouraged it, even when it flew in the face of religious doctrine. The Vatican had its own observatory in the 16th century and reformed the Julian calendar. Gregor Mendel was a monk who was just screwing around with peapods and discovered the foundation of modern genetic theory. The ultimate defeat of abiogenesis. Louis Pasteur was a devout Catholic. They even knew back then the world was round. Individuals such as the legendary Saint Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Saint Augustine, Roger Bacon, and the Venerable Bede all believed in a spherical earth.
So, when someone comes up with a theory and it is not seen as a "Ooo, look what I discovered, isn't this interesting?" and presents it as a smack at the ego of one side or the other, what was "truth" is lost in a campaign of strawmen, ad hominem attacks, and just plain spin. Evolution vs. creationism. Just as there are holes in the theory of Creationism, there are holes in the theory of Evolution. But instead of examining those holes and looking for answers, the arguments are presented to piss the other side off, and catching people in contradictions, no matter how flimsy, is the goal. What do you know? The Internet truly does represent humanity!
Today, Nicolaus Copernicus was reburied as a Polish hero and a canon, one rank lower than priest in clerical orders. Living from 1473 to 1543, Copernicus first came up with the theory of the heliocentric universe, which he published in Little Commentary in 1514. Far from Europe's centers of learning, Copernicus made his observations with the naked eye because the telescope hadn't been discovered yet. He was buried in an unmarked tomb. There was no persecution involved, no one really understood what he had discovered. In fact, Pope Leo X had found Copernicus' ideas fascinating and gave them papal favor. So, when Copernicus was planted, everyone thought he was no one of great consequence.
So what went wrong? If the religious orders of the time weren't afraid of scientific theory, why did Copernicus' findings get ignored? Well, blame it on the Reformation. John Calvin thought Copernicus was an idiot, and Martin Luther was, well, Martin Luther -- "This fool wishes to reverse the entire scheme of astronomy," a subject Copernicus actually went to college for. The theory wasn't ignored due to challenging Creationism or Papal Infallibility (which, I should note, did not become policy until 1870), but due to a bunch of ego cases who couldn't bother to consider anything they hadn't already learned.
You can't mention Coperican theory without mentioning Galileo. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) came along and invented the first telescope in 1609. He wrote in Sidereal Messenger the Jesuits in Rome had already "verified the actual existence of the new planets (actually, the moons of Jupiter. --G) and had been constantly observing them for two months; we compared notes, and I found that their observations agreed exactly with my own." From there, things got ugly. Galileo observed sunspots and that the sun actually rotates. The Jesuits claimed they knew that already. Galileo wanted Copernican theory to be considered fact, the Jesuits wanted it to be considered theory. Can you say, "pissing match"?
In 1615, a complaint was lodged with those models of intelligence and understanding, the Inquisition (just to make sure I'm clear, that was sarcasm). Galileo was told that, in order to keep out of trouble, all he had to do was state Copernican theory was theory, not fact. Galileo told them to go fuck themselves. In 1623, The Assayer was published with the sanction of Pope Urban VIII (it is dedicated to him). It laid out that the only valid foundation for science was observation and reason. Then, once again with Urban's blessing (and a section Urban wanted in the book), Dialogue On The Two Chief Systems Of The World was published in 1632, for which Galileo was hauled before the Inquisition. Galileo was a pawn. The Catholic Church at the time did not interpret the Bible in a literal fashion. But the Protestants and other leaders of the Reformation did. It was obvious that scientific discovery would soon be at odds with religious "history", and the Catholics were trying to prove the Bible was as important to them as these offshoots gaining traction with the public. The Catholic Church was seeking relevancy.
It should be noted that, while Copernicus was eventually proven right, at the time, there was no real proof, so asking what he discovered to be regarded as a theory really doesn't seem so off base to me. Among Copernicus' detractors was Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). He was a Danish astronomer whose observations were the basis for Johannes Kepler's laws of planetary motion. Brahe's theory was the other planets revolved around the sun and the sun around the earth, so clearly Copernicus' theory was not regarded as self-evident.
So, as Copernicus is reburied as a hero with an official tombstone, please remember he came from an era when the challenge was not to uphold science or to uphold religion. The challenge was to find the truth, whatever it might be. It is a legacy ultimately more important than, "It still turns."