On February 19, 1473, Renaissance mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus was born. Copernicus is most famous for his heliocentric model of the universe, which shattered Aristotle’s theory of geocentricism when he proposed that planets revolve around the sun in 1543. 

In the Middle Ages, science was referred to as natural philosophy and it intertwined closely with religion. The church adhered to Aristotle’s writings about the structure of the universe since it complemented religious dogma. The Greek philosopher’s geocentric universe was composed of 10 separate crystal spheres. Beyond the tenth sphere laid God and heaven [source: McKay, Bennett and Buckler].

But the age of the Renaissance brought with it a renewed interest in astronomy, and all that star-gazing would inadvertently contradict the church’s conception of the cosmos. Copernicus’ theory discarded Aristotle’s crystal spheres and enlarged the universe to infinite proportions. Though a Christian himself, Copernicus effectively displaced God and heaven and stripped man’s central role in the physical realm, which attracted intense criticism from both Protestants and Roman Catholics. 

For more about the scientific revolution that came about as a result of the Copernican crisis, the divorce between science and the church, and the age of Enlightenment that followed, read How the Enlightenment Worked.