"An outright falsification of history." The genesis of Martin Luther’s alleged anti-Copernicanism

Martin Luther has been severely criticized for an offhand remark about Copernicus. In the most frequently cited version of this statement, Luther is alledged to have branded Copernicus as a fool who will turn the whole science of Astronomy upside down. This disparaging judgment on Luther prevails in many publications by respected historians of science of the 20th century, although since the early thirties, it has been convincingly demonstrated that the famous citation from Luther's table talk is next to worthless as an historical source, that Luther never referred to Copernicus or to the heliocentric world system in all of his voluminous writings, and that there is no indication that Luther ever suppressed the Copernican viewpoint. His attitude towards Copernicus was indifference or ignorance, but not hostility. In this paper, it is shown that the story of Luther's anti-Copernicanism emerged in the second half of the 19th century. It was invented by Franz Beckmann and Franz Hipler, two Prussian Catholic historians who were engaged in the conflict between the German government under Bismarck and the Catholic Church (Kulturkampf), and it was disseminated by influential German and American historians like Leopold Prowe, Ernst Zinner, and Andrew D. White. In the second half of the 20th century, many historians of science relied on the authority of these authors, rather than studying the sources or the secondary literature in which it has been proved that Luther's anti- Copernicanism is an outright falsification of history.