Here is a good summary of the question.
See: http://www.catholicleague.org/catholicism-and-science/Catholicism and Science
, by Rodney Stark (from Catalyst
‘Popular lore, movies, and children’s stories hold that in 1492 Christopher Columbus proved the world is round and in the process defeated years of dogged opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, which insisted that the earth is flat. These tales are rooted in books like A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom
, an influential reference by Andrew Dickson White, founder and first president of Cornell University. White claimed that even after Columbus’ return “the Church by its highest authority solemnly stumbled and persisted in going astray.”
‘The trouble is, almost every word of White’s account of the Columbus story is a lie. All educated persons of Columbus’ day, very much including the Roman Catholic prelates, knew the earth was round. The Venerable Bede (c. 673-735) taught that the world was round, as did Bishop Virgilius of Salzburg (c. 720-784), Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), and Thomas Aquinas (c. 1224-74). All four ended up saints. Sphere
was the title of the most popular medieval textbook on astronomy, written by the English scholastic John of Sacrobosco (c. 1200-1256). It informed that not only the earth but all heavenly bodies are spherical.
‘So, why does the fable of the Catholic Church’s ignorance and opposition to the truth persist? Because the claim of an inevitable and bitter warfare between religion and science has, for more than three centuries, been the primary polemical device used in the atheist attack on faith.
‘The truth is, there is no inherent conflict between religion and science. Indeed, the fundamental reality is that Christian theology was essential for the rise of science—a fact little appreciated outside the ranks of academic specialists.
‘The progress achieved during the “Dark Ages” was not merely technological. Medieval Europe excelled in philosophy and science. The term “Scientific Revolution” is in many ways as misleading as “Dark Ages.” Both were coined to discredit the medieval Church. The notion of a “Scientific Revolution” has been used to claim that science suddenly burst forth when a weakened Christianity could no longer prevent it, and as the recovery of classical learning made it possible. Both claims are as false as those concerning Columbus and the flat earth.’