Don’t Blame Calvin!

A reader writes …

I’m reading with great interest your recent book ‘A new kind of Christianity’ I’m finding it very helpful and challenging in thinking through my own Christian presumptions and beliefs.
One of your themes is ‘challenge your preconceptions and received wisdom’; so I’m sure you’re up for some of this yourself!
In chapter 17 of your book (Can we find a way to address sexuality without fighting about it?), in a paragraph questioning the constitutional reading of the Bible, you cite Calvin as having said/written ‘who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?’. In fact, Calvin never wrote these words.
It was Bertrand Russell, in his History of Western Philosophy, who attributed this statement to Calvin. However, he did not cite his source, and no-one, not even Thomas Kuhn, has been able to find it in any of Calvin’s writings. It does, however, appear in Andrew Dickson White’sHistory of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), and although White referred to a specific work of Calvin, the words do not appear there.
… Your writings are a breath of fresh air to the church, so often entrenched in its preconceptions and unchallenged assumptions about God’s truth. I would hate to think that an inaccuracy in your writings might give your detractors an excuse for ignoring what you say.

Thanks so much for pointing this out. Apparently the statement comes from Abraham Calovius, but was erroneously attributed to Calvin, and the erroneous attribution has been widely disseminated. I’ll ask my publishers to remove the reference in future editions. As someone who is frequently misquoted – and whose misquotations are widely disseminated on the world-wide internets – I empathize with Calvin, regret the mistake, am grateful for your bringing it to my attention, and am glad for the chance to correct it here!