This head shaking story appeared in my news feed recently (http://phys.org/news/2014-02-americans-unaware-earth-circles-sun.html). Like some of the commentators, I would like to know more detail about the nature of the questions and who was asked. Given the small numbers involved (only 2,200) it is possible to create such a set of questions and pick a demographic that skews the result to create whatever headline you wish. I’m not saying that is what happened, just that there is far too little information and the sample size far too small for this to be truly something that can be extrapolated out to cover the whole population of the USA.
However, if you do decide to do a search on geocentrism (the belief that the earth is the centre of our solar system) then some properly head scratching pages do come up; http://www.genesis-creation-proof.com/geocentricity.html being a good example. The beauty of this one is that it shows you precisely why biblical literalism is a bad idea (even dangerous?). The site rings all the same alarms for me that many conspiracy sites ring, that is the lone enthuse with little or no backing from a wider organisation. In other words, a fringe whacko who does not represent the wider majority who are biblical literalists. Another such site is http://www.evidencechart.com/charts/10.
The point that these sites help to make is that for those who wish to base their scientific claims on bible verses is that there will always be problem verses that simply cannot be taken as scientific fact but, equally so, there will also be some enthusiastic individuals who wish to make that claim and fly in the face of hard proof. Thus the blurry line between interpretation and literalism will always exist.
Geocentrism did seem obvious for a while. There was always a problem though; the retrograde motion of the visible planets (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retrograde_and_prograde_motion) throws a hefty spanner into the mix and to stick with a geocentric model of the solar system means one has to come up with some impressive adjustments and gymnastics to account. Seasons also cause a problem because it requires the path of the sun around the earth have a significant wobble; this needs an explanation. These two pieces of evidence are what I would have replied to this blog post had I known about it at the time (http://thonyc.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/we-live-in-a-geocentric-world/).
The kicker for geocentrism, of course, was the telescope. This earth changing invention allowed man to gaze at the stars and see so much more. The planets were shown to have moons of their own, something that clearly didn’t revolve around the earth. Even more amazing, Venus and Mercury showed changing crescents while Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were always full. That needed a very good explanation and really should be the last nail in the geocentric coffin for anyone who would stop and think and just five minutes.
Geocentrism Therefore Creationism.
Anyway, the news at the top of this post prompted me to dig a blog post out of my saved archives, http://thenewcreationism.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/well-evidenced-theories-can-be-wrong-poorly-evidenced-theories-can-be-right/. It is one I saved specifically because I consider it nonsense and wanted to keep it for when I felt the need to comment, that need is now.
The post above is short so won’t take much time to read, but makes an intriguing claim. Essentially it says that geocentrism was logical because that what the available evidence implied at the time. No matter how much the people believed it and wanted it to be true, it was always wrong and later, better evidence revealed that. The author then makes an analogy with evolution and attempts to put evolution in the place of geocentrism by admitting that it looks obvious. That doesn’t make it true aparently. He then goes a step too further and implies that the heroes of creationism are the Galileos of today. What an insult!
He’s wrong of course, very wrong.
Geocentrism wasn’t easy to overturn; there was an established worldview that required the earth to be the centre of everything and that philosophy would not be challenged. It was evidential weight that forced it into a minority view, one that really should be history by now. No one would ever seriously suggest that there is a controversy between geocentrism and heliocentrism and certainly no one would want both ideas to be taught in the classroom for students to make up their mind which one they want to adopt.
The true analogy with geocentrism is creationism; they are both idea born out religion and appear to make logical sense when looked at superficially. However, go deeper and the there is greater complexity that a simplistic worldview simply cannot explain and both idea crumble under evidence that is crushing.
No, the creationists of today are not Galilean heroes bravely fighting an established order trying to tell the world the truth; they are religious literalists cornered into a philosophy that has an ever shrinking platform and their worldview is so narrow they simply won’t accept what the evidence says because the consequences and cost are potentially enormous.