The Geocentric Argument

 

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.

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9 thoughts on “The Geocentric Argument

  1. You know I distinctly remember being a child and knowing from school that the earth goes around the sun. At the same time I was familiar with the biblical story of Joshua and the sun standing still. I never saw a conflict. Not anymore than when I spoke or heard others speak of the sun “rising.” However, I hope you are right that somehow the demographic may have skewed the outcome of that poll.

  2. Essentially it says that geocentrism was logical because that what the available evidence implied at the time.

    That’s probably correct. This was part of why Kuhn came up with “paradigm shift” to explain scientific change. Kuhn actually wrote a book “The Copernican Revolution” on the topic, though I have not read it.

    The thing about logic, is that it works with existing concepts. It does not provide a basis for conceptual change, except in the limited sense of defining new concepts in terms of the old. A lot of scientific change does depend on conceptual change. We generally make changes in our concepts on a pragmatic basis, rather than to answer questions of what is true.

    The attempt to use this to support creationism is, of course, absurd. It’s the creationists who desperately cling to old concepts. Science has move on with new and better ones. The use of radiometric dating is far superior to attempts to date based on ancient texts. And the evidence obtained with radiometric dating already refutes young earth creationism.

  3. That heliocentrism explains retrograde motion significantly better than geocentrism is in fact the most powerful argument available to Copernicus in De revolutionibus. Unfortunately it is not strong enough when confronted with the physical problems that a moving earth would imply. This is why the whole apparatus of modern physics had first to be invented in the seventeenth century before heliocentricity could be accepted.

    Your argument concerning the seasons is just plain wrong. The seasons are caused by the tilt of the earth axis. Whether you explain the seasons geocentrically respective the angle of the ecliptic, i.e. the tilt of the suns path respective the equator or heliocentrically respective the tilt of the earths axis the explanations are logically equivalent. In fact even today it is most common to explain the seasons geocentrically.

    That Jupiter has moons is an argument against Aristotelian cosmology and his concept of homocentricity and not an argument against geocentricity. Even Galileo recognised this and never tried to use it as such. The phases of Venus and Mercury are indeed an argument against Ptolemaic geocentricity but not against a Heracleidian system, already suggested in antiquity, in which Venus and Mercury orbit the sun and the sun orbits the earth. It is also not an argument against Tychonic and semi-Tychonic systems in which all the planets orbit the sun and the sun orbits the earth. In fact due to the very real, then unsolved, problems implied by a moving earth a Tychonic system was the solution preferred by most experts throughout most of the seventeenth century.

    The road to heliocentricity is not as simple as many people think and as you seem to be implying.

    • I agree the road to heliocentricity was not simple, I never intended to make that point. My point is that comparing the heliocentric battle to the creationism battle is a bogus argument that is devoid of integrity.

      Yes, the seasons are caused by the earths tilt, but that only works for the heliocentric argument. The geocentric argument requires the sun to orbit the earth daily, while also adjusting the plane of its orbit over the course of the year to create the tilt required for the seasons. All this while moving in a manner that is different to the moon and the background stars. For this to happen, while they are all rotating around the earth, is complex.

      That you allude to other solar system models must surely go to show that the geocentric model does not stand well under close scrutiny.

      That said, the heliocentric model is so elegant and simple, it should have been a slam dunk as soon as it was proposed. It does make one wonder why it was such a battle.

      • The model presented by Copernicus was in fact more complex than the most common geocentric model accepted at the time, because of Copernicus insistence on retaining circular orbits, an error compounded by Galileo. The heliocentric model only became simpler with Kepler’s elliptical orbits and it was Kepler’s system that was accepted by the majority of experts around 1660. We live in a Keplerian world and not a Copernican one, as is often falsely claimed by many people.

        To explain the seasons in a geocentric system you only need to consider the sun’s annular journey around the ecliptic all else is irrelevant.

        The heliocentric and the geocentric explanations of the seasons with pictures

        • You are right, and I did know about the circular orbits and the improvements by Kepler. He wasn’t brought up because the Bible Science Guy post that prompted mine didn’t and complicating the matter further wouldn’t have helped.

    • Something seems to have gone wrong with your link. Anyway I did a search for geocentricity and seasons and found a youtube clip that tried to explain it but I found it rather convoluted and far more complex than the heliocentric model.

      Perhaps you could repost your link?

  4. Actually 74% is probably cause for rejoicing. That’s pretty good.

    Over half of Americans probably cant tell you the name of their Vice President or their local Congressman or the three branches of their government.

    America has very poorly run government schools and politicians seem content to keep people ignorant. Dont blame this on churches.

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