Geocentrism Revival

Robert Sungenis is an idiot.Seriously?

A few conservative Roman Catholics are pointing to a dozen Bible verses and the church’s original teachings as proof that Earth is the center of the universe, the view that was at the heart of the church’s clash with Galileo Galilei four centuries ago.

I can confidently speak for all of the quantum pontiffs when I say that we reject the geocentric view of the universe. I never thought I would have to boldly stand up for these beliefs, yet here I am.

… Those promoting geocentrism argue that heliocentrism, or the centuries-old consensus among scientists that Earth revolves around the sun, is a conspiracy to squelch the church’s influence.

This sentence nearly made my head explode.
First of all, heliocentrism is of course not agreed upon as scientific fact. As readers of this blog surely know, General Relativity teaches us that there are an infinite number of valid coordinate systems in which one can describe the universe, and we needn’t choose the one with the sun or earth at the origin to get the physics right (though one or the other might be more convenient for a specific calculation.) 
Second, you’ve gotta love the form of argument which I affectionately call “argument by conspiracy theory”, in which any evidence against your position is waved away as the work of a secret organization with interests aligned against you. Oh, what’s that? You don’t have any evidence for the existence of this secret society? Well, that simply proves how cunning they are and merely strengthens the argument by conspiracy theory!

“Heliocentrism becomes dangerous if it is being propped up as the true system when, in fact, it is a false system,” said Robert Sungenis, leader of a budding movement to get scientists to reconsider. “False information leads to false ideas, and false ideas lead to illicit and immoral actions — thus the state of the world today.… Prior to Galileo, the church was in full command of the world, and governments and academia were subservient to her.”

So in case you were wondering: yes, this guy is serious. In fact, he is also happy to charge you $50 to attend his conference, or sell you one of several books on the topic, as well as some snazzy merchandise like coffee mugs and t-shirts that say “Galileo was wrong” on the front. (Hint: they don’t say “Einstein was right” on the back.)
To Mr. Sungenis and his acolytes: I implore you. Please just stop. It’s embarrassing for both of us. And if you’re worried about your bottom line, then consider going into climate change denial instead, which I hear is quite lucrative.

17 Replies to “Geocentrism Revival”

  1. Roger, its true that once in awhile the “outsider” literature *does* get the cutting-edge science right (for example, Classic Tales of Apocalyptic Science Fiction anthologizes a remarkable example by Robert Cromie from 1895). But to exert a lasting influence, the prediction must be accompanied by a narrative that provides a reasonably well-posed roadmap for further creative work and enterprise; this is what Galileo provided.

  2. This reminds me of a spoof article (at least I hope it is) that I read some years ago here about why the Moon is a hoax (check out #4 statistical experiment about proving why the moon doesn’t exist, it’s quit entertaining). When I read things like the Geocentrism article, I immediately assume it’s a joke… unfortunately it is not. I cannot fathom how someone could think this…

  3. Yet perhaps the (narrow) issue of the correctness of heliocentric models was neither Galileo’s main concern nor his great achievement? Passages like the following show that Galileo was among the first of the Enlightement’s great narrators:

    “Philosophy is written in this grand book — I mean the universe — which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth.”

    Galileo’s implicit assertion that Catholic theology in itself leaves the soul “wandering about in a dark labyrinth” was distressing to the orthodox theologians of the day. Others were expressing similar ideas, but few if any (to my knowledge) were saying them as plainly and persistently as Galileo.
    Thus perhaps for Galileo (and others of his community) the Copernican astronomical model was not chiefly an end-in-itself, but rather was a means to larger enterprises … and is today’s STEM community any different?

  4. Thousands of years earlier, the door to Plato’s Academy said, “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter” (according to tradition). Catholic theology was never opposed to using mathematics, and Church scholars were expert in it. The Tycho-Kepler astronomy was much more mathematical than Galileo’s, but Galileo clung to the long-obsolete Copernicus model. Galileo’s main argument for heliocentrism was that the tides were caused the rotation of the Earth. He rejected Kepler’s idea that they were caused by the Moon and the Sun. The Church rightly said that Galileo was wrong in his argument about the tides.
    For more info, I suggest the Wikipedia articles Galileo affair and Catholic Church and science.

  5. Lol … what better place than The Quantum Pontiff to praise the The Pontifical Academy of Sciences (which has dozens of distinguished quantum physicists as members), and to confess my own especial fondness and high regard for the Pontifical Academy’s recent workshop “Working Group on the Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene.”
    After all, Galileo and even Einstein represent humanity’s past … the Anthropocene is humanity’s (sobering) present … and humanity’s future is (even more soberingly) up to us ordinary mortals … not mythical heroes like Galileo and Einstein! 🙂

  6. So you agree that Galileo was wrong about heliocentrism. What is embarrassing is the argument by the LA Times and many scientists that Galileo was right about heliocentrism. That argument is in mainstream textbooks and newspapers, and not just one fringe web site.
    The $50 was cheap. If you do not want to pay, then the web site has many articles that you can download for free.

  7. John, Galileo did not provide a roadmap for further creative work on heliocentrism. Much better and more influential work had already been done by Tycho and Kepler. Galileo’s astronomy contributions consist primarily of being one of the first to use a telescope, and discovering the moons of Jupiter and phases of Venus. These were also found by others with telescopes and not disputed by the Church. Galileo’s arguments for heliocentrism were a dead-end, and not useful to anyone (besides being wrong).

  8. I think the understanding that Galileo was wrong, a la the truth of 1911, misses completely the contemporary angle. Many general relativists are led astray by coordinate systems, the modern aether. And hell, many of them, people actually being paid to think, still seem to think that emergent quantum gravity can be achieved by applying traditional quantization processes to classical gravity. In quantum gravity, coordinate invariance is not trivially replaced by observer relativity. The latter must be a profound revision of physical principles, albeit as yet poorly understood.
    Bearing that in mind, geocentrism as a hypothesis contains radical elements that put a whole new light on the recent history of physics, as influenced by people like Galileo. I would argue, for instance, that Descartes and Newton even had some insight into the quantum world, but this was entirely lost in the development of the so called Newtonian picture. Thus my biggest concern with such books, as an irreligious feminist unemployed physicist, is that the stupid elitist scientists will thoroughly underestimate the power of its arguments. (Not that I have read this book, and not that I believe this particular example is well written).

  9. Roger, I think perhaps you are missing the point. Science proceeds by being increasingly less wrong, and by any measure heliocentrism is much much less wrong that geocentrism. With talk of general relativity it is often glossed over that there are certain frames (certain coordinate systems) which do have a special status: inertial frames. These are special in that they are free from fictitious forces, and hence the ones which can most naturally be considered as static. The heliocetric coordinate system is much much closer to an inertial frame than the geocentric one, and hence it is perfectly consistent to defend heliocentrism even in light of general relativity. The same cannot be said for geocentrism. It is simply much more wrong than heliocentrism.

  10. Joe, it is simply not true that by any measure heliocentrism is much much less wrong that geocentrism. Heliocentrism is closer to being an inertial system, so by that measure it is better, but that is just one measure. Geocentric coordinate are better if you want to describe the view from Earth.
    If Galileo had merely argued that heliocentric coordinates have the advantage of fewer fictitious forces, he might not have had any trouble with the Church. He did not. He dogmatically argued that the Sun must be stationary because of the tides. I say that Galileo was wrong because on his main points of dispute with the Church, his arguments were fallacious as judged by either knowledge of the day or by today’s knowledge.

  11. The argument was made at a time when it was believed (and would remain believed for several hundred years more) that motion was absolute, not relative, and the question was over which frame was static. We know now of course that there isn’t a frame which is unique in that sense, as any inertial frame would equally well fit the description of what they were seeking. However my point stands that heliocentrism is a better model than geocentrism because it is closer to being an inertial frame.
    That said, I now notice you seem to have written a book on this, so I’m guessing that no blog-comment sized argument is likely to make you reconsider your position.

  12. I’m not claiming it was correct, so much as less wrong. I don’t think we’ve progressed far enough in our understanding of physics to be at the point of expecting our physical models to be correct in an absolute sense even now. I doubt many people believe that even general relativity is “correct” given troubles with quantization. It is simply the best model we have (i.e. the least wrong model we have).

  13. If the importance issue is absolute motion, then Galileo and his supporters were on the wrong side of the argument. The legend is that he said, Eppur si muove. (“And yet it moves.”) Astronomers before Galileo understood that heliocentric and geocentric models could be used. The Church did not say that motion was absolute. It invited Galileo to write a book on the pros and cons of both kinds of models. Galileo only got into trouble because of his faulty arguments in favor of absolute motion.

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