New age: Details about 'Modern Geocentrism'
The term modern geocentrism refers to a belief currently held by certain groups that the Earth is the center of the universe and does not move. The prime motivating factor for the modern belief, as opposed to the geocentrism of Ptolemy, is explicitly religious. Advocates generally argue that literal interpretations of certain Biblical passages demand that the Earth be properly described as being the center of the universe. Alternatively, in the case of Catholic geocentrists, scripture authoritatively interpreted by statements of Church Fathers and various Popes is used to justify their belief. The geocentrist views are held in the awareness that essentially all modern scientists agree that there is no evidence that the universe has any center. Philosophically, since the concepts of center and absolute motion are not clearly defined and no evidence distinguishing any motion of the earth from motion of the universe is available, geocentrism in and of itself cannot be falsified and is therefore not a scientific theory. However, there do exist perspectives of certain modern geocentrists which run directly counter to observations and the scientific consensus. These perspectives are often considered to be pseudoscientific by scientists, similar to other religiously motivated rejections of scientific theories and data (for example, the doctrine of creationism).
Overview of modern geocentrism
The most popular modern geocentric description consists of a stationary Earth (neither rotating nor orbiting the sun) at the center of the universe. As in the Tychonic system, the Sun is thought to rotate around the Earth once per day, and the rest of the solar system orbits the Sun with Keplerian orbits. This rotation is considered to be a physical reality, not simply the choice of a rotating frame of reference. At a more detailed level, modern geocentric beliefs divide into two logically distinct groups, although some geocentrists hold both types of beliefs simultaneously:
History of modern geocentrism
The Ptolemaic model of the solar system held sway into the early modern age; from the late 16th century onward it was gradually replaced as the consensus description by the heliocentric model. Geocentrism as a separate religious belief, however, never completely died out. In the United States between 1870 and 1920, for example, various members of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod published articles disparaging Copernican astronomy, and geocentricism was widely taught within the synod during that period.
The most recent resurgence of geocentrism began in North America in 1967, when Canadian schoolmaster Walter van der Kamp (1913–1998) circulated a geocentric paper entitled “The Heart of the Matter” to about 50 Christian individuals and institutions. From these seeds grew the Tychonian Society and its journal, Bulletin of the Tychonian Society.
In 1984 van der Kamp retired as leader of the Tychonian Society and Gerardus Bouw, an astronomer with a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University succeeded him. In 1990 Bouw reorganized the Tychonian Society as the Association for Biblical Astronomy and changed the name of the Bulletin to The Biblical Astronomer. Bouw’s book Geocentricity (Cleveland, 1992) has been described as “the most sophisticated defence of geocentricity ever published”.
Previous works include Bouw's earlier With Every Wind of Doctrine (1984), Walter Van Der Kamp's De Labor Solis (1989), and Marshall Hall's The Earth is Not Moving (1991). Other modern geocentrists include Malcolm Bowden, James Hanson, Paul Ellwanger, R. G. Elmendorf, Paula Haigh, and Robert Sungenis (president of Catholic Apologetics International and especially visible).
Modern geocentrists subscribe to the view that a plain reading of the Bible requires a geocentric worldview in addition to a belief that the Bible contains an accurate account of the manner in which the universe was created. For this reason, modern geocentrists maintain close ties to the creationist and creation science movements which disparage origins science in a similar fashion to the way in which geocentrists argue against modern views of celestial mechanics. Many prominent geocentrists actively promote creationism in the creation-evolution controversy. However, most creationists hold that while the Bible makes explicit historical claims regarding the origin of the Earth and life in the creation account in Genesis, it does not explicitly endorse geocentrism. The most prominent creationist societies (specifically Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research) explicitly reject the absolute geocentric perspective, and creationist journals such as TJ have rejected modern geocentric articles in favor of "geokineticist" articles.
Modern geocentrists believe that they are the true standard-bearers
for an appropriate amalgamation of science and religion. In particular, Gerardus Bouw has claimed "Invariably, those who do take more than a cursory look become geocentrists." Most modern creationists disagree, including Ph.D. astronomers such as Danny Faulkner.,
Modern geocentrists point to some passages in the Bible, which, when taken literally, indicate that the daily apparent motions of the Sun and the Moon are due to their actual motions around the Earth rather than due to the rotation of the Earth about its axis. One is Ecclesiastes 1:5:
Another is in Joshua 10, 10–14, where the Sun and Moon are said to stop in the sky:
A suggestion that the Earth is stationary is Isaiah 66:1:
However, many modern biblical scholars, even those who tend to a literal interpretation on other issues, believe that the above passages do not support a universe centered on an immobile Earth, but are instead simply natural descriptions made from the perspective of the author. Some claim that the description of the Earth as a footstool in Isaiah should only be considered to be a metaphorical description of God's power, rather than an indication that God literally rests his feet on the Earth. It is argued that the context of the passages provides no reason to believe that the author intended them to be dogmatic statements regarding the location of the Earth in the universe, that any such implications are therefore indirect rather than reflecting the intended purpose of the author, and that drawing indirect implications from the text is improper, because it is often due more to the bias of the interpreter than the meaning of the text.
Geocentrists argue that reasoning that "explains away" such verses with arguments such as "the Bible is not a science book" or the Bible is "contextual" leads to the appearance of the scriptures containing lies or inaccuracies. They see this sort of reasoning as very dangerous, and associate it with the perceived recent rapid disintegration of Christianity and society.
The interpretation of scripture by the Church fathers is asserted by the geocentrists to be unanimously in favor of a geocentrist position. The early Church Fathers such as Augustine and Origen argued against the heliocentrism of the pagan Greeks well before Copernicus' time. Modern geocentrists often quote these works which seem to admonish that scriptural references about geocentrism not be interpreted as allegorical or phenomenological since such an interpretation could lead to the appearance that the Holy Spirit (the inspirer of the Scriptures) might be lying.
Some Catholics hold to geocentrism on the basis of official interpretations of the Catholic Church, some even invoking the doctrine of papal infallibility. The three popes who issued decrees on the subject, (Paul V, Urban VIII, and Alexander VII) all ratified the statement: "the Earth is not the centre of the world and immovable but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd and false philosophically and theologically considered at least erroneous in faith".
Alexander VII, in a Papal Bull declared that "the Pythagorean doctrine concerning the mobility of the earth and the immobility of the sun is false and altogether incompatible with divine Scripture" and the principles advocated by Copernicus on the position and movement of the earth to be “repugnant to Scripture and to its true and Catholic interpretation".
These declarations have yet to be officially overturned by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, and there have been no official declarations on the subject since. Other Catholics believe the declarations were not infallible, leaving open the possibility that the Church, in an official statement of equal or greater weight, could overturn the decrees. Some point out that Pope John Paul II made an apology for the treatment which Galileo received in a speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1992. The apology was for the treatment Galileo received and declared the incident to be based on a "misunderstanding".
Many Catholics educated on the issue believe that historical curial support of geocentricity is not authoritative because the pope is only infallible when he speaks on issues of faith or morals, and they believe geocentrism is not such an issue. Other practicing Catholics don't see the need to reconcile their beliefs and understanding of the world with official church statements.
The modern scientific point of view
The consensus of scientists today is that
As with every scientific theory, this consensus does not mean that all alternatives have been disproved, but simply that all the available evidence supports the theory, and that the theory is the most parsimonious alternative.
"There is no special position."
All the known laws of physics can be formulated without reference to any particular place, as long as an inertial frame of reference is chosen for the description. That this is true, as far as we can tell, at all places and has been true for all times is illustrated by the agreement of the laboratory value of the fine structure constant with that derived from the spectra of stars billions of light years away.
Even if the laws of physics are independent of any particular place, one might still ask whether the arrangement of objects in the universe points to a special place for the Earth. But the Earth does not hold any obvious preferred place within the Solar System, nor does the Solar System appear to be in a preferred location within our Galaxy, nor is our Galaxy in a preferred location within the Local Group. Furthermore, the consensus scientific opinion is that there is no evidence based on the distribution of astronomical objects that any particular position in the universe is special.
"The cosmic microwave background radiation determines the only special velocity."
All the known laws of physics can be formulated without reference to any particular velocity, as long as an inertial frame of reference is chosen for the description. Therefore if,
from the point of view of physics, there is a special velocity in the universe, it can only be observed because some group of objects move with that velocity. The most popular choice of a reference is the cosmic microwave background radiation, whose velocity relative to the Solar System is about 370 km/s. It is also possible, with some modeling, to consider the local value of the velocity field of all galaxies, which is found to agree with the velocity of the cosmic microwave background radiation.
"The inertial frame is the only special rotation."
If the known local laws of physics are formulated in various frames of reference rotating relative to one another, the mathematical formulation of these laws vary. Generally, a centrifugal force and a Coriolis force, dependent on a direction and rate of rotation, must be introduced. In classical physics, these two forces are called fictitious forces because they do not obey Newton’s third law of motion. There are some special frames of reference, known as inertial frames, where these forces vanish. The rotation of these frames may be considered special, and indeed inertial frames are the only special ones known to physics. Equivalently, there is only one rotational frame of reference in which the axes of gimbal-mounted gyroscopes remain fixed. The Earth is not in an inertial frame, as evidenced by measurable centrifugal and Coriolis forces experienced by objects on Earth's surface.
In the framework of general relativity, the formulation of the laws of physics is identical in all frames of reference, even in rotating and accelerating frames. The fictitious forces are then a manifestation of the gravitomagnetism associated with the acceleration of the mass of the universe. This is the same effect that results in frame dragging, only in frame dragging the effect due to a rotating body is local and small. If the entire universe is rotating, the effect is massive. Even in general relativity, the (global) inertial frame of reference can be considered special, because it is the only one that allows the laws of physics to be formulated without explicit reference to distant masses. Compared to frames of reference with linear or rotational acceleration, inertial frames of reference also preserve local causality.
Non-falsifiability of geocentrism
If general relativity is true, then there is no way to prove that the Earth is not the immobile center of a non-inertial universe (see equivalence principle). An idea that is not falsifiable may be true, but it is not a scientific theory.
Modern geocentrists often point out when defending their beliefs that general relativity admits a geocentric description that can adequately describe the physical universe. However, as many of these geocentrists also reject modern physics including relativity, they often do not think that the true description of the universe is encapsulated by such a perspective.
Modern geocentrism and astronomical observations
Modern geocentrists have been known to point to certain astronomical observations as evidence which could be interpreted as placing the earth at the center of the universe. However, all of the proposed falsifications have explanations that are compatible with the current scientific model of the solar system and universe.
Gamma ray bursts
One such observation is reported in "The Biggest Bangs: The Mystery of Gamma-Ray Bursts" (ISBN 0-19-514570-4), by Jonathan I. Katz, professor of physics at Washington University:
This "dilemma" is resolved by realizing that the gamma ray bursts are so bright that they can be seen at distances corresponding to the early universe. GRB 990123, for example, has been located at 9 billion light years (see the article on gamma ray bursters). Indeed every GRB for which data on distance could be obtained has been measured to be at what is considered cosmological distances. The edge of the spatial distribution centered on us is really an edge to the temporal distribution, which is converted to an isotropic spatial distribution by the finite speed of light. The cosmological distances associated with GRBs are an observational confirmation of part of the cosmological principle that is foundational to modern cosmology, namely that the universe is isotropic on the largest scales.
Quantization of redshifts
Another line of evidence referred to by modern geocentrists is related to supposed quantized redshift. If the universe violates predictions from the FRW metric derived from General Relativity, is not expanding but has a redshift-distance relation, and the redshifts of particular types of astronomical objects only take on certain values, that would suggest that the objects are located on shells concentric around the Earth, that is, that the location of the Earth is special.
The first claimed observations of redshift quantization came from studies of galaxies. There have also been claimed observations of redshift quantization in quasar populations. Since these claimed observations were made, galaxy surveys have increased the quantity and quality of the redshift data enormously. Taken on the whole, it appears that the surveys do not show any quantization of redshifts, though many supporters of the idea have made the claim that the models are not applicable to the entire quasar sample. One study with a new database was specifically designed to test the most popular model of quasars associated with galaxies and that the redshifts of the galaxy pairings appear in regular intervals and are not homogeneous. The statistical methods were approved in advance by supporters of this model, but despite the prior approval, those supporting quantization still reject the result showing a lack of galaxy-quasar pairing.
Those scientists who still believe in quantized redshifts represent a very small minority. It is also believed by some scientists that effects like the evolution of the universe, large-scale structures in the universe, and local clustering can, in some circumstances, mimic the trace of redshift quantization.
Forms of modern geocentrism
The simplest way to define a theory of geocentrism is to apply the appropriate coordinate transformation to existing theory. Geocentrists generally believe there is additional substance to their worldview that can be expressed in a theory with explanatory and, ideally, predictive power. There is no theory that is accepted by all geocentrists, and no theory that is formulated well enough mathematically to be falsifiable, but some general comments can be made.
The major observations to be explained, as expressed from a geocentric perspective, are
Geocentrism based on classical gravitation
Some geocentrists believe that at least part of these observations can be explained as a result of classical gravitation with a particular mass distribution. Indeed, a uniform distribution of dark (and otherwise unobtrusive) matter, coupled with a quadrupole gravitational field imposed from the “outside”, could provide the centripetal force associated with the daily rotation. Gravitational fields uniform throughout the universe and rotating monthly and yearly would result in those components of the motion. On the other hand, classical gravitational fields cannot provide the torque needed to account for the variations in the length of the day, nor can they provide the Coriolis forces observed in planetary motion and in physics experiments on Earth.
Geocentrism based on a rigid aether
A different approach to accounting for the forces required to explain the observations is kinematic constraints. If all heavenly bodies (sun, planets, comets, stars) are rotating daily around the Earth, it is natural to suppose that they are embedded in a transparent but rigid material. Geocentrists generally believe in such a substance and refer to it as aether. This aether is not the same as the late 19th century concept of luminiferous aether that was supposed to be the material through which light propagates. If a luminiferous medium does exist, then the null result from the Michelson-Morley experiment would imply a stationary Earth with respect to such an aether.
The aether hypothesis coupled with a huge rotating shell of matter at the outer position of the universe provides for forces needed to explain the daily orbits of the stars and Sun as well as a way to synchronize the monthly and yearly motions. These periodic variations are claimed to result from gyroscopic precession, although the details of the model are not specified. When the finite speed of light is taken into consideration, the picture is more complex (at least assuming the enormous estimate of the size of the universe believed today- a point which many geocentrists disagree with). If we see all the stars moving at the same time, then the stars farther away must have moved earlier in order to allow their light time to reach Earth. This implies not a rigid aether but an aether supporting torsional waves that propagate with the speed of light and converge on the Earth. To explain the irregular or sudden changes in the length of the day in this way requires a reversal of the presumptive cause and effect, that is, the aether waves must cause the earthquake or weather pattern that is associated with that change in the length of the day. It is also difficult to reconcile the rigidity of the aether required to contain and synchronize the motions of the stars with the tenuousness implied by the fact that the proper motions appear to be uninhibited.
If simple aether theories might be able to explain some of the properties of the motions of the stars and Sun, more complex theories are necessary to explain orbits in the Solar System and experiments on the Earth. This is partly because the rigidity/tenuousness dilemma brought up for stellar motion is even more visible there, but primarily because a single centripetal force is no longer adequate. The observations can only be explained by separate centrifugal and Coriolis forces.
Geocentrism based on a radically different cosmology
Some geocentrists believe that the difficulties in the types of theories discussed above can be overcome by rejecting some of the assumptions that were implicitly made in that discussion. In particular, some geocentrists believe that the universe is very much smaller than the billions of light years calculated by modern scientists. A detailed theory of this sort is not available, so its plausibility and freedom from internal contradictions cannot be evaluated here.
In Franz Werfel's science-fiction novel Star of the Unborn, it is said that future science will have determined that Earth has a special status as the "Infinitely Mobile Central Point of All Conceivable Orbits".
On redshift quantization