The phases of Venus as photographed in 2002 by Chris Proctor at the Torquay Boys’ Grammar School Observartory in Devon, England.
It was Galileo’s observations of Venus’s phases that most powerfully argued against the ancient geocentric system of the Greek astronomer Ptolemy. Galileo’s observations did not convince anyone of the truth of the Copernican system, however, because at the time there was a third popular system in the running — the Tychonic — which was also geocentric. I wonder which geocentric system (historically there have been many of them) is favored by the new Earth-does-not-move crowd.
To see how the planets would move if the Earth were motionless, look at this Flash animation. Play with it. It’s really cool. Notice the crazy paths the planets had to move along in these ancient systems; these paths are fully inconsistent with Newtonian gravity but would have to be accepted by anyone who insists on the motionlessness of the Earth.
There must be, because there is a group of folks — mostly Catholics, apparently — who have squeezed their way into the gap. Like Ham, they profess to take the Bible literally. But they take things further than most creationists: They insist the Earth does not move. That is, they have embraced what is essentially an Aristotelian world system. For them the Earth sits motionless in the middle of everything. The planets — and stars and galaxies, one supposes — all move around us.
No less that the good gray Chicago Tribune reported last week on a Catholic splinter group in Chicagoland who believe the 400-year-old scientific claim that the Sun lies in the center of the Solar System to be a conspiracy. Robert Sungenis, the leader of the group, says that “the renewed interest in geocentrism is due, in part, to the efforts of Christians entering the scientific domain previously dominated by secularists. These Christian scientists, he said, showed modern science is without scientific foundation or even good evidence.” (What? Read that last sentence again slowly.)
Which Christian scientists are these, exactly? Don’t know. And which parts of modern science are we talking about here? You know, all those evidence-free bits, e.g., Newtonian gravity.
Indeed, those promoting geocentrism argue that heliocentrism, or the centuries-old consensus among scientists that the Earth revolves around the sun, is nothing more than a conspiracy theory to squelch the church’s influence.
“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.”
Like so many other similar stories, it comes down to power. The church had it, lost it, and these folks want it back.
It becomes a question of how far back one wants to go. Ham et al. seem to want to go back to at least 1858, the year before Darwin published The Origin of Species. But these folks are turning the clock way back, all the way to the Middle Ages. They want the church of AD 1200, and they want the science of AD 1200 to prop it up.
This is such an extreme point of view. Robert Sungenis and his group would never have seen the light of day without the Internet. So why am I even writing about it?
Because this may not be just another story about insane Christians. IMO there is something small but notable here. And it comes at that point where the Tribune story mentions Ken Ham himself, who, based on a literal reading of the Bible, believes the world to be no more than about 6,000 years old.
That is, for Ham, not only is evolution a lie but all bits of science that point to an old Earth are lies. Which is a LOT of bits, friends. Way too many to just toss out while expecting the rest of the House of Science to remain in place.
Ham bases his beliefs on a close literal reading of the Bible. Yet, as the Tribune article points out, Ham “said the Bible is silent on geocentrism.”
“There’s a big difference between looking at the origin of the planets, the solar system and the universe and looking at presently how they move and how they are interrelated,” Ham said. “The Bible is neither geocentric or heliocentric. It does not give any specific information about the structure of the solar system.”
Now IMO this is simply disingenuous. I think the Bible says a lot, literally understood, about the stability of the Earth. And, as one Jimpithicus writes on his blog, “for Ken Ham to assert that the Bible is silent on geocentrism but speaks volumes on the age of the earth is absurd.” This is true. But this not the most interesting thing; I just don’t expect sense from such as Ham.
What’s interesting is this: All of this must make Ham at least a little nervous, because now we have a group who makes him and his posse look a little soft. Competing literalists! What fun! So we ask: Who are the true believers? The answer is, of course, neither of them. Because there are no true literalists. Such a creature is unimaginable.
I have come across people — some I have read (think Dawkins in The God Delusion), some I know personally, some who are online interlocutors — who have little sympathy with so-called moderate or liberal Christians. They accuse us of “picking and choosing” those pieces of the Bible we like and throwing out the rest. (BTW, some Christians also accuse their fellow believers of holding to this kind of cafeteria Christianity). These folks look at those of us who fully affirm LGBT folks, or those of us who have female pastors, or those of us who don’t observe the sabbath the way they think we should, and see nothing but waffling and accommodation. Fine. Whatever.
But they then point to those fine upstanding literalists as the real Christians, as the ones who really are consistent with scripture, as the only truly respectable representatives of the faith. Because they’re “consistent.” Because they “believe what the Bible says.” Because they “call it as they read it.”
For a very clear expression of this perspective from a professed atheist, check out this video.
It seems to me that the new Earth-stands-still conspiracy theorists challenge this idea that literalists alone do not “pick and choose,” that literalists are in lockstep, that there is true consistency to be found anywhere outside mathematics (when even there it’s not possible).
The truth is, in a very real sense Christians — all of us — “pick and choose,” although not in the cavalier manner usually associated with this phrase. And so does everyone else. It’s a fully normal thing to do; there is no objective explicit standard of belief and practice that we can all rally around and affirm equally and in good conscience. We Christians have our creeds, sure. But what two Christians interpret even the same creed in the same way?
Christians are exhorted to work out their faith in fear and trembling. And the majority of Christians do exactly this. Ken Ham and Robert Sungenis may do it in their own way, I don’t know. But picking and choosing is not unique to moderate Christians, or to Christians, or to religious people. We — just like everyone else — do the best we can, knowing our limits and, at least for Christians, trusting ultimately in the efficacy of God’s grace.
For more on these new geocentrists, see galileowaswrong.com. One click on this link lets us know that there’s yet still room for the flat-Earthers, also biblical literalists, between these folks and the wall on the right.
For information on the geocentrism conference entitled Galileo Was Wrong, held last year near (but not at) the University of Notre Dame, look here.