Saturday, September 09, 2006

Relative claims to absolute Truth

(The New Geocentrism, Part III)

This is in response to some questions rasised in a comment concerning Mary Daly's post on The New Geocentrism.

I address the question about the magisterium first. I cannot add much to what Mary has so ably expressed (see "Up to Date Cosmology"); I will add only what Pope John Paul the Great said on the subject:

The Vatican Council recognized and deplored certain unwarranted interventions: "We cannot but deplore" —it is written in number 36 of the conciliar constitution Gaudium et Spes— "certain attitudes (not unknown among Christians) deriving from a shortsighted view of the rightful autonomy of science: they have occasioned conflict and controversy and have misled many into thinking that faith and science are opposed". The reference to Galileo is clearly expressed in the note to this text, which cites the volume Vita e opere di Galileo Galilei by Mgr. Pio Paschini, published by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
The Pope apparently didn't think heliocentrism1 was heretical, nor that Galileo was wrong; in fact, he cites Galileo (in his encyclical Fides et Ratio, n.34) as a prime case of a scientist who exemplified the proper attitude between faith and reason: "It is the one and the same God who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order of things upon which scientists confidently depend".

Now on to the physics. First let us dispose of the extraneous issues of Pioneer 10 and galactic rotation. Correctly stated, the Pioneer 10 anomaly is not "gravity behaving in unexpected ways" but the spacecraft's location being different from what was expected. Analysis of the problem has proposed many possible reasons for this, including gas leaks, space dust, and the gravitational effect of as-yet unknown Kuiper Belt Objects (these are various objects ranging from Pluto on down, traveling in orbits beyond Neptune). Based on the current available evidence it is incorrect to claim that this is a case against gravity. Rather, it is just another instance in which we don't have all the answers.

The galactic rotation problem also has not yet been resolved, but it is difficult to see from a scientific point of view how a better understanding the "nature" of gravity would help. It, too, may turn out to be a case of unknown objects or types of matter, or perhaps other yet unknown forces are at play. Regardless, this is all irrelevant to the question of the solar system, in which gravity has always been observed to work in accord with the known principles.

I have now read Mr. Wyatt's four-part series on Geocentrism, and I offer the following brief summary of his argument:
  1. The math and physics of parts 1-2 boil down to the idea that it is possible to construct a frame of reference such that with respect to it, the earth is stationary and the entire universe apparently moves around it, and the related idea that this is entirely acceptable within the framework of general relativity.
  2. Parts 3-4 attempt to establish that the Church has in the past taken positions that obliged a geocentric view, and that these still oblige, not having been rescinded to the author's satisfaction.
  3. Since relativity does not "prefer" a certain "centrism" but (as is claimed) the Church does, we should hold geocentrism to be obligatory.

I believe we have already addressed #2. The Church certainly does not any longer, nor has she since at least the 1741 imprimatur granted to Galileo's complete works at the bidding of Pope Benedict XIV, require belief in any particular position on the movement of the planets. This she recognizes to be the realm of physics.

To which I now return.

The math / physics that Mr. Wyatt is suggesting leaves important things unsaid:
  1. The "frame of reference" needed for this to work is a rotating, translating frame. To put it even more simply, one simply takes the movement of the earth as heliocentrists would see it, and transfers that to the frame of reference. Thus, the frame of reference moves along with the earth.
  2. Only within this moving frame of reference can the earth said to be "still" or "at rest". This is indeed a paltry form of immovability! It is little more than mathematical sleight of hand. In fact, it is precisely the sort of immovability that Mary's ballerina would experience while doing a pirouette, provided the frame of reference moves right along with her.
  3. The rest of the universe only apparently moves around the earth, given this frame of reference. We can easily tell that it does not really do so because the apparent speed of even nearby stars (as measured from our moving frame of reference) is well over the speed of light. The stars are most definitely not moving at these speeds; even if it were not a contradiction of special relativity, we would see the luminous effects in the form of Cerenkov radiation.
    If Mary's ballerina did her pirouette under the night sky, the moon orbits her (in her frame of reference, remember) just as much as the universe orbits the earth.
  4. In reality, there is no significant rotation of the universe. While it is very difficult to rule it out entirely, it is relatively simple to set an upper bound on the maximum rotation of the universe, and direct measurements indicate it is well under 0.1 arc seconds per century.
  5. To someone in an inertial frame of reference, looking "down" on the solar system from somewhere over the sun's north pole, all the planets would trace over time the elliptical paths around it that we know as orbits. (The sun would also be seen rotating on its own axis, and gradually moving in its own orbital path around the galactic center, taking the rest of the solar system along with it.)
So, in sum, the math for a geocentric frame of reference may be available, but it's just math. To speak of it as if it were "the real truth" is simply untrue.

1 As used today, the term means only that the solar system (not the entire universe) is "sun-centered."

On to Part IV


Mark Wyatt said...


I have replied to your commentary on my blog pieces. You can find the reply at


ScienceMom said...

Your comments reveal significant confusion about the physics involved. Please see my response here.