Saturday, September 02, 2006

The New Geocentrism

This is the first of a series of posts offered by Mary Daly and ScienceMom arguing against a new form of geocentrism being promoted by some Catholics.

The New Geocentrism:

To embrace geocentrism is to deny gravity. If one said, "I don't believe in gravity; the Hebrews had no word for it and we don't need one either," then the fundamentalism of the position would be clear, but all this quoting of scientists (out of context) will be confusing to those with a weak science background. I'm afraid there are too many of those.

How does geocentrism relate to gravity? It's not too difficult to see, but we need to back up for a moment.

What is a center?

It's what things go around, let's say.

But when physicists since Einstein say that there is no proof of what's the center, they mean something quite different from "the Bible is as good a physics text as any." What they mean is that the math, the equations that describe motions in the universe, can be written from any perspective.

This is absolutely true, and includes not just the perspective of the Earth and of the Sun, but of any comet, of any asteroid, and, for that matter, the tip of the nose of any ballerina of your choosing. If the new generation of geocentrists were to acknowledge that the centrality of the earth, in universe motions, is just about on a level with the centrality of a ballerina's nose, then people would understand that his position has no serious merit and provides no opportunity for an advance in our understanding of the actual constitution of the universe.

That is the situation.

True, when you are engaged in exclusively earth-centered navigation, when you are a ship, for example, it is simplest to talk about the sun rising and setting, as if we were in the center. This is not a peculiar observation; and it is true that even men who are certain that the Sun is in the center may write equations about such motions as if the earth were the center and the Sun in motion above it. I once had my hands on a book that spoke of the earth as center, and one of its evidences was that modern navigators use such equations, so that is why I mention it here.

When you plan travel to a planet such as Pluto, however, (or planetoid or whatever it's to be called), you enlarge the frame of reference, and you need to put the Sun in the center. If you wanted to go to the Andromeda Galaxy, 2.5 million light years away, the position of the Sun would quickly become irrelevant, and the centers of your equations would, I suppose, involve many things, perhaps including the centers of each of the galaxies in turn.

So what is true? Is there such a thing as truth? I feel quite strongly that any argument which boils down to Pilate's question needs an intense review.

What is Gravity?

It was Galileo who asked the basic question: What is gravity?

Easy! It's what makes things fall.

No, that is just the definition of gravity. How does it make things fall? What is it, really?

And then he made this incredible statement: if you can tell me why/how a spoon falls to the ground, I will tell you why/how the Moon goes about the Earth. He actually understood that these were the same phenomena. This was an amazing insight. It is from Galileo specifically that we made the incredible leap of understanding that the physics in the sky is the same as the physics on the ground. New Idea. Very New. Very important, and it was from Galileo, specifically, though Newton generally gets the credit.

Newton built on this specific passage from Galileo. When he said an apple fell on his head, he was sitting under a tree reading Galileo. This is almost literally true. He read Galileo and he made the equations that describe both the spoon and the Moon, and they describe a jillion other things.

So here's the point.

Once Galileo made that statement, and once Newton made those equations for gravity, we were no longer engaged in relativity: there was a reason for the sun to be in the center. It's bigger. Or, I should say, it's heavier. It's pulling us in and the balance between it pulling us in and us traveling in a straight line East through space is the curve of our orbit.

If the Sun goes around the earth, then gravity is not the reason for our relative motions; indeed gravity does not function at all between us. Nor does gravity function in the relative motions of any of the planets. It functions on my spoon, but not on our Moon, which operates according to another set of physical laws.

This disorderly notion is the reason that a serious physicist will find the position of Sungenis hilarious or horrible, but will not take it seriously for a moment because he can't do a jot of celestial physics if he drops gravity.

Then why did Einstein say any perspective was as good as any other?

A Question of Philosophy

Well, you Thomists, jump in. Here's the door:

Einstein, like Stephen Hawking in the next generation, was philosophically confused about the difference between math and physics. Equations can be written any way at all. But the universe is what it is. The universe is not an equation; it is a reality. It is this way and not another way.

Einstein got uncomfortable with the confrontation between mathematical and physical reality and that's why he said, when confronted with equations that described things in terms of random motions and probability, that he did not believe that God played dice with the world. It wasn't because he was a theist; it was because his gut refused the diet of theoretical math as a final description of the real universe. The real universe is not a probability, it is this way. Einstein had opened the door for substituting math for physics, but when he saw the next room, he rejected it. But he rejected it by gut, not by philosophy, because he didn't know enough philosophy.

So this is the point about geocentrism: any set of equations which describes the motions of objects in the Solar system without taking gravity into account is just math; it is not about the universe. And if you choose your math on the basis of the theology of a nation that couldn't pass first year algebra, then you're just not a physicist, and not a philosopher, and not a theologian for the faith of the Incarnate Son of God who came to this universe to be with us.

By the way, satellites in space can actually calculate the earth wobbling in space from season to season and also when there is a major earthquake. So the image of centering the universe on a ballerina's nose is rather more serious than you might have thought.

On to Part II


Mark Wyatt said...


Really, no one can explain what is is, can they? Yes we have an equation that works for a pretty good size range of objects, F=Gm1m2/r^2. But, this equation can be derived assuming the matter attracts other matter, or that corpuscles are pushing the objects together. You get the same equation whether you assume pushing or attractive gravity.

So, you are going to foist the proof for heliocentrism on a phenomenon with no explanation?

The real main issue is not even gravity, but rather that you are ignoring all the forces which would be present if the universe were rotating! These forces would make the miniscule gravity in the neighberhood of the earth insinificant.

Take a look at my blog, then get a hold of the new book Galileo Was Wrong by Robert Sungenis and Robert Bennett. They explain all this in great detail.

Mark Wyatt

hedgemaker said...

The only thing that matters in the first paragraph is the last statement: "You get the same equation whether you assume pushing or attractive gravity."

Right. And with the same equation, the Earth is never in the center.

In the second paragraph, we have the accusing use of the word "foist", as if a physicist should have no thoughts about things he can’t fully understand. There’s an engine of scientific progress! So should theologians say nothing about the Trinity since it remains a mystery? Are they “foisting” theories about divinity of Jesus on the unsuspecting layman who imagines that the word “Trinity” has a clear meaning?
The point is that, while the ultimate nature of gravity remains mysterious, the action of gravity is lawful and the laws are well-enough understood to make geocentrism permanently obsolete. The Earth is not the center of gravitational motion in the Solar system. It is not the center of Solar or planetary orbits, and the entire solar system certainly has zero centering relationship with universe motions outside the Solar system. It's just where we live.

You say that I am "ignoring all the forces which would be present if the universe were rotating." I am. I can afford to. Everyone can ignore this.

What you are really saying is that I should take a closer look at the consequences of a proposition that I have rejected. This is called begging the question. The Earth is not still; what it would be like if the universe rotated around it is of no consequence.

I was thinking this morning about a football game with the football completely stationary and all the players and the field moving around it. As it spins through the air, you see the field, not only sliding past it, but rotating as it races into your face, away from the ball. Some player with his feet planted firmly in the rotating field suddenly smacks into the stationary ball and, probably dangling in mid-air, wraps his hands around the unmoving ball. As his feet pump the field, it ceases to rotate and slips away from him, evidently propelled by the incredible force of his quadriceps. A few moments later, he opens his arms, and unknown forces pull him backwards from the motionless ball…

What a game!

Mark Wyatt said...

hedgemaker says:

"...The point is that, while the ultimate nature of gravity remains mysterious, the action of gravity is lawful and the laws are well-enough understood to make geocentrism permanently obsolete. The Earth is not the center of gravitational motion in the Solar system. It is not the center of Solar or planetary orbits, and the entire solar system certainly has zero centering relationship with universe motions outside the Solar system..."

Again, you are ignoring all the gravitational forces manifested by a rotating universe. Second, geocentrists are talking about more than just the solar system. True if the solar system was the universe (i.e., there were no other objects), and space was not rotating, then perhaps your simple argument would make sense, but you are ignoring the rest of the universe.

I hope you take the time to read Galileo Was Wrong, then finish your critique. I think you will find your points well expained, plus much more.

Mark Wyatt

MacBeth Derham said...

>>Really, no one can explain what is [sic—gravity] is, can they? <<

Therefore...? If we cannot explain what something “is,” then it is not worth discussing? Might we apply that to all your arguments?

>>Yes we have an equation that works for a pretty good size range of objects, F=Gm1m2/r^2. But, this equation can be derived assuming the matter attracts other matter, or that corpuscles are pushing the objects together. You get the same equation whether you assume pushing or attractive gravity.<<

Therefore...? I suppose, by your argument, we must start with matter, assuming that matter exists. We can then invent all kinds of things (your “corpuscles,” the “ether” in space, phlogiston) to temporarily fill gaps we do not understand. As understanding increases, we replace these fillers with real things that do exist, or drop them entirely if our understanding changes. So, do your corpuscles exist? And if they do, can you explain what they are? If you cannot explain what they are, can you use them as part of your argument? Given your criterion, we simply cannot get beyond elementary metaphysics.

>>So, you are going to foist the proof for heliocentrism on a phenomenon with no explanation?<<

Any high school physics class can explain (and demonstrate) gravity. But by your narrow definition explanation (what a thing “is”), can anyone “foist” any proof of anything on anyone?

ScienceMom said...

It would be much more precise to say that the universal law of gravitation was derived from the empirical data without making any assumptions about the nature of gravity. One observes that the force has thus and so relation between objects of various masses and at various separations and bingo -- law of gravitation. This means that should it turn out that gravitational forces are indeed produced by magical invisible forklifts (or "corpuscles" if you prefer) pushing people and planets around, Mary's analysis would still hold.

Or to put it another way, the behavior of gravity is extremely well understood, and it is that behavior that determines the motions of the planets. Its metaphysical (or even physical) nature is irrelevant to this question. Incidentally, the understanding has progressed quite a bit beyond Newton, whose equation the commenter cites. The corrections provided by the general theory of relativity bring the accuracy pretty much to the limits of our present instrumentation.

Ergo, to use the word "foist" in this context is analogous to its use in the following sentence: "We must understand what makes the zygote's cells divide into specialized tissues or you are just foisting off its humanity on us on the basis of something you don't understand."

Next, it is the geocentric model that requires that the universe spin around at tremendous speeds, such that it makes a complete circuit in 24 hours. The heliocentric model -- remember the claim is only that the solar system is sun-centered -- requires no such spectacle. Thus it is the proponents of the geocentric model that must take on the challenge of explaining the incredible forces needed for such a feat, which among other things would require the said motion of the universe to significantly exceed the speed of light.

Finally, it is a disservice to turn a matter of physics into a matter of faith. The Church has already spoken on the issue of Biblical literalism -- the basis of the geocentric claim -- and she is not persuaded. cf The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, section F, from the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I quote: "Fundamentalism also places undue stress upon the inerrancy of certain details in the biblical texts, especially in what concerns historical events or supposedly scientific truth. ... [It] likewise tends to adopt very narrow points of view. It accepts the literal reality of an ancient, out-of-date cosmology simply because it is found expressed in the Bible; this blocks any dialogue with a broader way of seeing the relationship between culture and faith."

Mark Wyatt said...

Briefly (it is difficult to answer so many issues in this space), it does matter what the underlying mechanism of gravity is. If we do not understand something so basic how can we extrapolate out to claim we understand the make-up of the universe- especially given that "gravity" does not always work the way it is claimed (i.e., Pioneer 10, galaxy rotation, etc.).
Never the less, I agree that geocentrists are faced with the same issues.

Yes, general relativity can be viewed as an improvement, but general relativity also gives complete respectibility to geocentrism.
Within general relativity, rotation at superluminal speeds relative to the earth is not an issue, nor is it a feat. Think of it this way (general relativity, Machian mechanics or whatever): gravity would tend to cause the universe to collapse; rotation causes a centrifigal force which balances this gravitational force and stabilizes the universe.

Finally, the Pontifical Bible Commission did not mention geocentrism when discussing this general principle. You are applying a general principle, which in general but not always is true to something that the fathers, and three popes already addressed explicitly. A general principle stated without reference to a specific issue without ecclesial backing does not trump specific ecclisial actions. I.e., you (nor I) am the magesterium. The magisterium is.

Read Galileo Was Wrong, or at least check out the 4-part series Geocentrism 101 on my blog.

Mark Wyatt

hedgemaker said...

St. Augustine stated clearly that it was "a disgraceful thing" for infidels to hear Christians talking nonsense about cosmology.
Three Popes, maybe more, worked actively to restore the reputation of Galileo, to wit:
1. Benedict the XIV had Copernicus taken off the Index, in 1757. This should have meant Galileo was in the clear, but the issue was resurrected, therefore:
2. In 1822, it had to be stated clearly: if Copernicus is off, of course Galileo is off. That would have been Pope Pius VII. But the issue resurrected, so:
3. Pope Leo XIII thought things would be clear enough if the Vatican itself undertook the publication of everything Galileo wrote. Twenty volumes of taking responsibility did not stop the noise, so:
4. Pope John Paul II tried to set the matter to rest.
So much for three Popes and the fathers of the Church.
Let's keep it simple:
This is a blog about the Unity of Truth. It is meant to encourage a sense of peace about the relationship between science and faith.
I raised the issue of your geocentrist position because, while is it laughable for the educated (when their blood pressure drops enough) it is scary for the less educated. They do not wish to seem faithless, but they cannot follow your arcane arguments, so the only effect is to introduce a doubting attitude about the relationship between faith and science, and since the issue is gravity, that doubt is ¬¬mammoth.
Given such a serious matter, it seems fair to ask: Why are you seeking to uphold geocentrism?
I believe the answer is that you believe this is the right way to uphold the truthfulness of the Bible. You are not alone in this opinion.
However the clear teaching of the Catholic Church is that this is a matter of physics, not theology, and therefore such arguments are not the right approach to defending the scriptures. By selling your opinion under the guise of "Catholic Apologetics", you reject that teaching. Quoting various popes only reinforces the impression that you believe that this issue, which is religious for Protestants, ought to be religious for Catholics too.
Because the Church has ceased to consider this a religious issue, it does not make sense for a modern Pope to single it out for approval; were he to do so, he would only give the “disgraceful” impression that this is a new idea in the Vatican. It is not

ScienceMom said...

I have responded in a new post, at the moderator's request. Please see "The New Geocentrism - Part III." Thank you.