The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Cretinism or Evilution? No. 2
Edited by E.T. Babinski
A Critique of Geocentricity



A Critique of Geocentricity
Review by Francis Graham

Geocentricity by Gerardus Bouw, Association of Biblical Astronomy, Cleveland: 1992.

Bouw's Geocentricity is the latest in a series of books seeking to re-establish geocentrism as a religious doctrine alongside "Scientific Creationism" and with much the same tactics. Previous works included 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 Having (1991). Bouw, unlike the other authors, has a genuine astronomy Ph.D. from Case-Western Reserve University .

His book first recalls Biblical passages whose literal reading favors geocentricity, and unlike his earlier book, we are not showered with a barrage of vague passages, but he rests his case firmly on several very good ones, exploring other interpretations which try to save Biblical inerrancy while allowing a mobile Earth. In this he is better than his earlier work, and Bouw must be given credit: he provides a strong case that if the Bible is absolutely literally inerrant and devoid of poetic form, cultural content and phenomenological language, then indeed the Earth is immobile. Unfortunately, he also has to use the same type of arguments he argues against when he deals with additional problem of the Bible speaking of a flat Earth with corners. He strains to argue that the "corners" refer to capes, such as Cape Horn, "corner" coming from the root, "cornu", meaning "horn". He ends up resorting to a scientific proof, namely, that the shadow of the Earth on the moon is a section of a circle when the sun is shining from any direction, and that, therefore, the Earth is necessarily a sphere. Although he later rebukes Aristotle as being an example of "the utter bankruptcy of Greek philosophy" (p.174) he has no trouble using this argument from Aristotle carefully unattributed.

The Biblical exegesis is nonetheless the best-written and best-argued part of the book.

Geocentricity also re-introduces much of the material in With Every Wind, reinterpreting the history of science from Copernicus onward, none too favorably we're afraid. It is a free-wheeling interpretation of history of the kind conspiracy theorists crank out. It ignores much; as we saw the Aristotlean proof of the spherodicity of the Earth was deliberately unattributed. The political tone of this re-interpretation are sewn up in the last chapter, which lists the moral evils of heliocentrism. A detailed point-by-point critique of Bouw's history would take many pages.

Finally we come to the section on scientific arguments for geocentrism. The geocentric model he advocates is from Tycho, in which the planets are centered on the sun and then the sun carries them about the Earth each solar day. It is also modified from Tycho in that the star-sphere is centered on the sun -- not on the Earth -- and rotates each sidereal day.

Actually it is now known that the model was not Tycho's, but stolen by Tycho from a conveniently unpublished and dead travailing tutor by the name of Paul Wittich. To the end of his life, Tycho had hired agents all over Europe searching for every notebook of Wittich's lest the plagiarism be discovered. This does not sound like the "born again" Tycho that Bouw's history provides (p. 176).

Bouw's scientific arguments section takes the form of counter-arguments against the proofs of the modern cosmological setting. They seem to end with a variety of possible other explanations, such as anther drags, etc. for the phenomena pitied as evidence of the Earth's motion; the counter-explanations are nowhere shown as belonging specifically to one, unified, alternative model, probably because no where does Bouw give the physics of such a model; only a slightly modified qualitative kinematic description is given Chapter 29, the penultimate chapter. Even there, he reintroduces Ptolemy's system by pointing out that if we allow the Referents of each planet to be 1 AU and the unicycles to be their present semimajor axes, we have agreement of the Ptolemaic with the Tychonian.

Bouw fails to realize, or hopes his readers will not realize, that the Newton-Einstein picture of modern cosmology is rich in interlocking, mutually supporting observational and experimental evidence. It is difficult to deny, as Bouw does, the existence of Newtonian gravity when the Cavendish experiment proving it can be set up in one's living room. The explanations he shoots at are very selectively worded, and missing key elements, for example, in discussing the aberration of starlight, he fails to mention the diurnal aberration which is maximum for an equatorial observer and zero for an observer at either of the Earth's poles, when measured on the same star. Bouw's Tychonic model fails to explain this, and many other aspects of the many arguments he uses incompletely; he denies Einstein's relativity but fails to point out to his readers that nuclear power plants are designed on the basis of it. In fact, his piecemeal critique of relativity shows that he does not understand it or hopes his readers do not.

In spite of the failings in the scientific arguments of Bouw's essentially political-religious tract on Geocentrism, the reader is probably wondering whether a case could be made for it, especially since, if we do not look too hard, Tycho's model fits the positional predictions Cinematically at least.

The sad thing is that there is no dynamics implicit in the system. LaSagean gravity, one of a host of trashed theories Bouw resurrects, cannot predict how a spacecraft would travel or where our radiotelescopes should point to detect its signals. Newtonian-Einstein cosmology, based on "fixed stars" and a moving Earth, can do that very well. In the Tychonian system, objects more distant than Neptune are travelling at superluminal speeds; there physics fails. Pioneer 10, which was launched from Earth and on past the orbit of Neptune, should have progressively experienced a progressive aberration as it built up to superluminal velocities which was neither predicted nor observed. This should have happened if the aberration was caused by simple relative motion of the Tychonic system, as Bouw first suggests, or by some funny aether, as he also suggests.

For the stars, the situation is worse. If Bouw grants the stars are at the distances we know them to be by several means, it is true that kinematically parallaxes and the annual aberration can be roughly accounted for by the Tychonic model, if we assume only relative motions and no dynamics. But the stars would have to be moving at hyperluminal speeds, many thousands of times the speed of light as they whizz around the motionless Earth each sidereal day. For distant galaxies and quasars, the situation is even more absurd: an object 12 billion light-years distant would be moving at 2.76 x 1013 times the velocity of light!

The idea that the stars can move at hyperluminal speeds was considered by Ernest Mach. Recognizing that the inertial effects of a mass are seen when a mass is rotated or accelerated linearly with respect to the fixed stars in Newton's laws, he correctly realized there was a causal connection between them. In an oft-cited textbook example, a bucket filled with water can be swung around on a rope and the water will not fall out although the bucket is on its side. We know this to be the result of inertia of the water-mass in the presence of the centripetal acceleration provided by the rope. But, the example considers, the same effect might happen if the bucket stood still and the stars revolved around it.

Mach's principle, as this bucket story exemplified, was taken up by Einstein in his theory of general relativity. The gravitational effects of the distant stars and planets, Einstein showed, do provide the inertia of masses. Take away the stars and distant nebulae, and you would not feel dizzy on a turntable. It also provided a crucial element in special relativity; as a spaceship increases its velocity towards that of light, its mass, to a ground-based observer, increases to infinity asymptotically, and this is why it cannot be accelerated to light speed or above, since infinite energy would be required to increase the velocity of infinite mass. But, to the spaceship observer, it is the Universe which is rushing by at nearly the speed of light, highly Lorentz-contracted: he sees no mass increase in his spaceship. However, the increase in the mass of the rest of the Universe provides additional inertial effects on his ship which prevents his further acceleration. Einstein thus provided a quantitative ground to Mach's principle but retained the "fixed stars" as a framework for a new system of imaginary clocks and meter sticks connected by null vectors in spacetime. It is these that curve.

It nonetheless might be possible to rewrite the laws of physics in a consistent way to portray a Tychonic-like cosmogony. An Egyptian mathematician, Mustafa Abelkadar, considered an inverted geocosmos, that is, a Universe in which distant nebulae, stars and quasars were tiny microscopic objects in the center of a nutshell-like, all-surrounding Earth-sphere. Light travelled in circular arcs; it was impossible to traverse the center of the geocosmos because one became very tiny and velocities became very tiny as one approached the center. It was possible to drill through the infinitely extended Earth, as one could conceptually do through the spherical Copernican earth, because as one went outward one's drill became larger and so would become infinitely large and poke through on the other side something like the functional relationship of the tangent as it returns on the other side of the graph after having passed half of pi.

Abelkadar's analysis produced a consistent set of all the laws of physics from thin transformation. It may be possible, although Bouw has not done it, to produce a similar transformation of the laws of physics from around a chosen center point, which could be the Earth, Saturn, or Jupiter's tiny moon Amalthea. In fact, we could possibly define each of our individual selves as immobile and derive physics which allow us to tread the Earth under us as if we were acrobats on a large ball. We could then argue until the end of time which of us were truly immobile without getting anywhere.

Such a transformation approach would suffer several logical flaws. First, Occam's razor, or the law of parsimony, requires us to choose among several possible hypotheses that which has the least assumptions and arbitrary constants. Abelkadar's geocosmos fails in this regard; it introduces a new universal constant, "a", which is related to the radius of the Earth in the Copernican-Newtonian viewpoint. The model has thus one more constant than its Copernican-Newtonian rival; it then must be rejected since the addition of the constant is unneeded to sufficiently explain the Universe. Likewise, it seems likely that a Tychonian transformation of all the laws of physics, if possible, would introduce what we now know as the angular velocity of the Earth and the Earth-sun distance as two new universal constants in the Tychonian scheme. These are unnecessary in the Copernican-Newtonian cosmography and hence the Tychonian model, if developed, could be rejected by the law of parsimony: the simplest explanation is the beet.

An additional and more serious problem arises when we once more consider which is moving in our Machian example: the bucket or the stars? We can stop the bucket; do we, alternatively stop the distant nebulae billions of light years away instantly and with accelerations of tens of quadrillions of g's? On the Earth, millisecond variations in the Earth's rotation can now be measured, caused by seasonal variations in masses, even earthquake activity causes a small but measurable variation in the Earth's rotation. To the Tychonian, who sees the Earth as immobile, this means the distant hyperluminally revolving galaxies are responding to events by responding to a signal moving billions of times faster than light. Bouw explains this by asking whether the changes in the rotation of the distant galaxies are not in fact causing the Earthquakes; he also, in his typical way, offers a second, pseudoscientific explanation of an "advanced potential", mimicking the Jingo of general relativity (which he rejects). But, it is known Earthquakes can be deliberately caused by fluid injection into faults, such as was done in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Does Bouw mean to suggest our volition is controlled by the distant stars? Besides, even if the Earth were not moving initially, well established principles such as the conservation of momentum would mean that static-testing a rocket motor horizontally would accelerate the Earth, perhaps by an as-yet unmeasureable amount, but still a finite amount. Where does the "advanced potential" fit into this scheme?

Hence the more serious principles that the mathematical transformation of the Copernican laws of physics into a Tychonian system, if it could be done in a manner similar to Abelkadar, would violate is the Cosmological Principle and the Principle of Causality. Why should seismic activity on other planets and stars alter their rotations but our seismic activity not alter ours but instead their total revolutions about us? Why should weather patterns seen on other planets be the result of coriolis effects acting on them due to their rotations but ours require a different, special explanation? The Cosmological Principle says we are not special in the Universe. The Principle of Causality says, that in all rest frames, causes precede effects; wholesale violation of this would occur in the Tychonic system in big, big ways.

Of course, this assumes that a consistent set of physical laws can be found for the Tychonic system which would explain all phenomena Seen in the Copernican-Newton-Einstein system; this Bouw sadly failed to do. But even if this could be done, one could see it would still fail the tests for parsimony, causality and the cosmological principle.

What Bouw's book has done, rather than whimsically explore the mathematical possibilities for a Tychonic system, is make a political blast against the freedom of the mind which developed since the Copernican revolution, and seek to begin a movement that will advocate geocentricism because that is the way he interprets his religious texts. Like "scientific creationism", he is intolerant of other points of view, which he sees as contributing to moral decay, and so he desires to have these removed from human thought.

It has been often said that passing a law to make the world immobile will not make it immobile, or educating children that it is immobile will not make it immobile. This posits an external objective reality which is testable. While this is so, there is something missing when the great heap of scientific knowledge at our disposal is disposed of: like the reality of a Universe in which all living creatures, including ourselves, have become extinct. It is as if truth does not walk on its own legs, but awareness of it resides in the brains of humans. It is not beyond the ability of religion in the hands of political forces to cause people to deny this objective reality in favor of some other convenient myth. Nor is it beyond religion in the service of a religio-political state to make it a sin and a crime to test objective reality in certain ways to produce understanding, or to examine the prior tests of others for that purpose. And, for even the accidental effects this objective reality has on people, it is not beyond the political uses of religion to desensitize people to its effects, and to create psychological impediments to understanding and learning.


"...And whereas it has also come to the knowledge of the said Congregation that the Pythagorean doctrine - which is false and altogether opposed to the Holy Scripture - of the motion of the Earth and the immobility of the Sun, which is also taught by Nicolaus Copernicus in De Revolutionibus orbium coelestium, and by Diego de Zu-iga on Job, is now being spread abroad and accepted by many... Therefore, in order that this opinion may not insinuate itself any further to the prejudice of Catholic truth, the Holy Congregation has decreed that the said Nicolaus Copernicus, De Revolutionibus orbium, and Diego de Zu-iga, On Job, be suspended until they are corrected."

[Decree of the Roman Catholic Congregation of the Index condemning "De Revolutionibus," March 5, 1616]



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