Why the Universe does not revolve around the Earth
Refuting absolute geocentrism
Published 12 February 2015; last update 30 July 2021
Table of Contents
- Phenomenological Language
- Logic and Science
- The Greeks
- The Church Fathers
- The Middle Ages
- A Timeline of Events (a fun romp through modern history)
- Frames of Reference
- Supporting Evidence (or, why the earth cannot be at the absolute center)
- The rate of acceleration of objects in the universe
- The speed of objects in the universe
- Aberration of starlight
- The discovery of Neptune
- The Return of Halley’s Comet
- Delicate orbital mechanics
- The equatorial bulge
- The oddly wiggling universe
- Coriolis force
Questions about how the universe works are not always easy to answer. For many centuries most people (scientists and philosophers included) thought the earth was at its center and that the planets, moon, sun, and stars revolved around us. This is called “geocentrism” or the “geocentric view of the universe”. It took years of painstaking work, spread out over multiple centuries, to show that this was false as an absolute claim. Today, we accept a “geokinetic” (moving-earth) view based on the work of Newton and Einstein. For the student of history and/or science, how we came to the modern view is an amazing exploration of how things work and a testimony to the amazing ability to reason that God uniquely put into people.
We live in a created universe, meaning its existence did not come about through naturalistic processes alone. We also live in a well-ordered universe; meaning it behaves according to a set of rules. This is consistent with it being created by an ultimate Lawgiver, who is not fickle and acts in a consistent manner, according to His very nature
However, it is far more difficult to take these experiments and use them to explain the origin of everything. When a person tries to predict backwards to infinity, this type of science breaks down. Philosophically, there are paradoxes waiting around every corner. For example, we are either in a steady-state universe that defies the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, or we are in a universe that has a beginning but without a cause. Scientifically, we see how appeals to big bang physics have led to much speculation, including inflation theory, dark matter, dark energy, the fine tuning of numerous constants in order to get the models pointing in the right direction, etc. Therefore, even after we have learned all this about the mechanics of the universe, once we begin trying to explain how it all began we get into the realm of faith. True, there are still puzzles to be explained in the “young-earth” position, but since evolutionists explain away their puzzles with ‘it’s science’s job to solve these puzzles’, the same allowances should be made for creationist scientists.
The question about whether or not earth is at the center is not as easy to answer as the “flat earth” question. Not only are these two ideas not the same, but no significant evidence exists for flat earth beliefs among scientists going back to the Greeks. Indeed, a Greek scientist named Eratosthenes of Cyrene (276–194 BC) calculated the circumference of the earth (to an amazing degree of accuracy). Within the circles of Christian scholarship, no notable theologian seems to have believed in a flat earth, not only because of it so obviously is not, but also because the Bible does not claim it is. Notable theologians throughout the Christian era believed the earth is spherical. Even in the midst of the falsely-named “Dark Ages”, the leading Anglo-Saxon scholar and monk ‘the Venerable’ Bede (AD673–735), one of most widely-read scholars for the next 1000 years, wrote that the earth:
… in its width it is like a circle, and not circular like a shield but rather like a ball, and it extends from its centre with perfect roundness on all sides.1
The relationship between the spherical earth and the universe, however, was a notorious nut to crack, with many famous scientists weighing in on the difficulty. The main problem is that we are here on earth and, to us, it appears that everything revolves around our planet. We don’t feel like we are sailing through the heavens. We don’t feel like we are moving at all. Is it possible to sort out fact from fiction in this subject? Actually, yes. The answer is both elegant and satisfying, but we must do a little digging to answer the riddle.
Biblical phenomenological language
Well-meaning Christian geocentrists basically say, “The Bible says the sun rises and sets and that the earth doesn’t move; that settles it.” However, does the Bible really say that absolute geocentrism is true? The use of language complicates this subject. Even today, in both writing and in common speech, people often use “phenomenological language”. Indeed, it would be almost impossible to have many conversations if we did not talk about things like “sunrise” (go ahead, try to describe a sunrise or sunset without sounding like you are stationary and the sun is moving, and compare with our attempt below).
And it’s not just us: the leading Roman poet Virgil (70–19 BC) wrote, “We set out from harbour, and lands and cities recede” (Aeneid 3:72). This line was quoted by both Copernicus and Kepler. Similarly, in inspired Scripture itself, there is Acts 27:27, where the Greek literally says, “toward the middle of the night the sailors began sensing some land to be drawing near to them” (Berean Literal Bible, the most literal translation that keeps the Greek accusative and infinitive construction) or “toward the middle of the night the sailors were supposing that some country drew nigh to them” (Young’s Literal Translation, which keeps the sense but in a more normal English phrasing). These are both cases of what could be called a nauticocentric reference frame, which shows that the geocentric reference frame was not the only one chosen by ancient people.
Thus, even when consulting biblical passages, we must be wary of the use of language. This was recognized in the Middle Ages by scientist-clergy such as the priest Jean Buridan (c. 1300–c. 1360), the bishop Nicole Oresme (c. 1320–1382),2,3 and Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464).4 If you think these men are perhaps insignificant, Buridan’s formulation anticipated the principle of describing motion with respect to reference frames, which paved the way for Galileo, Newton, and Einstein. His idea of impetus anticipated Galileo’s concept of inertia and Newton’s First Law of Motion.5 Historian of science, James Hannam, comments:
Like many medieval Christians, Buridan expected God to have arranged things in an elegant way, always allowing that he could do as he pleased. However, although there was also a presumption towards elegance, you still had to check the empirical facts to see if God really operated this way.6
Living almost exactly 100 years after Buridan, Nicholas of Cusa wrote eloquently on the subject:
It has already become evident to us that the earth is indeed moved, even though we do not perceive this to be the case. For we apprehend motion only through a certain comparison with something fixed. For example, if someone did not know that a body of water was flowing and did not see the shore while he was on a ship in the middle of the water, how would he recognize that the ship was being moved? And because of the fact that it would always seem to each person (whether he were on the earth, the sun, or another star) that he was at the “immovable” center, so to speak, and that all other things were moved: assuredly, it would always be the case that if he were on the sun, he would fix a set of poles in relation to himself; if on the earth, another set; on the moon, another; on Mars, another; and so on. Hence, the world-machine will have its center everywhere and its circumference nowhere, so to speak; for God, who is everywhere and nowhere, is its circumference and center.7
It is clear here that he believed the earth moved through space, and he clearly understood the principle of frames of reference (discussed in more detail below). Buridan and Nicolas predate the Copernican Revolution, meaning later scientists did not come up with their ideas on their own.8 Centuries of scholarship had been working in this direction.
When we consider the biblical ‘proof texts’, most are taken out of context by those few people who want to argue for absolute geocentrism (the view that the earth is fixed and does not rotate while everything in the universe rotates about us once every day). This taking out of context is done both by biblioskeptics and, unfortunately, modern geocentrists who take their views as gospel.
There are multiple verses that have a generic reference to “sunrise”, including Genesis 19:23, Exodus 22:3, Judges 5:31, Judges 9:33, Job 9:7, Psalm 104:22, Ecclesiastes 1:5, Nahum 3:17, Matthew 5:45, Mark 16:2, and James 1:11. There are also a number of verses that use “sunrise” in relation to the direction “east”, which makes perfect sense, including Numbers 2:3, Numbers 3:38, Numbers 34:15, Joshua 1:15, Joshua 12:1, Joshua 13:5, Joshua 19:12, and Joshua 19:13. Indeed, the normal Greek word for ‘east’, ἀνατολή (anatolē, e.g. Matthew 2:1), has the primary meaning of ‘rising’, usually of the sun. In other places, “sunrise” is used in a prophetic or poetic sense, including Luke 1:78 (also anatolē), which comes in the middle of the prophesy of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, and is comparing Christ to the sunrise “that shall visit us from on high”. This is similar to the prophesy of Malachi 4:2 that claims “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” Additional references can be found in Psalm 50:1 (“The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.”), Malachi 1:11 (“For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations…”), and Psalm 113:3 (“From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!”).
There are also multiple verses that have a reference to “sunset”, including Genesis 28:11, Deuteronomy 16:6, Deuteronomy 23:11, Deuteronomy 24:13, Deuteronomy 24:15, Joshua 8:29, Joshua 10:27, 1 Kings 22:36, 2 Chronicles 18:34, Psalm 50:1, Psalm 104:19, Psalm 113:3, Ecclesiastes 1:5, Daniel 6:14, Malachi 1:11, and Luke 4:40.
None of these verses is a challenge to geokinetic theory and none actually support geocentrism for all are acceptable uses of phenomenological language and, as mentioned earlier, we use similar phrases every day with no intention of misleading anyone into thinking we are geocentrists. (But all of these verses refute certain modern models of a flat earth where the sun orbits at a constant distance above a flat disk!) Modern geokinetic astronomers teach using a planetarium, which treats the earth as the center of an infinite celestial sphere, and is full of phenomenological ‘geocentric’ terms such zenith, nadir, celestial poles and equator. Language conventions like this are necessary for simple communication.
There are other passages, however, that require a more careful exegesis. After the Israelites crossed the Jordan into Canaan, they defeated the cities of Jericho and Ai (Joshua 1–8). Soon after that the residents of Gibeon tricked Israel to entering into a covenant with them (Joshua 9). Gibeon was to the west of Ai and an obvious next target for the invading army. The other peoples in the area were angry and went to war against the Gibeonites. Israel came to their aid and a great battle was fought (Joshua 10). In the midst of this battle, the Bible says:
At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.
This very famous passage describes Joshua’s Long Day, and is often used to support geocentric views, but what is it saying, really? Obviously, the statements are being given in a local frame of reference. Why? Because the sun standing over Gibeon would not appear to be overhead anywhere except in the geographic vicinity of Gibeon. The valley of Aijalon is to the west of Gibeon. Therefore, the moon would not appear to be to the west of Gibeon to someone standing in Aijalon; it would be out over the Mediterranean.9 Many claim this passage teaches that God stopped the moving sun and moon. Yet there is nothing here to say that he did not temporarily slow down a rotating earth (as well as the hydrosphere and atmosphere). This would produce the same effect. Or He could have stopped the movement of everything in the universe. Same result. That something universal really happened in history is shown by legends of a long night in people groups on the other side of the globe.10
Note that the mention of the moon is a mark of authenticity. The Amorites were sun worshippers, so it makes sense for God to show His power over the false god. But if His means really was slowing down the earth, as we suggest, then this would also affect the relative motion of the moon, which otherwise need not have been mentioned.
And let us not forget the reversing of the course of the sun in the time of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:5–11, Isaiah 38:1–7), an event that was noticed, or at least enquired about, by astronomers outside of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 32:24–31). These deviations from the scientific norm are what allow us to identify miracles when they occur. In a geocentric universe, everything is one giant miracle with no simple explanation (see below). Certainly, a geocentrist would not expect the sun to stop or to move backward, but why not? There is no rational explanation for the way the universe operates, so why could something out of the ordinary not happen?
Psalm 96:10 is another critical verse for us to understand. It says:
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”
Similar statements that “the earth shall not be moved” appear in Psalm 93:1 and Psalm 104:5. Do these verses not say that the earth does not move? No, they do not, for one very simple reason: the Hebrew word מוֺט (mot) means “to totter, shake, or slip”11 and is often translated such in other places. The opposite of “shake” can be “unmoving”, as in these verses, but it can also be accurately translated “unshaken”. Using the same word, Psalm 55:22 and Psalm 112:6 say the righteous will never be moved. Same word, similar context, but obviously this does not mean people are fixed in place! Yet, if the righteous can move, so can the earth. Following on that theme, Psalm 121 is titled, “The Righteous shall never be moved.” verse 3 says God will never let your foot be moved, yet a few verses later talks about “coming in” and “going out”, meaning the feet must be moving and the earlier use of “shall not be moved” must be a metaphoric or poetic expression for “firm” or “unshaken”. Also, Psalm 16:8 says, “I shall not be moved,” and most biblioskeptics and geocentrists would not think that the Psalmist was in a strait jacket! Finally, Psalm 125:1 says those who trust in the Lord are like Mt. Zion, which cannot be moved and abides forever. This is perhaps a better place to use “cannot be moved”, for we are talking about a mountain, but even that will be burned up in the future (according to most views on eschatology), so the poetic expression is clear.
One other problem is the use of the word “firmament” in Genesis 1 in the King James version. That word comes straight out of the geocentric views of Ptolemy (AD 90–168) and his predecessors, albeit by a long route. Around 250 BC, Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek to make the Septuagint LXX. Unfortunately, they imbibed some of the Greek cosmologies—a spherical earth surrounded by concentric crystalline spheres—by translating the Hebrew word רקיע (rāqîya‘) into steréōma (στερέωμα). This comes from the word στερεόω (stereoō)—“to make or be firm or solid.” We see this meaning carried over into Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, firmamentum. This was basically transliterated into the KJV’s “firmament”. Thus, this is an example where the science of the day influenced Bible translation, and vestiges remained for almost 2,000 years! Another example of how the Greek cosmology influenced Jewish translators comes from Josephus. He referred to the rāqîya‘ created on Day 2 as a κρύσταλλος (crystallos, i.e. crystalline sphere) around the earth (Antiquities of the Jews 1(1):30). [Note: This is not a slam on the KJV necessarily. CMI does not take any particular stand on Bible translations, but this one word is demonstrably taken from the scientific views of the time.]
There is some debate among creationists on the meaning of rāqîya‘ in this context. Kulikovsky points out:
Note also that the semantic ranges of stereōma and firmamentum do not match rāqîya‘. The Hebrew word rāqîya‘ refers to something flexible or malleable which has been stretched out. As Livingston puts it: “The emphasis in the Hebrew word raqia is not on the material itself but on the act of spreading out or the condition of being expanded.” Stereōma and firmamentum, on the other hand, refer to something hard, solid and inflexible. Indeed, Seely admits that his historical etymology of rāqîya‘ and rāqa “does not absolutely prove that rāqîya‘ in Genesis 1 is solid.”15
J.P. Holding put it this way:
… the description of the raqiya‘ is so equivocal and lacking in detail that one can only read a solid sky into the text by assuming that it is there in the first place. One can, however, justifiably understand Genesis to be in harmony with what we presently know about the nature of the heavens.16
Thus, even though multiple interpretations could equally well fit, rāqîya‘ does not mean “solid dome”.
And as will be seen, most of the debate was about the science; or as philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn (1922–1996) put it, a shift in scientific paradigms.17,18 Most people in history spoke in geocentric terms, as most people do today—we say, “The sun is setting” not “The earth’s rotation is now bringing our line of sight to the sun into a tangent at my position on the earth’s surface.” But this does not mean that most of us today are geocentrists!
Thus, there is no real biblical problem with a geokinetic view. This is not the same argument as “is evolution true?” or “can we add millions of years of earth history to the Bible?” This is not using “science” to inform us about biblical theology, which all attempts at merging evolutionary time and the Bible end up doing. The nature of the relationship of the earth to the heavens is an open subject that begs for exploration. This is an example of the difference between the ministerial and magisterial uses of science. Geokineticism is ministerial in that is helps us to elucidate texts that could go either way. In contrast, long-age views of evolution are based on a magisterial abuse of science in order to override Scripture, with baneful theological consequences, like death before Adam’s sin.
Logic and science
This study is designed both to help Christians refute critics and to understand why geokinetism is both good science and biblically allowable.
Here’s the main logical problem with absolute geocentrism: it’s not that we could not construct a geocentric cosmology, as one of many allowable reference frames. It’s that there is no scientific or biblical reason why we would—there is no dynamic model to explain it, i.e. in terms of forces as efficient causes of motions. Therefore it has essentially no predictive value. Yes, it could describe planetary positions accurately enough for pre-telescope astronomy, admittedly a great achievement, but it fails to explain the orbital motions of satellites of other planets. It is useful in some respects, however, for launching things into orbit, for pointing earth-based antennae at geostationary satellites, for plotting the position of stars, etc. Yet, because it lacks predictive power, a fully-comprehensive geocentric model would be very, very complicated. They would need to add terms almost at random to account for the thousands of variations easily explained by geokineticism. There is another, perhaps stronger, point to make: geokinetics is the best way to understand the physics. The equations of motion are the simplest for the particles that orbit in a center-of-mass system and when the center is used as the origin in the co-ordinate frame. Science thrives on making predictions, and Newton’s three Laws of Motion and theory of gravity (with Einstein’s further refinements) are one of the most amazing predictive engines in history. Since Scripture doesn’t demand that a stationary earth is the only valid reference frame (absolute geocentrism), why would we hold to an earth-centered, earth-fixed reference frame?
Here’s the main scientific problem with geocentrism: if absolute geocentrism is true, then the laws of physics are not universal. That is, experiments we do on earth cannot apply to things outside the atmosphere because Newton’s laws of motion and gravity cannot explain what we are seeing. This is a big problem, for every time we do something in outer space everything behaves as if it would here on earth. Absolute geocentrism requires a universe that does not work according to Newton’s laws. Yes, you can attempt to describe the way things revolve around the earth in a absolute geocentric system, but gravity cannot be used to explain the motion of those objects; another force is required to glue the universe together. Where does the change occur? Certainly before we get to the moon, for that must orbit the earth once a day. But we cannot detect any such transition! We can fly a plane, launch a satellite, send things to the outer solar system and there is no place where Newtonian mechanics does not apply. For example, late in 2014, the Rosetta spacecraft from the European Space Agency successfully arrived at and orbited comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. In a delicate and complex series of maneuvers, the craft deposited the Philae lander on the surface of the comet. Everything about that rendezvous is explained by Newtonian physics, and it is the same physics that works here on earth. If everything out there behaves as expected based on experiments here on earth, does this not mean that geokineticism is true and absolute geocentrism is not? If you can’t use gravity to explain the motion of objects in the solar system, you can’t use gravity to explain the motion of space probes flying among those objects. It is that simple.
Absolute geocentrism is then nothing more than ‘stamp collecting’. One cannot make many predictions. One can only describe what is seen. Essentially, they can describe observations without being able to explain those observations. The power of the geokinetic model lies in the fact that it is based on a simple observation that can then be used to explain multiple phenomena. The Achilles’ heel for those few who still believe the earth does not move is that their “model” is nothing more than a list of unrelated phenomena.
The main protagonist in the geocentrism debate is a man named Claudius Ptolemy (AD 90–168), a Greek scholar living in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in the second century AD. He had a profound influence on this debate, to the point that today the terms “geocentric” and “Ptolemaic” are interchangeable. Prior to him, however, there was no unanimity among Greek thinkers. In fact, several solar-centric views predated Ptolemy’s geocentrism. The Greek scholar Aristarchus of Samos (310–230 BC) is but one of those people. Interestingly, he also said that the sun must be further away than moon (because the moon can eclipse the sun). Since they have the same apparent size, he reasoned the size of the sun must be proportional to its distance behind the moon. He underestimated the size of the sun (and thus its distance) by a factor of 10. But even his estimate was much bigger than the earth, so he reasoned that the earth orbited the sun. And he was not the only ancient to struggle with it. The debate was known to famous people like Archimedes (287–212 BC), Seneca (4 BC – AD 45), Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79), and Plutarch (AD 45–120).
There were good reasons for most early people to believe in geocentrism and the scholars listed multiple evidences in support of it. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) summarized the arguments in Chapter 7 of his book On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres:19
Therefore, remarks Ptolemy of Alexandria (Syntaxis,20 1, 7), if the earth were to move, merely in a daily rotation, the opposite of what was said above would have to occur, since a motion would have to be exceedingly violent and its speed unsurpassable to carry the entire circumference of the earth around in twenty-four hours. But things which undergo an abrupt rotation seem utterly unsuited to gather (bodies to themselves), and seem more likely, if they have been produced by combination, to fly apart unless they are held together by some bond. The earth would long ago have burst asunder, he says, and dropped out of the skies (a quite preposterous notion); and, what is more, living creatures and any other loose weights would by no means remain unshaken. Nor would objects falling in a straight line descend perpendicularly to their appointed place, which would meantime have been withdrawn by so rapid a movement. Moreover, clouds and anything else floating in the air would be seen drifting always westward.
Copernicus uses the Aristotelian terminology of his opponents, where “violent” simply means “caused by an outside force”, and no one then knew Newton’s Second Law. For example, a book falling from a table is ‘natural motion’, while picking it up is ‘violent’ motion. Yet think about the implications of this Aristotelian view: if any outside force is ‘violent’, experimental science is invalid because any experimental manipulation cannot then be ‘natural’.
Some of the ancients tried to argue that, if the earth rotated, it would fly apart, people and animals would be flung from the surface, falling objects would curve as they fall to the surface, and there should be a perpetual east wind, as Copernicus explained. But he then takes the argument and turns it back on itself, issuing an even greater challenge in Chapter 8:
For these and similar reasons forsooth the ancients insist that the earth remains at rest in the middle of the universe, and that this is its status beyond any doubt. Yet if anyone believes that the earth rotates, surely he will hold that its motion is natural, not violent … Ptolemy has no cause, then, to fear that the earth and everything earthly will be disrupted by a rotation created through nature’s handiwork …
But why does he not feel this apprehension even more for the universe, whose motion must be the swifter, the bigger the heavens are than the earth? Or have the heavens become immense because the indescribable violence of their motion drives them away from the center? Would they also fall apart if they came to a halt? Were this reasoning sound, surely the size of the heavens would likewise grow to infinity. For the higher they are driven by the power of their motion, the faster that motion will be, since the circumference of which it must make the circuit in the period of twenty-four hours is constantly expanding; and, in turn, as the velocity of the motion mounts, the vastness of the heavens is enlarged. In this way the speed will increase the size, and the size the speed, to infinity. Yet according to the familiar axiom of physics that the infinite cannot be traversed or moved in any way, the heavens will therefore necessarily remain stationary.
As we will see, not only has ‘the earth will fly apart’ argument been answered, but so have the other arguments some of the ancients attempted to make.
The Church Fathers
The few Church Fathers who discussed the issue were geocentrists. However, it is not quite fair for modern geocentrists to quote the early Church Fathers in support. First, all the pagans of their day also supported geocentrism, so the Church Fathers just reflected common sense, common contemporary scientific ideas, or common use of language. They were hardly making a principled theological opposition to geokineticism.
Second, they were influenced by the faulty translation of the raqia’ in the available Greek and Latin translations. Third, their geocentrism was Ptolemaic Geocentrism, while modern geocentrists actually hold the Tychonian (or Tychonic) hybrid geo-heliocentrist view (see below). Since no Church Father held this modern view, how can one quote them in support?
Fourth, the first genuinely intellectual challenge to absolute geocentrism came from devout adherents to a broadly biblical world view.
The Middle Ages
Due to the work of leading lights like Boëthius (AD 480–525), who was following the lead in this case of Aristotle and Ptolemy (they were not wrong about everything, after all), scholars in the Middle Ages knew the earth was just a point compared to the vastness of space, saying:
As you have heard from the demonstrations of the astronomers, in comparison to the vastness of the heavens, it is agreed that the whole extent of the earth has the value of a mere point; that is to say, were the earth to be compared to the vastness of the heavenly sphere, it would be judged to have no volume at all.21
Yet most of them accepted the geocentric views of their day. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) had a great deal of influence in nearly fixing Aristotelian philosophy, and its cousin, Ptolemaic astronomy, in the minds of his contemporaries. However, he was not dogmatic, realizing that the observations could be explained by another theory as yet undiscovered:
“Yet it is not necessary that the various suppositions which they hit upon be true—for although these suppositions save the appearances, we are nevertheless not obliged to say that these suppositions are true, because perhaps there is some other way men have not yet grasped by which the things which appear as to the stars are saved.” (De coelo (The Heavens, translated by Fabian R.Larcher and Pierre H. Conway) 2:17: Two difficulties proposed in connection with what has been determined about the stars, emphasis added.)
“Reason is employed in another way, not as furnishing a sufficient proof of a principle, but as confirming an already established principle, by showing the congruity of its results, as in astrology the theory of eccentrics and epicycles is considered as established, because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained; not, however, as if this proof were sufficient, forasmuch as some other theory might explain them.” (Summa theologicae/theologica > First Part > Question 32: The knowledge of the divine persons. article 1, reply to Objection 2, emphasis added; from newadavent.org)
Indeed, after Thomas, some clergy-scientists in the Middle Ages directly questioned Aristotelian philosophy. In fact, the Middle Ages saw the birth of the universities, where questioning authority was often encouraged.22 Because of the infinitesimally small size of the earth compared to the heavens, Buridan and Oresme proposed that it might be more elegant that the earth itself rotated rather than the cosmos revolving around it (following in the steps of several Greek philosophers who said the same). They answered most of the biblical and scientific objections that would be thrown at Galileo a few centuries later, but came short of asserting geokineticism as a fact, as Hannam explains:
What Oresme had done was prepare the groundwork. He refuted most of the objections to a moving earth two centuries before Copernicus had suggested that it might actually be in motion.23
A common thought in the Middle Ages was that the centre of the universe was the worst place to be. For example, Dante’s Divine Comedy (c. 1310) has nine circles of Hell inside the Earth, getting worse as they approach the center. Satan was right at the centre of a (spherical) earth, at the centre of the universe. In the opposite direction, the nine celestial spheres of heaven increased in virtue and closeness to God as they got further from the center. We certainly do not hold to Dante’s vision, but in this light moving the earth away from the center was a promotion in the eyes of people in the Middle Ages, not a demotion, as 21st century anachronistic skeptics claim.
Was heliocentrism the result of Hermetic paganism?
Some recent historians have tried to make the claim that Copernican theory was driven by some sort of Hermetic24 sun worship, but this is grossly anachronistic. By taking the ‘perfect’ sun and putting it at the center, instead of worshiping the sun, Copernicans were demoting it to the worst place.25And even though the Hermitica was widely read among the scholars of Copernicus’ time (the Renaissance), we do not believe Copernicus was among the adherents. Copernicus had one passing mention of Hermes among other ancient writings:
At rest, however, in the middle of everything is the sun. For in this most beautiful temple, who would place this lamp in another or better position than that from which it can light up the whole thing at the same time? For, the sun is not inappropriately called by some people the lantern of the universe, its mind by others, and its ruler by still others. (Hermes) the Thrice Greatest labels it a visible god, and Sophocles’ Electra, the all-seeing. Thus indeed, as though seated on a royal throne, the sun governs the family of planets revolving around it. Moreover, the earth is not deprived of the moon’s attendance. On the contrary, as Aristotle says in a work on animal, the moon has the closest kinship with the earth. Meanwhile the earth has intercourse with the sun, and is impregnated for its yearly parturition.
If this is a problem, then what about the Apostle Paul quoting pagan poets with approval: Aratus (Acts 17:28), Menander (1 Corinthians 15:33), and Epimenides (Titus 1:12)? Also, Copernicus had also cited Scripture with approval:
For would not the godly Psalmist (92:4) in vain declare that he was made glad through the work of the Lord and rejoiced in the works of His hands, were we not drawn to the contemplation of the highest good by this means, as though by a chariot?
Then see the alleged Hermetic heliocentrism:
Since it is the visual ray itself, the sun shines all around the cosmos with the utmost brilliance, on the part above and on the part below. For the sun is situated in the center of the cosmos, wearing it like a crown. Like a good driver, it steadies the chariot of the cosmos and fastens the reins to itself to prevent the cosmos going out of control. And the reins are these: life and soul and spirit and immortality and becoming. The driver slackens the reins to let the cosmos go, not far away (to tell the truth) but along with him. …
Around the sun are the eight spheres that depend from it: the sphere of the fixed stars, the six of the planets, and the one that surrounds the earth.
The above is hardly science at all, but mystical nonsense. So if any heliocentrist was influenced by Hermeticism, it was surely Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), a New-Agey non-scientist beloved of atheist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Furthermore, this passage talks about a sphere surrounding the earth, and only the other planets surrounding the sun. Thus Hermeticism is also probably even more compatible with the Tychonian geo-heliocentrism hybrid beloved of modern geocentrists (see below). They would undoubtedly take umbrage if they were accused of being Hermeticists, so they should practise “do unto others” when it comes to accusing geokineticists.
A final point: geokineticism does not fall even if Copernicus was a rabid hermeticist (this would be the genetic fallacy), and in any case, this objection can’t touch Copernicus’ medieval predecessors or most other geokineticists. What we have to do is assess the evidence for and against absolute geocentrism and not resort to ad hominem distractions.
Did the Church suppress geokinetic theory?
Others have argued that the “Church” suppressed scientific advance by persecuting those who argued against absolute geocentrism, but history paints a very different picture. The Catholic Church, instead of being opposed to astronomy, spent tremendous amounts of money on it. Why? Because once the “Church” covered a significant portion of the globe, the calculation of the date of Easter became problematic. “The first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox” (Council of Nicea, AD 325) sounds like a precise formula, but it was entirely probable that different observers, even without making a mistake, could celebrate Easter on different days in different parts of the world. Add to that the fact that the Julian calendar was causing the calendar year to get farther and farther from the solar year (10 days off by the 1500s) and they had a real problem. To resolve these issues, cathedrals were enlisted as giant pinhole cameras projecting onto meridian lines (meridiane, singular meridiana). Thus the sun’s path through the sky could be accurately recorded, as documented by science historian John Heilbron (b. 1934).26 The cathedrals were ideal because they were huge, works of architectural genius, and were old enough for the foundations to have stabilized, so the positions of the meridiane would not shift. They were even more accurate astronomical instruments than the best telescopes of the day; telescopes did not surpass the meridiane until the mid-18th century.
The result of this work was the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, which we still use today. The calendar change occurred 50 years before the trial of Galileo and was “based on computations that made use of Copernicus’ work”, as Kuhn pointed out.27 So already the new astronomy of Copernicus had shown its practical superiority, also showing that the Church permitted this view as a working mathematical hypothesis.
After that, the work was refined even further. Interestingly, by 1655 (13 years after Galileo’s death) observations made in the Cathedral of Bologna by Giovanni Cassini (1625–1712) answered a great debate of the time, and gave concrete evidence that Kepler’s theory was correct and that Ptolemy’s was not. He also showed that the distance to the sun changed over time, meaning circular orbits were out of the question, so Kepler was right about elliptical orbits.28
Timeline of events—a fun romp through history
There are many names that enter into the story. Too many, in fact, to do justice to them all. Yet, it is good to put several of the more important names in a proper historical perspective. When the subject comes up, most people immediately think of Galileo and his trials, but he was actually not the first nor the most important figure. Nicolaus Copernicus (“the man who stopped the sun and moved the earth”29) died more than two decades before Galileo was even born, and Galileo’s censure did not occur until he was 70 years old.
|~ 200 BC||Aristarchus of Samos estimates the distance to and size of the sun. He showed that the sun is much larger than the earth. From this, he proposed that the sun should be central with the earth revolving around it. But he had no mechanism for the earth to move, so his proposal was rejected by most astronomers on scientific grounds.|
|~ 200 BC||Eratosthenes of Cyrene calculates the circumference of the earth with remarkable accuracy.|
|~ 150 AD||Claudius Ptolemy writes the Syntaxis (Almagest), which became the main astronomy textbook of the Middle Ages. This established absolute geocentrism as the ruling scientific paradigm for almost 1,500 years.|
|~ 500 AD||Boëthius acknowledges the vast size of the universe, compared to which the whole earth was just a point, in his Consolation of Philosophy. This was one of the most widely read books of the Middle Ages.|
|~ 700 AD||‘The Venerable’ Bede writes that the earth is a globe, and correctly argues that the moon is the main cause of the tides.|
|~1230 AD||Johannes de Sacrobosco (John of Holywood) publishes Tractatus de Sphaera (On the Sphere of the World), a textbook that explained what was then known about astronomy. This clearly explained that the earth must be a sphere, pointed out that the moon has no light of its own and shines by reflected sunlight that the earth blocks during a lunar eclipse, and taught that even the smallest star we see is larger than the earth. The Sphere was required reading by students in all Western European universities for the next four centuries, which meant that the leading clergy of the day were taught from it.|
|~1250 AD||Thomas Aquinas nearly fixes Aristotelian Ptolemaic astronomy in the minds of his contemporaries. In his magnum opus, Summa Theologica, He also reaffirmed that the earth is a globe, as an example of an obvious and objective fact that everyone knew.|
|~1350||Jean Buridan discovered the law of inertia centuries before Galileo, and proposed a geokinetic idea as a mathematically elegant hypothesis.|
|~1380||Nicole Oresme invented graphs of motion centuries before Galileo, and addressed most scientific and theological objections to geokineticism.|
|~1450||Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, a clergyman ranked second only to the Pope, proposed that the earth would be moving relative to reference frames of heavenly bodies.|
|1543||Nicolaus Copernicus “The man who stopped the world and moved the sun”.|
|1582||The Gregorian Calendar, aided by the Copernican model, is adopted by the Catholic world.|
|1600||Tycho Brahe makes thousands of astronomical observations that would be used later to further develop Copernicus’ theory. Brahe proposed a geo-heliocentric model that compromised between Ptolemy’s and Copernicus’ models.|
|1610||Galileo Galilei made the first telescope observations of moons orbiting other planets and phases of Venus, and became the most controversial proponent of Copernican heliocentrism. But still, most of the astronomical world believed in geocentrism; only about a dozen astronomers between Copernicus and Galileo agreed with them.|
|1619||Johannes Kepler proposed his eponymous Three Laws of Planetary Motion, involving elliptical orbits, with the sun at the focus. Kepler’s heliofocal model made far better predictions than any previous model that relied on circular motions.|
|1639||Jeremiah Horrocks makes the first observation of the transit of Venus.|
|1651||Giovanni Battista Riccioli published his Almagestum Novum that defended the Tychonian system, mostly on scientific grounds.|
|1655||Giovanni Cassini proves the distance to the sun changes over the seasons, consistent with Kepler’s First Law (planets move elliptical orbits around the sun).|
|1687||Isaac Newton’s Universal Law of Gravity, three Laws of Motion, and calculus explain Kepler’s model. In particular, the planets revolved around the centre of mass (barycentre) of the solar system, which for most purposes was at the sun, because of the sun’s enormous mass. Finally there was a dynamic model for the solar system that had universal application. Newton’s barycentric model is probably the most successful predictive theory in all science.|
|1716||Edmund Halley suggested that we could use the transit of Venus across the sun to determine the AU, also noted the moon was slowing down.|
|1729||James Bradley documents the aberration of starlight and calculates the speed of light.|
|1759||Alexis-Claude Clairaut calculates return of Halley’s comet.|
|1769||James Cook successfully records the transit of Venus from Tahiti.|
|1772||Joseph-Louis Lagrange described the remaining two Lagrange points first predicted by Euler.|
|1781||Sir Frederick William Herschel discovers Uranus, the first new planet known since classical times.|
|1838||Friedrich Bessel made the first stellar parallax measurement of 61 Cygni.|
|1846||Urbain Le Verrier predicts an undiscovered planet based on disturbances in the orbit of Uranus.|
|1846||Johann Gottfried Galle discovers Neptune in the place predicted by Le Verrier, another triumph for Newton’s theories.|
|1859||Urbain Le Verrier says that Mercury’s orbit is slightly off from Newtonian predictions (perihelion precession).|
|1873||James Clerk Maxwell’s equations of electrodynamics.|
|~1900||Hendrik Lorentz’s Lorentz Transformations|
|1905||Jules Henri Poincaré re-works the Lorentz Transformation and paves the way for Einstein.|
|1905||Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity.|
|1915||Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity solves Urbain Le Verrier’s problem about Mercury.|
|21 July 1969||Neil Armstrong takes the first human footsteps on the moon.|
|25 August 2012||Voyager 1 crosses the heliopause at 121 AU (18 billion km) from the Sun, thus becoming the first man-made object to leave the heliosphere and enter interstellar space.|
|14 July 2015||New Horizons became the first spacecraft to fly by Pluto. New Horizons was launched on 19 January 2006 when Pluto was considered to be the outermost planet, but later that year (13 September), the International Astronomical Union (IAU) demoted planet Pluto to dwarf planet 134340 Pluto.|
|5 November 2018||Voyager 2, launched 20 August 1977, crosses the heliopause at 122 AU (18 billion km) from the Sun, after it had already provided important information about the four outer planets. A year later, its data was analyzed, and showed that the heliopause is the shield produced by the solar wind against damaging cosmic rays.|
The quest to solve this mystery was pushed by people with a Christian worldview who more or less believed the Bible. They saw no conflict between science and faith. Even the great astronomer Johannes Kepler said of his work that it was “like thinking God’s thoughts after him”, and:
The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.30
But there was resistance to geokinetic ideas. This was mainly led by other scientists, not the “Church”. The views of Copernicus were known to the Pope and many bishops of the day, and they supported him. This is not to say that his views were not controversial, but that neither the Protestant nor Catholic churches summarily rejected geokineticism. Later, Galileo was encouraged in his work by Pope Urban VIII, at first a close friend, but they later became bitter enemies after Galileo insulted him by putting the Pope’s words in the mouth of Simplicio (the fool) in a book that argued against geocentrism.31 Only a few decades after the death of Galileo and Urban VII, Jesuit astronomers were teaching geokineticism to astronomers in China. Georgio de Santillana (1902–1974), philosopher/historian of science at MIT, wrote:
It has been known for a long time that a major part of the church’s intellectuals were on the side of Galileo, while the clearest opposition to him came from secular ideas. 32
Considering that the argument had been going on for centuries, it should not be surprising that there was a controversy among the scholars. Some of this came though the Protestant/Catholic divide, some of it came through hard-headedness of various people, and much of it has been manufactured by 19th-century anti-Christian polemicists.33,34
Perhaps the most important name in our brief tour of history is Nicolaus Copernicus. Copernicus was not only an astronomer but also a linguist, classical scholar, physician, doctor in canon law of the church, and an insightful economist.35 Although his geokinetic ideas were in place decades before his death, and even though he shared his views with many other people, he delayed publication of his opus De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) until right before his death in 1543. This major event in the history of science triggered what we now call the “Copernican Revolution”. He took the same observational data that others were using, but added a much simpler explanatory model—that the planets, now including Earth, orbited the sun.
“Occam’s Razor” (named after William of Ockham, AD 1287–1347) is a well established principle in science. It states that when two theories are in conflict, the one with the fewest assumptions is more likely to be correct. Copernicus’ model was much simpler than the Ptolemaic system. In the same way, the modern geokinetic system is much simpler than the modern absolute geocentric system. In fact, modern versions of absolute geocentrism are far more complex than even the Ptolemaic system, because they have to deal with many more phenomena than Ptolemy was aware of. Therefore, Occam’s Razor ‘cuts’ them deeply.
However, there was room for improvement. For example, he still claimed the planets orbited in perfect circles, and clung to the Ptolemaic idea that the stars orbited in a crystalline sphere far above. Thus he also needed some epicycles to make his theory fit observations. Yet, his logic, math, and observational evidence started a fuse burning. In fact, he played a great role in re-starting the Scientific Revolution during the Renaissance, after the Medieval scientific revolution had been stalled by the Black Death.36 There were still obstacles to overcome, however, and the fact that there was no observed parallax among the stars was used as strong evidence against his theory by many detractors.
What is Parallax?
Put your finger on your nose. Now alternately open and shut one eye at a time. Your finger should move to the left and right as you look at it from each eye. This is called parallax. Because you are looking at something from two different angles, its position seems to shift relative to the background. Now hold your arm out straight and point your finger. Again, alternately open and close each eye. Your finger should still move back and forth, but less than before. Why? Because the difference in the angle between your finger and each eye is much less.
Parallax is very useful in astronomy. The earth’s orbit is 150 million kilometers in radius. Thus, when we look at a star in the summer and in the winter, that is like having two eyes that are very, very far apart. If the star is close, its position will change through the seasons. However, most stars do not measurably change position because they are too far away for us to measure the change in angle. The few that do are closer to us than the ones that do not. Therefore, we can infer the distance to nearby stars, we can infer that different stars are at different distances, and we can infer that some things are very far away. All of this is consistent with geokinetics. In fact, all of this answers one of the gravest objections to geokinetics: the perceived lack of parallax in the early years.
Parallax was also used to determine how far away the earth is from the sun. This distance is called the ‘astronomical unit’ or AU for short and for a long time we did not know its value. Edmund Halley (1656–1742) suggested that we could use the transit of Venus across the sun to determine the AU by getting multiple people to view it and by accounting for the difference in parallax between their locations. This was difficult on many fronts. First, transits occur in pairs separated by several years, but the pairs are separated by 121.5 or 105.5 years! Second, you needed to know exactly where on the earth each observer was and we had not yet perfected the measurement of longitude, so we could only use a parallax based on latitude. Third, you needed to accurately time the event and clocks were only just beginning to be built with enough precision to do this. Fourth, even with a very precise clock, the time difference (seconds) between the start of the transit from one place to the next would be negligible. However, he reasoned that if multiple people measured the total time from start to finish (hours), the accuracy would be high enough to get a good figure. He was correct.
The first recorded transit of Venus across the sun was made in 1639 by a young minister named Jeremiah Horrocks (1618–1641), who projected an image of the sun through a telescope onto a piece of paper [Warning: do NOT try this without proper eye protection, and children should never do this without adult supervision. Concentrating sunlight in this way can permanently damage your eyes.] Horrocks was able to estimate the size of Venus as well as the AU: 59.4 million miles. This was about ⅔ the true value, but it was the most accurate measurement to date. Further sightings in 1761/1769 and 1874/1882 involved some of the greatest international scientific collaborations ever. In fact, the great navigator Captain James Cook (1728–1779), the first person recorded to circumnavigate New Zealand, was sent to Tahiti with the express purpose of recording the 1769 transit (this was successful).
But parallax can also be used to measure the distance to stars. Friedrich Bessel (1784–1846) made the first stellar parallax measurement, of the star 61 Cygni, in 1838! He concluded the star was 10.3 light years distance (less than 10% off), although the parallax amounted to less than 0.00009 degrees. By the close of the 19th century, we had a very good idea of the AU, the size of the solar system, and that parallax was very useful for measuring great distances, and all of that helped to solidify geokinetic theory.37
The recently launched European Space Agency (ESA) Gaia unmanned observatory will be able to measure parallax out to tens of thousands of light years (about 1% of the diameter of the Milky Way). Since stars are obviously at different distances, there is no single ‘crystal sphere’. Are there different spheres? One for each star, perhaps? Maybe the stars are embedded in a universal solid? Perhaps a series of high-tension wires? Or, maybe the universe is geokinetic after all!
Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) was the first person to point a telescope at celestial bodies—and contrary to popular myth, there is no record of anyone ‘refusing’ to look through Galileo’s telescope.38 He was the first to see the moons of Jupiter (and correctly interpreted them as such) and the rings of Saturn. He was the first to see sunspots, which refuted the Aristotelian and Medieval idea of perfect heavenly bodies. He noticed that Venus grew considerably larger and smaller over time, and, with his telescope, observed that Venus went through phases like the moon. The Ptolemaic theory had Venus orbiting the earth quite close to the sun, because we observe it only that way. However, under that scenario, the apparent size would not change by a factor of almost 7.39 This is explained by the fact that Venus orbits the sun at an average distance of 108 million km, while Earth orbits at 150 million km, so its closest approach to Earth is about 42 million km (150–108) and furthest about 258 million km (150+108).40 The phases cannot be explained under the Ptolemaic model that had Venus orbiting the earth close to the sun without the earth in between the sun and Venus to observe full and gibbous phases. But Venus orbiting the sun explains the huge difference in apparent size, the phases, and why the crescent phase is by far the brightest, since at that time Venus is closest to Earth.41
Galileo was the first to suggest a (correct, and workable when on land) way to solve the “Longitude Problem” by compiling a table of Jovian moon cycles for a reference location (including times and angles), then making observations of these events (same times, different angles) at a location whose longitude is unknown. There is a lot more to this man than most people realize! Much has been written on his trial by the Catholic Church, and urban myths on the subject abound. Let us just say that the Church did not actively suppress geokinetic theory so much as Galileo insulted the Pope in such a way as to permanently break their friendship, at which point his opponents gleefully used the occasion to bring him to trial for heresy. However, Heilbron points out:
Galileo’s heresy, according to the standard distinction used by the Holy Office, was “inquisitorial” rather than “theological”. This distinction allowed it to proceed against people for disobeying orders or creating scandals, although neither offence violated an article defined and promulgated by a pope or general council. … Since, however, the church had never declared that the Biblical passages implying a moving sun had to be interpreted in favour of a Ptolemaic universe as an article of faith, optimistic commentators … could understand “formally heretical” to mean “provisionally not accepted”.42
As shown above, it was really science vs. science, but Galileo also did not have all the science on his side. His favourite ‘proof’ for geokineticism was the tides, now known to be fallacious. Bede had proposed the right explanation centuries earlier: the moon was the main cause of tides. So the usual atheopathic historiography of science vs. ignorant religious geocentrism is based on historical ignorance and anachronism: many of the geocentrists were following what they thought was the best scientific evidence they had at that time.The detractors err by reading back modern science into people who could not have had this knowledge. We should not make the opposite error by ignoring modern science and adopting absolute geocentrism.
Tycho Brahe (1546–1601) was yet another man of intelligence and diligence who left his mark on history. Without the aid of a telescope, he compiled careful astronomical observations over multiple decades, with a precision equivalent to the width of a US quarter seen at a distance of 100 meters. After the supernova of 1572, Brahe argued that the celestial sphere was not immutable, as Aristotle taught. He then argued that the Great Comet of 1577 traveled through the supposed crystal spheres (meaning they must not exist). In the end, he proposed a mixed model where the other planets orbited the sun but the sun and moon43 orbited the earth. This was supported by the fact that Copernicus’ model did not fit the newest available data (but this was because of Copernicus’ perfect circle assumption).
Tycho proposed a cosmology that was a hybrid of the Ptolemaic and Copernican system: the sun, moon, and stars circled the fixed earth, while the other planets circled the sun. He thought that it combined the mathematical elegance of the latter with what he thought was the science of the former in proving that the earth could not move. This Tychonian geo-helicentric model was compatible with Galileo’s observations of the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter.
Brahe also made a good point: that if the earth moved around the sun, then we should see parallax with the stars. Copernicus answered, rightly as it turns out, that the stars were even more distant than the vast distances already imagined.
However, not so fast! At the time, stars were thought to have a definite apparent size, and stars like Vega were perceived to be larger than Polaris, for example. So Brahe calculated that if the stars were as far away as Copernicus required, they must be also be unimaginably huge, dwarfing the sun.
These arguments would soon be answered by the geokineticists, but some weakly. One Copernican, Christoph Rothmann, answered Brahe’s point about the huge stars, essentially saying, “Who cares how big the stars are?” because size means nothing to an infinite God. This turns the usual atheopathic science vs. religion canard on its head: here the geocentrist was appealing to science—including looking through a telescope just as Galileo asked—while a Copernican resorted to a sort of ‘God of the Gaps’44 response.
The ‘giant stars’ argument was a major and unanswered argument in Book 9 of the encyclopedic Almagestum Novum (New Almagest) (1651) by the astronomer and Jesuit priest Giovanni Battista Riccioli (1598–1671), who was also the first person to measure precisely the gravitational acceleration of falling bodies. He discussed 126 arguments of variable quality about Earth’s motion—49 for and 77 against. Most of these arguments were scientific, and Riccioli thought that the weight of the science favoured a fixed earth. So he defended the Tychonian geo-heliocentrism model as the one that best fit the science of his day.45
However, it was not known—either by Brahe and Riccioli, or by their heliocentric opponents—that the apparent sizes of stars is an optical illusion—almost all stars are really point light sources when viewed from the earth, and the ‘size’ is a refraction or scattering effect. Even with a telescope, the scattering causes the ‘Airy Disc’, as realized by the 19th century scientist Sir George Biddell Airy (1801–1892), the Astronomer Royal.46 Both sides of the debate thought that the Airy Disc was the star itself.
In reality, Vega, which Brahe thought was huge, is only 2.36 times as big as the sun, but it’s quite close. Polaris, which Brahe thought was a lesser star, is 43 times the sun’s size. The first direct image of a star outside our solar system, in the sense of the stellar disk as opposed to a point of light, was a Hubble Space Telescope picture of Betelgeuse, taken in 1996.47 But Betelgeuse really is a huge star, bigger even than the diameter of Jupiter’s orbit, and relatively close (about 643 light years), so it was possible to image its size. However, Airy disc diffraction wasn’t discovered until relatively recently, so we can conclude that Brahe was acting as a real scientist, using the best data available at the time (as was Riccioli after him). And although Brahe took Scripture seriously, he based his modified geocentric model on what he thought was the best scientific evidence.48
It is not surprising that for a few years Brahe’s geo-heliocentric theory, and many competing but similar theories, were more popular. Several of those competing theories involved a rotating earth in a geocentric universe, but every one of these, like their Greek progenitors, had a short shelf life. Once the earth spins, the pseudo-biblical arguments (e.g., “The Bible speaks of ‘sunrise’ so the universe must be geocentric”) go up in smoke. And once the earth spins, all the supposed observational evidence for geocentrism suddenly disappears.
Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) worked for Brahe and inherited his data upon Brahe’s death. Unlike Brahe, however, he was an early convert to Copernicus’ heliocentrism, believing that its mathematical elegance reflected the glory of the Trinitarian God of the Bible, and tried to refine it further. His first attempt was ingenious, even though he eventually abandoned it: he proposed that the orbits of the six known planets had the radii of imaginary spheres that circumscribed one of the five Platonic solids (octahedron, icosahedron, dodecahedron, tetrahedron, and cube), with each solid nested in the next with its vertices touching a circle that inscribed the next larger solid, and with all centered on the sun.49 Kepler found that the predictions differed from Brahe’s observations of Mars’ orbit by a mere 8 arcminutes. Since 1 arcminute = 1/60 of a degree, there was thus a tiny difference between observation and theory. The moon’s angular diameter as seen from earth is between 29.3 and 34.1 arcminutes, and Ptolemy’s and Copernicus’ earlier work was precise only to 10 arcminutes. However, Kepler held Brahe’s observational skill in such high esteem, since it was precise down to 2 arcminutes, that this tiny difference was enough to abandon the theory:
If I had believed that we could ignore these eight minutes [of arc], I would have patched up my hypothesis accordingly. But, since it was not permissible to ignore, those eight minutes pointed the road to a complete reformation in astronomy.
He then developed what are now called Kepler’s Three Laws of Planetary Motion:
- All planets orbit the sun in elliptical orbits with the sun at one of the two foci
- Planets sweep out equal areas in equal times
- The square of orbital period is proportional to the cube of the semi-major axis of the orbital ellipse
His ideas were not universally accepted (e.g., Galileo and Descartes both rejected them), but his book Epitome of Copernican Astronomy would become the most-read astronomy text of the era.50 Still, what was lacking was a physical reason for the way things were. At that point in history, astronomy was allied with astrology and mathematics and was thus deeply steeped in philosophy. Physics was treated as an entirely separate subject and Kepler received criticism for even his minor attempts to bridge the two realms.
Table 1: Planetary orbital data.
|Planet||Mass (1024 kg)||Diameter (km)||Gravity (m/s2)||Distance from Sun (106 km)||Orbital Period (days)||Orbital velocity (km/s)||Orbital Eccentricity||Perihelion (106 km)||Aphelion (106 km)|
Isaac Newton (1642–1727) was simply one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. Among his many accomplishments, he developed the universal theory of gravity (1687), which stated that all objects in the universe attract all other objects, and that the attractive force is related to the mass of the two objects and their distance apart.51 He also gave us the Three Laws of Motion:
- An object at rest will remain at rest, and an object in motion will remain in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force
- Force, mass, and acceleration are related by the formula F = ma
- There is always an equal and opposite reaction to any force applied to an object
Think about it: Galileo first saw that smaller moons orbit larger planets. Newton then gave the reason for this. Apply this thought to the solar system. We know size of the sun. The sun has much more mass than the earth. If moons orbit their more massive planets, then the earth (and other planets) must orbit the much more massive sun. At larger scales, we see globular clusters where stars are orbiting their common center of mass, as best as super-computer modeling can tell. Although here is where ‘dark matter’ is often added to the mix, so obviously there is more to learn (e.g. maybe we should adopt the new physics of Carmelian Relativity).52
Importantly, Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion can be directly derived from Newton’s work (in fact, Newton did this). When one uses Newton’s law of gravitation and his 1st and 2nd laws in a heliocentric system, it turns out that one of the foci of the Keplerian ellipses is the barycenter (the center of mass of the system). But Newton went farther than that, and this is part of his brilliance. Newton very carefully explained that evidence for his theory should only be applied to limited sets of data. In building up explanations for various phenomena, results could be pooled into larger and larger explanatory models, but also any deviations from what is expected should be attributed to specific causes. This is one of the most important developments in the history of experimental science, for it led to more and more observational measurements and more and more refinement of his models.
The simple idea that every particle in the universe is attracting every other particle can now explain, to an amazing degree of accuracy, the observational evidence, and that evidence stands in sharp contradiction to absolute geocentrism. There are many chaotic effects even in the solar system (perturbations from objects not yet cataloged), and as a result the math is not as precise as perfect clockwork, as one might expect. But these are small effects. An amazing number of phenomena can be explained. For example, Edmund Halley (1656–1742) announced that the moon appeared to be slowing over time (based on ancient eclipse data). Multiple theories were put forth by very smart scientists (e.g., Euler and Laplace), but Newtonian mechanics eventually won the argument (in the mid 1800s it was concluded that tidal friction was causing the slowing—and its resultant recession53). More and smaller discrepancies were noted over time, and in the early the 1900s the Hill–Brown theory was developed. On purely Newtonian grounds, it accounted for the many small variations in the earth’s rotation in relation to the moon, and most of this was explained by accounting for irregularities in the structure of the earth itself—in other words, further refinements of the Law of Gravity.
Newtonian theory works to an incredibly high degree of precision here on earth, explains satellites, works on the moon, basically works everywhere we have tried it. If absolute geocentrism were true, none of these things should necessarily be true. Nor could we have derived such simple laws, resulting in many true predictions, from a geocentric universe. Therefore, why would we seek an alternative explanation to geokineticism?
For those who think the Bible demands absolute geocentrism, it is notable that Newton wrote even more about theology than science, and thought his greatest work was an exposition of the prophecy of Daniel.54 He saw the solar system as evidence of the biblical God:
This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being. … This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called “Lord God” Παντοκράτωρ [Pantokratōr cf. 2 Corinthians 6:18], or “Universal Ruler”. … The Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect.55
Further, he was scathing of the atheism that dominates so much of academia today:
Opposition to godliness is atheism in profession and idolatry in practice. Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors.56
Also, despite accusations to the contrary, Newton was a confirmed Trinitarian, despite not being able to assent to all of Anglican doctrine.57
Before the turn of the 20th century, several problems had become evident in Newtonian mechanics. Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier (1811–1877) first noted that the Mercury’s orbit had deviated from Newtonian predictions by a tiny ~40 arcseconds per century. Albert Einstein (1879–1955) answered this by concluding that Newtonian mechanics are valid approximations at low gravity, but at more extreme levels (e.g., the orbit of Mercury), gravity distorts space and time. In his 1916 paper on general relativity, he suggested three tests of his theory: 1) the precession of Mercury could thus be explained, 2) deflection of light by the sun, and 3) gravitational redshift. All three, and much more, have been confirmed.
Einstein’s theories also argue against an absolute-geocentric universe. This is a one-two punch. Geocentrism must address the experimental verification of both Newton and Einstein. Einstein famously said, “A thousand experiments cannot prove me right. A single experiment can prove me wrong” (rough translation). And his theories have been tested, and passed those tests, thousands of times. Thus, it is absolute geocentrism that lacks experimental validation, suffers from experimental contradictions, and supporters are forced to resort to more and more exotic ideas in order to explain away the many contradictions. But Einstein’s theories are based on those of James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879) and his famous equations of electrodynamics, Hendrik Lorentz (1853–1928) and his equally famous Lorentz Transformations, and Jules Henri Poincaré (1854–1912), whose re-working of the Lorentz Transformation paved the way for Einstein. Thus, geocentrism runs into even more problems with experimental science. The universe is unintelligible under a system of absolute geocentrism and almost everything we think we know about the most profound astronomical discoveries of all time must be wrong.
Frames of Reference
We have often pointed out that when discussing astronomy the Bible is simply making a valid choice of reference frame. Someone sitting in a train does not seem to be moving with respect to the train but seems to be moving quickly compared to the world outside. Likewise, someone standing on the ground outside the train sees the person zipping by at the same speed as the train. The difference is that the two people have different frames of reference. Thus, for someone here on earth, the sun, moon, planets, and stars appear to be circling us, so why should the Bible not use earth as a frame of reference?
And we always talk about a ‘stopped’ car, meaning stopped relative to the ground. Speed limits and stop signs are likewise set relative to the ground, and the GPS in many of our cars uses a car-centered reference frame! Only a pedant would point out that in the geokinetic system a car stopped at the equator travels at about 1,670 km/h (about 1,000 mph) relative to the centre of mass of the earth due to the earth’s rotation on its axis,58 and is orbiting 108,000 km/h around the sun, and is traveling 800,000 km/h around the centre of the galaxy. Sir Fred Hoyle (1915–2001), no friend to Christianity, affirmed:
The relation of the two pictures [geocentricity and geokineticism] is reduced to a mere coordinate transformation and it is the main tenet of the Einstein theory that any two ways of looking at the world which are related to each other by a coordinate transformation are entirely equivalent from a physical point of view. Today we cannot say that the Copernican theory is ‘right’ and the Ptolemaic theory ‘wrong’ in any meaningful physical sense.59
Note that Hoyle is speaking about a coordinate transform between any two reference frames in a geokinetic universe, not a dynamical explanation of the physics involved in how things move in a geokinetic vs. absolute geocentric model. Once you have a set of equations of motions for a geocentric and heliocentric model, you can switch between them. Fine. But once you bring in physics (gravity), one model works with the physics and the other is just a set of equations of motion with no relation to physics. Also, one of Stephen Hawking’s collaborators, South African cosmologist and theistic evolutionist, George Ellis, was quoted as follows:
“People need to be aware that there is a range of models that could explain the observations,” Ellis argues. “For instance, I can construct you a spherically symmetrical universe with Earth at its center, and you cannot disprove it based on observations.” Ellis has published a paper on this. “You can only exclude it on philosophical grounds. In my view there is absolutely nothing wrong in that. What I want to bring into the open is the fact that we are using philosophical criteria in choosing our models. A lot of cosmology tries to hide that.”60
Ellis is speaking here about big bang vs. other cosmological models, not geocentrism vs. geokinetics. The point here is that philosophy often intrudes itself into arguments about how the universe works. Ellis could have said the same about a literally-earth-centred frame. Geocentrists often quote gleefully about supposed geocentric evidence in cosmology, but this is on a galactic scale – a scale far too large to differentiate heliocentrism from geocentrism. If choice of reference frame were the only issue, we would not have a problem with a geocentric reference frame in ordinary usage. However, this is not what modern geocentrists claim. Rather, they insist that the earth is the only valid reference frame, often combined with abusive ad hominem attacks on the faith of the Christian geokinetic pioneers.
Hoyle, Einstein, and Ellis (as well as Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa back in the 15th century) all said we could switch from one to the other just by transforming coordinates. But why would we want to, for any sort of study of motions in the solar system, galaxy, or cosmos? It is true that you can easily switch between Copernican, Tychonic, and Ptolemaic systems because they all relied on circular orbits. You could build a more complex geocentric model with elliptical orbits, but you are still going to fall short, because in order to make a comprehensive geocentric model, you would need dozens if not hundreds of ad hoc parameters added almost willy nilly to explain the many small perturbations that Newton’s model explains with the simple Law of Gravity. Geocentrism does not really have a “model” in a mathematical sense. Thus, the mathematics for converting from a geokinetic to a geocentric universe are almost unbelievably cumbersome. Many modern ‘geocentrists’ make another ad hoc adjustment that should doom their theory by definition: placing the earth off-center—a tacit admission that Kepler was right all along that the sun was at the focus, not the centre of elliptical orbits. Thus, they have a neo-Tychonic system in which the moon and sun orbit the earth but the planets orbit the sun, and all with elliptical orbits. This bait-and-switch is hardly solved by their preferred neologism ‘geocentricity’.61 It was the accumulation of these ad hoc parameters in geocentric models that made scientists seek for a better explanation in the first place. The transform only works in practice at the basest of levels.
The geokinetic argument starts with a very simple Newtonian law: all objects in the universe attract each other according to the inverse square law. Everything else follows naturally from there. Why does not everything in the solar system collapse into the sun? Orbital angular momentum balances the attractive force of gravity. This works until you get to the size of galaxies and galactic clusters, but this is an ongoing field of study among evolutionists and creationists, with multiple competing models. Also, because of Newton’s second law, acceleration = force/mass, the more massive objects accelerate less with the same applied force. So when dealing with objects of vastly different masses, it makes more sense as an approximation that the most massive object is treated as an unmoving centre. In reality, everything in the solar system revolves around the centre of mass (the barycenter). For the earth-sun system, this is 450 km from the centre of the sun (0.065% of the radius of the sun),62 so treating the sun as the center is a very good approximation.63
In many ways, the geocentism debate is akin to the “Did men really land on the moon conspiracy“. Why could they not have done so when everything we know about experimental science (from the force of gravity, the properties of accelerating objects, the workings of jet engines, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, etc., etc.) all argue that it is entirely possible? In fact, a motivated high school student could work out many of the necessary calculations. In the same way, the simplicity, elegance, and far-reaching predictive value of geokinetics puts a huge burden of proof on the geocentrist.
In science, there are many useful reference frames. For example, electrical engineers often find it most convenient to use a ‘bug on the rotor’ as the reference frame when studying induction motors, to understand the way the rotating magnetic field ‘slips’. But if you average out the motions of all the stars in our local cluster, we are moving about 70,000 km/h, in the direction of Lyra (geokinetic), and in reference to the galactic center we are moving about 800,000 km/h. To say that all frames of reference are valid, as some do, is the central point of Relativity. However, to then say that a geocentric frame is the only true or valid frame is breaking the very rule they try in invoke. And what is to prevent someone from claiming the center of the universe is at the tip of their nose (‘idiocentrism’), since that is 100% in agreement with every personal observation any person has ever made?
Supporting Evidence (or, why the earth cannot be at the absolute center)
The rate of acceleration of objects in the universe
According to Newton’s first law, an object in motion will tend to go in a straight line. Thus, in order to orbit something, an object must turn. In other words, it must accelerate— to a physicist, this means any change of speed or direction. Newton’s second law states that the force required is proportional to the mass and the acceleration (F=ma). If the entire universe is rotating (accelerating) around the earth, how much force would be required to keep things from flying apart? And, the farther away the object, the greater the orbital radius, the more acceleration is required. Remember, there is overwhelming evidence against solid spheres holding the stars and planets in place, and since we can measure distance to many stars using parallax, there is no single “sphere” upon which they are stuck. Based on Newton’s laws, we can estimate the mass of many stellar objects and guess at the mass of many more. The force required to hold them in circular orbits around the earth at faster-than-light speeds (see below) would be astronomically huge.64
The speed of objects in the universe
If objects are rotating around the earth, we can calculate the speed at which they are moving, and the speed depends on their distance. They must travel the circumference of their orbit every day. In big bang theory at least, there is nothing preventing stars from moving faster than the speed of light. This is called ‘superluminal speed’ and big bang cosmologists assume that anything outside one Hubble radius (about 14 billion light years) is receding from us at greater than c. But in a geocentric universe any object beyond the orbit of Neptune would be moving faster than c, because it would take more than one day to travel a circle of that circumference at the speed of light. If geocentrism is true, there should be a ‘spatial Coriolis’ seen in the Pioneer probes and other objects we have sent into the heavens. Here on earth, the Coriolis force is seen when objects traverse an inertial reference frame other than the one in which they started. There should be a ‘spatial Coriolis’ as well, because objects leaving earth are starting with an inertial reference frame radically different from the one to which they are travelling. If we aimed them at a planet, they should miss—by millions of miles! Note that this argument is exactly the same as the one Copernicus quoted from Ptolemy above, only here instead of a curving falling object we have a curving rising object.65 In order to get to a planet, the ship would have to accelerate to unbelievable speeds. Where does this extra propulsive force come from? And if that acceleration did not happen, if one of our ships happened to run into one of the distant planets it would smack into it at such a high velocity as to completely obliterate the planet. This underscores the hopelessness of deriving any dynamical model for geocentrism once we leave the vicinity of the earth.
Here is another example of the speed problem: the moon orbits the earth at about 1 km/s, with an average distance from the center of the earth of 385,000 km (this is based on simple trigonometry). In a geocentric universe, instead of orbiting every 27.32 days, it orbits daily, meaning it must move about 27 km/s. This is much faster than the Apollo spacecraft sent to the Moon in the 1970s. In fact, it is faster than the 11.2 km/s required to reach escape velocity. The Moon should sail away into space, but it does not because it is not orbiting at that speed and is held nicely in place by the force of gravity.
And think about what would be required to bring a long-period comet in from the apex of its orbit (aphelion) to a close approach with the sun (perihelion). We can estimate the mass of many different comets (and after the Rosetta/Philae rendezvous described above, we know the mass of one comet to a high degree of precision), and thus we know how much force it would take to account for the necessary acceleration to bring them closer in within a geocentric universe. To go from a speed greater than c to a speed much less than c, and then back again, comets would have to come with warp-drive.
Yet another speed problem comes from our own humble satellites orbiting the earth. Under Newtonian physics and a rotating earth, a satellite will appear stationary in the sky if it has a circular orbit over the equator, and revolves in the same direction and speed of the earth’s rotation. That is, it has an orbital period of one sidereal day (23.934461223 hours). Such a satellite is called geostationary, and for this to work, the satellite’s altitude must be 35,786 km (22,236 mi) above sea level. Only at that height will the earth’s gravity provide the right centripetal acceleration to produce the orbit with the right period. (Note, geostationary orbits are a subset of geosynchronous orbits: the latter merely have a period of one day so keep up with the earth’s rotation, but if the orbit is elliptical or slanted, the satellite will not appear stationary.) But if the earth doesn’t move, then the satellite must also be unmoving. So much handwaving must be invoked to explain how a rotating universe manages to suspend a satellite motionless in space at just that altitude rather than succumb to the earth’s gravity.
Aberration of starlight
The velocity of the earth changes as it orbits the sun, therefore the expected position of the sun changes over time. In the same way that rain seems to fall at an angle while driving in a car on a rainy day, the perceived direction to various stars shifts as the earth revolves around the sun. This was first noticed in the 1500s, but it defied explanation and interfered with the search for stellar parallax. Aberration was first explained by James Bradley (1693–1762) in 1729. He also provided a decent approximation of the speed of light (183,000 miles per second, 98.4% of the true value). Aberration is a direct effect of the earth’s movement about the sun and is perfectly consistent with Newtonian physics. Under geocentrism, however, arbitrary explanations must be invoked to explain it.
Think about it. If the universe revolves around the earth, stars circle the earth 365 times a year. For a star exactly 10 light years away, the star would revolve 3,652.42 times before its light reached earth. In other words, the light beam should trace out a path that looks more like a very tight spiral, with arms 24 light-hours apart (assuming a finite and constant speed of light). This would be able to be measured easily. And, since we have sent multiple space probes (with cameras) far enough away from earth, this would have been discovered by now. Thus, the stars do not rotate about a stationary earth.
The Discovery of Neptune
In 1781, Sir Frederick William Herschel (1738–1822) discovered the planet Uranus. Upon subsequent observations, its orbit was worked out by Anders Johan Lexell (1740–1784). However, slight disturbances in the measured orbit of Uranus led to the prediction of another, undiscovered planet by Le Verrier in 1846. Neptune was discovered by Johann Gottfried Galle (1812–1910) the same evening Le Verrier’s letter to him predicting the existence of an undiscovered planet arrived at the Berlin Observatory. This was perhaps the greatest achievement of the Newtonian system, and ranks as one of the greatest achievements of experimental science. The perturbations of Jupiter and Saturn on Uranus are greater than that of Neptune and it was only by applying Newtonian gravitational theory to the situation (by factoring out the effects of Jupiter and Saturn) that Neptune could be discovered. What is even more amazing is that Uranus, with an orbital period of 84 years, had not even completed one orbit of the sun before it was used to find Neptune! We were able to better estimate the mass of Uranus after the Pioneer flybys of Neptune. This, in turn, answered a riddle that was created by earlier, less exact estimates and the need for a hypothesized 10th planet to account for certain discrepancies simply vanished. Can you see how Newton’s methodology has led to further and further successful refinements of the geokinetic system?
Absolute geocentrism could never have predicted Uranus and Neptune from orbital mechanics. Remember, both the Ptolemaic and Tychonian models are kinematic: they merely describe how planets are observed to move. Any observed deviations are just tacked on to the model—what’s another epicycle here or there? Only under a dynamic model, with forces causing motions, can a deviation from predictions have any real meaning.
The Return of Halley’s Comet
Alexis-Claude Clairaut (1713–1765) successfully calculated the return of Halley’s comet to perihelion in 1759. In order to do so, he had to account for the gravitational effects of Jupiter and Saturn on the comet, and the effects of Jupiter on the sun. Using the most advanced mathematics of the day (calculus), his detailed calculations took years. In the end, he was off by about 1 month, within his margin of error. This was taken as a triumph of Newtonian gravity theory and helped tremendously to bring mathematics and physics together. Prior to this, many thought math was just pure, applied logic and that the physical world was nothing if not mysterious. Theory and fact were not always expected to mesh together. This changed after 1759.66
Delicate orbital mechanics
There are several places in any planetary system called Lagrange points where the gravitational attraction of the sun exactly balances that of the planet, meaning an object can orbit at the same rate as the planet even though it is a different distance from the sun. The first three Lagrange points were discovered by the great mathematician, and staunch Christian, Leonhard Euler (1707–1783). In 1772, his able student and successor Joseph-Louis Lagrange (1736–1813) described the remaining two. These discoveries (and their later confirmation) were squarely based on Newtonian theory. In a fine example of applied Newtonian physics, ESA’s Gaia space telescope is placed on a Lagrange Point (L2, specifically). It was already known that L2 is unstable (small deviations from equilibrium grow exponentially over time), so in order to keep the satellite in place while using the smallest possible amount fuel to fine-tune the position, it was placed in a looping, Lissajous orbit that also had the effect of keeping it out of earth’s shadow. This elegant dance was made possible by geokinetic theory.
The equatorial bulge
Newton noticed that Jupiter had an equatorial bulge and reasoned that this was due to the fact that it was rotating, causing a fictitious centrifugal force in Jupiter’s reference frame.67,68 He then reasoned that earth must have a bulge as well and set about to estimate its magnitude. It turns out that sea level at the equator is about 21 km ‘higher’ than at the poles. Other rotating bodies also have an equatorial bulge, including Mars, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and the asteroid Ceres. At the equator, there is a reduction in apparent surface gravity of ½ of 1% compared to the poles. 70% of that is due to the ‘centrifugal force’ counteracting the attractive force of gravity. The remainder is due to the difference in distance from the center of the earth caused by the bulge. However, this is enough to make the furthest surface point from the earth’s center the summit of the equatorial volcano Chimborazo, not Everest. The equatorial bulges of objects in near space are due to rotation. Earth has a similar bulge. Geocentrism must claim the two phenomena are due to different causes, which is nonsensical.
To be fair, geocentrists could in theory solve the problem with relativity. Max Born (1882–1970), Nobel laureate and quantum mechanics pioneer, pointed out:
Thus we may return to Ptolemy’s point of view of a ‘motionless earth’ … One has to show that the transformed metric can be regarded as produced according to Einstein’s field equations, by distant rotating masses. This has been done by Thirring. He calculated a field due to a rotating, hollow, thick-walled sphere and proved that inside the cavity it behaved as though there were centrifugal and other inertial forces usually attributed to absolute space. Thus from Einstein’s point of view, Ptolemy and Copernicus are equally right.69
But here again, Born just said it was possible, not mandatory or even practical. For example, earthquakes can affect the earth’s rotation because they can redistribute mass, and this can be calculated relatively strightfowardly. But using the absolute-geocentric explanation would entail that an earthquake affects the entire universe. And ironically, many absolute geocentrists reject relativity, since they don’t want to concede that non-geocentrism is even as right as geocentrism.70
The oddly wiggling universe
If the earth is the center of everything, we must explain why events happening here on earth affect the rest of the universe. For example, Bradley discovered that the earth wobbles on its axis much like a spinning top wobbles as it revolves. ‘Nutations’ like this are explained by Newtonian theory to a high degree of accuracy, but would be nothing more than arbitrary changes in the rotation of the cosmos under geocentrism. And earthquakes, like the one that caused the massive tsunami that hit Japan in 2009, are known to affect the rotation of the earth. Scientists actually measured a change in the rate of rotation of the earth after that event. If geocentrism is true, nutations and earthquakes change the rotational speed of the universe instead. Yet, strangely, even though there is no reason to believe all objects in the universe are connected, they all change their rates of rotation at the same time. And these objects are at vastly different distances to the earth. Thus, there is a time delay that must be accounted for. Do objects further out change earlier than objects closer in, and are all these sequential changes timed to future events here on earth? No. We see everything in the universe changing at the same time because it is the earth itself that is changing its rotational speed.
This is named after the French engineer and mathematician Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis (1792–1843). Newton’s Laws of Motion say that an object will move in a straight line unless an outside force acts upon it. This applies to any motion across the earth or any rotating body—any outside observer would see straight line motion.
But from the viewpoint of a stationary observer on the rotating body itself, the motion would appear to be deflected. This is due to the fact that an object, decoupled from the moving and rotating earth, will travel in a straight line irrespective of what the earth itself does. So to apply Newton’s Laws, a fictitious force or pseudo-force must be postulated to cause this ‘deflection’. This is the ‘Coriolis Force’, acting perpendicular to both the rotation axis and the object’s motion.
This is important for cyclones, a large-scale weather pattern where air flows into a low-pressure region. Instead of flowing straight in, the air is deflected, so that cyclones flow counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere, but clockwise in the southern hemisphere.
Because the earth is rotating so slowly—once per day—the Coriolis effect is negligible except over long distances.71,72 There is simply no good reason to attribute the observations to the universe spinning around a stationary earth.73
And when we look at the Great Red Spot on the southern hemisphere of Jupiter, we note that it behaves exactly like hurricanes do in the northern hemisphere here on earth—rotating anticlockwise (counterclockwise). That’s because hurricanes have wind rotating inwards towards a very low pressure area, while the Spot is an anticyclone (winds are spiraling outwards from a high pressure area). And, of course, the Spot is larger than any earth hurricanes—in fact, larger than the whole earth. From all appearances, its behavior is due to the Coriolis Force acting on an anticyclonic gyre moving across a spinning planet. We can observe Jupiter spinning. We see evidence of the physical effects of that spin. Now look at earth. We see evidence of the physical effects of spin in the Coriolis Force. Does this not mean that the earth also spins?
There are many other geokinetic examples we could have brought into this discussion. We decided to stick to these few examples only, and we ordered the examples starting with the most important. When all is said, it is clear that absolute geocentrism has extreme problems. We would encourage anyone dabbling with non-Newtonian ideas to let go and let the earth find its own place in the heavens.
The triumph of geokinetic theory is one of the greatest examples of the pursuit of science in the history of man. It was pioneered by scientists with a biblical worldview, affirmed by theologians with a biblical worldview, and is accepted today by people with a biblical worldview. It also fits all the relevant data. These are the reasons why we support it.
The greatest contribution of Western science, pioneered by Christians as it were, is the idea that the universe is rational. This is in line with the biblical presupposition that the universe behaves in an orderly manner because the Ultimate Lawgiver would not have created something that goes against his very nature. Our God is unchanging. There is no ‘shadow of turning’ with him (James 1:17). He is not fickle. He is not like pagan gods. He is not like Zeus, sitting on Mount Olympus waiting to throw down a lightning bolt whenever he wants to mess up a person’s life (or experiment). He is not ‘chaos’, which would prevent rational interpretations of events. He is not ‘nature’ – if nature were alive, it would have a volition of its own and science would not be possible. No, our God has created a universe for us to live in and that exults His name. He has also told us to use our minds and to understand the universe He made for us. This universe, therefore should be understandable, and geokinetic theory makes such an understanding possible.
References and notes
- Sarfati, J., The flat earth myth, Creation 35(3):20–23, 2013. Return to text.
- Nicole Oresme, Le Livre du Ciel et du Monde (The Book of Heaven/Sky and the World), 1377. Return to text.
- Hannam, J., God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science, Icon Books, ch. 12, 2010. Published in the USA as The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution. Return to text.
- Hannam, J., Ref 3. Return to text.
- Graney, C.M., Mass, speed, direction: John Buridan’s 14th-century concept of momentum, The Physics Teacher 51(7):411–414, October 2013. Return to text.
- Hannam, J., Ref. 3. Return to text.
- Nicholas of Cusa, De Docta Ignorantia (On Learned Ignorance) 2(12), 1440, translated by Jasper Hoskins; jasper-hopkins.info/DI-II-12-2000.pdf. Return to text.
- In a similar way Charles Darwin certainly did not think up evolutionary theory on his own! See Bergman, J., Did Darwin plagiarize his evolution theory? Journal of Creation 16(3):58–63, 2002. See also Sutton, M., A Bombshell for the History of Discovery and Priority in Science, 2013; thedailyjournalist.com/the-historian/a-bombshell-for-the-history-of-science.Return to text.
- Interestingly, this informs us about the time of month of this battle. The moon was to the west of the sun during the day, meaning it was late in the month and the moon was waning, or past full. Return to text.
- Most New Zealanders know about the Māori legend of the demigod Maui capturing the sun before it could rise, then beating it so it slowed down. The paganism, as always, was a later addition to the older belief in a single supreme Creator God, Io. Return to text.
- Brown, F., Driver, S.R., and Briggs, C.A., A Hebrew and English lexicon of the Old Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, UK, 1996; available online from biblehub.com. Return to text.
- Livingston, G. Herbert et al., Beacon Bible Commentary, Volume 1: Genesis through Deuteronomy, p. 32, 1969. Return to text.
- See BAGD, Louw–Nida. Return to text.
- Seely, P.H., The three-storied universe, J. American Scientific Affiliation 21(1):19, 1969. Return to text.
- Kulikovsky, A.S., Creation, Fall, Restoration, p. 131, 2009. Return to text.
- Holding, J.P. Is the raqiya’ (‘firmament’) a solid dome? Equivocal language in the cosmology of Genesis 1 and the Old Testament: a response to Paul H. Seely, J. Creation 13(2):44–51, 1999; creation.com/raqiya. Return to text.
- Kuhn, T., The Copernican Revolution, Harvard University Press, 1957. Return to text.
- Kuhn, T., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, 1962. Return to text.
- Nicolaus Copernicus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), 1543. Return to text.
- Better known today as the Almagest. Copernicus uses a short form of the original name of Ptolemy’s tome: Hē Mathēmatikē Syntaxis (Ἡ Μαθηματικὴ Σύνταξις = The Mathematical Treatise). This became so admired it was called simply Hē Megalē Syntaxis (Ἡ Μεγάλη Σύνταξις = The Great Treatise). Then Arab scientists used the superlative Megistē (Μεγιστη), and named it al-kitabu-l-mijisti (The Greatest Treatise), which was Latinized to Almagest. Return to text.
- Boëthius, The Consolation of Philosophy (De consolatione philosophiae) 2(7)3–7, AD 524. This book was one of the most widely read and influential works in the west during the entire Middle Ages. Return to text.
- Rodney Stark, How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2014. Return to text.
- Hannam, J., Ref. 4. Return to text.
- Based on writings attributed to a mythical figure called Hermes Trismegistus (Greek Hermēs ho Trismegistos Ἑρμῆς ὁ Τρισμέγιστος, ‘thrice-greatest Hermes’). The writings advocated an esoteric monotheism with reincarnation, and taught that man could control nature with rituals (theurgy), alchemy, and astrology. Return to text.
- For an essay on this topic with many interesting quotes, see bedejournal.blogspot.com/2009/04/galileo-affair-2-cosmic-promotion.html. Return to text.
- Heilbron, J.L. The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories. Harvard University Press, 1999. Return to text.
- Kuhn, Ref. 13. Return to text.
- Broad, W.J., How the Church Aided ‘Heretical’ Astronomy, New York Times Learning Network, 19 October 1999. Return to text.
- Nicolaus Copernicus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), 1543. Return to text.
- Johannes Kepler, De fundamentis astrologiae certioribus (Concerning the More Certain Fundamentals of Astrology), Thesis 20, 1601. Return to text.
- Galileo Galilei, Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo (Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems), 1632. Return to text.
- de Santillana, G., The Crime of Galileo, p. xii, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1955. Return to text.
- See the discussion of Luther’s supposed antagonism to geokinetic theory, which was really a hearsay account of his rejection because it was new-fangled, in Sarfati, J., Refuting Compromise, Creation Book Publishers, Power Springs, GA, chapter 3. Return to text.
- See also Sarfati, J., Galileo Quadricentennial: myth vs fact, Creation 31(3):49–51, 2009. Return to text.
- Copernicus seems to have been the first to realize that increasing the money supply (or modern day ‘printing money’ or ‘quantitative easing’) would likely cause price inflation (Memorandum on monetary policy, 1517). Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The biblical roots of modern science, Creation 32(4):32–36, 2010. Return to text.
- Today, parallax is the basis of the standard distance measure for professional stellar astronomers: the parsec (from parallax-second): the distance at which an AU subtends an angle of 1 arcsecond (1/3,600 of a degree). This is 3.26 light years or 206,000 AU. A parsec is shorter than the distance to even the nearest star outside our solar system, Proxima Centauri, at a distance of 1.301 pc. Return to text.
- Hannam, J., Who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope? bedejournal.blogspot.com, 20 November 2006: “According to popular legend, when Galileo presented his telescope to senior cardinals/Jesuits/Aristotelian philosophers/the Inquisition they refused to even look through it. This tale has become a standard trope for when we want to attack anyone who won’t accept ‘obvious’ evidence. … So who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope? According to the historical record, no one did for certain. The argument was over what they could see once they did look.” Return to text.
- Williams, D.R., Venus Fact Sheet, nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov, 9 May 2014. Venus’ angular size ranges from 9 to 66.7 minutes of arc. Return to text.
- Those figures assume circular orbits as a first approximation. In reality, since the orbits are elliptical, the closest and furthest distances are 38 and 261 million km. See Coffey, J., Venus Distance From Earth, universetoday.com, 8 May 2008. Return to text.
- This is why the difference in apparent magnitude is not as great as the difference in apparent size:-4.9 brightest, and-3 dimmest: the crescent phase simply has far less of the surface reflecting light towards us. NB, this is a logarithmic scale, where a magnitude 1 star is 2.512 times brighter than a magnitude 2 star. This number means that every five magnitude steps is a brightness factor of 100. So Venus ranges in brightness by a factor of 5.7 (2.512 1.9). Return to text.
- Heilbron, Ref. 18, pp. 202–3. Return to text.
- Note that in our Newtonian system, in a sun-centered frame the moon orbits the sun, not the earth. As viewed from outer space, the moon always follows a convex path towards the sun. The earth only perturbs the moon’s path in its journey around the sun. The monthly orbit of the moon around the earth is only an apparent one, and only exists in earth’s reference frame. But note that in this frame, the moon follows Kepler’s laws. An absolute geocentrist must explain why the moon follows these laws but apparently all other heavenly bodies are exempt. Return to text.
- Creationists are not generally guilty of ‘God of the Gaps’ arguments, despite dishonest caricatures by atheopaths and their churchian allies. See Weinberger, L., Whose god? The theological response to the god-of-the-gaps, J. Creation 22(1):120–127, 2008. Return to text.
- Graney, C.M., Regarding how Tycho Brahe noted the absurdity of the Copernican Theory regarding the Bigness of Stars, while the Copernicans appealed to God to answer, arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1112/1112.1988.pdf, 9 December 2011. See also Sanderson, K., Galileo duped by diffraction: Telescope pioneer foiled by optical effect while measuring distance to the stars, Nature 2 September 2008 | doi:10.1038/news.2008.1073 and Galileo backed Copernicus despite data: Stars viewed through early telescopes suggested that Earth stood still, Nature 5 March 2010 | doi:10.1038/news.2010.105. See also Graney’s book: Setting Aside All Authority: Giovanni Battista Riccioli and the Science against Copernicus in the Age of Galileo, University of Notre Dame Press, 2015. Return to text.
- In the atmosphere it is pure refraction. When using a telescope, however, there is the added problem of diffraction due to the aperture size (diffraction angle ~ wavelength/diameter of aperture). Return to text.
- Hubble Space Telescope captures first direct image of a star, hubblesite.org, 10 December 1996. Return to text.
- The Prof says: Tycho was a scientist, not a blunderer and a darn good one too! The Renaissance Mathematicus, thonyc.wordpress.com, 6 March 2012; refuting the notorious Christophobe David Barash, whom CMI has refuted on another issue. Return to text.
- Johannes Kepler, Prodromus dissertationum cosmographicarum, continens mysterium cosmographicum, de admirabili proportione orbium coelestium, de que causis coelorum numeri, magnitudinis, motuumque periodicorum genuinis & proprijs, demonstratum, per quinque regularia corpora geometrica (Forerunner of the Cosmological Essays, Which Contains the Secret of the Universe; on the Marvelous Proportion of the Celestial Spheres, and on the True and Particular Causes of the Number, Magnitude, and Periodic Motions of the Heavens; Established by Means of the Five Regular Geometric Solids), 1596. Return to text.
- Johannes Kepler, Astronomia Nova ΑΙΤΙΟΛΟΓΗΤΟΣ seu physica coelestis, tradita commentariis de motibus stellae Martis ex observationibus G.V. [Generositas Vestra] Tychonis Brahe (New Astronomy, Based upon Causes, or Celestial Physics, Treated by Means of Commentaries on the Motions of the Star Mars, from the Observations of [your generosity] Tycho Brahe, Gent.), 1609. Return to text.
- Newton’s formula for calculating gravitational attraction: F =-GMm/R2. The negative sign means attraction, because it’s in the opposite direction to the vector from one of the bodies travelling to the other. The force is proportional to the masses of the objects and inversely proportional to the square of their distance apart—hence an inverse square law. Return to text.
- Hartnett, J., Has dark matter really been proven? Clarifying the clamour of claims from colliding clusters, creation.com/collide, 8 September 2006. Return to text.
- Henry, J., The moon’s recession and age, J. Creation 20(2):65–70, 2006. Return to text.
- The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, posthumously published in 1728; Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, 1733. Return to text.
- Principia, Book III; cited in; Newton’s Philosophy of Nature: Selections from his writings, p. 42, ed. H.S. Thayer, Hafner Library of Classics, NY, 1953. Return to text.
- A Short Scheme of the True Religion, manuscript quoted in Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, p. 347, by Sir David Brewster, Edinburgh, 1855. Return to text.
- Newton actually denied arguments for the Trinity from dubiously attested biblical texts, such as the Johannine Comma in John 5:7. Most informed Trinitarians today would agree that the texts are dubious. A very detailed defense of Newton’s Trinitarianism is Van Alan Herd, The theology of Sir Isaac Newton, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Oklahoma, 2008; gradworks.umi.com/3304232.pdf. This documents much evidence, including Newton’s words refuting tritheism and affirming Trinitarian monotheism, e.g.: “That to say there is but one God, ye father of all things, excludes not the son & Holy ghost from the Godhead because they are virtually contained & implied in the father. … To apply ye name of God to ye Son or holy ghost as distinct persons from the father makes them not divers Gods from ye Father. … Soe there is divinity in ye father, divinity in ye Son, & divinity in ye holy ghost, & yet they are not the forces but one force.” The argument against Newton is like someone 300 years from now citing our page ‘Arguments we think creationists should NOT use’ and claiming that CMI is anti-creationist. Return to text.
- Depending on the latitude of course—multiply by the cosine. Return to text.
- Hoyle, F., Nicolaus Copernicus, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., London, p. 78, 1973. Return to text.
- Gibbs, W.W., Profile: George F.R. Ellis; Thinking Globally, Acting Universally, Scientific American 273(4):28–29, 1995. Return to text.
- Bouw, G.D., Geocentricity: A Fable for Educated Man? geocentricity.com/ba1/fresp. Return to text.
- Since Jupiter is so much more massive than Earth, and much further away, the barycenter of the Sun-Jupiter system is just outside the sun’s surface. A hypothetical alien astronomer would be able to deduce Jupiter’s presence from the sun’s ‘wobble’. Return to text.
- In chemistry, we use the Born–Oppenheimer approximation to simplify the Schrödinger equation for the atomic wavefunction—this treats the nucleus as basically stationary compared to the electrons because each proton and neutron in it is almost 2,000 times more massive than an electron. Return to text.
- In Newtonian physics, the force required to keep a body of mass moving in a circle of radius r at speed v is given by F = mv2/r. See also Sarfati, J., More space travel problems: g-forces, creation.com/g-force, 9 February 2012. Return to text.
- Ptolemy was correct, by the way. Objects should curve as they fall, but he had no way to measure the effect because he could not get high enough to drop an object and see the curve. Indeed, when manned space ships are re-entering earth’s atmosphere, rocket scientists must account for both the horizontal motion of the ship as well as the rotational speed of the earth in order to land in the correct place. If a non-orbiting object (e.g., something orbiting the sun in the vicinity of earth) were to fall, say, from the altitude of a geostationary satellite, it would NOT fall in a straight line. In fact, it would appear to curve as the earth rotated beneath the falling object. Return to text.
- Wilson, C., Clairaut’s calculation of the eighteenth-century return of Halley’s Comet, Journal of the History of Astronomy 24(1–2):1–16, February 1993; articles.adsabs.harvard.edu//full/1993JHA….24….1W/0000001.000.html. Return to text.
- Under Newton’s First Law, any object with no force acting keeps moving in a straight line. So an object moving in a circle has a tendency to fly off in a literal tangent, just because of its inertia, with no force needed. But to observers on the rotating reference frame, it seems as if there is a force acting that pushes objects away from the center, i.e. centrifugal (‘center-fleeing’). This doesn’t exist in inertial reference frames. Return to text.
- In rotational spectroscopy, gas molecules are treated as rigid rotors to a first approximation. But the molecular rotation pushes the atoms apart, increasing the molecule’s moment of inertia. Since the molecular rotating reference frame is important, a centrifugal distortion parameter is applied to correct for this. Return to text.
- Born, M., Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, pp. 344–345, Dover, 1962. (German: Die Relativitäts theorie Einsteins und ihre physikalischen Grundlagen), Springer, 1920.) Return to text.
- Such as Gerardus Bouw, probably the best known geocentrist today. Bouw, G.D., Geocentricity, pp. 267–269, Association for Biblical Astronomy, Cleveland, 1992. Return to text.
- In technical terms, this is the Rossby number (Ro and not Ro), named after the Swedish meteorologist Carl-Gustaf Rossby (1898–1957). Ro = v/Lf where v is velocity, L is the length, and f = 2 Ω sin φ where Ω is the angular frequency of planetary rotation and φ the latitude. For small Ro (caused by large lengths or spin speed), Coriolis effects are very important. For large Ro, caused by slow spin, small scale, or low latitude (near equator), Coriolis effects are negligible. Return to text.
- Some claim that the Coriolis effect causes water to drain counter-clockwise from a sink in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the south. This is a myth—rather, an irregularity in the shape and latent water motion would almost always cause some turning in the flow towards the hole. As the water flow converges on the hole, the diameter shrinks, so the rotation rate increases. This is because of the Law of Conservation of Angular Momentum, which also explains why a spinning ice skater speeds up when she pulls her arms in. Return to text.
- In rotational-vibrational spectroscopy, if the molecule is rotating very fast, as the atoms vibrate they will experience Coriolis effects in the molecule’s rotational reference frame. So there is a need for correction terms known as Coriolis zeta coupling constants. Return to text.