Geocentrism, Relativity, and Puny Humans

A reader writes:

Haven’t looked at the geocentric guy’s site yet, but since Einstein showed that no inertial frame of reference is privileged over any other, you may be in big trouble trying to provide positive proof that the earth rotates. The equations that describe a rotating earth revolving around the sun with other planets is a lot simpler than the equations assuming a stationary earth and epicycles, but Ockham’s Razor is a tool, not a truth.

Personally I like the quote from St Augustine .

I like the quote from Augustine too and I agree that in a relativistic framework you can put the center anywhere. Odd thing is, Sungenis denies relativity and declares Einstein’s theories “crude”. You can read it for yourself (complete with applause prompts for the inattentive reader) here. So I don’t know where that leaves him (a frequent problem in a relativistic universe). :)

But the other thing is, that while I have a conventional view of the solar system, I also wonder whether geocentric-guy may have a point of some sort. This is because of reading that article on extraterrestrial intelligence (or lack thereof) on the First Things site recently.

This article unnerved me. On one hand, I have a pretty conventional Catholic viewpoint on God’s creation of the universe and the importance of each human soul, and on the other, have assumed a pretty conventional late 20th/early 21st century belief that there are probably intelligent aliens out there. This article seriously addresses the idea that maybe there aren’t any, or that they are sufficiently rare and/or far away that humanity will never encounter any. There was one point in particular that unnerved me was that

it made me seriously consider the anthropic principle in conjunction with God for the first time: the idea that in order for humanity to exist in our current form, with all the laws of physics etc as they are now, it may have been necessary to create a universe just as big as this one – in other words, we’re not really “tiny” (and in atheist-speak, “insignificant”) compared to the scale of the universe, but the universe is exactly human-sized. And from a theistic point of view, on purpose. And if no-one else is out there, maybe we really *are* the centre and focus of God’s creation.

The fact that this was an unsettling thought showed me that on some level I wasn’t really thinking that humanity really mattered much. Maybe this guy’s geocentrism designed to counter this sort of thinking on a more obviously Copernican level. And since you can’t prove positively that the earth rotates, maybe he’s right in this.

I think this is fascinating for several reasons. First, I think it’s true that both fundamentalist theists and fundamentalist atheists often tend to conflate physical size with moral or spiritual significance. “Man is puny compared to the size of the cosmos!” says the Wellsian atheist (and indeed I’ve never met an atheist who wasn’t a fundamentalist). “Man is puny compared to the nearest tree” replies Chesterton. It does not therefore follow that the tree is greater than the man. Sungenis’ fundamentalist and hyperliteralist approach to Scripture seems to be the same thing as the atheist in a sort of photo-negative. If the earth is not the physical center of the universe then we’re nothing! (As though God, who is everywhere is going to lose track of us). Very curious. And, of course, this is buttressed by the strange insistence on reading every word of Scripture literalistically.

As to your unsettlement, I was struck by the same thing several years ago in a discussion with a Thomist priest friend. He remarked that, for St. Thomas, man is THE form of a rational animal. In other words, looking for intelligent corporeal life? We’re it. That’s all there is.

Prescinding from whether St. Thomas is right or not, I simply note that my first reaction was visceral outrage. What arrogance! What about all those Klingons? Everybody knows the universe is well-stocked with alien civilizations! What about the Drake Equation? What about Star Trek? What about all that stuff? It outraged something aesthetic in me.

And yet, of course, we do have a this bit of data that at least suggests that there is something centrally important about the human race: “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven and by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man”. Now, as Lewis has argued in “Religion and Rocketry” this does not close the door to other forms of intelligent corporeal life (indeed, as Christians we already recognize the existence of intelligenct non-corporeal life: angels). But it does strongly suggest that, whatever we make of earth’s physical whereabouts (little rock, third from sun, rim of Milky Way, one of billions of galaxies) this does not have much of anything to do with the enormous centrality God places on us. Nazareth was not exactly the bright center of the Roman Empire, but it still managed to be a major focal point of God’s interest.

Likewise, we now have the “Rare Earth Hypothesis” which is making mincemeat of some of the breezier assumptions of the Drake Equation, Carl Sagan and the SETI gang. It bids fair to provide an answer to Fermi’s rejoinder to those who insist the galaxy is teeming with alien intelligence: “Where is everybody?” In short, we may indeed be All Alone.

I have long contemplated a story about what the psychological effects of something like a definite scientific proof of our Aloneness would be. Suppose, just suppose, that a souped up SETI could complete a really thorough scan of the heavens and find that Nobody’s Broadcasting. It’s just us. I think that’s a deeply frightening thought to many people. Secularism, having abandoned the hope of heaven, has to hope for something else. For many, aliens occupy the same emotional and eschatological niche that angels, devils, heaven and hell once did. I’m not talking about the alien abductee, black helicopter types of oddball. I’m speaking rather of ordinary people who hold as a sort of reserve confidence in Progress that will (naturally) lead us to colonize planets and get in touch with the Vulcans when our race is ready, just as it lead us to civilize Europe, cross the Atlantic and pioneer (note that word!) space. Secularists need hope too after all.

What then if it becomes clear (as I think it shall) that we don’t have a hope in the world of getting off this planet and even less hope of ever making contact with the Vulcans. Will secularism be able to deal with that sort of psychological blow? Without heavenly or earthly hope, I wonder what it will do?

By the way, on a lighter note: a friends sez: The discussion of Robert Sungenis’ advocacy of geocentrism and a non-rotating Earth, apparently to support his hyperliteralist approach to the Bible, leads me to wonder if he’s trying to be a spin doctor? There’s no situation that a pun can’t help make worse.