David Palm Takes on the Thankless Task of Debunking Geocentrism

Why would anybody feel the need to debunk geocentrism?

Well, it all started with Bob Sungenis, a fundamentalist who became a Catholic and went from reading the Bible in a flat-footed, individualistic, and literalistic manner heedless of the tradition and the magisterium, to reading the Bible and church documents in a flat-footed, individualistic and literalist manner heedless of the tradition and the Magisterium. Along the way, he decided that “the Church says” that the earth is the physical center of the universe and that everything orbits around it and the earth does not rotate.

He also embraced more toxic and dangerous views about Jews, which he has never, to my knowledge, brought himself to publicly repudiate. And he has promoted various crazy conspiracy theories. But all of this has been scoured from his website (though the internet remembers) so that he can now focus his energies on a new project: a movie called “The Principle” for which he has somehow found backing from somebody rich enough to hire poor Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway of the Starship Voyager) as his narrator and to sucker such science documentary luminaries as Michio Kaku and Lawrence Krauss into interviews, though I am willing to bet money they had no idea they were being snookered into starring in a weird propaganda film whose purpose is to argue that geocentrism is God’s revealed truth and the earth does not rotate. (It will be interesting to see if these participants will try to stop release of the film should they find out its purpose and the rather dubious credentials and paper trail of its creators–all documented by Palm.)

Anyway, it appears that enough tinder and dynamite is being gathered into one spot for there to be quite a little explosion of fundamentalist Christian vs. fundamentalist atheist lunacy about the War of Religion and Science. So Dave Palm is anticipating the release of this film because, very simply, in a world where people people can seriously believe that Pope Francis is just about to declare “abortion fiesta for all!” or buy the idea that The Da Vinci Code is serious scholarship, a Catholic apologist who makes a ridiculous film promoting geocentrism is going to be taken seriously by a certain percentage of people as “speaking for the Church”. This will result in two things: foolish or simple people thinking that geocentrism is gutsy Alternative Science overturning the Evil Secular Scientific Consensus and somewhat smarter and better informed unbelievers using the movie to bash the Church as the bastion of wahoos and ignorant fools who want to burn Galileo at the stake now since they could get the job done 500 years ago. The bishops are, I will wager, oblivious to Sungenis (except for his own ordinary) and so will be oblivious to this embarrassing movie. But it’s worth it to have a voice out there rebutting it and saying “This is not the teaching of the Church” since, as Augustine says:

It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, . . . and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are” (St. Augustine, The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20, Chapt. 19).

The irony is that the story of how we got from a geocentric to a heliocentric model of the solar system is, in fact, an absolutely fascinating (and deeply Catholic one) in which, as a matter of fact, Galileo was often wrong (though not, obviously about heliocentrism, but that was only by luck, since he didn’t actually have the proof for his claims). To read that real and fascinating story, run and do not walk to the estimable and learned Mike Flynn’s site and read his delightful and epic tale of the Great Ptolemaic Smackdown. It is a fascinating page turner of a tale and I hope and pray the guy turns that series into a book, complete with his delightful illustration and witty quips.

"No, he/she doesn't. Obviously didn't listen the tape; hasn't watched the videos."

Not Romans 13. John 8:44
"Go read the plaque on the Statue of Liberty. And don't forget that American involve ..."

Not Romans 13. John 8:44
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Not Romans 13. John 8:44

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  • quasimodo

    oh, no. you said the “s” word. Cue the flying monkies

  • Mark.

    I was moved by the man’s conversion story and every time I read of a new foolishness I want to weep. Must remember to pray for him…

  • I’m glad they’re no longer trying to deny the massive rocket.

  • Tom Leith

    And besides The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown (which is truly great) there’s a very entertaining series on YouTube by CoolHardLogic called “Testing Geocentricism” (I think in seven parts). He’s also got one on Homeopathy.

  • ivan_the_mad

    I wonder how much money Sungenis has lost to penny stocks and Nigerian princes.

    • Watosh

      Well one might wonder about that.

  • Current thinking in astronomy is that every point(everywhere) is the center of the universe…. which renders the common understanding of “center” superfluous. Therefore, saying the Earth or Sirius or some far off quasar is the center is not technically wrong…. it’s just at best not as meaningful. The inflation from a single primordial atom was not expansion within an existing space time continuum that would have a center. It was expanding the existence of that point. Therefore all observable( and non-observable) points are one and the same as the primordial origin. Hence… the center is everywhere…

    If a geocentrist claims that the earth is still and that the universe orbits the earth every 24 hour period, then most objects would break the speed of light by several orders of magnitude to complete the circumference. This is not possible given what we know and observe.

    • Guest

      Has science proven that it’s not possible?

  • I reverted to the Catholic faith just before earning my Ph.D. in astrophysics, and the present contention over geocentrism fascinates me. (I point out my academic training not so much to pose as an authority as to indicate my level of interest. I never did a postdoc, and I took a job as an engineer in the aerospace industry because I needed to find a way to feed and house all of my children. :^)

    Although I am not a geocentrist, I am on friendly terms (I think) with one person who belongs to the camp of the geocentrists. My disagreement with him is similar to my disagreement with those who seem to think that the geocentrists must be ridiculed. The typical controversialist on the one side is, it seems to me, more similar than he realizes to his counterpart on the other side. Each makes the same mistake, Galileo’s mistake (and this is especially ironic in the case of the geocentrists).

    My point is that it is not possible to prove a scientific theory true. If Galileo had recognized this early on, rather than only at the end of his life, then he would not have had so much trouble as he had. A scientific theory can be proved false (and it is likely that every scientific theory is in fact false), but a scientific theory cannot be proved true. At least a few of the most vocal geocentrists (and young-Earthers, etc.) seem to think that geocentrism (or the young Earth, etc.) can be known as a truth by way of science, just as many of the most vocal scientific materialists seem to think that the universe can be known to be 14-ish billion years old or that every point in space is equally the center of the universe. But there is a deep flaw running through every such assertion: a confusion between the definitiveness of deduction and the indefinitiveness of induction.

    It may be true that, at present, the simplest description of the local universe is a model in which the Earth goes round the Sun. What we all need to recognize, however, is this: Knowing that a locally heliocentric model is the simplest model that we have come up with so far is *not* the same thing as knowing that local heliocentrism is true. If those of us who know and love contemporary science had the patience and humility to admit this fundamental truth of the philosophy of science, then we might be less likely to resort to knee-jerk ridicule of those whose views are inconsistent with the apparently simplest current theory.

    • thepalmhq

      Interesting points, Thomas. My main objections to geocentrism are two-fold, broadly speaking. First, by most of its proponents it gets presented as a matter of divine revelation and (by the Catholic geocentrists) as official Church teaching. Both of these views are incorrect, but of course if you hold that view basically the “science” has to fit that view no matter what we observe around us. Relatedly then, second, scientifically geocentrism is a massive exercise in special pleading, gummed together with conspiracy theories. So this puts people who embrace it in a bad spot–they become convinced that God requires them to hold a view that, when looked at in light of physical evidence, requires all kinds of special pleading. It leaves the believer in that old quandary of having to hold something by faith which reason makes untenable. Happily, the Church does not teach any cosmology as a matter of faith and we are free to follow the evidence.

      • Thanks for responding, thepalmhq.

        I have not yet studied all of David Palm’s material carefully yet. When asserting that the unanimous position of the Church Fathers should not be contradicted, the Tridentine Fathers inserted the qualifying phrase “on matters of faith or morality”. I am curious how we know what falls outside a matter of faith or morality. I am not convinced that the Catholic geocentrists have made a solid case for the revelation of geocentrism, and I’ll be reviewing Palm’s writing on this.

        To me, though, whether geocentrism be part of revelation is a secondary issue. Even if a divinely revealed truth be contradicted by the best, current scientific theory, such a contradiction need not pose a serious problem for the Catholic. In the 19th century, for example, when the dominant cosmological theory involved an infinitely old universe, a Catholic astrophysicist could work as a scientist because a scientific theory is not properly taken as a truth claim.

        The indoctrination of the public in scientific realism has become so thorough as to make my view—arguably the view of Cardinal St. Bellarmino—that of scientific instrumentalism, a difficult notion to get across to almost everyone on every side these days. Yet piercing the image of scientific realism is crucial here, for it would simultaneously (a) bring upon the proponent of contemporary science an authentic, due humility and (b) eliminate any need for a geocentrist (young-Earther, etc.) to regard as an enemy one who argues that the best current theory in a scientific discipline is inconsistent with divine revelation.

        Aquinas claimed that the only way for us to know whether the universe have finite or infinite age is by divine revelation (S. Th., Prima Pars., Q46, A2). A similar claim is that the only way for us to know whether the Earth be the center of the universe is by divine revelation. That the geocentrists would make their claim on the basis of divine revelation seems good at least in the purported origin of the claim. In my on-going argument with my geocentrist correspondent, I contend that a scientific theory need not fit with revelation because scientific theories come and go. It makes little difference whether the best current theory fit with revelation because the best current theory, which can change radically from time to time, is not a candidate for the truth.

        So it seems that I disagree with you, too, on this point. For (unless you were characterizing only their position and not your own) you seem, with the geocentrists, to claim that if one hold the divinely-revealed geocentric view, then “basically the ‘science’ has to fit that view no matter what we observe around us.” But this need not be so. If one cannot actually know any truth through scientific theory, then it doesn’t matter whether any scientific theory might happen to conflict with a revealed truth. The scientific theory is not really a competing truth claim. (That the theory is presented as if it be a truth claim is just a popular error on the instrumentalist view.)

        If scientific instrumentalism ever catch on, then, on the one hand, whether the Earth be in some sense the center of the universe would become, at least with respect to science, an academic question, and, on the other hand, fewer atheists and agnostics would be tempted to regard scientific realism as a convenient pseudo-religion.

        I think that scientific instrumentalists like me have little chance of convincing anyone, though, because man’s pride is too pleasurably stroked by the idea that through scientific theory man can attain truth. This applies to religious man (the geocentrist, the adherent to the Institute for Creation Research, etc.) and to atheistic man (the follower of Richard Dawkins, etc.) alike.

        If I become convinced tomorrow that geocentrism must be true, then I should still think that the standard hot big-bang model is the best model that we have. I already think that it is false, but it seems to me that there is not yet a better cosmological model.

        • RGD

          Hrm. That seems a lot of talking just to make the hoary “well we can’t really know the truth of anything” and “but anything could be possible” arguments.

          • But that’s not what I’m claiming. We can know that every sense experience is a truth. That is, all of the observations made by scientists are truths. It is a truth, for example, that trilobites are always found in certain, particular strata. What we cannot know to be true is any particular explanation (theory) that explains all of the sense data. And there are other truths that we can know, such as the God is omnipotent, just from reason applied to ordinary sense experience. I might agree with you that I talk to much, but I think that you misread me (perhaps only because you grew tired of my tiresome verbosity).

    • Tom Fisher

      OMFG, are you a retard. You obviously don’t know astronomy, physics, or Catholic history. I, on the other hand, was raised catholic, went to twelve years of parochial school and studied Church history. Galileo was not punished for believing the sun orbits the earth, but because he directly challenged the Church’s position on interpretation of Scripture. He said that priests shouldn’t be talking about physical descriptions in the bible and that this should be left to people like himself to provide the correct interpretation of what Scripture meant. This came at the height of the religious wars in Europe, when the Church was fighting for what it thought was its existence against the heresies of Protestantism, one of which was the ability of the individual to interpret the meaning of scripture, a right Catholicism reserved to the ordained clergy. He was punished for usurping clerical privilege, not for his ideas.

      • Bernard_Morris

        you admit to being a Catholic and at the same time wrote “OMFG”, REALLY! you must also be a universalist! (all go to heaven). Just the thought of using that term, brings to mind, the most grievous offense toward our most Holy God, How do you actually think you will avoid HELL??? Our God is HOLY, and we shouldn’t be using such vulgarity when directing comments towards him!

        • Lawrence Crowley

          It’s ok. Actually nobody goes to heaven. Not even the bible says that you go to heaven when you die. You might think it does, but it does not. It does, however, say many other very very harsh and bizarre things. Read all of Leviticus and Romans for some real zingers that WE NO LONGER BELIEVE IN, such as the death penalty for disobedient children or an unfaithful wife, etc.


      • I used to think as you do about Galileo. My mind started to change, however, after I read _Galileo’s Mistake_ by Rowland. Careful reflection on Bellarmino’s letter to Foscarini is also profitable.

  • Pete Holter

    Hi, Mark Shea!

    I haven’t found Sungenis to be heedless of Tradition and the Magisterium.

    “…poor Kate Mulgrew…sucker…snookered…weird propaganda…ridiculous film…embarrassing movie…”

    Please consider the benefit of saying something encouraging and supportive of your brother in Christ.

    “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him Who is the
    head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thess. 5:11). “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15).

    With the love of Jesus,

    • Lawrence Crowley

      Isn’t religion great that ANY opinion or viewpoint can be supported by scripture – the SAME scripture – if you dig deep enough in the text?

      One of the reasons I became an atheist.

      The real reason is this: And read it carefully and consider what it means by answering it honestly: WHY DO PEOPLE HAVE DIFFERENT RELIGIOUS BELIEFS? It is an accident of birthplace that you are what you are. Anyone could just as easily have been raised in any number of other religions – And they would believe those beliefs just as strongly.

      So what is true?


  • Tom Fisher

    Somebody should tell this retarded monkey, that A; the Church doesn’t think animals can get into heaven including retarded monkeys, and B; they agree with Copernicus and Galileo.

    • Lawrence Crowley

      “they agree with Copernicus and Galileo.”

      Yeah, they do NOW, but they didn’t then. Just as they admit that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute even though they preached it as doctrine for over 1000 years. And just as they no longer torture non-catholics to convert them or worship more than one entity – Oh, wait. they still pray to 300 saints, Mary, Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit so I guess that’s not quite true. (We won’t mention that they ACTUALLY believe they’re eating the ACTUAL flesh and blood of Christ during the Eucharist or that Jesus would be absolutely APPALLED at Vatican City with it gold and marble halls and its king-like pope – with “infallible” opinions relating to church doctrine.)

      Monotheism, my left foot!