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.

  • 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…

  • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

    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.

  • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

    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.

    • Thaddeus J. Kozinski

      Has science proven that it’s not possible?

  • http://baconeggsandbeer.weebly.com/ Thomas Vaughan

    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.

      • http://baconeggsandbeer.weebly.com/ Thomas Vaughan

        Thanks for responding, thepalmhq.

        I have not yet studied all of David Palm’s material carefully yet. It has long seemed to me that, 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.

        But to me, this is a secondary issue because 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 to be taken as a truth claim.

        The indoctrination of the public in the mythology of contemporary science has become so thorough as to make mine an extremely difficult point to get across to almost everyone on every side. Yet piercing the image of contemporary science 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 appeal to conspiracies.

        Aquinas famously claimed that the only way for us to know whether the universe has 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 that the Earth is (or is not) 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 so far as the purported origin of the claim. In my on-going argument with my geocentrist correspondent, I contend that the scientific theory need not fit the revelation because scientific theories come and go. It makes little difference whether the best current theory fit with revelation because the best current theory will be different tomorrow.

        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, not even if one held divinely revealed geocentrism. If one cannot actually know any truth through scientific theory—if scientific theories change over time in fundamental ways—then it just 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.)

        Anyway, if my view of contemporary science ever caught on (I am not holding my breath), then whether the Earth is in some sense the center of the universe (or how old the universe is) would become, at least with respect to science, an academic question, and contemporary science would become harder for the materialists to make into a pseudo-religion.

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

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl

    Funny you quoting St Augustine’s most quoted (by non YEC’s and non Geocentrics) since he was himself a Geocentric.

  • 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,
    Pete


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