Was Galileo Wrong?

Now here's a topic that gets very little attention and is considered "proven" even moreso than evolution and a billions of years old earth. We have the Protestants to thank for keeping the candle burning on Creationism and for giving it a certain credibility, after Catholics totally abandoned the defence of Creationism over the last 40 years. But since the Protestants have ignored Geocentrism, there's been really no one to defend it, and hence no real discussion.

I freely admit I've not studied this question in any detail at all and therefore am not writing this to contradict the heliocentric model of the solar system. That's the model I was taught and until I'm convinced otherwise I accept it. However, the possibility of Geocentrism does offer fascinating possibilities for the science fiction writer.

Most write-off the question as irrelevant if they are not castigating proponents of Geocentrism as "retards" (this generally unacceptable-in-polite-company words seems to make a resurgence in these debates). But if we try to cut through all that garbage, it seems that there is a theological relevance. I also don't think it's completely cracked, since the observation of motion is always relative (think of how the moon appears to follow you as you drive, or how when on a train the landscape appears to move). Also, in something as massive as the universe, how can anyone say what is, or isn't "the centre" (if we take Geocentrism to mean simply that the earth is centre of the universe, not necessarily that the Ptolemaic model of the solar system is accurate). Until recently the Church seems to have used its teaching authority to hold to Geocentrism -- and no Catholic (and even non-Catholic) can easily ignore the teaching authority of the Church. Not even in science, for the Church has never been some backwards luddite/anti-science institution, but rather quite the opposite (see chapter 5 of How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Dr. Thomas E. Woods, Jr. for a good exposition on this; although I don't agree with everything in this book and believe  chapter 8 -- on economics -- is totally off-base)

On a more practical level, look up into the clear night sky (you may have to get out of the city to do this) and consider the Earth fixed and unmoving at the centre of creation with the universe in rotation around it. Then, with your eyes still on the sky, imagine we are on a small rock hurtling through space in some backwater galaxy in an infinitely expanding void. I think you will soon realise why this is no longer an insignificant question.

But as a writer, it makes for some interesting ideas. Perhaps given the universal acceptance of heliocentrism one would have to do it in a steampunk  or alternate history/space fantasy setting. It seems to me that all the celestial bodies would have to be a lot closer to earth than we thought, making it a lot easier/faster to get to at least the other planets in the solar system. I don't know enough about Geocentric theory to know whether extrasolar planets are possible under that model. But if they are, then certainly they'd be much closer as well -- making interstellar travel a whole lot cheaper and easier even without faster-than-light technology.

A book on the subject that I've been intending to read for some time now is Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right by Dr. Robert Sungenis (Ph.D. in Theology from Calamus International University) and Dr. Robert Bennett (Ph.D. in General Relativity from Stevens Institute of Technology). The price and the size of this two-volume tome has held me back thus far, but it's on my list of books to read this year. On the flip-side, I'd like to know if readers of this blog can suggest any good "mainstream" astronomy books so I can bone-up on my "regular" science.


Sophia's Favorite said...

RE: Extrasolar planets, Jean Buridan, the great 14th century physicist who anticipated whole swaths of Newton, responded to peripatetic objections to his theories (they insisted, as Aristotle had, that the Earth was the only possible world), with the simple reply, "God can make as many worlds as he likes."

Geocentrism is an interesting idea from a literary standpoint, though I'm almost certain it's bogus scientifically. But if writers can get away with "Assume that relativity is wrong, and you can just keep accelerating forever (as is the case in Newtonian physics)", then they can probably get away with geocentrism—as a literary conceit—as well.

Paul said...

Good place to start might be a textbook- my astronomy class uses Astronomy Today, by Pearson

It's also an incredibly expensive way of going about it.

Nicholas D.C. Wansbutter said...

@Sophia's Favourite: Thanks for the comment. Has there not been some evidence recently that Relativity actually is wrong? At least in terms of the speed of light being the "finite" maximum speed of any object in vacuum -- a recent news article on this that I saw: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/22/science-light-idUSL5E7KM4CW20110922

@Paul, thanks for the comment and the suggestion -- although as you intimated, I was hoping for something a little more cost effective. It seems that they have "Complete Idiot's Guides" to nearly everything these days ... I did a quick check and they do, indeed, have one. I may check it out. Their one on Einstein might be of benefit, too.

Sophia's Favorite said...

RE: that experiment, I've seen several subsequent articles demonstrating how those results are not accurate, but rather an illusion produced by the particular setup they were using.

Even if the experiment were accurate, all it would show is that some neutrinos have imaginary rest-mass, which is possible within relativity—it's only objects with real, nonzero rest-mass that can't exceed light-speed (photons and most neutrinos have zero rest-mass, and can't not travel at light-speed).

Anonymous said...

Dear Nicholas: I've read the book, but the abridged version http://catholicintl.com/index.php/store#ecwid:category=1548576&mode=product&product=6519299 . Since then, I'm totally convinced about Geocentrism. As you say, there is a theological relevance.
I have an astronomy book, very old (1880), my great grand father studied in it! The author is P.A.Secchi, director of Roman College's Observatory. It's an extraordinary book!
Ana D.V.

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