Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The term Modern Geocentrism refers to a belief that the Earth is the center of the universe and does not move, motivated by a literal interpretation of certain Bible passages and held in the awareness that essentially all modern scientists see no evidence that the universe has any center. Since the concepts of center and absolute motion do not have operational definitions, geocentrism in and of itself is not falsifiable and must be considered a religious or philosophic idea, not a scientific theory.
4.1 "There is no special position."
Overview of modern geocentrism
The most popular modern geocentric model consists of a stationary Earth (neither rotating nor orbiting the sun) at the center of the universe. As in the Tychonian system, the Sun is thought to rotate around the Earth once per day, and the rest of the solar system orbits the Sun with Keplerian orbits. This rotation is considered to be a physical reality, not simply the choice of a rotating frame of reference. At a more detailed level, modern geocentric beliefs divide into two logically distinct groups, although some geocentrists hold both types of beliefs simultaneously:
- The geocentrists that are closest to the scientific mainstream accept essentially all the observations of the mainstream. They point to the theory of general relativity, which says that all physical phenomena can be described and explained self-consistently in any frame of reference. Since the current state of physics does not single out the geocentric frame of reference as special in any way, this group claims the geocentric frame is special for alternate reasons.
- The more radical geocentrists reject much of modern astronomy and cosmology. A common belief of this group is that the stars are much closer than the scientific consensus has them and are embedded in a rigid substrate. The substance in which the stars are supposedly embedded is referred to as aether, although this aether has little in common with the classical concept of luminiferous aether. This aether is supposed to rotate around the Earth in one sidereal day, but this rotation is also modified on a yearly cycle, which is supposed to explain observations like aberration of light. An analogy is drawn to the gyroscope, which also exhibits a much slower precession on top of its primary rotation. This group of geocentrists has a difficult time explaining frame-dependent forces such as the Coriolis force since they reject most of physics including the theory of general relativity.
History of modern geocentrism
The geocentric model held sway into the early modern age; from the late 16th century onward it was gradually replaced by the heliocentric model. Geocentrism, however, never completely died out. In the United States between 1870 and 1920, for example, various members of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod published articles disparaging Copernican astronomy, and geocentricism was widely taught within the synod during that period.
The most recent resurgence of geocentrism began in North America in 1967, when Canadian schoolmaster Walter van der Kamp (1913-1998) circulated a geocentric paper entitled “The Heart of the Matter” to about 50 Christian individuals and institutions. From these seeds grew the Tychonian Society and its journal, Bulletin of the Tychonian Society.
In 1984 van der Kamp retired as leader of the Tychonian Society and Gerardus Bouw, an astronomer with a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University, where the Michelson-Morley experiment was carried out, succeeded him. In 1990 Bouw reorganized the Tychonian Society as the Association for Biblical Astronomy and changed the name of the Bulletin to The Biblical Astronomer. Bouw’s book Geocentricity (Cleveland, 1992) has been described as “the most sophisticated defence of geocentricity ever published”.
Previous works include Bouw's earlier With Every Wind of Doctrine (1984), Walter Van Der Kamp's De Labor Solis (1989), and Marshall Hall's The Earth is Not Moving (1991). Other modern geocentrists include Malcolm Bowden, James Hanson, Paul Ellwanger, R G Elmendorf, Paula Haigh, and Robert Sungenis (president of Catholic Apologetics International and especially visible).
Modern geocentrism is often grouped with creationism and creation science, due to the commonly held view that the Bible contains an accurate account of the manner in which the universe was created. Many prominent geocentrists have actively promoted creationism in the creation-evolution controversy. However, the two communities differ as to whether a biblically based view of the natural world requires geocentrism or not. Generally speaking, geocentrists hold that a plain reading of the Bible requires a geocentric worldview. This view was held unamimously by the Church Fathers, who defended geocentrism against the Greek heliocentrists long before Corpenicus. In addition, three Popes have officially condemned the notion that the Earth rather than the Sun moves. The majority of Young Earth creationists, however, hold that while the Bible makes explicit historical claims regarding the origin of the Earth and life in the creation account in Genesis, it does not explicitly endorse geocentrism. The most prominent creationist societies (specifically Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research) explicitly reject the absolute geocentric perspective, and creationist journals such as TJ have rejected modern geocentric articles in favor of geokineticist articles. 
Modern geocentrists, however, believe that they are the true standard-bearers for an appropriate amalgamation of science and religion. In particular, Gerardus Bouw has claimed "Invariably, those [creationists] who do take more than a cursory look [at geocentricity] become geocentrists."
Modern geocentrists point to some passages in the Bible, which, when taken literally, indicate that the daily apparent motions of the Sun and the Moon are due to their actual motions around the Earth rather than due to the rotation of the Earth about its axis. One is Ecclesiastes 1:5:
- The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
Another is in Joshua 10, 10–14, where the Sun and Moon are said to stop in the sky:
- Then Joshua spoke to the Lord, in the day that he delivered the Amorrhite in the sight of the children of Israel, and he said before them: Move not, O sun, toward Gabaon, nor thou, O moon, toward the valley of Ajalon. And the sun and the moon stood still, till the people revenged themselves of their enemies.
A suggestion that the Earth is stationary is Isaiah 66:1:
- Thus saith the Lord: Heaven is my throne, and the earth my footstool.
However, the majority of biblical scholars, even those who tend to a literal interpretation on other issues, believe that the above passages do not support a universe centered on an immobile Earth, but are instead simply natural descriptions made from the perspective of the author. Much like the use of the present-day use of the words sunrise or sunset, such descriptions can be considered to reflect the most convenient choice of a local coordinate system rather than an endorsement geocentrism. Finally, the description of the Earth as a footstool in Isaiah is considered by most to be a metaphorical description of God's power, rather than an indication that God literally rests his feet on the Earth. It is argued that the author of these passages did not intend them to be dogmatic statements regarding the location of the Earth in the universe and the insistence that they are necessarily geocentric is improper.
The modern scientific point of view
The consensus of scientists today is
- that there is no center or otherwise special position in the universe,
- that there is a no special linear velocity determined by the laws of physics per se, but the velocity of the cosmic microwave background radiation could be considered special, and
- that there is a unique rotational velocity in which Newton’s laws of motion hold.
As with every scientific theory, this consensus should be considered a "working hypothesis" and does not mean that all alternatives have been disproved, but simply that most or all of the available evidence seems to be consistent with this position.
"There is no special position."
All the known laws of physics can be formulated without reference to any particular place, as long as an inertial frame of reference is chosen for the description. That this is true, as far as we can tell, at all places and has been true for all times is illustrated by the agreement of the laboratory value of the fine structure constant with that derived from the spectra of stars billions of light years away.
Even if the laws of physics are independent of any particular place, one might still ask whether the arrangement of objects in the universe points to a special place for the Earth. But the Earth does not hold any obvious preferred place within the Solar System, nor does the Solar System appear to be in a preferred location within our Galaxy, nor is our Galaxy in a preferred location within the Local Group. Furthermore, the consensus scientific opinion is that there is no evidence based on the distribution of astronomical objects that any particular position in the universe is special.
"The cosmic microwave background radiation determines the only special velocity."
All the known laws of physics can be formulated without reference to any particular velocity, as long as an inertial frame of reference is chosen for the description. Therefore if, from the point of view of physics, there is a special velocity in the universe, it can only be observed because some group of objects move with that velocity. The most popular choice of a reference is the cosmic microwave background radiation, whose velocity relative to the Solar System is about 700 km/s. It is also possible, with some modeling, to consider the local value of the velocity field of all galaxies, which is found to agree with the velocity of the cosmic microwave background radiation.
"The inertial frame is the only special rotation."
If the known local laws of physics are formulated in various frames of reference rotating relative to one another, the mathematical formulation of these laws vary. Generally, a centrifugal force and a Coriolis force, dependent on a direction and rate of rotation, must be introduced. In classical physics, these two forces are called fictitious forces because they do not obey Newton’s third law of motion. There are some special frames of reference, known as inertial frames, where these forces vanish. The rotation of these frames may be considered special, and indeed inertial frames are the only special ones known to physics. Equivalently, there is only one rotational frame of reference in which the axes of gimbal-mounted gyroscopes remain fixed.
In the framework of general relativity, the formulation of the laws of physics is identical in all frames of reference, even in rotating and accelerating frames. The fictitous forces are then a manifestation of the gravitomagnetism associated with the acceleration of the mass of the universe. This is the same effect that results in frame dragging, only in frame dragging the effect due to a rotating body is local and small. If the entire universe is rotating, the effect is massive. Even in general relativity, the (global) inertial frame of reference can be considered special, because it is the only one that allows the laws of physics to be formulated without explicit reference to distant masses. Compared to frames of reference with linear or rotational acceleration, inertial frames of reference also preserve local causality.
Non-falsifiability of geocentrism
If general relativity is true, then there is no way to prove that the Earth is not the immobile center of the universe. A theory that is not falsifiable may be true, but it is not a scientific theory. Modern Geocentrists point out that since one can neither prove nor disprove either Geocentrism or acentrism, it is a matter of faith to hold the view of the Bible [and for Catholics and other apostolic Geocentrists] the Fathers, Popes, and Church, which they contend is Geocentrism.
Modern geocentrism and astronomical observations
Modern geocentrists have been known to point to certain astronomical observations as evidence which could be interpreted as placing the earth at the center of the universe. However, all of the proposed falsifications have explanations that are compatible with the current scientific model of the solar system and universe.
Gamma ray bursts
- The uniform distribution of burst arrival directions tells us that the distribution of gamma-ray-burst sources in space is a sphere or spherical shell, with us at the center (some other extremely contrived and implausible distributions are also possible). But Copernicus taught us that we are not in a special preferred position in the universe; Earth is not at the center of the solar system, the Sun is not at the center of the galaxy, and so forth. There is no reason to believe we are at the center of the distribution of gamma-ray bursts. If our instruments are sensitive enough to detect bursts at the edge of the spatial distribution, then they should not be isotropic on the sky, contrary to observation; if our instruments are less sensitive, then the N ~ S^-3/2 law should hold, also contrary to observation. That is the Copernican dilemma.
This "dilemma" is resolved by realizing that the gamma ray bursts are so bright that they can be seen at distances corresponding to the early universe. GRB 990123, for example, has been located at 9 billion light years (see the article on gamma ray bursters). Indeed every GRB for which data on distance could be obtained has been measured to be at what is considered cosmological distances. The edge of the spatial distribution centered on us is really an edge to the temporal distribution, which is converted to an isotropic spatial distribution by the finite speed of light. The cosmological distances associated with GRBs are an observational confirmation of part of the cosmological principle that is foundational to modern cosmology, namely that the universe is isotropic on the largest scales.
Quantization of redshifts
Another line of evidence referred to by modern geocentrists is related to supposed redshift quantization. If the universe violates predictions from the FRW metric derived from General Relativity, and isn't expanding but has a redshift-distance relation, and the redshifts of particular types of astronomical objects only take on certain values, that would suggest that the objects are located on shells concentric around the Earth, that is, that the location of the Earth is special.
The first claimed observations of redshift quantization came from studies of galaxies. There have also been claimed observations of redshift quantization in quasar populations. Since these claimed observations were made, galaxy surveys have increased the quantity and quality of the redshift data enormously. Taken on the whole, it appears that the surveys do not show any quantization of redshifts, though many supporters of the idea have made the claim that the models are not applicable to the entire quasar sample. One study with a new database was specifically designed to test the most popular model of quasars associated with galaxies and that the redshifts of the galaxy pairings appear in regular intervals and are not homogeneous. The statistical methods were approved in advance by supporters of this model, but despite the prior approval, those supporting quantization still reject the result showing a lack of galaxy-quasar pairing.
Those scientists who still believe in quantized redshifts represent a very small minority. It is also believed by some scientists that effects like the evolution of the universe, large-scale structures in the universe, and local clustering can, in some circumstances, mimic the trace of redshift quantization.
Forms of modern geocentrism
The simplest way to define a theory of geocentrism is to apply the appropriate coordinate transformation to existing theory. Geocentrists generally believe there is additional substance to their worldview that can be expressed in a theory with explanatory and, ideally, predictive power. There is no theory that is accepted by all geocentrists, and no theory that is formulated well enough mathematically to be falsifiable, but some general comments can be made.
The major observations to be explained, as expressed from a geocentric perspective, are
- variations in the length of the day 
- a general slowing down over time (attributed by modern science to tidal friction)
- a variation over many years (attributed to changes in the Earth's core)
- seasonal variations (attributed to changes in the jet stream and the distribution of ice and water)
- occasional sudden changes (attributed to events like major earthquakes or particular weather patterns)
- motions of the stars and the Sun
- daily motion in near circles centered on the Earth
- monthly variation on top of that (attributed by modern science to the orbit of the Earth around the center of mass of the Earth-Moon system)
- yearly variation on top of that with a radius of one astronomical unit
- proper motions, i.e., movements of the stars relative to each other according to Newton's laws of motion and gravitation
- motions of the planets and of artificial satellites and space probes
- daily, monthly, and yearly motions as for the stars
- Keplerian orbits around the Sun on top of that
- physics on the Earth
- centrifugal force
- Coriolis force
Geocentrism based on classical gravitation
Some geocentrists believe that at least part of these observations can be explained as a result of classical gravitation with a particular mass distribution. Indeed, a uniform distribution of dark (and otherwise unobtrusive) matter, coupled with a quadropole gravitational field imposed from the “outside”, could provide the centripetal force associated with the daily rotation. Gravitational fields uniform throughout the universe and rotating monthly and yearly would result in those components of the motion. On the other hand, classical gravitational fields cannot provide the torque needed to account for the variations in the length of the day, nor can they provide the Coriolis forces observed in planetary motion and in physics experiments on Earth.
Geocentrism based on a rigid aether
A different approach to accounting for the forces required to explain the observations is kinematic constraints. If all heavenly bodies (sun, planets, comets, stars) are rotating daily around the Earth, it is natural to suppose that they are embedded in a transparent but rigid material. Geocentrists generally believe in such a substance and refer to it as aether. This aether is not necessarily the same as the late 19th century concept of luminiferous aether that was supposed to be the material through which light propagates; though this is not rejected. If a luminiferous medium does exist, then the null result from the Michelson-Morley experiment would imply a stationary Earth with respect to such an aether.
The aether hypothesis coupled with a huge rotating shell of matter at the outer position of the universe provides for forces needed to explain the daily orbits of the stars and Sun as well as a way to synchronize the monthly and yearly motions. These periodic variations are claimed to result from gyroscopic precession, although the details of the model are not specified. When the finite speed of light is taken into consideration, the picture is more complex (at least assuming the enormous estimate of the size of the universe belieived today- a point which many geocentrsists disagree with). If we see all the stars moving at the same time, then the stars farther away must have moved earlier in order to allow their light time to reach Earth. This implies not a rigid aether but an aether supporting torsional waves that propagate with the speed of light and converge on the Earth. To explain the irregular or sudden changes in the length of the day in this way requires a reversal of the presumtive cause and effect, that is, the aether waves must cause the earthquake or weather pattern that is associated with that change in the length of the day. It is also difficult to reconcile the rigidity of the aether required to contain and synchronize the motions of the stars with the tenuousness implied by the fact that the proper motions appear to be uninhibited.
If simple aether theories might be able to explain some of the properties of the motions of the stars and Sun, more complex theories are necessary to explain orbits in the Solar System and experiments on the Earth. This is partly because the rigidity/tenuousness dilemma brought up for stellar motion is even more visible there, but primarily because a single centripetal force is no longer adequate. The observations can only be explained by separate centrifugal and Coriolis forces.
Geocentrism based on a radically different cosmology
Some geocentrists believe that the difficulties in the types of theories discussed above can be overcome by rejecting some of the assumptions that were implicitly made in that discussion. In particular, some geocentrists believe that the universe is very much smaller than the billions of light years calculated by modern scientists. A detailed theory of this sort is not available, so its plausibility and freedom from internal contradictions cannot be evaluated here.
- Bouw, Gerardus: Geocentricity
- Ciufolini, I. and Pavlis, E. C., A confirmation of the general relativistic prediction of the Lense-Thirring effect Nature 431, 958-960 (21 October 2004)
- Gibbs, W. Wayt, 1995. Profile: George F.R. Ellis; Thinking Globally, Acting Universally. Scientific American 273(4):28, 29.
- Hoyle, F., Nicolaus Copernicus, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., London, p. 78, 1973.
- Hubble, E.P., The Observational Approach to Cosmology, Clarendon, Oxford, 1937.
- Misner, Thorne and Wheeler, Gravitation, W. H. Freeman, 1973
- Sungenis, Robert: Galileo Was Wrong, (pending, 2005)
On redshift quantization
- William G. Tifft, "Global Redshift Periodicities: Association with the Cosmic Background Radiation" Astrophysics and Space Science, 239, 35 (1996)
- William G. Tifft, "Evidence for Quantized and Variable Redshifts in the CBR Rest Frame," Astrophysics and Space Science, (1997)
- Halton Arp, Quasars, Redshifts and Controversies
- Halton Arp and Geoffrey Burbidge, "Companion Galaxies Match Quasar Redshifts: The Debate Goes On", Physics Today, 37:17 (1984)
- E. Hawkins, S. J. Maddox and M. R. Merrifield, “No periodicities in 2dF Redshift Survey data,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 336, Is. 1, October 2002, p. L15
- "No Quantized Redshifts", Sky and Telescope 104:28, 2002
- William Napier and Geoffrey Burbidge, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2003, 342, pp. 601-604
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