Galileo Was Wrong! (And We All Know It, Somehow)

This little announcement was making the rounds earlier this week – a conference on the Geocentric model:

Geocentrism is the view that Earth is the center of the universe, the immovable point around which everything else (the Sun, the planets, and all the stars) revolves. As you might gather, there aren’t a lot of Geocentrists out there anymore; between Galileo’s observations over 400 years ago on to today, the evidence against Geocentrism has grown. We’ve learned what stars actually are, established that Earth’s place in the universe (while privileged in terms of galactic environment and position with respect to the Sun) isn’t anything special.

Teach the Controversy (Geocentrism)
Teach the Controversy (Geocentrism)

Phil Plait has a pretty good takedown of this conference, going into specifics about why we know the Geocentric model doesn’t work, no matter how you interpret it, so I won’t repeat what he says here. Instead, I wanted to pick up on the first talk listed from the conference: “Geocentrism: They Know It But They’re Hiding It”. I presume “they” means all astronomers and scientists, including me, the teachers who trained me, and all my colleagues worldwide.

I’ve always been bemused by conspiracy theories, and now that I’m a professional scientist, I find I’m accused of being part of conspiracies now and then. (Not directly – I’m too unknown for anyone to include me personally.) You’ll have to take my word for it, but I was never indoctrinated into any conspiracy. Nobody taught me the secret handshake, or informed me that my work was an attack on the very roots of Western civilization, so good job, me. I’ll have more to say about this in a later essay, but if I’m not an initiate of the Great Geocentric Coverup, that makes me a fool of the worst type.

Because, you see, I learned in school, college, and my graduate work how to understand and process evidence from a scientific viewpoint. It’s not a mysterious thing – anyone can do it with sufficient patience and curiosity. Instead of asserting a pseudoscientifc position (Geocentrism, in this case) and positioning it as a conflict of opinion (Galileo vs. the Church Fathers, which would make for a very boring comic book), scientists collect and interpret evidence. Evidence doesn’t exist in complete isolation, since it is always interpreted in the light of theory, but that’s not the same thing as saying we just make stuff up.

When Galileo was working, 400 years ago, telescope technology was still new and physics as we know it today was in its infancy; Galileo played a large part in developing both. Perhaps at that time, one could argue that the evidence in favor of the mobile Earth wasn’t that strong, but today? That’s an entirely different matter. If I assert the Earth is moving, it’s not my opinion, or Galileo’s, or Isaac Newton’s, or any one person’s view – any more than evolution is merely Charles Darwin’s idea or relativity is merely Albert Einstein’s dream. All of these things are shaped by multiple scientists, using a variety of methods and finding consistency. Reduction of the process of science to one or two personalities and accusations of conspiracy is an insult to the intelligence not only of scientists, but to any thoughtful person.


12 responses to “Galileo Was Wrong! (And We All Know It, Somehow)”

  1. FIRST!!!!!!!111!!

  2. Sorry. I really had to do that. I look forward to following your blog, bro.

  3. Great, I just started this blog and I already have a troll.

  4. From a theological standpoint, geocentrism was never about the earth being the most important thing in the universe; it was about the earth being the least important thing in the universe, or at least the most corrupt. In medieval cosmology, as I understand it, the further you get from earth the more “pure” things become. I’m not sure that’s what modern geocentrists have in mind, though.

  5. I think for this group of Geocentrists the main thing is proving the Church Fathers were right all along, sort of a Catholic Fundamentalism. For Protestant Fundamentalists, the Bible must be inerrant in every detail; for (these) Catholic Fundamentalists, the hierarchy must be completely right about everything from the past down to today. Of course, the full answers are in their (self-published) books, so I’m making an inference based on the website.

    But yes, I think you’re right about the theological standpoint assigned by the medieval church (who got their ideas from Aristotle)–Earth is the most base, where things are far from perfect, with beauty and perfection increasing the farther out you go. Dante’s “Paradise” contains a really good example of that idea.

  6. The same is true in the social sciences. Take an idea like the social construction of disability. As a theory, it only has meaning as a result of dozens of people deconstructing and reconstructing it. No single person invented the “social model.”

  7. […] case we need reminding: Galileo used observational evidence to undermine the Earth-centered theory of the universe that was accepted in his day. The geocentric model was as much received wisdom and religious dogma […]

  8. […] first “real” post on this blog was about the tiny but noisy group of people who still think Earth is the center of the universe. I feel a bit nostalgic for that post, which went up nearly a year ago! People, that’s a […]

  9. […] matter if Galileo was the only one or one of a thousand scientists espousing the heliocentric view: the evidence is all on one side, with none on the other. This is why bringing the power of censorship and civil authority was truly the nuclear option […]

  10. […] model, but being a good scientist (despite also being nuts) he couldn’t blithely accept the old geocentric model either. As a result, the Tycho model is a hybrid: the Sun and Moon orbit Earth, while the planets […]

  11. […] reject this idea, and I’m not interested in debunking it any more than I am taking on modern-day geocentrists. Another version is a bit worrisome, due to its increasing popularity; I’ll call it the […]

  12. […] years ago on this date, I launched a blog called “Science Vs. Pseudoscience“, connected to a class I was teaching of the same name and concept. As you might guess, the […]

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