In a previous article, I wrote about the history and background of geocentrism. In this article, I continue with the rise of the modern geocentric movement in the late 20th century.
The modern geocentric theory movement seems appears to have begun with Walter van der Kamp (1913–1998). It’s not clear when van der Kamp became convinced of geocentrism, but in 1967 he circulated a paper on the subject among a few Christians. In it, he argued that Galileo had not actually disproved geocentrism and that no subsequent science had either. In 1968, van der Kamp published his manuscript in a booklet entitled The Heart of the Matter. This was followed by another booklet, Airy Reconsidered, in 1970. Van der Kamp soon formed the Tychonian Society and began publishing Bulletins of the Tychonian Society.
In 1976, Gerardus Bouw, who has a PhD in astronomy, learned of van der Kamp’s activities and quickly became convinced that the Bible teaches geocentrism. His first article in the Bulletins of the Tychonian Society appeared the same year. Bouw soon became the most prominent geocentrist, eventually assuming leadership of the Tychonic Society. Later, the Tychonic Society was renamed the Association of Biblical Astronomy, and its publication was rechristened The Biblical Astronomer. Bouw has attempted to distance what he believes from other forms of geocentrism, particularly those of the past, by rebranding his version as “geocentricity.” However, I see no need to muck things up with a new term when the old one suffices, which is why I refuse to use Bouw’s term. Bouw has published at least two books about geocentrism. In the past few years, it appears that Bouw is less active, perhaps due to his age. It is not clear if there is a replacement for Bouw as a leader of the geocentric movement.
While this geocentric movement has a supposed biblical basis, it is worth noting that, also during the mid-1970s, there was a brief, non-Christian version of geocentrism. An informal group of physicists called the Defenders of the Geocentric Universe (DOTGU) circulated the short-lived publication, The Braheian Debater. They appear to have been motivated by being sticklers about what physics technically reveals about motion. DOTGU correctly maintained that one could not rule out geocentrism, that one could construct physics within a geocentric model, and science could not positively disprove such a model. This gets back to a point in my previous article of what a tricky thing motion is, and thus the necessity of assuming something about the nature of motion prior to embarking upon physics in a formal way. This also seems to have been the point that van der Kamp was trying to make a decade earlier, albeit not as elegantly. However, unlike van der Kamp and Bouw, DOTGU did not appear to be seriously suggesting that geocentrism was true. Rather, their efforts seemed to have been a mere academic exercise. This lack of conviction probably explains why DOTGU and The Braheian Debater folded after a couple of years while van der Kamp, Bouw, and their disciples have continued.
Perhaps the most noticed geocentrist today is Robert Sungenis. Sungenis has an interesting past. He was raised Roman Catholic, but as a young man he converted to Protestantism. Sungenis graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1982, and for the next decade was a proponent of Protestant and Reformed theology. But in 1992, Sungenis converted back to Roman Catholicism and since has criticized foundational beliefs of the Reformation. Around 2002, Sungenis read Bouw’s book Geocentricity: The Biblical Cosmology and became an advocate for geocentrism a few years later. In 2007, Sungenis, along with Robert J. Bennett, published the book Galileo Was Wrong. Sungenis operates a website by the same name. In 2014, Sungenis and Rick Delano produced the documentary The Principle, which was narrated by actress Kate Mulgrew and featured several prominent physicists, such as Lawrence Krauss. After the documentary was released, Krauss, Mulgrew, and others complained that Sungenis had misled them about the direction the documentary would take, and said they never would have been a part of the production had they known its true intent.
It’s not clear if Sungenis will have much of a following among Roman Catholics. Afterall, Sungenis had converted to Protestantism before converting back, and he argues that the Roman Catholic Church has erred in recently acknowledging that Galileo was right. That doesn’t appear to be a strategy that would resonate with many Roman Catholics. Nor does it appear Sungenis’ return to the Roman Catholic Church and his subsequent attacks on the Reformation would be endearing to many in the geocentric movement, because the movement seems to have been dominated by Protestants that tend to be wary of Roman Catholicism.
Supposed Scientific Arguments for Geocentrism
How do proponents of geocentric theory explain the evidence for the earth’s orbital motion, aberration of starlight, parallax, annual periodic Doppler motion in stars, and light travel time corrections? Recall that geocentrists believe the Tychonic model, which amounts to a coordinate transformation from the sun being the center of motion to the earth being the center of motion. Modern geocentrists alter the Tychonic model to apply this coordinate transformation to the rest of the universe as well. Therefore, not only does the sun orbit the earth each year, but the entire universe does as well. Consequently, the coordinate transformation produces all these effects. Since most geocentrists don’t believe that the earth rotates, then they must believe that the universe spins around the earth each day. This would require speeds much in excess of the speed of light for objects beyond the orbits of the planets, so this would seem to violate a fundamental tenet of modern physics. But DOTGU physicists would say, “Not so fast!” They would point out that it is possible to construct a model of a spinning universe that does not violate this. Still, if the earth does not spin, how does one explain the Foucault pendulum? I shall defer the answer to that question until I discuss Mach’s principle.
How does the geocentric universe work, with everything orbiting around the earth? Geocentrists generally accept Newtonian physics, including Newton’s theory of gravity. They also accept the fact that the sun has far more mass than the earth has. It’s the sun’s gravity that produces the relative motion between the earth and sun. This would seem to require that the earth orbit the sun rather than the other way around. The solution to this problem lies in the coordinate transformation from the heliocentric model to the Tychonic model. To the geocentrist, this is more than just convention. Though not explicitly stated, a hidden assumption (perhaps even hidden from geocentrists) is that space is attached to the earth, and as the earth moves under the influence of the sun’s gravity, it drags space along with it. This amounts to geocentrism by definition. Since the earth is at rest with respect to itself, even if the earth is moving, it isn’t moving if the frame of reference is the earth. If this sounds like doubletalk, it is. This is a clever sleight of hand trick. Geocentrists begin with slick talk of the earth not moving, but the argument subtly shifts to how the earth moves yet doesn’t move. This is not the sort of thinking that most geocentrists subscribe to when they first begin to believe geocentrism might be right.
The Nature of Light and “Aether”
In many ancient cultures, and until four centuries ago, most people assumed that it was the sun that moved. However, most people today think that it is the earth’s rotation on its axis that accounts for what we see each day.
Much of the supposed scientific case for geocentrism has its roots in physicists’ understanding of light. There was much debate on the nature of light in the 17th century. One idea was that light was a wave, while the other idea was that light was a particle. This latter theory was championed by Newton, who called particles of light corpuscles. Largely because of Newton’s stature in physics, the particle theory of light came to dominance in the 18th century. However, in the early 19th century several experiments produced results that confirmed the wave nature of light and disproved Newton’s corpuscle theory of light. But since all other waves required a medium to pass through, this raised the question of what the medium for light was. More particularly, physicists had come to realize that there wasn’t much, if any, matter between the sun and the earth, so how did light propagate through the emptiness of space? Physicists postulated that space must be filled with some medium, a substance they called aether, a term borrowed from ancient Greek science for the ethereal stuff that filled space above the earth. The physical properties of aether were remarkable. Aether had no mass, yet it was very stiff and resilient. At the same time, aether had to be fluid to allow astronomical bodies to move. Aether had to instantly close back behind objects, such as the moon, as they moved through space. So aether was a stiff and rigid perfect fluid. In short, aether must have had properties totally unknown in any other substance.
As strange as aether seemed, physicists of the 19th century came to accept its existence. Aether also provided a frame of reference for space—things were either at rest with respect to aether or in motion with respect to aether. In all other wave phenomena, the measured velocity of a wave depended on the velocity of the wave with respect to the medium, but also the velocity of the observer with respect to the medium. Consider sound waves. At 68℉ and one atmosphere of pressure, the speed of sound is 767 mph. Suppose that a person moves toward a source of sound at a velocity of 20 mph. The measured speed of sound will be 767 mph + 20 mph = 787 mph. But if the person moves the opposite direction, the speed of sound will be 767 mph – 20 mph = 747 mph. All this sounds simple enough, but many experiments in the 19th century only served to muddy the water. To explain some of these experimental results, physicists developed different versions of aether theory. The original version had a motionless aether, but in some versions aether was dragged along by moving objects, while in other versions the aether was only partially dragged. Each version of the many aether theories could explain some experimental results, but they utterly failed to explain other experimental results.
The most famous of these experiments was the one conducted by Albert Michelson (1852–1931) and Edward Morley (1838–1923) in 1887. They attempted to measure the speed of light as the earth moved in orbit around the sun. They used an interferometer, a device that uses the principle of interference of waves, to measure the speed of light, first in the direction of the earth’s orbital motion, and then perpendicular to the earth’s orbital motion. Aether theories then under consideration, predicted that the speed of light would be different in the two directions, but Michelson and Morley found that the speed of light was the same in either direction. Though the null result contradicted the prediction of aether theory, it did not necessarily disprove aether’s existence. Rather, it could be aether did not exist in the form anyone had yet proposed.
For the next two decades, the best minds in physics pondered this problem. Two men stand out in this endeavor: Hendrik Lorentz (1853–1928) and George FitzGerald (1851–1901). In 1889, FitzGerald proposed a model that maintained the classical aether theory in which the length of moving objects contracted as a function of speed. In 1892, Lorentz showed that reconciling aether with the null result of the Michelson-Morley experiment also required time be dilated as a function of speed. The amount of length contraction and time dilation required by the Lorentz-FitzGerald contraction hypothesis was imperceptible except at speeds approaching the speed of light. While this resolution to the null result of the Michelson-Morley experiment was welcomed, it seemed to have been pulled out of thin air. Why would the motion of objects cause their lengths to contract and time to dilate?
In 1905, Albert Einstein (1879–1955) gave the proper basis for these effects by deriving them from first principles. He assumed that physical laws and the speed of light are invariant in any inertial reference frame (an idea originally proposed by Henri Poincaré [1854–1912]). An inertial frame of reference is a frame of reference that is not accelerating (i.e., it is either at rest or in uniform motion). Even though the earth’s orbital motion technically is accelerating, the amount of acceleration compared to the size of the motion is very small, so the motion that the Michelson-Morley experiment was trying to detect represents an inertial frame. This understanding is consistent with the null result of the Michelson-Morley experiment. Working out the consequences, not only did Einstein show that the Lorentz-FitzGerald contraction was a natural consequence of his postulate, but it also predicted that mass would increase at high speeds. All three of these effects have been confirmed experimentally. Unlike the Lorentz-FitzGerald hypothesis that was plucked from the air, the special theory of relativity, as Einstein’s solution came to be called, is based upon a single postulate, the postulate of invariance of physical law.
But there is more to this invariance of physical law, something that is omitted in many discussions of Einstein’s theory of special relativity. Since Galileo, physicists had used Galilean relativity to compare motions of objects. Newton’s laws of motion exactly described how objects moved. Those laws gave the same results whether the person observing what was happening was moving at a constant rate or was at rest. We say that the laws of Newtonian mechanics are invariant with regard to uniform motion. In the 1860s, James Clerk Maxwell published four equations that beautifully unified electricity and magnetism. Among other things, these equations describe how a moving magnet near a coil of metal wire will induce an electrical current in the wire. But what if the magnetic field were stationary and the coil of wire moved? We observe that the result is the same, though there is no reason it ought to be. The heart of what Einstein was attempting with special relativity was the invariance of Maxwell’s equation with regard to uniform motion. It is this approach that leads to the counterintuitive result that the speed of light is invariant. If the speed of light varies depending upon the speed of the source or observer, electricity and magnetism are not invariant. The people who reject special relativity have no idea what price they pay in doing so.
At first, it appeared that Einstein’s special theory of relativity had eliminated the need for an aether, and Einstein opined as much. However, this assessment was premature, and Einstein later walked his statement back. What Einstein’s theory of relativity did was eliminate the classical physics aether of the 19th century by replacing it with a very different kind of aether. Einstein’s theory of special relativity was controversial. While widely accepted today, it took years for many physicists to accept special relativity.
The Einstein Ally?
The Michelson-Morley experiment is key to the geocentric argument. They tend to like the classical aether of 19th-century physics, and so they take the experiment at face value, concluding that the earth does not move. Geocentrists even use Einstein as a source for this conclusion, by quoting him as saying,
I have come to believe that the motion of the Earth cannot be detected by any optical experiment.
This quote might seem to make a good case for geocentrism, but let’s look at the quote in context:
While I was thinking of this problem in my student years, I came to know the strange result of the Michelson’s experiment. Soon I came to the conclusion that our idea about the motion of the Earth with respect to the ether is incorrect, if we admit Michelson’s null result as a fact. This was the first path which led me to the special theory of relativity. Since then I have come to believe that the motion of the Earth cannot be detected by any optical experiment, though the Earth is revolving around the Sun.
First, notice that Einstein explicitly stated that the earth revolves around the sun. Second, in context, Einstein is talking about the Michelson-Morley experiment. Hence, what Einstein meant by “any optical experiment” was an interferometric experiment testing for motion with respect to space. Einstein was not saying earth’s motion could not be detected by any means. As discussed earlier, there are other ways to detect the earth’s motion.
Improperly handling quotes and experimental results is a common characteristic of geocentric arguments. For instance, geocentrists rarely, if ever, discuss an experiment that Hyppolite Fizeau (1819–1896) did in 1851. Fizeau used an interferometer to measure the speed of light in stationary and moving water. He found that the speed of light was different in these two situations; however, the difference was not consistent with either a motionless or a totally dragged aether. This was the primary evidence for the partially dragged aether theory. But this result didn’t seem to be consistent with the Michelson-Morley experiment. The reason why geocentrists like to cite the Michelson-Morley experiment while ignoring Fizeau’s experiment is that the latter experiment totally undermines their position. Special relativity successfully resolves the paradox of these two apparently contradictory results, as well as explaining the other 19th-century aether experiments.
Another experiment that geocentrists like to talk about is one that George Airy (1801–1892) conducted in 1871. Airy used a water-filled telescope to measure stellar aberration. Based upon an aether drag theory then widely held, Airy expected to find a different amount of aberration of starlight than when using an empty telescope, but he found no difference. Geocentrists like to call this “Airy’s failure,” as if it were some great crisis in physics at the time. This misrepresents the paper. I’ve read it. There is no hint of alarm. Rather, it was a straightforward presentation of the experiment and its result. The conclusion was that a version of aether theory was disproved, but clearly other viable aether theories remained.
Another example of how geocentrists mishandle data is the Sagnac experiment. In 1913, George Sagnac (1869–1928) conducted an experiment with an interferometer mounted on a platform that could spin. When the platform did not spin, the experimental results showed that the speed of light was the same in all directions. However, when the platform spun, the speed of light in the direction of spin was different from the speed of light in the direction opposite the spin direction. Apparently, Sagnac’s motivation was to demonstrate that the aether that Einstein supposedly eliminated indeed existed (Einstein had not yet walked back his pronouncement about there being no aether). Unknown to Sagnac, two years prior to his experiment Max von Laue (1879–1960) had predicted the Sagnac effect, as the phenomenon Sagnac first demonstrated, is called. Laue did this within a version of aether theory, a version that was compatible with general relativity. The Sagnac effect is the basis of laser gyroscopes and fiber-optic gyroscopes, which in recent years have replaced mechanical gyroscopes in many inertial navigation systems. In 1925, using a much larger interferometer and replacing the spinning platform in the lab with the spinning earth, Michelson and Henry Gale (1874–1942) measured the Sagnac effect due to the earth’s rotation. Note what geocentrists do here. They claim that the Michelson-Morley experiment proved that the earth is not revolving around the sun, and they often follow this with mention of the Michelson-Gale experiments to argue that motion, if it exists, is detectable. The geocentrists’ argument seems to be that the positive result of the second experiment indicates that the negative result of the first experiment means the earth does not revolve around the sun. But, to be consistent, doesn’t that require that geocentrists to acknowledge that the earth is rotating? While a few geocentrists believe that the earth is rotating, most do not. Thus, their argument is a bit muddled.
How are the results of these two experiments properly understood? The answer is not simple, but it comes down to there being a fundamental difference between rotation and other motions. A rotating frame of reference is a non-inertial frame, and hence the speed of light may vary, in accordance with the Poincaré-Einstein postulate. Ergo, in such a reference frame the speed of light is not the same in all directions. Special relativity explains all the seemingly contradictory 19th-century light experiments. But geocentrists want none of it. They wish to hang on to vestiges of 19th-century aether theories, though they are selective about which parts they want to keep.
A decade after Einstein published his special theory of relativity, he published his theory of general relativity. Whereas the special theory treated objects moving at constant velocity, the general theory dealt with objects undergoing acceleration. One of the tricky aspects of general relativity is to establish a reference frame in which accelerations can be expressed. Of particular interest in this regard is centripetal acceleration required for spinning motion. Einstein was impressed with what has become known as Mach’s principle. Though attributed to Ernst Mach (1838–1916), physicists had pondered this question long before Mach. Consider an object that is spinning. From the perspective of the spinning object, everything else in the universe is spinning around the object. So, can one determine whether the object is spinning, or if the rest of the universe is spinning? If an object is spinning rapidly enough, then there will be a noticeable centripetal acceleration present. A centripetal (toward the center) acceleration is the acceleration required when any object moves along a curved path. Otherwise, the object would move in a straight line in accordance with Newton’s first law of motion. This means that the object is not in an inertial frame of reference, so physics will not operate in this frame of reference as it does in a non-spinning reference frame. For instance, in a spinning frame of reference, things appear to sling outward. We often attribute this phenomenon to “centrifugal force.” However, to a person witnessing these things in an inertial frame of reference, things are not slung out by this mysterious centrifugal force. Instead, things move along straight lines in accordance with Newton’s first law of motion. Note that centrifugal force is not a real force, if one properly observes what is going on in an inertial frame of reference. Rather, centrifugal force is a fictious force one must make up when observing motion in a non-inertial frame of reference.
Let’s put this into a human example. If you stand outside at night with your arms hanging limply to your sides, the stars overhead will appear stationary. If you spin quickly, the stars will appear to spin in the opposite direction. At the same time, your arms will mysteriously rise. We would attribute this to centrifugal force. How do your arms know to do this? Mach’s principle states that your arms respond this way because the distant and massive stars provide a stationary frame of reference that your rotation can be measured in. That is, distant matter provides the frame of reference for local matter. If any notion of absolute space exists, then hidden in Mach’s principle is the assumption that, on average, the matter of the universe is at rest to absolute space. Notice that this is an assumption, not established fact. Hence, Mach’s principle ought to be called “Mach’s conjecture.” This is more of a philosophical point, and one may question whether physicists are particularly good at philosophy. But, as I said earlier, any system must begin with a few basic assumptions, including physics. We have built inside of us the understanding that there must be some absolute standard of reference, but no one really has a clue as to how to formulate it. Mach’s principle probably comes closest.
Geocentrists like to argue that Mach’s principle agrees with their position. There are many variations on Mach’s principle. Some of them aren’t formulated well, and some are just wrong. For instance, geocentrists sometimes claim that Mach’s principle means that all motion is relative. This isn’t true. Geocentrists also like to talk about the work of Josef Lense (1890–1885) and Hans Thirring (1888–1976). Geocentrists often claim that Lense and Thirring developed a cosmology with a stationary earth and a universe moving around it. Lense and Thirring worked out the details of frame dragging in general relativity. It’s this sort of model that DOTGU argued for. Within such a framework, it is possible to construct a geocentric model with a rotating universe. However, and this is important, it is based upon general relativity, something that geocentrists generally oppose. How can they appeal to a cosmology that has as its foundation a physical theory that they don’t believe to be true? I also should make it clear that Lense and Thirring were not seriously suggesting geocentrism, but only that one could construct such a cosmology within the confines of general relativity.
Earlier I raised the question of how geocentrists explain the Foucault pendulum. A few geocentrists are consistent and believe that the earth rotates but does not revolve, so the Foucault pendulum is no problem for them. For the rest, they often argue a version of Mach’s principle. They would say that it is the moving firmament (their term for space, based upon the King James Translation of the Hebrew word raqia in Genesis 1) that the plane of the swing stays aligned with. This is in conjunction with the work of Lense and Thirring, arguing that a rotating universe produces centrifugal force. Again, how can one appeal to a solution based on physics one does not agree with? I suspect that geocentrists don’t understand the work of Lense and Thirring at all.
Supposed Biblical Arguments for Geocentric Theory
Perhaps the central biblical argument that geocentrists make is Joshua 10:12–14. This is not new. This was one of the few biblical passages that Copernicus’ and Galileo’s critics used, and it was the one biblically based argument that Tycho Brahe made. Joshua 10:12–14 reads:
At that time Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,
“Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD heeded the voice of a man, for the LORD fought for Israel.
Most Christians today understand that this miracle was accomplished by cessation of the earth’s eastward spin and restarting of that spin. This would introduce complications, such as momentum change. For instance, some critics charge that if the earth stopped spinning, we would continue flying eastward at hundreds of miles per hour with respect to the now stationary earth. Of course, this overlooks the fact that if God intervened to stop the earth’s rotation, He easily could have stopped our rotation as well. A few geocentrists even join in with this criticism. It never occurs to them that, given their application of Mach’s principle discussed above, the same criticism applies to them. But geocentrists will have none of this. They insist that the command was given to the sun (and moon) to stop moving, not the earth. And how could the sun stop moving if it weren’t moving in the first place? Geocentrists piously assert that since the Bible says that the sun stopped moving, then it must mean the sun stopped moving. Otherwise, the Bible is wrong.
Most Christians respond to this argument by stating that Joshua’s account employs phenomenological language, that it records what was seen, not necessarily exactly what happened in minute detail
Most Christians respond to this argument by stating that Joshua’s account employs phenomenological language, that it records what was seen, not necessarily exactly what happened in minute detail, otherwise, Joshua 10:12b–13a might read,
“Earth and everything on earth stop rotating so that the sun appears to stand still above Gibeon, and moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” And the earth and everything on it stopped rotating so that the sun appeared to stand still, and the moon appeared to stop, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
No one talks this way, and if such a miracle happened today, even heliocentrists who believe in a rotating earth would not record it this way. Instead, we’d probably describe what happened pretty much the way Joshua recorded it, even though we aren’t geocentrists. Therefore, this passage hardly teaches geocentrism. Also keep in mind that geocentrism usually refers to the earth’s revolution, not its rotation. In that context, this clearly is not teaching geocentrism.
But perhaps the phenomenological answer gives too much away. It tacitly agrees with the geocentrists on the concept of absolute motion; it just disagrees with what the standard of absolute rest from which absolute motion can be measured is. Keep in mind how tricky the concept of motion is. All we can measure is relative motion. While the idea of absolute motion has been around for a very long time and has been discussed at great length, there still is no totally satisfactory answer to the question of what the absolute standard of rest is. Given this reality, any relative motion is very literal. Hence, I frequently speak of the sun rising, moving across the sky, and setting each day, and I also describe the stars moving around the north celestial pole each night, even though I know that all of these are caused by the earth’s rotation. I’m not speaking in a phenomenological sense, because in a very literal way the sun and stars go through these motions. Again, Joshua 10:12–13 hardly teaches geocentrism.
Another important passage to geocentrists is the account of Hezekiah’s sundial (2 Kings 20:8–11). The argument seems to be that the sun is described as moving. However, that is not what the passage says. The sun is not even mentioned. Rather, the passage states that the shadow of some unnamed object went back. The most obvious inference is that the sun moved backward in the sky too. But this is an inference, and hence the claim that this passage says the sun moved backward is to read into the text. The parallel account in Isaiah 38:7–11 does mention the sun, and it says that the sun went down. This seems to indicate that this event occurred in the afternoon rather than morning, when the sun would have been rising in the sky. Interestingly, the Hebrew word translated “down” here is different from the Hebrew word used elsewhere when it refers to the sun going down (setting), as in Genesis 15:12, 17. Thus, the intended meaning is that the sun reversed its track of going downward in the sky, not that the sun was about to set when this happened. Does this mean that Isaiah 38:7–11 demands that the sun absolutely is in motion? Per the discussion above, no. In a very real sense, the sun does move across the sky each day, even if it is the earth’s rotation that causes this motion.
Other verses that geocentrists use contain references to the sun rising or setting. For instance, the book of Genesis mentions sunset three times (Genesis 15:12, 15:17, 28:11) and sunrise twice (Genesis 19:23, 32:31). The geocentric argument is that since all these passages say that the sun rises or sets with no mention of a moving earth, then the sun must literally move. The fear is that if the sun does not literally rise and set, then many more things in the Bible must not be literally true either, which undermines the authority of Scripture. Again, because of the nature of motion described above, the sun literally rises and sets each day, even if that rising and setting is a consequence of a rotating earth. But is such a hyperliteral interpretation of verses that mention sunrise and sunset warranted? Other verses speak of the sun growing hot (Exodus 16:21; 1 Samuel 11:9; Nehemiah 7:3), yet geocentrists would not insist that the sun literally increased its temperature. Rather, they would say it means that as the sun moved higher in the sky, the air temperature rose. For that matter, such a hyperliteral approach to 2 Samuel 12:11 would require that the sun can see. Obviously, even the most literal of the geocentrists abandon their hyperliteral hermeneutic at some point.
Then there are verses that say that the earth does not move (e.g., 1 Chronicles 16:30; Psalm 93:1, 96:10). For instance, 1 Chronicles 16:30 reads,
tremble before him, all the earth; yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Surely, the geocentrists reason, if the Bible says that the earth is not moved, then it must not move. But there are other verses in which the psalmists say that he or other people do not move (e.g., Psalm 15:5, 16:8, 30:6, 62:6). In the KJV, Psalm 62:6 says,
He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defence; I shall not be moved.
The Hebrew word used for people not being moved in these verses (mot) is the same word used to describe the earth as not moving. Therefore, the same logic for one must apply to the other—if the earth remains at rest, then the people described as not moving must have remained at rest too. Once one admits that the use is not woodenly literal in some verses (referring to people), then the argument that it must mean physical immovability in the other verses (referring to the earth) unravels. And what about a verse that says the earth shall be moved? In the KJV, Psalm 99:1 reads,
The LORD reigneth; let the people tremble: he sitteth between the cherubims; let the earth be moved.
To be fair, the Hebrew word translated “moved” here is nut, not mot. However, in at least the King James Version (the translation preferred by many geocentrists), there is no distinction. The Hebrew word mot has the meaning of totter, shake, or slip. In the context of the earth not being moved, it means that the earth will not totter, shake, or fall from its appointed course. This is what these verses about the earth not being moved are talking about—the earth is stable; it is not tottering or failing in its appointed course. Only with a hyperliteral hermeneutic could one conclude geocentrism from these verses.
Conclusion: Is Geocentric Theory True?
Does the Bible teach or demand geocentrism? Hardly. Does good science indicate that the earth is motionless? Certainly not.
Does the Bible teach or demand geocentrism? Hardly. Does good science indicate that the earth is motionless? Certainly not. Then why do some Christians believe otherwise? Much of the motivation of geocentrists stems from a sincere, but misguided, desire to honor Scripture. We have seen the assault on the Bible from the assumption of evolution and billions of years required by evolution. This flies in the face of the cosmogony and early history of the world given to us in the first few chapters of Genesis. We at Answers in Genesis have been leading much of the defense and counterattack in this struggle, so we understand this desire. However, geocentrists err in claiming that the assault on Scripture began with heliocentrism, for the Bible does not teach geocentrism, despite what many critics claim. That is ironic, because in their zeal, geocentrists have unwittingly accepted the false claims of Bible skeptics, such as Augustus De Morgan (1806–1871) and Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), that the Bible is geocentric. In their zeal, geocentrists employ a hyperliteral hermeneutic that ignores the various genres of Scripture. Many of their arguments come from poetic passages, which use a variety of nonliteral devices. It is very dangerous to base theological positions solely or mostly on references from the poetic books that employ these literary devices. And geocentrists very conveniently shed their hyperliteral hermeneutic when it suits them. This is inconsistent.
Furthermore, geocentrists confuse the differences between historical/origin science with experimental/observational science. The origin and history of the world are historical/origin science, while the question of the earth’s motion is experimental/observational science. While we can’t test the former in the usual techniques of science, we certainly can test the latter. Geocentrists are just as selective with regard to the science as they are their biblical studies. They pick and choose which experimental results they want to talk about. Geocentrists generally reject general relativity, not realizing that much of their argument relies upon general relativity.
I hold geocentrists partly responsible for the recent rise in the flat-earth movement. Flat-earthers have clearly stolen many of their arguments from geocentrists. Flat-earthers extend a geocentric talking point, that the assault on Scripture began with Copernicus rather than Darwin, but the flat-earthers trace the problem back earlier to believing the earth is a globe. Flat-earthers also have extended the hyperliteral interpretation of geocentrists just a little bit. It is ironic that there probably are far more flat-earth geocentrists now than globe-earth geocentrists. In many respects, the flat-earth movement has subsumed the geocentric movement. Given this and the possible lack of a leader for the globe-earth geocentric movement, will the “classic” modern geocentric movement survive?