You’re Not The Center of the Universe: Christianity and Geocentrism

Finding the center of the universe is like finding how many licks it takes to get to the center of the tootsie pop next to an owl. At least it was before Copernicus.

So we find ourselves in an interesting predicament, where we will look to our Reformed forefathers such as John Calvin who said

  [The Christian is not to compromise so as to obscure the distinction between good and evil, and is to avoid the errors of] those dreamers who have a spirit of bitterness and contradiction, who reprove everything and prevent the order of nature. We will see some who are so deranged, not only in religion but who in all things reveal their monstrous nature, that they will say that the sun does not move, and that it is the earth which shifts and turns.When we see such minds we must indeed confess that the devil posses them, and that God sets them before us as mirrors, in order to keep us in his fear. [1]

Calvin was a man of his time and based his rejection of Copernicus’s theory on biblical interpretation. However, in other places, like in his commentary on Genesis we see that he was not against Science.

“…Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God…” [2]

To his credit, we have far more proof that Geocentrism is false than they did then, I give Calvin the benefit of the doubt that he would have examined the scientific evidence now and repudiate Geocentrism in a heartbeat.

Unfortunately, we see a few Christians and even a few professing Christian apologists who still defend this idea despite the scientific advances of our day.
Why is this? Augustine rightly pointed out some people need to stop rejecting science as a whole especially on exegetical uncertainties.

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.“Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion [1 Timothy 1.7].”  [3]

Scientific Problems

First, let me distinguish something. There are two types of Geocentrism that are popular. If we are talking about Geocentrism in a general sense, as in the Geocentric model providing a valid convenient reference frame, that is not so much a problem to me as the other. The other is absolute Geocentrism, where the earth stands still and everything rotates around it. I will be focusing on the latter in my critique.Since I’m a Scientific layman, I will cite scientific sources to support my claim. In the March 2017 Issue of Astronomy Magazine we read these words:

In 1610, Galileo turned his new telescope toward Venus. To his amazement, he saw the planet pass through phases just like the Moon. Galileo correctly surmised that this could happen only if Venus had an orbit closer to the Sun than Earth’s orbit.
With improved telescopes, astronomers started looking for another proof of Earth’s motion around the Sun, stellar parallax. Earth’s orbit is huge — some 186 million miles (300,000 kilometers) in diameter. If an astronomer measures the position of a nearby star, and then measures it again six months later, the star’s apparent position against the background of more distant stars should shift a tiny amount.
Observing this would prove that Earth in fact is not stationary. It wasn’t until 1838 that an astronomer finally detected this shift. That year, German astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel successfully measured the parallax of the star 61 Cygni.
And there’s yet another proof. Imagine standing still with rain coming straight down. To stay dry, you just hold your umbrella directly over your head. As you begin to walk, however, you need to tilt the umbrella “into” the rain, even though the rain is coming straight down. The faster you walk, the greater the tilt needs to be.
As Earth orbits the Sun, we can detect a “tilt” of incoming starlight. English astronomer James Bradley discovered this phenomenon in 1725 by accident — while he was searching for stellar parallax! This aberration of starlight, as it is called, is a result of light having a finite speed and Earth’s motion around the Sun.[4]

If you want to prove this by yourself, look up the Foucault Pendulum or go to Walmart and pick up a telescope.

Theological Problems 

The verses that people use to support Geocentrism are phenomenological language, i.e. i describes what things look like from a point of view. For example, In English we will say “I will get up at Sun rise” yet we know scientifically that the sun doesn’t actually rise, yet the statement itself is not inaccurate insofar as you’re not actually claiming the sun is rising but that merely it appears to rise from our vantage point on Earth.

“The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.” (Psalm 93:1 ESV)

First, the genre of the psalms is poetry. Secondly, the hebrew word translated “moved” is “mowt” which is in the nihpal stem, which indicates the passive voice. Interestingly enough, the same exact word is used in Psalm 16:8 “I will not be moved” yet we obviously don’t think the psalmist was still. . Authors Robert Carter and Dr. Jonathan Sarfati brilliantly point out:

The few Church Fathers who discussed the issue were geocentrists. However, it is not quite fair for modern geocentrists to quote the early Church Fathers in support. First, all the pagans of their day also supported geocentrism, so the Church Fathers just reflected common sense, common contemporary scientific ideas, or common use of language. They were hardly making a principled theological opposition to geokineticism.[5]

Lastly, a common historical claim is that like all the other sciences of our day, Geokinecticism is just another hypothesis we are capitulating to instead of believing the word of God. Those types of statements are part and parcel of science denying rhetoricians who unfortunately bring stumbling blocks to the faith with their interpretative dogmatism

Don’t get me wrong, some issues we need to be dogmatic about, however, Geocentrism isn’t a hill to die on. It doesn’t bother me that Calvin or Luther believed it, but we really shouldn’t believe it as Christians when there is clear evidence to the contrary.

[1]  John Calvin, “Sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:19-24”, Calvini Opera Selecta, Corpus Refomatorum,Vol 49, 677, trans. by Robert White in “Calvin and Copernicus: the Problem Reconsidered”, Calvin Theological Journal 15 (1980), p233-243, at 236-237

[2] John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis: Vol 1, Genesis 1:16

[3] Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1 Chapter 19 Paragraph 39
[4] March 2017 Issue of Astronomy Magazine “What are the accepted proofs that the Earth Revolves around the Sun? When Did This Realization Take Place?”

[5] “Refuting absolute geocentrism” article on by Robert Carter & Dr. Jonathan Sarfati

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