Sunday, August 26, 2012

Let's put geocentrism into textbooks

“So which is real, the Ptolemaic or the Copernican system? Although it is not uncommon for people to say that Copernicus proved Ptolemy wrong, that is not true. As in the case of our normal view versus that of the goldfish, one can use either picture as a model of the universe, for our observations of the heavens can be explained by assuming either the earth or the sun to be at rest. Despite its role in philosophical debates over the nature of our universe, the real advantage of the Copernican system is simply that the equations of motion are much simpler in the frame of reference in which the sun is at rest.” — Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design, pages 41-42.

"I have two things to say that might surprise you: first, geocentrism is a valid frame of reference, and second, heliocentrism is not any more or less correct.” — Phil Plait, The Bad Astronomer,

Note on the second quote: Mr. Plait is referring to geocentrism with a “little g,” not Geocentrism with a “big G.” The whole lesson from his article is that the geocentric frame is just as valid (geocentrism with a little g) as the heliocentric frame, as long as you don’t claim it’s the absolute frame (meaning Geocentrism, with a big G), as in the following quote from the same Plait article: “That’s where Geocentrism trips up. Note the upper case G there; I use that to distinguish it from little-g geocentrism, which is just another frame of reference among many. Capital-G Geocentrism is the belief that geocentrism is the only frame, the real one.” 

Also note that throughout this article, I am talking about geocentrism with a little g, as Mr. Plait puts it.

Clearly, most modern scientists discretely acknowledge that the geocentric frame is just as valid as the heliocentric one. The only objection that can be made against the geocentric frame is that it cannot, according to relativity, be chosen as THE frame, the absolute frame. The honest scientist must proclaim that he is neither a geocentrist nor a heliocentrist. He can be either. There is no one correct frame; rather, there is a multitude of equally correct reference frames, and we can choose among them, so long as we don’t claim that any particular one is absolute. This MUST be the modern scientist’s perspective on the subject of geocentric versus heliocentric.

Why, then, does every science textbook present the heliocentric view as if it were the “correct” frame? The way astronomy is currently taught in the textbooks should, in the spirit of Mr. Phil Plait, be called Heliocentrism, with a big H. And please, let’s not quibble that the textbooks don’t present a sun-centered frame, but rather one where the planets orbit the sun, which orbits the center of the galaxy, which orbits the center of the local cluster, etc. The fact is that schools teach the model where the planets orbit the sun as if it were THE one true reference frame. Why? Why is the heliocentric model the one presented to school children? If the geocentric frame is just as valid as the heliocentric, why not present the geocentric model in textbooks, rather than the heliocentric?

Could it be that scientists don’t want children “getting it into their heads” that the geocentric perspective is just as valid as the heliocentric, and that in fact, despite claims to the contrary, it has never been proven that the Copernican (heliocentric) model is correct and the Ptolemic (geocentric) model wrong?

The fact, undeniable by anyone who believes in relativity, is that there is no way to prove that either model is correct, and that whether the sun goes around the Earth or the Earth around the sun is merely a matter of perspective, with nothing more involved than a shift in coordinates.

Why, again why, is the model where the planets orbit the sun presented as the “correct” view in modern textbooks, when, according to Stephen Hawking and any honest scientist, there IS no “correct” view?

How do you think these honest scientists would react if someone were to insist upon swapping the heliocentric model in the textbooks with the geocentric? Let’s swap the models, and even allow the disclaimer that the model presented is merely one among countless alternatives, all equally correct? (Do most modern textbooks present such a disclaimer alongside the heliocentric model taught in the textbook? I don’t know, but I doubt it).

How do you think people would react if such a demand were made?


But there is nothing at all crackpot about the idea of swapping out the models. If, as scientists MUST admit, and have admitted very quietly, both models are valid, then they should have no problem teaching one model over the other.

Teachers might object on the grounds that teaching the geocentric model would open up a can of worms they don’t want to have to get into. If they’re just trying to teach a basic model of the solar system, they don’t want to have to get into a discussion of relativity to explain why the model being presented is just one of many equally correct models.

But if the above objection is raised, then you would have to raise it regardless of the model being taught. So, then: is the disclaimer that the model used is merely a matter of perspective not being added to the textbooks or lectures? If not, then, in effect, students are being taught that it’s a matter of fact that the heliocentric model is the one true, “correct” reference frame. Which would explain idiotic comments like, “If the Earth didn’t orbit the sun, we would never have been able to go to the Moon.” And yes, I have heard this precise comment numerous times, as if the fact that we went to the Moon disproves the geocentric model.

The only possible reason scientists might not want the geocentric model presented in textbooks, rather than the heliocentric, is that they don’t want people to realize that it is, in fact, just as valid to say that the sun orbits the Earth as that the Earth orbits the sun. They don’t want such a model presented, because it’s a slippery slope that leads to claiming that the geocentric frame is the absolute frame. And God, yes God, forbid, we don’t want the public sliding down that slope, back into the Dark Ages.

And one more note: the textbooks I’ve encountered do teach that the Copernican model won out over the Ptolemaic model. And this is absolutely correct. But just because one model “won out” over another doesn’t mean that one model was proven correct and the other incorrect.

So how about it? Since Hawking, Plait, and all honest scientists acknowledge that the geocentric (with a little g) viewpoint is just as valid as the heliocentric, then in all textbooks, let’s present the geocentric view in all discussions of the solar system. How could any scientist object to such a thing? After all, it’s all just a matter of perspective.

Here's my whole point: most scientists, while relativity requires them to admit that geocentrism (with a little g) is perfectly valid, it actually bothers them to have to make such an admission. I suspect most scientists would cringe at the idea that a child's first exposure to the solar system might be through a geocentric model rather than a heliocentric. I suspect such a thing would be fought tooth and nail.


  1. Scott,

    Thanks for a fine article. You make some great points. By the way since you live in Indiana I was wondering if you were you at the Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right First Annual Catholic Conference in South Bend in November 2010. ( It was excellent. If you have not done so already be sure to check out, and, and

    James Phillips

  2. Dear Scott,
    In reference to your description, "My great ambition is to prove that Albert Einstein was wrong and his theory of relativity has stifled scientific progress for a hundred years." -- Hallelujah, brother!

    You have no idea how long I have waited to hear those words. Believe it or not, I am on the same mission. I have been building a case against Einstein for five years. I don't think that my finding you was an accident. The fact that you are openly taking a stand for scientific truth is inspiring. We need to talk ... seriously.

    I would love to get your reaction to my interview with a Willamette University cosmologist. Please email me if you'd like to chat.