THE WHYS AND WHEREFORES OF GEOCENTRISM: Part IIby
Walter van der Kamp
Bulletin of the Tychonian Society, No. 51, p. 6.
In general, then, the response to the draft was not exactly encouraging. Nevertheless, I plodded on and issued my The Heart of the Matter privately. As it turned out, if compassionate friends and acquaintances had not bought most of the $2.00 copies, there would have been few sales indeed. The heart of the matter, or so the merciless economic facts advised me, was to stop thinking about it.
Yet to the very few who would listen I kept insisting that I had an arguable cause: on logical grounds first of all. Hence, before I continue my story of acts and facts, it may be worthwhile once more to say something about these logical and foundational aspects of all human thinking, theorizing, and doing.
Whatever subject or idea we mentally tackle and thereupon more-or-less correctly put into words, good thinking rests on good logic. In addition, it also requires an awareness that the conclusions of valid reasoning are more often contingent opinions than unassailable veracities. This is, however, not the place to diverge into a detailed presentation of the science of logic: old or new. I already touched on the use and misuse of logic in Part I of this history to make clear the difference between "If A, then B; hence if B, then A" which is not necessarily true; and the logically compelling "If A, the B; hence if not B, then not A," a proposition which Michelson and Morley and their descendants had to sidestep when their experiment failed to reveal the Earth's motion. For the matter at hand, I can restrict myself to the awareness just mentioned, which awareness from Galileo until today has been rather neglected by much theoretical scientific thinking in general, but especially by astronomers for whom a fervent wish has fathered shortsightedly overlooked fallacies. Allow me to demonstrate this in a case of some importance with regard to mankind's Weltanschauung.
Everyone is familiar with the simplest form of right syllogistic reasoning. All men are mortal; Socrates is a man, and hence Socrates is mortal. That conclusion is valid. Now consider the following example. All men have brown eyes; I am a man and hence I have brown eyes. Clearly, while the conclusion is logically correct, it is glaringly invalid in the real world; eyes blue, green and gray abound. Now, however different in validity, these two syllogisms share one weakness: their conclusions, although obtained correctly in logic, are contingent. That is to say, an instance of the major premise, conjoined with an affirmation of the second, minor one, is not unthinkable. There may be, as far as we are aware, no immortal men; but it is not impossible to imagine them: and hence Socrates could conceivably have been immortal. In the same vein the coincidence of all men having brown eyes is not inconceivable, and if the conceivable were actualized, my eyes would turn out to be brown.
There are, however, syllogisms of this first type, the conclusions of which are always and everywhere unshakably true. Example: a part of something cannot be greater that the whole of which it is a part. A front door is a part of a house; hence that door cannot be greater than the house of which it is a part. Another example: material bodies occupy space. This apple is a material body; hence it must occupy space.
The difference between the two latter conclusions and those preceding them will be clear. Their major premises are self-evident. It is not possible even to imagine a part of the whole greater than the whole itself, or a material body not occupying space; and hence it follows that our inferences are unavoidably true. To generalize the one and the other in the traditional manner: the conclusion of a categorical syllogism of which the major premise is self-evident and the minor an observed phenomenon cannot be faulted.
In order to make sure, then, that my opponents will not be able to refuse acceptance of a conclusion from an observation that all of us have made, I have to do one of two things. Either I counter the doubters with a self-evident major premise on which my conclusion rests, or else I must convince myself and find arguments to convince them that this major premise is, in fact, self-evident. The trouble, unfortunately, is that truly universally agreed-upon self-evident premises are rare creatures. Even the apparently most convincing judgments can, ten-to-one, be countered with a "Yes, but...!" This is a kind of contrariness that goes against the grain for most of us. We long for surety. Hence indoctrination is the fearfully efficacious weapon it has always been and still is. As Mr. Enlightenment in C. S. Lewis' The Pilgrim's Regress aptly puts it: "Well, as to that...I see that you have a very crude notion of how science actually works.... Hypothesis, my dear young friend, establishes itself by a cumulative process: or, to use popular language, if you make the same guess often enough it ceases to be a guess and becomes a scientific fact."
The adepts of the "new science," quite sure that their methods were leading to truth independently of revelation, wittingly or unwittingly practiced this "cumulative process." Witness Galileo who, as alluded to in Part I, thought he had conclusive proof for his assertions. In 1597 already, when acknowledging the receipt of Kepler's Cosmic Mystery, he complained to its author that "so few exist who pursue the Truth and do not pervert philosophical reason." He also congratulated Kepler on the ingenious arguments he had found "in proof of the Truth" of "Copernicus himself, our teacher." In other words the arguable proposition that science, or "philosophical reason" speaks the truth had become for Galileo a self-evident statement. Science speaks the truth. Science says X. Hence X is the truth. Who can doubt that?
"The real turning-point in the history of astronomy and of science in general," to quote Owen Barfield, was already behind Kepler and Galileo with their "Truth," "when they began to affirm that the heliocentric hypothesis not only saved the appearances, but was physically true." What they professed was in fact "a new theory of the nature of theory; namely that, if a hypothesis saves all the appearances, it is identical with truth." Yet that is a theory that is manifestly not tenable, for it would preclude any changes to the first acceptable hypothesis in any branch of science. Nevertheless, seventeen years later, by then inescapably enmeshed in his idee fixe of having the "Truth," Galileo even went public with his infatuation. In his "Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina" he presented the heliocentric proposition not only as true, but as "truly demonstrated." Turning the tables on his opponents he contended that they had to disprove it. After all, those who judge it false, Galileo declared "may much more easily find the fallacies in it than men who consider it true and conclusive."
At this point "the burden of proof [was] shifted," comments the late Arthur Koestler in his monumental The Sleepwalkers. If the theologians did not refute him "their case [would] go by default, and Scripture must be reinterpreted." Koestler perceptively adds that in this way Galileo "implied (though he did not dare state it explicitly) that the truth of the system was rigorously demonstrated. It is all so subtly done that the trick is almost imperceptible to the reader and, as far as I know, has escaped the attention of students to this very day. Yet it decided the strategy he was to follow in the coming years."
It is also the strategy that secular science has seemed to follow until the second half of our century. Time after time new finds have forced the theoreticians to change their tune; and time after time thereafter they self-assuredly reiterated that bogus knock-down argument: "Science now has proven...." To me, the purblind arrogance of it has become unintelligible. After all, one does not have to study logic to see that this "proven" is a worthless claim, Whichever theory we put together to explain a phenomenon or a related set of phenomena, we can never be indisputably sure that there is not a better explanation, that our theory will not again turn out after all to be a clever but wrong guess.
If the history of science "proves" anything, it is this certainty that theories change: a certainty of which the wise men of Antiquity and the Middle Ages were fully aware. Only omniscience would allow us to select the true explanation from we don't even know how many contenders. Osiander's A.D. 1543 preface to Copernicus' book, for instance, therefore warned the reader not to fall into the trap of thinking too highly about human cogitation. "Now when from time to time there are offered for one and the same motion different hypotheses..., the astronomer will accept above all others the one which is easiest to grasp. The philosopher will perhaps seek the semblance of the truth. But neither of them will understand or state anything certain unless it has been divinely revealed to him.... So far as hypotheses are concerned, let no one expect anything certain from astronomy which cannot furnish it, lest he accept as the truth ideas conceived for another purpose and depart from this study a greater fool than when he entered it." For predictions about eclipses and calculations of distances a hypothesis may be useful, but that doesn't mean that it therefore is truthful.
As Sir Fred Hoyle admits, Osiander's level-headed, time-honored sentiments "agree remarkably well with the outlook of modern theoretical physics, and are not at all inept, as earlier generations have supposed." Indeed, as already hinted, today the climate of thought has changed. Today "very few philosophers or scientists still think that scientific knowledge is, or can be, proven knowledge," though old "truths," once accepted, die hard. Hence when a discrepant observation threatens to overthrow a well-proven and beloved hypothesis, that observation may still be discarded at first as irrelevant "residue." A risky procedure, as W. R. Corliss remarks; for history tells us of such residues which "ultimately stirred up revolutions in our thinking."
I began this digression with a look at logical syllogisms, pointing out that self-evident major premises are rare but that there exists a tendency to turn arguable premises into self-evident ones by repetition. My main point is one that I already made in Part I of this history, and the reader may be forgiven for growing a little weary of it. There is at least one theory about the truth of which scientists, theologians, philosophers, and all who follow them are agreed. This theory has achieved the status of a self-evident major premise, although its truth, as no leading astronomer now would deny, has never yet been rigorously demonstrated. We know, the astronomers have brainwashed themselves, that the Earth goes around the Sun. Vide Koestler himself who, after minutely exposing the shakiness of its historical foundations, still unquestionably accepts the Galilean "Eppur si muove," his main thesis being that such major discoveries are made haphazardly, by sleepwalkers as it were. Vide the theologians. Too often, unfortunately, in their seminary years they were trained to appraise the dogmata of their denominations not as considered guesses, but as the truths of Scripture. Small wonder, then, that very few of them could be persuaded by me to entertain for even a few minutes any Earth-centered hypothesis, even though it used the language of Genesis 1. Vide, finally and as hinted in Part I, evolutionism. Its practitioners, having received a somewhat more rigorous training than the theologians, are by and large aware of relativism in the physical sciences and hence will concede that the geocentric view is neither more nor less certain than the ruling acentric one. At the same time, however, they can hardly allow their ruling evolutionary paradigm to be wobbled even ever so slightly by the notion that after all it might just be conceivable that the Earth, and if so, mankind living on it, might have a more than random meaning; a preferred status, in fact.
Be that as it may, at least logically then, as I hope I have demonstrated, I have an arguable case against the assumption that the heliocentric theory is a self-evident proposition. It has gained that self-evident status through long centuries of repetition rather than inner logical consistency.
What can happen to such a pseudo-self-evident proposition become clear, as I have already alluded to in Part I, if we examine its history after the dismal failure of Michelson and Morley in 1887 to measure the 30 kilometer per second speed we must have to complete our orbit around the Great Light every year. After M. and M.'s failure the search for that sort of proof for Galileo's "Truth" was abandoned because it appeared unattainable. Any doubt about the existence of that velocity, however, was still declared "unthinkable." To doubt that truth was akin to doubting that the earth is a sphere. Then what about this uncomfortable failure to record that speed? How did they deal with it? That is a tale worth telling, if briefly, for minds at the end of their tether will be seen to do strange things.
The absolute speed, c, of light in or through space, whatever particulars we profess about that space's content or emptiness, has been until today the only datum and help we have for possibly measuring the absolute velocity of a body through that space. As far as I know, all are in agreement about that. Sadly, if truly, wherever and whenever we here on earth measure the speed of light from whatever direction we let it reach us, it always registers at that absolute speed c. From this, one would think, we should be most likely to conclude that we are at rest in space. But we all "know" that we corkscrew through space in a path and at a velocity that is the resultant of at least three different velocities. Happily the hypothetical syllogism, under whose sway we have practiced astronomy since 1634 has solved this seeming contradiction and settled the matter in what at least may be called an amicable manner. From its first two unverified propositions the right conclusion--and woe to him who dares to doubt it!--follows in brilliant clarity:
1 The Earth is (self-evidently) in motion and revolves around the Sun. 2 That this is the case we cannot measurably demonstrate. 3 Hence absolute motion cannot be demonstrated.Q.E.D. And this rigorously! So Einstein rules supreme, and the velocity of light is independent of the velocities of source and observer. Hence always c, whatever velocity we "know" a source to have.
Keeping in mind the earlier remarks on logical syllogisms, however, the reader will remember that this one is shaky, to put it mildly. The opposite of its first proposition, as pointed out previously, is not at all unthinkable. After all, we see the Great Light rising and setting every day and performing a long round annually. It may be that Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity characterized the matter accurately, but before we are compelled to accept it we must have more than mere assertions of its foundation.
The problem behind the problem, as I suggested earlier on, seems to me to be that even the possibility of a preferred place for the Earth in the Universe brings with it such an upheaval of the modern notions of the contingency of man and his world that it is indeed unthinkable for most. Later on I will describe an experiment, duly published, which can test and did test the notion of an Earth at rest. But even supposing that this experiment might argue forcibly for a rethinking of the present cosmological model, I would fully expect scientists to cling to their self-evident proposition and tag on some corollary such as the Earth dragging along an ±ther in its revolution, whether or not there is a shred of evidence for such a state of affairs. For modern cosmology rests on a firm foundation of agnosticism and a resulting atheism that was laid at the time of Galileo, when the Church of Rome, as every school-child knows, made a fool of itself by trying to stop the march of science.
And yet.... As I have quoted previously in this history, there are whispers, and now more than whispers of a philosophy of science better than that New Science of Galileo, c.s. The antique, medieval ex suppositione is at last again beginning to be recognized for what it is, a "Hitherto thou shalt come, but no further" for all logically pursued theoretical reasoning. Suppose that a hypothesis of your liking--allow me to repeat the crux of my plea for a hearing--saves the phenomena. Does it follow that this hypothesis hence has the truth behind the veil of the facts? No, because there may be another and better explanation yet unknown. Suppose we then test our hypothesis with one or more experiments. Does their positive outcome affirm the truth? Again, no. Our guess may be the true one among the many possible, but we shall never absolutely know it. Who can verify our verifications? An infinite regress stares us in the face.
These logical hurdles, insurmountable for the finite mind, thwart us from the physically most obvious to the philosophically most abstruse deductions. If the Earth circles the Sun, then we here on Earth will see the Sun go around us and therefore..., but if the situation is de facto the other way around we'll see the same. If there were a God Who is Love and hates evil, He would obviously have created a world without evil and therefore there is no..., but what if, as many sane minds from Augustine and Aquinas to the present have believed, at the end of the present age the groaning of this, God's creation, will be shown in His omniscient eternal purpose to have been the best possible way to attain the best possible world by Him envisaged from eternity? Who can tell? To rephrase the Osiander of Copernicus' preface, apart from a few tautological propositions can anyone of us understand or state anything certain unless it has been divinely revealed to him? It is satisfying to read that the American Association for the Advancement of Science again includes in its educational goal of scientific literacy the following: "knowing that science, mathematics, and technology are human enterprises, and knowing what that implies about their strengths and limitations...." This, happily, sounds quite pre-Galilean, and the sages of the Middle Ages would have applauded. We know in part and theorize in part.
Science applied, and today manipulating matter most marvelously--who can deny its power? Science theorizing about unknowables and invisible untouchables beyond tangible matter--who can trust its pronouncements about things it cannot truly prove, but assiduously refuses to subject to any disproof offered? "You are quite right that very few experiments with the aim of disproving Einstein's theory of Special Relativity, are carried out today. As a scientist, it is often very difficult to decide how to best invest your time on research. Einstein's theory of Special Relativity has worked well for much of this century. Obviously this does not prove it is correct, but it does suggest that you could well waste a lot of time trying to prove it wrong. After all, we could spend a lot of time questioning the validity of much of physics and other sciences, but it would not necessarily lead to much progress.
"Although this is not an entirely satisfactory answer, I think it reflects the reality of the situation."
I hope that the foregoing digressions have been worthwhile. They are intimately bound up with the evolution of the Tychonian Society. Time now to continue the history of that Society itself.
I began my digressions at the point, in 1968, when the Heart of the Matter was published and went nowhere fast. Even so, as I said, I felt there were logical considerations which precluded my leaving the matter alone altogether, even if my cogitations found no resonance. Logically at least, I thought, there was some point in continuing my quest, even if in all other ways it seemed quixotic. Hence I plodded on and published a second short treatise about a prime sample of the unwillingness in a first class scientist to see further than his nose because of the post-Galilean myopia. Airy Reconsidered, stenciled in 1968 and printed in 1970, was dubbed "thought provoking" by George Mulfinger in the Bible-Science Newsletter of July-August 1971. The idea of a stationary Earth, he admitted, would be a stumbling block to many. Nonetheless he called it "recommended reading for anyone who enjoys exercising his mind and who is willing to rethink some of his long cherished beliefs about the universe in which he lives."
Encouraged by this appraisal, and spurred by disparagements as well as encouragements received from a number of readers, I pondered the problem of what to do next. Abetted by a few friends and relatives I "founded" a very informal, and until today never yet formally incorporated, Tychonian Society. And pursuing a hunch that first landed me in a cul-de-sac but later would lead me to a consistent, Karl Popper's requirements-satisfying theory, I began to publish the Bulletins of the Tychonian Society. The first few were handwritten and crudely multiplied on a Gestetner, issue number 5 proudly announcing a modest fifty-copies edition. I also followed Gideon in his lack of faith by offering my Bulletins free of charge to all who would ask for them and then pledging myself to stop if not enough freewill offerings to cover the cost would reach me. Consequently, when I ran out of cash in 1971, I burned most of an issue of which I had 200 copies photocopied, and called it quits.
I leave it to the reader to judge whether my unwillingness to drop the matter completely at this point showed tenacity or mulishness, but I did continue reading and researching. The subject left me no peace, partly because from unexpected corners of the Earth somehow letters on the subject began to reach me, with requests for more information and even donations. After an interval of some two years I felt pressured, and not exactly unwilling, to try again. The results this time were more encouraging, and in the summer of 1974, be it apprehensively, I felt free to take a bold step. Bulletins No. 6, typed and stenciled and audaciously promoting readers to "subscribers" was mailed to people in Canada, the U.S., England, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and Australia. Sample copies I cast upon the waters also.
The outcome settled the doubts; from then on there could be no retiring from the battle for Geocentrism. For every new issue the monies needed steadily arrived. Slowly but surely the number of persons wanting the Bulletins kept increasing. And what was even more satisfying, after three further issues proselytes and partisans came forward and began to contribute papers and to promote the cause.
FOOTNOTES: C. S. Lewis, 1958. The Pilgrim's Regress, (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans), p. 37.
: Arthur Koestler, 1963. The Sleepwalkers, (New York: Grosset and Dunlap), p. 356.
: Owen Barfield. Saving the Appearances, (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc.), pp. 50-51.
: Koestler, Op. Cit., p. 437.
: Ibid., pp. 565-566.
: Fred Hoyle, 1973. Nicolaus Copernicus, (New York: Harper and Row), p. 44.
: Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrove, eds., 1976. Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 92.
: William R. Corliss, 1989. Science Frontiers, March-April.
: Ronald W. Clark, 1971. Einstein: The Life and Times, (New York: World Publishing Company), p. 80.
:"Improving Math, Science Teaching," The Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 1989. P. 7.
:Andrew M. Dunn, 1989. The writer, a graduate assistant, answering me on behalf of Professor Hawking, Cambridge, to whom I had suggested an a la Popper logically valid and decisive disproof of Special Relativity. Received 26 April.
:George Mulfinger, 1971. "Airy's Failure Reconsidered," Bible-Science Newsletter, July-August, p. 6.