Saturday, 8 June 2013

Why Biblical Literalism is Untenable - 3

Geocentrism in the Bible

Recently, the first Annual Catholic Conference on Geocentrism [1] was announced, much to the amusement [2] of many sceptics and disbelief of laypeople who were astounded that 400 years after Galileo, educated people would still claim that the sun revolved around the Earth. Geocentrism is of course false, as anyone will realise just when considering satellites in geostationary orbit. Satellites in geostationary orbit move around the earth once a day. Therefore, they appear from the point of an observer on earth to be fixed. Now, if the Earth was fixed, then any geocentric satellite would not be orbiting the Earth, but would in fact be suspended in space approximately 36000 km above the equator. Gravitational attraction would inevitably draw the satellite down towards Earth. The fact that I can watch live cricket from the UK via satellite is indirect testimony to the falsity of geocentrism.

While elaborate scientific justifications for geocentrism have been formulated, the ultimate motivation for geocentrism is Biblical literalism. The Biblical Astronomer (formerly the Tychonian society) makes this plain in its credo:
The Biblical Astronomer was originally founded in 1971 as the Tychonian Society, on the premise that the only absolutely trustworthy information about the origin and purpose of all that exists and happens is given by God, our Creator and Redeemer, in his infallible, preserved word, the Holy Bible, commonly called the King James Bible. All scientific endeavor which does not accept this revelation from on high without any reservations, literary, philosophical or whatever, we reject as already condemned in its unfounded first assumptions.
We believe that the creation was completed in six twenty-four hour days and that the world is not older than about six thousand years. We maintain that the Bible teaches us of an earth that neither rotates daily nor revolves yearly about the sun; that it is at rest with respect to the throne of him who called it into existence; and that hence it is absolutely at rest in the universe.
We affirm that no man is righteous and so all are in need of salvation, which is the free gift of God, given by the grace of God, and not to be obtained through any merit or works of our own. We affirm that salvation is available only through faith in the shed blood and finished work of our risen LORD and saviour, Jesus Christ.
Lastly, the reason why we deem a return to a geocentric astronomy a first apologetic necessity is that its rejection at the beginning of our Modern Age constitutes one very important, if not the most important, cause of the historical development of Bible criticism, now resulting in an increasingly anti-Christian world in which atheistic existentialism is preaching a life that is really meaningless. [3] Emphasis mine
The similarities between the credos of the Biblical Astronomer and Answers in Genesis are obvious in that both privilege a literal reading of Genesis over evidence from the natural world. Both maintain that their views are scientific, and have produced elaborate justifications of their positions from people who have managed to acquire higher degrees in the sciences. Despite the fact that both organisations maintain an a prior commitment to Biblical literalism, they have arrived at divergent views on geocentrism. The question therefore is whether one group has not been consistent in their adherence to literalism, or whether the other group has incorrectly read parts of the Bible as teaching a fact statement about reality.

One geocentrist maintains [4] a list of scriptural references which "tell us that it is the Sun and not the Earth that moves." Examples include:
Gen 15:12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 
Josh 10:12-13 Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “O sun, stand still at Gibeon, And O moon in the valley of Aijalon.” So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies. Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. 
Psa 19:4-6 In them He has placed a tent for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat. 
Psa 104:19 He made the moon for the seasons; The sun knows the place of its setting.
Ecc 1:5 Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; And hastening to its place it rises there again. 
Isa 38:8 “Behold, I will cause the shadow on the stairway, which has gone down with the sun on the stairway of Ahaz, to go back ten steps.” So the sun’s shadow went back ten steps on the stairway on which it had gone down.

A literal reading of these verses would teach geocentrism, with the references in Joshua 10, Psalm 19, Ecclesiastes 1 and Isaiah 38 being particularly noteworthy.

A common rebuttal is to claim that these verses are employing phenomenal language, that is, describing things from the observers point of view. Implicit in this argument is that the inspired writers of the Bible did not have a geocentric view of the world - phenomenal language would be meaningless if Joshua actually believed the sun moved around the Earth. In order to maintain the phenomenal language argument, a non-geocentric Biblical literalist is obliged to provide evidence that a heliocentric view was known over 3500 years ago. There is none, which is why the argument that such verses are using phenomenal language fail.

What we do know is that Aristarchus of Samos is the first person recorded in history to advance a heliocentric model of the solar system. Aristarchus of Samos advanced his heliocentric model in the 3rd century BCE, but they were largely rejected in favour of the geocentric view. In fact, the concept of a spherical Earth can be reliably dated no earlier than the 5th century BCE. Certainly, there is no evidence that a spherical earth, much less heliocentrism was known in the Ancient Near East. When Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, there is no evidence to suggest that he was using phenomenal language, but rather really believed that the sun ceased moving long enough allow his army victory. It is impossible to derive a heliocentric model from the Scripture in isolation from observations from the natural world, and the evidence of Christian geocentrists past and present is further evidence to support the view that geocentrism flows naturally from a plain reading of the Bible.

Modern geocentrists are (rightly) regarded as cranks and have minimal influence in the conservative Christian world. However, their motivation is exactly the same as the special creationists - defending the primacy of the word of God as they see it. Gerardus Bouw, one of the leading figures in the modern geocentrist movement, and the possessor of a PhD in astronomy from Case Western Reserve University argues that:

The Copernican Revolution, as this change of view is called, was not just a revolution in astronomy, but it also spread into politics and theology. In particular, it set the stage for the development of Bible criticism. After all, if God cannot be taken literally when he writes of the “rising of the sun,” then how can he be taken literally in writing of the “rising of the Son?”
By contrast, there was geocentrism, the ancient belief that the earth is located at the center of the universe. Until well into the seventeenth century the thought that the earth was immobile at the center of the universe was taken for granted to be both Biblical and natural. The earth was, after all, central in God’s attention, affection, and purpose. It was to the earth that Jesus Christ came. It was on earth that he died; and it was on earth that he was resurrected for the sins of man, not any other creature of the cosmos. It is on earth that those things which “the angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:12) are occurring. How logical, then, the idea that the earth is nestled unmoving at the center of all creation? [5]

Young Earth creationists are far more influential than geocentrists, but they too are (rightly so, again) regarded as cranks by mainstream science. One wonders on what grounds we reject the argument of the former Biblical literalists, but accept the argument of the latter, particularly when geocentrists are far more consistent in their biblical literalism than the Young Earth creationists. Bouw may be utterly wrong in his geocentrism, but in his defence of geocentrism against Young Earth Creationist attacks, he skewers their inconsistency perfectly:

Evolutionists, atheists, and agnostics in the know can easily shame creationists on the issue of geocentricity by simply pointing out the hypocrisy of their insistence that the days in Genesis 1 are literal while the rising and setting of the sun is not. Likewise, to insist that the rising of the sun is figurative while the rising of the Son is literal is also hypocrisy. Given that the geocentric model is pure physics, mathematically tractable, and realistic, and consistent with Scripture, we conclude that the creationist's desire to reject it can only be for the sole purpose of appearing intellectual and acceptable to the world, which desire is enmity with God (James 4:4). [6]

If YECs in our community are to be consistent in their literalism, they need to acknowledge that a consistent Biblical literalism obligates the believer to be a geocentrist. Maintaining a belief in recent creation taking place over six days while rejecting geocentrism leaves the YEC open to the very real charge of inconsistency. Of course, the alternative is to consider whether God is intending to teach astronomical, geological and biological facts in the Bible, or accommodating pre-scientific views on the earth.

This article first appeared on my Facebook page here


1. Galileo Was Wrong   Accessed 30th December 2011 (Internet Archive link - main link now dead)

2. Plait P "Geocentrism? Seriously?" Bad Astronomy (Discover Blogs) 14th September 2010    Accessed 30th December 2011

3.  Credo of the Biblical Astronomer   Accessed 30th December 2011

5. Bouw GD "A Geocentricity Primer" (2004, The Biblical Astronomer) p 1   Accessed 30th December 2011

6. Bouw GD "Geocentrism: A Fable for Educated Man?"   Accessed 30th December 2011