We live in a geocentric world!

Whenever I mention geocentrism in a blog post one or other of my commentators of the anti-religious persuasion comes along and tries to claim that the reasons for the acceptance of geocentric cosmology were mostly, largely or totally religious and in no way could it be possibly scientific. My recent Saints and Demons post was no exception with Michael Fugate doing the honours as he has done on several previous occasions. It is worth taking a closer look at his comments and pointing out the historical errors that they contain. We’ve been here before but it’s a subject that bears re-examination particularly given the recent trend amongst gnu atheists of denying the objective empirical basis of the geocentric world-view.

Michael Fugate starts his attack with the following comment:

The problem with history is we don’t know all the hypotheses that were out there and why some were rejected. We have fragments of ideas about geocentrism and heliocentrism from thousands of years ago, but it is unclear exactly why geocentrism became the standard. We can try to reconstruct thought through the data we know or presume was available at the time, but it is no more than a guess. To claim that heliocentrism was rejected primarily on scientific grounds is at best speculation – it could have easily been a combination of factors (e.g. aesthetic, religious and political).

What we have in the history of western science is a fully formed highly detailed geocentric cosmology and mathematical astronomy in the form of the Syntaxis Mathematiké from Ptolemaeus from the middle of the second century CE. This lays out in great detail all of the arguments for and against both the geocentric and heliocentric cosmologies known to the Greek astronomers and cosmologist over a period of about six hundred years. Not exactly fragments of ideas! These arguments are logically argued scientific hypotheses based on solid empirical observation made by Babylonian and Greek astronomers over a period of approximately nine hundred years. Thanks to Ptolemaeus we know exactly why geocentrism was the standard. A standard that was accepted and defended in the works of Plato, Aristotle and many other Greek philosophers and mathematical commentators. This standard was also maintained and defended by many, many Islamic philosophers and astronomers from about 800 CE into the Early Modern Period. Put bluntly the claims made by Mr Fugate in the comment quoted above are historical rubbish.

It has only been very recently that religion and science have become separate fields of study; religious beliefs were often the foundation of scientific hypotheses (geocentrism, young earth, species fixity, flood geology). That these were proposed as true and put to the test by religious scientists shows how strong the evidence is against them. Perhaps it made science all the more rigorous as there would be many reasons for wanting to retain them. Hypotheses can come from anywhere, it is how they are treated that counts.

The geocentric hypotheses of Greek and Islamic cosmology and astronomy were not based on religious beliefs but on solid empirical observations. The religious views of the astronomers and cosmologists who presented those hypotheses did not play a significant role in their work.

However the three main players in the introduction of heliocentric cosmology in the Early Modern Period Copernicus, Kepler and Newton (contrary to popular opinion Galileo only played a very minor role) were all deeply religious and the religious views of two of them did play a highly significant role in their scientific thought. Copernicus was a cannon of a Catholic cathedral. Kepler trained for the priesthood in a Lutheran seminary and remained devotedly religious all of his life believing that he was serving his God through his astronomical work. Newton was by any standards a religious fanatic who believed that he had been special chosen by God to reveal the secrets of His creation.

Not content with the observations presented above Mr Fugate took a second bite of the cherry with the following comment:

Here is a thought experiment I would like to throw out. What do historians think might have been the effect if 1) the consensus coming out of ancient Greece had been heliocentrism, or 2) if a god really spoke to the authors of the Bible and had told them the earth went around the sun, when scholastic efforts arose in Europe? The way it did happen, the geocentrism of Greece meshed with the Bible, but what if it hadn’t?

I won’t mind if you tell me it is a silly question.

It is a silly question but we will treat it as if it wasn’t. There is no chance what so ever that the consensus coming out of ancient Greece could have been heliocentric. As for the second suggestion, as a life long atheist I don’t think any god ever spoke to anyone and so I can’t even conceive of a god who would have revealed to his followers anything so counterintuitive as heliocentrism. And here we have the nub of the matter. With the very, very notable exception of Aristarchus all of the cosmologies in the whole of history in the whole of the world before the sixteenth century CE are geocentric for the very simple reason that we live in a geocentric world. All the observation that we can make without the aid of the telescope and other later developed scientific instruments tell us quite categorically and without doubt that we live at the centre of all that we can perceive.  In fact it takes a massive leap of faith to imagine otherwise. It is one of the great puzzles of the history of science that we don’t know how or why either Aristarchus of Copernicus took that leap.

Although he doesn’t mention Aristarchus by name Ptolemaeus sets up a formidable set of solid empirical arguments against a heliocentric worldview; arguments that only finally lost their validity during the seventeenth century CE. Even after Copernicus published his De revolutionibus in 1543 it took a long time for astronomers to produce empirical evidence for the heliocentric hypothesis and you can believe that they tried really hard to do so. It was first 182 years later in 1725 that James Bradley first produced evidence to support annual rotation around the sun with his discovery of stellar aberration. It was more than two hundred years before the measurement of the earths shape produced indirect evidence for diurnal rotation of the earth around its own axis. It would take almost another hundred years before stellar parallax was discovered confirming annular rotation and Foucault produced direct proof of diurnal rotation with his pendulum.

People like Michael Fugate make the mistake of thinking that because they have been ‘indoctrinated’ by the modern education system into believing in a heliocentric worldview that such a worldview is logical and obvious to anybody who would just open their eyes. It isn’t. I have more than once on this blog challenged anyone to demonstrate convincingly that we live in a heliocentric world with only the knowledge and instruments available to an intelligent astronomer in the middle of the sixteenth century. Strangely enough nobody has ever taken up my challenge. Actually it’s not strange at all because it is literally impossible. Even today for the ordinary man in the street all of the empirical observations that we can make without the aid of theories and instruments developed after 1600 CE tell us quite definitely that we live in a geocentric world.

People might feel provoked by my use of the word indoctrinated above and although I will admit to its use being a bit tongue in cheek it is not so far from the truth. People forget how they perceived the world as a child. All of us regarded the world as being at the centre of all we could perceive and being totally immobile before we were taught otherwise. Also most of us had a great deal of difficulty accepting that the earth rotates and that we go round the sun and not vice versa when these facts were first revealed to us. It is important to remind ourselves that we had to be taught these facts. We could learn for ourselves through empirical observations that fire is hot and if we are careless it will burn us or that snow is cold and will freeze our fingers if we play with it too long without gloves but we can’t discover for ourselves that the world we live in is heliocentric and geodynamic this we have to be taught. This perception that our world is geocentric and geostatic is reflected in our language. We talk about the sun rising and setting as if it were moving and not the earth revolving. Even astronomers when viewing the appearance or disappearance of stars over the horizon at night name this phenomenon heliacal rising or setting as if it were the stars that were moving and not the earth.

This post will of course provoke Michael Fugate and his ilk to make new ahistorical comments about the unscientific nature of the geocentric hypothesis. May I politely suggest that before doing so they at least read the cosmological writings of Aristotle, Ptolemaeus, Averroes, Peuerbach, Christoph Clavius, and many, many others, all highly scientific thinkers, who convincingly argued for a geocentric worldview.

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42 Comments

Filed under History of Astronomy, Myths of Science, Renaissance Science

42 responses to “We live in a geocentric world!

  1. Pingback: We live in a geocentric world! | Whewell's Ghost

  2. Mike Flynn

    My recollection is that we have no pertinent writings by Aristarchus, only references by Archimedes and so forth. We don’t even know if he had an actual astronomical model — i.e., an algorithm for calculating stellar positions. Nor whether he had the other planets circling the sun. We do know that the Pythagoreans taught that the earth circled the sun because Fire is nobler than Earth and the center is a more worthy position than the edge. This reasoning may be called many things, but “scientific” is not one of them. If anything, ancient Greek heliocentrists were religiously motivated, which is why Aristotle accused them of trimming facts to fit their theories.

    • The Pythagoreans, who were a religious sect, preached that the earth and the anti-earth circled a central fire always diametrically opposed so that the anti-earth can never be seen. However this central fire was not the sun which circles the earth as in all other geocentric systems.

  3. In fact it was already a very significant accomplishment to get to a defensible geocentric view of the cosmos since a spherical Earth is already a departure from common sense. The inhabited world appears to be flat or perhaps shaped like a shield (Homer) or the top of a cylindrical drum (Anaximander). I think we should give the old guys some credit for making progress.

    • We should indeed. It’s a very long way from the disc shaped world of the Babylonians to the highly sophisticated cosmology and astronomy of Ptolemaeus.

      • Mike Flynn

        And the Chinese still had the earth as a blanket (with China in the center) when the Jesuits arrived in the early 1600s. Ming astronomy was purely arithmetical and learned by rote.

  4. johnpieret

    Once again you attempt to use scholarship and reason to shift the strongly held beliefs of those who have no intention of letting those things get in the way of their comfortable weltanschauung.

    Won’t you ever learn?

  5. Michael Boswell

    As someone who believes he was dragged back kicking and screaming to Christ by God, I not surprised that Michael Fugate takes an ahistorical approach to the history of science. It is an approach taken by people arguing that religious thinking (namely Christian thinking) has had a negative effect on ‘science’. They seem to take the Draper and White’s conflict thesis.

    The other factor is the dismissal of ancient ‘science’ as too influenced by factors other than observation. The ancient misunderstanding of the geo-stationary world floating in water with a solid dome in which rain leaks through and the sun, moon and starts move one relates to Babylonian science. God built the universe and in the when you build something weighty things need concrete support. Travel to find the base of the dome requires either an elaboration or change of paradigm. The agricultural analogy to human reproduction seems to fit if one does not perform systematic dissections.

    It is interesting how English and English speaking customs still assumes both a geocentric universe and the agriculture analogy of reproduction. The sun never rises or sets and he have never spilt his seed.

    PS I think Christian apologists often exaggerate the influence of the faith on the rise of ‘science’.

  6. I just discovered your blog. It may become a “must read” for me.

    I take a rather nontraditional view of scientific theories. I generally see them as neither true nor false. Their role is not to be descriptions of the world, but to be guides to research. I guess that’s along the lines of Lakatos and his research programmes. Thus our choice of theories should be made on pragmatic grounds.

    For geocentrism vs. heliocentrism, I sometimes point out that it is really just a mathematical transformation (a change of coordinates) to go from one to the other.

    And I have long (since high school days) thought that the phlogiston theory was a pretty good one for its time.

    • johnpieret

      If I knew you were unaware of RM, I would have told you. ThonyC has been a long-time commenter on Wilkins’ blogs and has been doing great work here and at Whewell’s Ghost:

      http://whewellsghost.wordpress.com/feed/

    • Welcome aboard Neil. I already know you well from your sparing matches with the Albino Aussie Anthropoid whose blog I read regularly and who is also my blog father as you can read here.

      • I read your “about” and related pages yesterday, so I already knew how you started your blog. When I saw the expression “Albino Aussie Anthropoid” it was immediately obvious who that referred to.

        I became acquainted with John through talk.origins. And, for that matter, that’s also how I became acquainted with John Pieret (catshark). It sometimes seems as if the whole blogosphere started on talk.origins.

        Obviously, I have a non-traditional understanding of how science works, hence my occasional sparring with John W.

  7. Ahem, Newton a religious fanatic? As the great Christian philosopher Leibniz correctly proved Newton was a radical mechanistic pagan atheist (as Joseph Glanvill might have put it) in his belief that God was a mere clock winder and that the Bible was a magical key to the secret of the end of the world. How you can continue in your charade and subterfuge in idolizing Newton here is really quite remarkable.

  8. But then again, I guess you must be a true blue Cthonian…

  9. Pingback: We live in a geocentric world! | Conformable Contacts | Scoop.it

  10. My previous reply was a tad off-topic. So here, I’ll address the main topic.

    I often see people saying that geocentrism is false, and ridiculing people of earlier times who believed that. However, if we understand what Einstein taught us, then there is no such thing as absolute motion. There is only relative motion. Whether we measure distances and velocities relative to the earth, or relative to the sun, we can be seen as adopting a convention that allows us the convenience of talking about motion as if it were absolute.

    In earlier eras, where understanding terrestrial events was the main concern, geocentric conventions were more useful. And, of course, we still heavily use them today when we talk of sunrise, sunset, etc. It is only when you begin to study motions of objects outside the earth, that heliocentric conventions show some advantages. But it is really Newton’s comprehensive treatment of motion, and the desire to extend this to include the motion of planets and stars, that gives heliocentrism a strong advantage.

    I have not studied history in as much detail as Thony. And much of what I have read was probably what Thony has been calling “whig history.” However, I have always tried to understand it from the perspective of what the scientists at the time must have been thinking. And mostly, the problem faced was never one of finding regularities in the data. The major problem was in getting data in the first place. It should be no surprise that geocentric conventions were initially favored for solving that problem.

  11. Michael Fugate

    So the people who proposed a heliocentric universe in Greece, had no evidence? You have never heard of competing theories?

  12. Michael Fugate

    One document – a complete historical record?

  13. Michael Fugate

    My first comment was a bit hasty – you did mention that Ptolemy compared the two models, but that it not my real issue. I don’t really care that much whether or not geocentrism was better supported or not. My issues are more with your statements on religion and science. What I see as real “historical rubbish” is the claim that the church opposed heliocentrism solely on scientific grounds when we know that even today scientific theories are opposed on political and religious grounds. Comments that you have ignored in the past because they don’t fit with you narrative. How do you know what these people were thinking and their reasons for action? Do you for a fact know all of the reasons that geocentrism was favored in Greece? Were they all based on observation? Can you state without a doubt that religion and politics had nothing to do with it? How do you know that Ptolemy was a fair arbiter of the evidence known at the time? On top of all that you even know what gods would and wouldn’t do? Damn, you way too smart for me.

    • What you are attempting here is a combination of two well-known logical fallacies 1) the strawman fallacy – suggesting that Thony’s correction to your historical rubbish somehow commits him to claims such as “the church opposed heliocentrism solely on scientific grounds”. 2) the argument from ignorance – using the fact that we can’t be 100% sure about the past to argue that your own unsubstantiated claims must somehow possess special credibility. The irony of it all is that these two fallacies are most popular among the religious apologists, whom you seem to despise so much. In their case, the fallacies are a welcome tool to shield themselves from aspects of reality they find difficult to stomach for emotional and ideological reasons. I won’t speculate on why you use them.

    • Mike Flynn

      They did not oppose or support unsubstantiated notions of a mobile earth. It wasn’t in their writ. But the ancient writers had relied on the Settled Science of the Consensus™ for their exegesis, and the Church was not about to abandon their readings without proof.

      With proof, no problemo. Bellarmino wrote as much to Foscarini. If it could be shown with certainty that the earth moved, then we would simply have to say that we hadn’t properly understood the passages rather than deny something that had been demonstrated with certainty. Cardinal Dini, another of Galileo’s friends and supporters, went to see Bellarmino:

      “I [Cdl. Dini] answered that the Holy Scriptures might be considered in this place as simply employing our usual form of speech, but the Cardinal [Bellarmino] said that in dealing with such a question we must not be too hasty, just as it would not be right to rush into condemnation of anyone for holding the [Copernican] views which I had put before him … [T]his very morning I have been to visit the Father [Grienberger]… I found that there was nothing fresh except that Father Grienberger would have been better pleased if you had first given your proofs before beginning to speak about the Holy Scriptures…”

      They were none too pleased at amateurs trying their hands at Scriptural exegesis, not in the middle of the Protestant revolution.
      + + +
      We love the way you make up “data” to explain away the facts. In the sciences, we generally infer theories from the data in order to explain them. It is almost as if you were deliberately parodying the artists and literati who supported geostationary theories against the physicists who opposed them.

  14. I’ve tried to think up heliocentric alternatives for the commen sense terms sunrise and sunset. Failed. Guess we’re stuck with geocentrism at least for common talk.

  15. M Clark

    This is a very interesting exchange and I’ve learned a lot.

    I have a couple of questions. Nicole Oresme argued back in the 14th C the wind would turn with the earth and thus the lack of wind could not be used to argue against the spinning earth hypothesis. So, did astronomers in the 16th C and 17th C explicitly use the wind argument against Copernican theory? If so, were they just unfamiliar with Oresme or found some fault with his argument?

    Second, the Wikipedia article on Copernicus does record several instances of people objecting to the new theory on religious grounds. The Dominican Tolosani objects on both political and scientific grounds. Calvin and Luther seem to object on grounds of going against Scripture, Luther’s buddy Melanchthon really tore into Copernicus. Reading the Wikipedia article it seems there were a wide variety of reasons to oppose Copernicus, both scientific and religious. These may be the objections based on religion Mr. Fulgate is mentioning, though it would bolster his argument if he actually brought them up instead of just vague statements about the possibility of such objections.

    Wikipedia isn’t the best of sources though, so there may be other nuances to the story that the article misses.

    • Mike Flynn

      Oresme wrote a lot of stuff that was used later without attribution. One possible reason was a greater obsession in later centuries of securing personal credit, and that meant (e.g.) Newton carefully expunging any mention of Descartes from his book.

      Another thing to keep in mind is that coming up with an alternative story doesn’t count until it can be supported by facts that the standard model cannot account for. Oresme’s intuition regarding “common motion” had to await some sort of account of inertia. Even so, Riccioli cited it as a good response to the Objection of the Winds (aka, the “medieval Michelson-Morely experiment”). By that time, the only Objections that were considered still unanswered were the lack of observed stellar parallax (even between optical doubles) and the lack of observed Coriolis effects.

      By the mid-1600s, Europe had a total population of about 105 million. It would be no surprise if there were a multitude of reasons various individuals held. For example, many litterati might have supported heliocentrism for mystical Neo-Pythagorean or hermetic reasons. Most folks likely gave no thought to anything other than whether the resultant horoscopes, calendars, or navigational aides were reliable. Matters of specialized mathematics were of little concern. What mattered was what the movers and shakers thought. On 21 December 1614, apparently unable to resist a pun, Tommaso Caccini preached a sermon denouncing Copernican views. His outraged brethren then denounced Caccini to the Dominican Master General, who promptly apologized to Galileo. On 7 February 1615, Niccolo Lorini, having read the Letter to Castelli, denounced Galileo and his followers to the Holy Office for “taking upon themselves to expound the Holy Scriptures according to their private lights.” Copernicanism was brought up only as the topic which led Galileo to dabble in exegesis. The Office considered the matter, then rejected it. As these incidents indicate, Copernicanism per se was not an issue, but using it as a springboard to what seemed to be crypto-Protestantism made things suspicious.

      • David Evans

        “..the lack of observed Coriolis effects.”

        Now there’s an interesting thought. Could a keen observer of the weather have noticed that winds blow anti-clockwise around a depression (in the northern hemisphere)? Could this be explained on a non-rotating Earth?

        Also, Aristarchus by two independent methods estimated that the Sun was 6 – 8 times the size of the Earth. There is of course a large error in his observations, but I think they are enough to show that the Sun is larger than the Earth. Intuitive physics – and possibly observations such as a man swinging a child around at arm’s length – might then suggest that it is the smaller object which orbits the larger.

      • Mike Flynn

        Galileo didn’t even know the tides were twice a day. (His theory said there would be one tide per day. He found out otherwise (via the Spanish) as the Dialogue was in press; but he made no effort to correct it.) No one could observe hemispheric weather patterns back then.

        The objection ran as follows.
        1. If the Earth is rotating (p) then objects at the top of a tower would have a larger horizontal velocity.
        Thus, when dropped, they would strike the ground slightly east of the plumb line (q).
        2. Balls when so dropped did not do so (not-q)
        3. Therefore, the earth was not rotating (not-p).
        Galileo suggested the experiment, but left no record of having carried it out.
        Newton suggested the experiment to Hooke and Hooke reported carrying it out and failing to observe the predicted effect.
        Technically, this should have “falsified” the theory, but Popper was not then the paradigm for “scientific” theories.
        Guglielmini carried out the experiment multiple times in the 1790s, using the inside of the spiral staircase of the tower in Bologna to eliminate windage effects. A German colleague replicated the results a couple years later, using a mine shaft. The effect is very small, and perhaps Hooke lacked measurement systems precise enough or did not block extraneous variable from the experimental protocol. (In fact, experimentation had not been made scientific before.

      • M Clark

        OK, so some people didn’t quite buy Oresme’s argument and still made the objection about winds. Thanks for the info!

  16. Michael Fugate

    So how did the Greeks do it? – demonstrate convincingly that we live in a heliocentric world with only the knowledge and instruments available to an intelligent astronomer in the middle of the 3rd century BC.

    I will make one last comment and then I will sign off for good – I doubt you will miss me.
    First off, I have visited this site because I am interested in history of science and like others I came here initially because I am a fan of John Wilkins; I think he is a first-rate philosopher of science.

    If the church were rejecting heliocentrism based solely on the scientific evidence, then why did it quote scripture to support its view and why did it put the books on the index afterward – why not stick to the facts? This is what an organization would do if it believed it knew the truth, not what it would do if it were searching for the truth. The church continues to claim to know the truth even when its dogma conflicts with science – that it was in accord with the evidence in this case says nothing positive about its relationship with science – it just says it got lucky – for a time. It baffles the hell out of me that individuals continue to legitimize organizations that claim to know the truth – even to the point of banning and burning books, imprisoning, torturing and killing people espousing alternate views – with overwhelming evidence to the contrary about their claims.

    In the original post, accusations of whig history were thrown out – where the victors rewrite history with the “good” guys winning and the “bad” guys losing. I must say that I have never subscribed to this view and that I am appalled at the bad narratives that get written – too many cringe-worth opening paragraphs. I also have had people bash me about philosophy, when I have never bashed philosophy. It is easy to dismiss someone when you misrepresent their motives. I have often spent time championing the “losers” in biology; they are informative about the scientific process – and more often than not good scientists. I am of the view that we should bring back the early creation-based arguments to show how they were once in accord with what was known and were discarded by the efforts of scientists, many of whom would have been Christians. This is why I like Wilkins, as he digs into the early formulations of ideas – and this site too, when I can get past the tarring with too broad a brush. It is one thing to correct mistakes, it is another to generalize to whole groups based on the errors of a few.

    That said, let’s move on to ancient Greece. As I said in my original comment – which was called historical rubbish – we don’t have a complete history of the arguments over the structure of the universe. You know this. We don’t have the documents in hand, we only have second-hand or third-hand retellings. We have no idea whether Ptolemy was giving us an accurate summary or engaging in whig history as a victor. We can still read Lamarck, we can’t read Aristarchus, for instance. We certainly can’t read the ideas of people who we have never heard of – now lost to history – and we know they were out there.

    Of course, geocentrism makes perfect sense on a gut level and would require a fair amount of evidence to jettison it. We know Ptolemy rejected the explanations for heliocentrism, but we don’t know how accurately he described his opponents’ arguments – because we simply don’t have them. To claim that geocentrism was the only possible conclusion can’t be warranted – it simply can’t – as it also required assumptions for which the evidence simply wasn’t available. It depends on which assumptions one is willing to accept. It is very likely that the mechanisms proposed for heliocentrism were just not convincing to Ptolemy and others. This would seem to be the case for evolution until natural selection; the idea of transmutation had been floating around for quite some time. On the other hand, Darwin couldn’t make heads nor tails out of his data on inheritance; too many complicated and often erroneous “facts” were available for him to devise a plausible mechanism. Is he a winner or a loser? How can you claim Ptolemy a winner when we don’t have the competition? Likely it was a combination of observations and mechanisms that favored geocentrism, but we know neither politics nor religion could possibly have played a role – never. Don’t historians study sociology and psychology?

    That said, I can’t see how religion can generate knowledge or truth – whatever you want to call it. It has no method for doing this. Christianity supplied science with a bunch of hypotheses based on its supposed self-generated truths, but how many of them (including geocentrism) were correct? And it continues to cling to discredited truths even today. That Christians contributed to the scientific endeavor is an easily shown fact, but that their Christianity was the reason for this contribution is laughable. I guess one could see science partially arising out of attempts to justify the unjustifiable – I mean if you claim your god created the universe in such and such a manner and this god even showed up on earth, etc. and someone says prove it, it does make one defensive and perhaps one does give it the old college try – apologetics have their place in honing one’s skills – but don’t pull too hard on the curtain or the “great” Oz might be revealed.

    As one opinion poll in the 80s claimed – some 70% of the general public were afraid of scientists because of what scientists know. The fear should come not from what scientists know, but what they think they know. The same applies to historians and theologians.

    • Mike Flynn

      They might have been afraid of the scientists because the scientists knew how to incinerate entire cities with nuclear explosives, blanket entire regions with nerve toxins, and so on; and were quite up-front about “not making value judgments” over how their knowledge would be used.

      We know Ptolemy rejected the explanations for heliocentrism, but we don’t know how accurately he described his opponents’ arguments – because we simply don’t have them.

      Yes, the Argument from Explaining Away the Facts. Even with the benefit of hindsight, what other arguments can you suggest than the ones Aristotle, Archimedes, and Ptolemy considered and rejected.

      If the church were rejecting heliocentrism based solely on the scientific evidence, then why did it quote scripture to support its view and why did it put the books on the index afterward – why not stick to the facts?

      What facts? That was the problem. No one could show any facts that could be explained only by a mobile earth. There was no more a fact to distinguish the Tychonic from the Keplerian system than there is today to distinguish the Copenhagen from the Many Worlds system of quantum theory.

      The Church quoted scripture because some folks were using Copernicanism to hype their own personal interpretation of scriptures. In the 17th cent. that was a no-no every bit as much as today. Copernican books came off the Index shortly after stellar aberration was observed, translated into Italian and became known. The prohibition against teaching it as empirical fact was rescinded shortly after Guglielmini discovered the Coriolis effect and Calendrelli observed parallax in a-Lyrae, both ca. 1790s – 1810s. Settele’s 2nd ed. astronomy textbook in 1830 contains it. So the answer to your plaint is simple, the Church did lift the ban as soon as the confirming evidence became available.

      So how did the Greeks do it? – demonstrate convincingly that we live in a heliocentric world with only the knowledge and instruments available to an intelligent astronomer in the middle of the 3rd century BC.

      That’s easy. They didn’t.

      The church continues to claim to know the truth even when its dogma conflicts with science – that it was in accord with the evidence in this case says nothing positive about its relationship with science – it just says it got lucky – for a time.

      Then why is this always the one and only case that is ever cited?

    • “If the church were rejecting heliocentrism based solely on the scientific evidence,”

      The same STRAWMAN again. Why do you keep doing it?

      “As I said in my original comment – which was called historical rubbish – we don’t have a complete history of the arguments over the structure of the universe. You know this. We don’t have the documents in hand, we only have second-hand or third-hand retellings. We have no idea whether Ptolemy was giving us an accurate summary or engaging in whig history as a victor. We can still read Lamarck, we can’t read Aristarchus, for instance. We certainly can’t read the ideas of people who we have never heard of – now lost to history – and we know they were out there.”

      The same ARGUMENT FROM IGNORANCE again.

      “To claim that geocentrism was the only possible conclusion can’t be warranted – it simply can’t – as it also required assumptions for which the evidence simply wasn’t available.”

      So you’re still denying that geocentrism is the default hypothesis given what we can observe with the naked eye, after all that has been explained to you…

      “But we know neither politics nor religion could possibly have played a role – never. Don’t historians study sociology and psychology?”

      And yet another STRAWMAN. Are you William Lane Craig or someone like that?

      “So how did the Greeks do it? – demonstrate convincingly that we live in a heliocentric world with only the knowledge and instruments available to an intelligent astronomer in the middle of the 3rd century BC.”

      What on earth are you blabbering about?

    • Michael, thanks for the kind words. Perhaps I can shed a little light here. The Church, nor the Greeks, did not know they were in a heliocentric universe. While that hypothesis was proposed by a Greek (Aristarchus), it never caught on, and the “two-sphere” universe of Eudoxus and Aristotle was the commonly held view. This was geocentric and was the consensus right up until Kepler.

      You say “why not stick to the facts?” This is indeed what Bellarmine thought he was doing in his condemnation of Galileo (note that Copernicus not only wasn’t censured, he was encouraged by the Pope and hierarchy of the day, a half century earlier). He wrote (from memory) that Galileo’s hypothesis was okay as a way to calculate, but that in the absence of evidence to the contrary (and he did not require proof, by the way) Scripture was to be trusted. Had Galileo said that his hypothesis was merely an operational device awaiting verification, he would have been okay.

    • Michael, you are deliberately misrepresenting what I’ve said and what I have on other occasions claimed.

      You claimed that from the Greeks we only have ‘a few fragments’, this is historical rubbish. Ptolemaeus’ Syntaxis Mathematiké is a very substantial monograph not a fragment. We also have the works of Plato, Aristotle and partial works of many, many others on the topic. A very different picture to the one you are trying to paint.

      I have never claimed that there were not religious objections to heliocentricity there were. In fact there still are some misguided fundamentalists who question or reject heliocentricity on religious grounds. What I have argued in the past and will continue to ague because it reflects the known historical facts is that the initial rejection of Copernicus and heliocentricity in the first one hundred years plus after the publication of De revolutionibus was based on scientific and philosophical arguments and not on religious ones. Heliocentricity was an unsubstantiated scientific hypothesis that contradicted many of the available empirical facts available at the time and was thus not acceptable to the majority of contemporary scholars. It was rational thought and not religious prejudice that slowed the acceptance of heliocentricity.

      The scientific progress made in the course of the seventeenth century radically changed the fundamental knowledge of nature so by seventeen hundred the majority of scholars, whatever their religious persuasion, had accepted heliocentricity as true although the necessary proofs of the earths movements were still missing.

      I did not, in this post or the previous one, address the highly complex and controversial question of the role played by Christian philosophy in the re-emergence of science in Europe in the Early Modern Period so I shan’t deal with it now, except to comment that Christianity did not supply science with the geocentric hypothesis.

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