In a recent comment, John van Popta cites, apparently favourably, the geocentrism of van der Kamp. I never did have the honour of meeting “Kampee” as he was apparently affectionately known. But for a short time about a dozen years ago, I was involved in what I thought was a private internet discussion on geocentrism (mostly critiquing it while seeking to understand and appreciate it), and you can actually still find what must have been the most favourable thing I said about it quoted in The Geocentric Bible (!):
“no physicist I know says that the earth in any absolute sense travels around the sun. Science today does not claim that there is an absolute reference frame in which the earth is moving.”
This is apparently the best thing any Ph.D. physicist has said which could be construed to be in favour of geocentrism, at least in terms of “reference frames”. (Unfortunately, I can no longer find my other comments from that discussion.) Einstein’s theory of general relativity allows one to show how measurements of space and time correspond between references frames which are moving (in fact accelerating) relative to one another, and eschews the concept of an absolute point or system of reference from which space and time ought to be measured. However, one should not assume that the instrumentalist view is implied by general relativity, or that geocentrism is thusly made tenable. In astronomy, one does indeed usually employ an earth-based coordinate system for reasons of history and convenience. But there are plenty of good observations which indicate that geocentrism is not the true state of affairs in the cosmos. Maintaining scientific geocentrism is possible only if we dispense with nearly every well-established physical principle: gravitation, force, mass, dynamics, energy, not to mention the other basic observations which validate heliocentrism (within the solar system) such as rotational dynamics, centre of mass, stellar parallax, Coriolis force (with its Foucault pendulum, counter-clockwise rotation of storms in the Northern hemisphere), nuclear fusion, neutrino oscillation, extra-solar planetary systems, seasonal anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background, etc., etc. Of course, one could be a philosophical antirealist, or fictionalist, and maintain that these are only appearances or useful constructs, but we have discussed – and will continue to do so, Lord willing – the problems of such a position in Reformed epistemology and ontology, with, in my view, the critical (or, as Broussard puts it, humble) realist position doing more justice to the reality of the creation and to God’s gift of rationality to His image bearers. My main point regarding reference frames is that Scripture’s speaking from the point of view of earth is not scientifically problematic, but neither is it a scientific claim any more than is our continued reference to such geocentric notions as sunsets.
Also, let me briefly unveil the Copernican myth to which van der Kamp and nearly everyone else has succumbed. This is the idea that Copernicus in proposing a heliocentric system dethroned the earth from its position at the Centre of the cosmos, and that this is a threat to the Scriptural idea that humanity is central in God’s plan of salvation. Having once been considered at the Centre, the earth is now relegated to being just one planet among many, and further developments put us orbiting around just one star out of many, in one galaxy among many, etc. However, it is important to note that according to the Greeks, the earth is evil, with hell being at its centre and the heavens being the place of perfection. Thus, far from demoting the earth, Copernicus actually exalted it to join the heavenly realms! This is discussed in Dennis Danielson, “The Great Copernican Cliché”, American Journal of Physics, v. 69, n. 10 (Oct. 2001), pp. 1029-35. Danielson is a member of a Reformed church, and an English professor at UBC studying historical literature on the cosmos, writing here in a physics journal, and so if you can obtain the article via your university or college library, all readers of this blog should find it accessible. In fact, modern astronomy suggests that not only is the earth not at the center, but that there is no centre, much like how there is no location on the surface of the earth which could rightfully claim such an honour; I consider this to be a superb poetical analogy of how once Jews claimed they had to worship in Jerusalem, but now God’s people worship anywhere in spirit and truth (see John 4:20-24).
Incidentally, earth’s placement, environment, and attributes remain particularly special in many ways; see Guillermo Gonzalez & Jay Wesley Richards, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2004) and Peter D. Ward & Donald Brown, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe (New York: Copernicus Books, 2004).
My conclusion is that scientific geocentrism is neither taught in nor implied by Scripture, and there is every reason for the Christian to acknowledge the weight of evidence against it while no reason to suppose that this means earth and humanity is any less special in God’s eyes. After all, we are created in God’s image, and the incarnation, atonement, and resurrection took place on our home planet. And we can say with even more depth of understanding, in humility and awe, with David, “When I consider your heavens, …what is man that you are mindful of him…?” (Psalm 8.3-4, NIV)