Respectful Insolence

What’s next? Flat earth?

Regarding this whole skeptic thing, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about pseudoscience and bizarre, unscientific beliefs, it’s that, just when I think I’ve seen it all, the world slaps me in the face (facepalm, to be precise) to show me that I haven’t seen it all after all. Such was what happened when a truly bizarre conference started popping up around the skeptical blogosphere at blogs like Pharyngula, Unreasonable Faith, and Starts With A Bang. If you think that one thing that kooks can’t deny is that the earth revolves around the sun, you’d be wrong. Witness the Galileo Was Wrong conference, to be held “near” Notre Dame in Indiana:

Galileo Was Wrong is a detailed and comprehensive treatment of the scientific evidence supporting Geocentrism, the academic belief that the Earth is immobile in the center of the universe. Garnering scientific information from physics, astrophysics, astronomy and other sciences, Galileo Was Wrong shows that the debate between Galileo and the Catholic Church was much more than a difference of opinion about the interpretation of Scripture.

Scientific evidence available to us within the last 100 years that was not available during Galileo’s confrontation shows that the Church’s position on the immobility of the Earth is not only scientifically supportable, but it is the most stable model of the universe and the one which best answers all the evidence we see in the cosmos.

As Ethan explains, there was a real scientific controversy about geocentrism versus heliocentrism–500 years ago. I do like, however, the creationist-sounding pronouncements, like this:

Has modern science led us down the primrose path and convinced us of something that they cannot prove and that is in actuality false? Were the Fathers, the Medievals, our popes and cardinals of the 17th century correct in believing that the Earth, based on a face value reading of Scripture, was standing still in the center of the universe? Come with an open mind and allow these two authors to show you facts and figures that have been hidden from the public for a very long time. This is a page turner that you will find hard to put down, once you get riveted by the astounding material these authors have assembled for you. Prepare yourself, however. Your world will be rocked, literally and figuratively. Not only will you see from Volume I how modern science has documented for us in bold fashion that the Earth is motionless in space and occupies the center of the universe (yet have done an equally remarkable job in keeping these important facts out of our educational system), you will now see in Volume II how deeply the popes of the 17th century were involved in condemning heliocentrism, guiding the process step-by-step and finally castigating it as “formally heretical.” You will also see how effusive is the data in Scripture that teaches a geocentric universe in the most detailed exegesis of Holy Writ ever presented to the public on this topic.

Yes, that’s right. They’re invoking scripture. This is, of course, rather odd, given that Catholics tend not to emphasize scripture that much. I know. I was raised Catholic. In fact, at the Catholic high school I attended, I learned accepted science about the universe. Heck, our biology teacher (who was a priest) made no bones about teaching evolution without the slightest hint of creationism.

Personally, though, I really, really love the gushing reviews of this book. They sound eerily similar to reviews of Michael Behe’s books by creationists, particularly the persecution complex:

Unfortunately Galileo Was Wrong is likely to be scorned not only by the mainstream scientific community but also by the mainstream creationist movement. But all who believe that man’s creation was not by “accident” would do well to consider the following questions, posed by the authors. Is the earth an insignificant rock, a mere chance artifact of the Big Bang, one out of many planets in one out of many solar systems, of no special position but hurtling with great speed through the cosmos towards no final destination in particular? Or has the earth been specifically designed by a benevolent Creator as the habitation place for man, the highest creation in the physical universe, and therefore placed in the central position in the universe?

Pure crank awesomeness!

You know what scares me the most about this book, conference, and website, though? No, it’s not that, here in 2010, there apparently really are people who will deny all the evidence of science to place the earth at the center of the universe, with everything else rotating around it. No, it’s not that they can apparently even organize “scientific conferences” to promote their medieval ideas. No. You know what scares the hell out of me?

This tidbit that Ethan’s post led to:

While polls show that 79% of Americans know that the Earth revolves around the Sun, 18% thought it was the other way around and 3% didn’t know.

Only 79% know that the Earth revolves around the sun? If that isn’t a blanket condemnation of science education in this country, I don’t know what is.

I will give Ethan a lot of credit. He explained why heliocentrism came to supplant geocentrism in incredible detail. He reminds me of me slapping down anti-vaccinationists. Even though Ethan does it a lot more politely than I do, the same overkill is there. I respect that.

Comments

  1. #1 Kitto
    September 14, 2010

    Wow… just wow.

    Easily a condemnation on that state of scientific education.

  2. #2 Mandrellian
    September 14, 2010

    Good lord. Well, at least they’re not actually endangering lives like our beloathed pro-infectionists.

    If they were in charge of NASA, though, lives would definitely be lost. I mean literally lost, too, as in misplaced somewhere in the universe.

  3. #3 augustine
    September 14, 2010

    [Only 79% know that the Earth revolves around the sun? If that isn't a blanket condemnation of science education in this country, I don't know what is.]

    The other 20 % were scientists and policy makers who thought the earth revolved around them.

    [He reminds me of me slapping down anti-vaccinationists.]

    And yet still a 1% refers to themselves in the third person in a delusional state of grandeur.

  4. #4 Marcos
    September 14, 2010

    What’s next? Flat earth?
    Yup!

  5. #5 Lily
    September 14, 2010

    Even though these people are adopting strange ideas for the wrong reasons, some amount of radical ideas is a good thing I think.
    An 18% disagreement rate seems healthy to me.

  6. #6 Julian Frost
    September 14, 2010

    The stupid, it is thermonuclear in this one.

  7. #7 DLC
    September 14, 2010

    so how do they explain the rather complex set of orbital calculations that allowed the voyager series of probes to go on their merry way, touring the solar system ?

  8. #8 John
    September 14, 2010

    Lily, you seem to be a bit confused about the difference between strange and wrong.

    Having your dessert before the main course is strange, believing the sun orbits the earth is just wrong.

    What is healthy about such stupidity?

  9. #9 Lynda
    September 14, 2010

    Giving myself “shaken brain” syndrome trying to get this past my eyeballs. Kitto covered it with Wow.

  10. #10 CaptainBlack
    September 14, 2010

    Remember that 18% who thought “it was the other way around” includes all those who did not understand the question/s or just ticked the wrong box – verbally since this was a telephone poll (of course the 79% also contains its’ own share of confused responders). As the Gallop site says:

    “In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls”

    and we don’t know in this case how big those errors and/or biases are.

    CB

  11. #11 Alan Kellogg
    September 14, 2010

    These clowns have been around since before the Internet. Indeed, they go back centuries. A search on the available literature will find works on geocentrism going back more than a century. All Bible literalists insisting that the Old Testament has to be the final word on the matter.

  12. #12 Julian Frost
    September 14, 2010

    Alan Kellogg:

    All Bible literalists insisting that the Old Testament has to be the final word on the matter.

    Now I’m really confused. I’ve read the Bible, and I can’t find “the sun goes round the earth” or equivalent words anywhere in there.

  13. #13 phodopus
    September 14, 2010

    They talk about “modern science” in third person perspective, very appropriate. Maybe in calculations of the universe modern physics has so far simply neglected the gravity of these people’s egos.

  14. #14 Matthew Cline
    September 14, 2010

    @Julian Frost:

    I’ve read the Bible, and I can’t find “the sun goes round the earth” or equivalent words anywhere in there.

    There was that one bit where God made the daylight of a particular day last longer than normal, right? I’m pretty sure that, in that part of the Bible, it says something like “God stopped the sun”, not “God stopped the rotation of the Earth”, so if you’re mind-numbingly literal in interpreting the Bible then it does say that the sun goes round the Earth. Of course, if you are being that mind-numbingly literal, you’re going to run into some problems in the Genesis.

  15. #15 Old One-eye
    September 14, 2010

    I’m particularly taken with the fact that, despite the fact that “the Earth is motionless in space”, the authors are going to invalidate their own claim – [My] “world will be rocked, literally”

  16. #16 Denis Solaro
    September 14, 2010

    I so want to go there just to see how they explain the recession of Mars and other planets. It’s what I love about ancient astronomy and modern quacks who use a geocentric model, the “Will E. Coyote” schemes they come up with to explain Mars recession! In fact some of them are quite creative as they are faced with more and more contradiction as they go along that path.

  17. #17 Matthew Cline
    September 14, 2010

    @Denis Solaro:

    I so want to go there just to see how they explain the recession of Mars and other planets.

    Oh, that’s easy: the sun orbits the Earth, and all the planets but the Earth orbit the sun.

  18. #18 blf
    September 14, 2010

    Oh, that’s easy: the sun orbits the Earth, and all the planets but the Earth orbit the sun.

    Ah yes, Tycho Brahe’s tychonic system, which holds up pretty well provided that the stars are fixed. Which happens to be what many geocentralists apparently believe, along with some form of æther.

  19. #19 Kristen
    September 14, 2010

    um……kay.

    When I saw this yesterday I thought it was a joke.

    Sad thing is; the Bible does not say the earth is the center of the universe, or that it is stationary. It was the catholic church that decided the Bible said that. If one looks at the “supporting” scripture it is plain to see it was written in a way a simple people could understand. Not to be taken literally, but as symbolism.*

    The fact that anyone can fall for this malarky is beyond me. They make bold pronouncements like these, and don’t even crack open the Bible often enough to see it doesn’t support their statements.

    I don’t believe all reasoning ability need be abandoned to have a belief in God. Use your
    brains people!

    *I am not looking for a religious debate.

  20. #20 blf
    September 14, 2010

    Correction/clarification of me@18: Ethan points out some additional problems with Tycho Brahe’s model. It’s perhaps better to say it worked well given what Tycho knew.

  21. #21 Anonymous
    September 14, 2010

    If you survey me, you’re going to get “You are an imbecile” as the answer to a question about whether the Earth orbits the Sun or vice versa. Because both are true.

    Say it with me, Einstein, “No privileged frame of reference”.

    The Geocentrist and Heliocentrist POVs both assumed something we now see is obviously false, and so we should not waste time pretending that Heliocentrist views are “more right” just because their picture more resembles the modern Our Solar System picture in a children’s encyclopedia. It’s like saying evolution by inheritance of acquired characteristics is “more right” than creationism. No, this isn’t a lie-to-children, it is not a helpful stepping stone, it’s just wrong.

  22. #22 Happy Camper
    September 14, 2010

    As soon as I got wind of this I contacted the South Bend skeptics to give them a heads up. Their first reaction was disbelief calling a poe but they are going to check into it. There is also a thread over this at JREF forums and some skeptics are also planning to ether attend or disrupt. My problem is that I am one who would refuse to put one penny into their pockets but find the idea of a hostile audience amusing.
    Personally in this case I have to agree with PZ that sometimes ridicule is a good way to handle situations such as this. My personal hope is that the geocentrists loose money and they are so mocked and marginalized that they crawl back into their caves to lick their wounds.

  23. #23 lakonislate
    September 14, 2010

    I don’t get it. Isn’t it easy to see that in addition to the sun going around the Earth once a day, so do all the stars and the entire universe? I mean, if I turn my head, I could say that my head remains still while all the rest of the universe spins around it, but isn’t the opposite a lot more intuitive and useful?

  24. #24 John
    September 14, 2010

    Julian, where do you get your claim from that the bible does not mention a fixed Earth? Both Chronicles and Psalms state that the world doesn’t move.

    1 Chronicles 16-30, for example, says (in the King James Version),

    “Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.”

    How much plainer than that do you want it.

    Now, maybe I’m missing something, and you were taught by your particular sect that Chronicles is non-canonical, but that’s certainly not a mainstream view.

  25. #25 TomS
    September 14, 2010

    Ecclesiastes 1:5 (KJV)
    “The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, And hastens to the place where it arose.”

    And perhaps the most famous, from Joshua 10:12-14 (KJV)

    “Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.
    And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.
    And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel.”

  26. #26 puppygod
    September 14, 2010

    If you survey me, you’re going to get “You are an imbecile” as the answer to a question about whether the Earth orbits the Sun or vice versa. Because both are true.

    Say it with me, Einstein, “No privileged frame of reference”.

    The Geocentrist and Heliocentrist POVs both assumed something we now see is obviously false, and so we should not waste time pretending that Heliocentrist views are “more right” just because their picture more resembles the modern Our Solar System picture in a children’s encyclopedia. It’s like saying evolution by inheritance of acquired characteristics is “more right” than creationism. No, this isn’t a lie-to-children, it is not a helpful stepping stone, it’s just wrong.

    Uh, no, Mr. Anonymous Relativist. ’tis no wrong. The center of mass of Sun-Earth system is within the Sun, hence Earth arguably does orbit the Sun (the Earth-Sun system is rotating around common center of mass located very close to the center of Sun).

  27. #27 Happy Camper
    September 14, 2010

    FYI:

    The skeptics in South Bend call themselves the “Michiana Skeptics” and can be contacted here.

    http://www.michianaskeptics.org/

  28. #28 Todd W.
    September 14, 2010

    Maybe arrange a competing geocentric conference at the same time for less money near the same locale and then hit ‘em with real science.

  29. #29 e liquid
    September 14, 2010

    awesome man….i dream that i will be there…

  30. #30 James Sweet
    September 14, 2010

    Only 79% know that the Earth revolves around the sun? If that isn’t a blanket condemnation of science education in this country, I don’t know what is.

    Is there any nation above 90%? I would be very surprised.

    I think this is more a blanket condemnation of the ability of slightly-more-clever-than-average hairless apes to understand abstract concepts and recall counterintuitive facts. Homo sapiens are a bunch of morons, when you get right down to it.

    Not that science education in the US isn’t in dire straits, obviously. But regardless of how good your education system, a 21% rate of moron-icity sounds about right…

  31. #31 MosesZD
    September 14, 2010

    Wow… just wow.

    Easily a condemnation on that state of scientific education.

    Posted by: Kitto | September 14, 2010 12:15 AM

    You know I shared this with my Conservative mother over the weekend. She blamed public education.

    I got a bit pissed as nobody honest can, in any way, shape or form blame “science education” for this willful ignorance. Children are taught the heliocentric solar system in THIRD GRADE. And this knowledge is reinforced through a child’s last science class in High School.

    This cause of this willful ignorance is solely in the Magesteria of Religion. Because science answered this question, correctly, a long time ago.

  32. #32 Quietmarc
    September 14, 2010

    On one level I can understand creationism and anti-vaccination, because evolution and the immune system are incredibly complex, often work counter-intuitively, and involve richly structured and very subtle systems that are often difficult or impossible to see directly. But this…all you need is a decent telescope or even a pair of binoculars to falsify geocentrism.

    But then, on another level, all three types of cranks show a stubborn refusal to accept any and all facts that don’t agree with their worldview. Why should this be any different?

  33. #33 Calli Arcale
    September 14, 2010

    DLC @ 7:

    so how do they explain the rather complex set of orbital calculations that allowed the voyager series of probes to go on their merry way, touring the solar system ?

    By and large, they don’t. They fall into two categories:

    1) People who believe the entire space program is a hoax. The people pushing this conference are probably in that category, as it shows they’ve at least considered it.

    2) People who simply don’t care or aren’t very curious about space, which as far as they’re aware, has no bearing on their daily lives anyway; they’re just happy knowing the Sun will rise in the morning. I suspect a large percentage of the people who answered that the Sun goes around the Earth are actually in this category (or were confused about the question; some people confuse rather easily).

  34. #34 Michael
    September 14, 2010

    I’ve always been confused about this- does general relativity make it possible to say that the sun revolves around the earth or doesn’t it? I’ve heard conflicting answers.

  35. #35 Dangerous Bacon
    September 14, 2010

    “Only 79% know that the Earth revolves around the sun? If that isn’t a blanket condemnation of science education in this country, I don’t know what is.”

    “Is there any nation above 90%? I would be very surprised.”

    From gallup.com:

    “In the new poll, about four out of five Americans (79%) correctly respond that the earth revolves around the sun, while 18% say it is the other way around. These results are comparable to those found in Germany when a similar question was asked there in 1996; in response to that poll, 74% of Germans gave the correct answer, while 16% thought the sun revolved around the earth, and 10% said they didn’t know. When the question was asked in Great Britain that same year, 67% answered correctly, 19% answered incorrectly, and 14% didn’t know.”

    See, other nations lead us in ignorance. We must catch up!*

    *no tomato jokes, please.

  36. #36 Scott
    September 14, 2010

    @ Michael:

    It says that the answer depends on how you define your reference frame. If you want to, you can declare the center of the Earth as your reference frame and in that sense the Earth becomes “stationary.” Or you can declare your origin to be the center of the Sun and the Sun becomes “stationary”. Or you can say it’s the center of mass of the Earth-Sun system and neither is “stationary”. Any of these are legitimate frames of reference.

    One thing you CAN’T do, however, is define the entire Earth as stationary. Even if you call the center of the Earth your origin, you have to incorporate its rotation into your model in order to account for things like the Coriolis effect. Otherwise you’re in a non-inertial reference frame.

  37. #37 Mojo
    September 14, 2010

    @Augustine:

    [He reminds me of me slapping down anti-vaccinationists.]
    And yet still a 1% refers to themselves in the third person in a delusional state of grandeur.

    “He” clearly refers to Ethan, and “me” is first person. Sorry.

  38. #38 Calli Arcale
    September 14, 2010

    BTW, to Quietmarc, it actually takes more than just a telescope to disprove geocentrism. After all, Tycho Brahe had what was truly a world-class observatory and he didn’t figure it out.

    In fact, telescopes are actually a red herring. Galileo could not use his telescope to disprove geocentrism; all the telescope bought him was a demonstration of things that were clearly not orbiting the Earth (specifically, the four largest moons of Jupiter), and disproof of a few assumptions about the perfection of the heavens (which frankly relate more to the ancient Greeks than the Bible), and while it proves things don’t have to orbit the Earth, it doesn’t prove the Earth goes around the Sun. What you really need to prove heliocentrism is mostly math and a lot of meticulously collected observations.

    The breakthrough that made heliocentrism predictive wasn’t telescopes. It was Johannes Kepler’s “aha!” moment, when he realized that the reason circular orbits didn’t work was because the orbits aren’t circular — they’re elliptical, and the object moves faster at periapsis than apoapsis. People had been proposing heliocentric models for thousands of years. Seriously. They were always rejected because they are counter-intuitive and, more importantly, they always failed to accurately predict the motion of the planets. Kepler worked out a model which actually did predict the motion of the planets, and far better (and more elegantly) than the epicycle idea. Galileo was probably close; what he’d deduced about the behavior of pendulums was a hint, as was the whole field of ballistics. (Then, as now, a lot of scientific advance was driven by military needs.) But it can’t have been obvious to think of ellipses, as Kepler did, because they only work if the planet moves at different speeds during its orbit, which doesn’t make sense unless you notice that there’s a pattern in there.

    What Galileo contributed was evidence that:

    * the Sun is imperfect (it has spots)
    * the Moon is imperfect (it has mountains)
    * most stars are not visible to the eye of Man
    * some objects orbit things other than the Sun
    * objects fall at the same speed regardless of mass
    * a few other interesting things for physics which aren’t as directly relevant here

    He wasn’t able to prove heliocentrism; most of his findings consist of reasons to doubt geocentrism rather than actual refutations of it. One of the “holy grails” of his work was to prove that the stars were not fixed to the firmament; he agreed with a minority view of the time that stars could be distant suns, perhaps with planets of their own. Finding that they moved or had satellites would prove that it wasn’t just the classical 7 planets (note: “planet” at the time included the Sun and Moon) that moved, and that Creation was not as constrained as all that, and probably a good deal bigger. Telescopes were crucial to that effort. He tried to measure the distance to the stars using parallax, a method which had successfully (albeit inaccurately) been used to estimate the distance to the Moon and planets. Alas, he grossly underestimated the distance, and thus found no effect. He also spent a lot of time searching for what we would today call extrasolar planets; he found some candidates which he later ruled out due to no observed motion. (These objects were optical doubles — two stars along the same line of sight which are actually not very close together in 3D space.) He also tried to measure stars and see if any were moving, but the scale was beyond the instrumentation of the time. (Indeed, even nowadays it’s challenging for all but the closest stars, such as Barnard’s Star, or very fast stars, such as those orbiting the supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy, which move at a significant fraction of lightspeed, and most of the time the motion is inferred from other measures rather than being directly observed as Galileo was attempting.)

  39. #39 TomS
    September 14, 2010

    @Quietmark #32:
    all you need is a decent telescope or even a pair of binoculars to falsify geocentrism.

    How so?

    I’m not speaking of the daily rotation of the earth. That we can treat with things like the Foucault Pendulum, Coriolis Effect (as in weather patterns) and long-range artillery.

    The first direct observation of the motion of the earth was the detection of stellar aberration by Bradley in (pause to check Wikipedia) 1725, which I think is a bit beyond someone with binoculars.

    @Scott #36:

    What about the General Theory of Relativity? Doesn’t that allow non-inertial reference frames?

  40. #40 Amenhotepstein
    September 14, 2010

    Instead of doing actual work, I calculated how fast the sun would have to travel to orbit the earth in 24 hours. Assuming the geocentrists don’t dispute that the sun is about 150 million km from the earth, by my calculations the sun would have to be moving at a speed of about 12,500km/sec. To put this in perspective, stars moving at more than 1000km/sec escape the galaxy’s gravitational pull and are ejected into intergalactic space.

    What a long, strange trip it’s going to be…

  41. #41 TomS
    September 14, 2010

    @Amenhotepstein #40:

    More interesting – consider Neptune. According to Wikipedia, its orbital speed is 5.43 km/sec around the sun, and it takes 60,190 days to make that orbit (and that’s essentially the same time it takes to go around the earth). If, instead, it made that orbit in one day, that would make its orbital speed (around the stationary earth) 5.43×0.6019×10^5 km/sec ~ 3.27×10^5 km/sec, as compared to the speed of light of about 3.0×10^5 km/sec.

    I don’t know enough about the General Theory of Relativity to understand what that means.

  42. #42 James Sweet
    September 14, 2010

    Thanks, Dangerous Bacon #35. That is consistent with my expectations.

    Interestingly, 20% is about the same percentage of people who think Obama is a Muslim. Note also that only two nations manage to top 80% belief in evolution.

    I firmly believe that either 20-25% of people are complete fucking idiots, or else we are all complete fucking idiots about 20-25% of all topics. Or some mixture of the two.

    That stat does not reflect poorly on science education in the US, it reflects poorly on human beings.

    However, it’s important to note that evolution denialism in the US has hovered consistently around 40% for pretty much as long as people have been tracking it. And that is statistical evidence that Heliocentrism is fringe crackpottery, whereas Creationism is entrenched. If only 20% of Americans were Creationist, we could more or less shrug at that point and say, “Bah! Morons…” It’s the extra 20% who are presumably not morons that is so worrisome…

  43. #43 Andreas Johansson
    September 14, 2010

    TomS wrote:

    What about the General Theory of Relativity? Doesn’t that allow non-inertial reference frames?

    It does.

    But it’s all a red herring. Reference frames are conceptual tools, not reality. The physical reality conventionally expressed as “the Earth orbits the Sun” is true in all reference frames, even “geocentric” ones.

  44. #44 Amenhotepstein
    September 14, 2010

    @ TomS

    But Pluto doesn’t orbit the earth in one day, even the geocentrists would agree to that. But the sun must in order to give us out customary day/night cycle.

    So I guess we’re on our way outta the galaxy! Bye now.

  45. #45 Calli Arcale
    September 14, 2010

    Semi-random digression . . . viewing orbits from different reference frames can be very interesting, especially for strange orbits. Asteroid 3753 Cruithne is one such asteroid. If you plot its motion in a geocentric frame, it really does appear to orbit the Earth in a weird kidney-bean shaped orbit, even though gravitationally speaking, it is bound not to Earth but to the Sun. This is because of an orbital resonance between Cruithne and the Earth.

    This animation shows it beautifully, starting with a standard, non-rotating frame of reference centered on the Sun and showing the positions of Earth and Cruithne. Then it begins showing lines of sight between Earth and Cruithne, and lastly, starts preserving these lines of sight from Earth’s vantage as Earth goes around the Sun, showing how it appears that Cruithne orbits the Earth, even though in a gravitational sense it really doesn’t.

  46. #46 DCBob
    September 14, 2010

    The interesting question is, given that ~18% of a sample say the Sun orbits the Earth and ~79% say the opposite and 3% don’t know, what is a realistic estimate of the percentage that, whatever their answer, were just guessing?

  47. #47 Ken
    September 14, 2010

    Geocentricism actually can explain things like retrograde motion of the outer planets quite well and accurately. Good scientific predictions were made and tested using the theory that the sun and planets orbited the Earth. If you image that the outer planets themselves rotate about their own center of an epicycle you can develop an amazingly accurate model of the solar system.

    Some of these models were even put into physical mechanical form. At the Adler Planetarium in Chicago you can see some of these machines. They are fascinating. In other words, it wasn’t always such a silly idea even from the scientific perspective of having a hypothesis, making predictions, then observing the predicted positions of planets.

    What the geocentrists need to explain is why Venus appears to change size at different points in it’s orbit. Heliocentrism explains the change in apparent size well, corresponding with the different phases of the planet. I have yet to see any geocentric explanation for that observation.

  48. #48 John Browne
    September 14, 2010

    I guess that if a person walked North far enough, that it’d be fun to see the sun going around all day long, in the Summer… but how will they explain the pole star, etc? Is this part of a “contained-in-a-dome” earth they’ll be discussing? ^..^

  49. #49 Pieter B
    September 14, 2010

    If I was anywhere near Indiana, I’d go just for the lulz.

    Apparently the skeptical blogosphere’s mention of this has brought GWW’s ISP to its knees. I got a “bandwidth exceeded” error trying to get to the original.

  50. #50 Johnny
    September 14, 2010

    The interesting question is, given that ~18% of a sample say the Sun orbits the Earth and ~79% say the opposite and 3% don’t know, what is a realistic estimate of the percentage that, whatever their answer, were just guessing?

    I often think some people just lie on a survey like this – because I probably would.

    If somebody ask me to point to, say, Italy on a world map, I’d find a spot south of the equator, just to mess with the numbers.

    If a survey was tracking something… serious, I guess… I’d tell the truth, but if you ask a stupid question, you’ll get a stupid answer.

  51. #51 Prometheus
    September 14, 2010

    Alan Kellog (#11) notes:

    “All Bible literalists insisting that the Old Testament has to be the final word on the matter.”

    I always enjoy debating with Bible literalists because anyone who claims that everything in the Bible is literally true clearly hasn’t read the book – not even the first chapter. [Hint: read the two narratives about how Eve came to be.]

    Although I don’t always agree with Penn Gillette (of Penn and Teller), he once said something that struck me as both very funny and very true:

    “It’s fair to say that the Bible contains equal amounts of fact, history, and pizza.”

    Prometheus

  52. #52 Travis
    September 14, 2010

    Johnny,
    I would like to think it was just people screwing around but far too often I have run into people who, without any questions being posed to them, display amazing amounts of ignorant and stupidity on topics that seem just silly such as your example.

  53. #53 Pablo
    September 14, 2010

    If I was anywhere near Indiana, I’d go just for the lulz.

    I agree. All I can think is, what a great chance to play Poe!

    This would be like the best hobby ever. Get yourself involved and taken seriously by nutcases like this.

    Personally, I’d view it like the Baker Street Society (Sherlock Holmes), except without the “wink wink” nature of it. You put yourself into an alternate universe, and you play by its rules.

    This is the best, because the other people don’t have to act like they are in on the joke. Ultimately, they are the joke, and you are just playing them. But it’s fun play…

  54. #54 Pablo
    September 14, 2010

    I would like to think it was just people screwing around but far too often I have run into people who, without any questions being posed to them, display amazing amounts of ignorant and stupidity on topics that seem just silly such as your example.

    Screwing with it? I don’t know about that, but there are some aspects inherent in the question that could cause problems. For example, if the question asks whether the earth revolves around the sun, it means that you have know what revolve means.

    Now, you can bemoan the lack of vocabulary if you want, but recognize that the question tests knowledge of scientific terminology as much as it does science.

  55. #55 Travis
    September 14, 2010

    Pablo, I certainly agree that is an issue as well. And yes, I would bemoan the lack of vocabulary to an extent. My point was that I know that some people simply are ignorant of what I would consider very, very basic knowledge rather than the weird answers all being due to people giving stupid answers to stupid questions or even misunderstandings. The Italy example made me think of the day my roommate came home after visiting a high school with a number of foreign students to talk about their cultures and countries. He was rather exasperated by the experience, especially the one student who was unable to understand that Africa was not a country.

  56. #56 Daniel J. Andrews
    September 14, 2010

    Good point, Pablo, about scientific terminology. It made me think of a nitpick about the survey too. AFAIK (that’s a caveat and I could very well be wrong here), “revolve” refers to the rotation of the earth on its own axis, and “orbit” refers to its path around the sun. So saying the earth revolves around the sun is incorrect. Of course, it is obvious from the context what they meant and I doubt anyone would answer “no” because they used the word “revolve” instead of “orbit”…unless they had a spot on the survey to explain their decision. –dan

  57. #57 Rogue Medic
    September 14, 2010

    @ 28 – Todd W has a great idea.

    Maybe arrange a competing geocentric conference at the same time for less money near the same locale and then hit ‘em with real science.

  58. #58 DesertHedgehog
    September 14, 2010

    These people are…wonderful. I’ve seen both Laurie Anderson and Blue Man Group live, and these guys have to be in the same league. How can anyone not want to go to their conference? The entertainment value should be excellent!

  59. #59 Quietmarc
    September 14, 2010

    Thanks to all that corrected my oversimplification. After I posted that I went and read the Starts With a Bang post (which provides Venus as an example of evidence for heleocentrism that can be seen with a telescope), but it’s true (and I swear I knew this) that it isn’t -quite- as self-evident as I implied. I stand corrected, and definitely didn’t mean to detract from the brilliant and insightful work done by the scholars of the day.

    And thanks for the background information. My Copernicus knowledge is paltry, the best of which comes from a book I read a couple of years ago (“The Book Nobody read” I think? It traced the different copies and editions of De Revolutionibus through its owners, through to present day), but not only do I not work in science, if I did it would be biology, not astronomy. Great stuff!

  60. #60 nitramnaed
    September 14, 2010

    If Star Trek was still on “The TeeVee” we wouldn’t have this 18% problem. Don’t think we can do much for the 3% though.

  61. #61 Michael
    September 14, 2010

    I think Thomas Jefferson said it best:

    “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them…” — Thomas Jefferson

  62. #62 Calli Arcale
    September 14, 2010

    Quietmarc — there are some cool old maps that depict the Sun orbiting Earth, but the inferior planets (Mercury & Venus) orbiting the Sun.

    Pablo:

    Screwing with it? I don’t know about that, but there are some aspects inherent in the question that could cause problems. For example, if the question asks whether the earth revolves around the sun, it means that you have know what revolve means.

    That’s a very good point that I hadn’t even thought of. I think a lot of people don’t understand the distinction between “rotate” and “revolve”. If asked whether the Sun revolves around the Earth or the Earth revolves around the Sun, they might say the former because they remember reading that the Sun is spinning.

    I work among engineers; precision of language is a big deal, and we’re all comfortable with fancy words. But when I’m in more diverse company, that’s often not the case. School reunions. Church. Picnics with some of the non-technical staff. Family reunions. I sometimes find myself struggling to explain myself because the technical words aren’t being understood — and some people actually do lock up a bit when they encounter an unfamiliar word, and it throws off their understanding of the whole sentence.

    That’s one of the problems of surveys; they test ability to take the survey as well as testing whatever it was the survey was intended to study.

  63. #63 Pablo
    September 14, 2010

    I generally think of medical terms, although I can’t come up with any good examples off the top of my head. But something like, “Have you ever fractured one of your metacarpals?” might get a very different response than, “Have you ever broken your hand?”

    The first question not only invokes medical history, but whether you are sufficiently familiar with medical terminology to be able to answer the question.

    The second doesn’t have that baggage.

    If we want to know if people know science, we need to ask questions that test their knowledge of science, not whether they know the terminology.

  64. #64 MikeMa
    September 14, 2010

    I second Calli’s opinion of technical language and jargon and its effects. I am often accused of making words up to confuse people. The resulting conversation then shifts from the (mildly) technical discussion to the making up of words. Frustrating, especially when some of the conversants are supposedly college educated.

    I partially blame this kind of forum for providing all the interesting vocabulary :)

  65. #65 Scott
    September 14, 2010

    What about the General Theory of Relativity? Doesn’t that allow non-inertial reference frames?

    Allow? Sure. Any reference frame can be defined. But there are all sorts of things that happen in non-inertial frames (like the Coriolis effect) which indicate that that’s not really the frame the physics works in relation to.

  66. #66 Pablo
    September 14, 2010

    The dumb thing is, EVERYONE has their own jargon they use. Pretty much every job or situation is going to have vocabulary unique to it.

    For example, listen to a discussion between hog farmers talking about pigs. They will use lots of terms that people don’t recognize or in ways that people don’t know. However, it’s when we resort to scientific/engineering terms that people complain about geekyness using confusing words.

  67. #67 Scott
    September 14, 2010

    I always enjoy debating with Bible literalists because anyone who claims that everything in the Bible is literally true clearly hasn’t read the book – not even the first chapter. [Hint: read the two narratives about how Eve came to be.]

    “God can make two contradictory stories simultaneously literally true if he wants to. Obviously, he did so.”

    That’s pretty much a direct quote of the response the last time I pointed that out…

  68. #68 Vicki, pouring my tea from Russell's teapot
    September 14, 2010

    Yes, everyone has their own jargon. But if a couple of hog farmers complained that their neighbor was ignorant because he didn’t even know that hogs give birth–because he looked blank at a word like “farrow”–we would probably be sympathetic to the neighbor, not the farmers.

    This is the same sort of thing. I would like to know whether the question was something like “A: The earth goes around the sun. B: The sun goes around the earth. C: I don’t know.” or whether it said “revolve” or “orbit.” (Any survey that used “geocentric” and “heliocentric” would be asking for trouble, especially since a bunch of us smart-asses know that the sun isn’t the center of the universe, either, only of the solar system.)

  69. #69 njd
    September 14, 2010

    In General Relativity the laws of motion and of gravity take the same form in all frames of reference. This is because these laws are purely geometric in form – objects move along geodesics (straight lines) through space-time, and the geometry of space-time is determined by the distribution of energy and momentum. So these laws are no simpler in a heliocentric frame than in a geocentric frame.

    However, actually working with these laws is far simpler in a heliocentric frame. For example, in a heliocentric frame the geometry of space-time doesn’t change with time and it is (roughly) radially symmetric. Neither statement is true in a geocentric frame.

    But in a way this isn’t the point. An operational way to decide whether the Earth goes around the Sun or the Sun goes around the Earth is to consider the path of each object through space-time and how the path would change if the other object were removed. Both the Earth and the Sun move along geodesics. However, the Earth’s path is heavily affected by the presence of the Sun, whilst the Sun’s path is hardly affected at all by the presence of the Earth. In other words the motion of the Earth is determined by the Sun, and not vice versa. This is as true in General Relativity as it is in Newtonian Mechanics.

    I really don’t think that General Relativity provides any sort of get-out for these strange people.

  70. #70 Alan Kellogg
    September 14, 2010

    Okay, if you want to get technical about it…

    The Earth and the Moon orbit a common center of gravity located below the Earth’s surface. the exact location varies depending on where the two globes are at any time. the center of gravity of the Earth-Moon system and the Sun in turn orbits a common center of gravity located deep within the Sun, though again the exact location depends on the exact location of the objects in question.

    So, in short, not only does the Sun not orbit the Earth, neither does the Earth, strictly speaking, orbit the Sun. But saying that the Earth orbits the Sun is close enough for a field expedient.

  71. #71 Alan Kellogg
    September 14, 2010

    NJD, #69

    Actually, the Sun’s motion through space-time is slightly affected by the Earth’s affect on space-time, but very slightly. Even so the two — as I noted above, and including the Moon in this scheme of things — orbit a common center of gravity. Let me put it this way, when you get right down to it, everything in the universe is down hill from everything else.

  72. #72 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    September 14, 2010

    Are people actually saying that the word “revolve” is so obscure as to be considered jargon? What of the word “jargon”, then?

  73. #73 essman
    September 14, 2010

    Um, the date on this Gallup poll is July 6, 1999. If we’re going to bemoan the current state of education, shouldn’t we use current data?

  74. #74 Ethan Siegel
    September 14, 2010

    Thanks, Orac! This was a very nice read in its own right; you’re always helping to get the best scientifically correct information we have out there!

  75. #75 Roger Kulp
    September 14, 2010

    Sadly so many atheist are going to burn in hell all because they fallow the religion of science and don’t except Christ who did for their sins. Even christians who have come to except the lies just my find themselves burning in hell for letting them selfs believe in such a lie.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vdFw-p5l2c&feature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XH_06XnlQY

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISgu4OJiXTM

  76. #76 Calli Arcale
    September 14, 2010

    Also an excellent point, essman.

    Mephistopheles, “revolve” is not really obscure, but I remember I had it confused for quite a while. And I’m a space geek. I paid *attention* in science class. How much worse would it be for someone who took only as much science as they were forced to, barely passed, and then promptly forgot everything they’d learned?

  77. #77 Keith Harwood
    September 14, 2010

    `Say it with me, Einstein, “No privileged frame of reference”.’

    Yes there is. Inertial reference frames are privileged. Non-inertial frames can easily be distinguished and their motion with respect to an inertial frame easily measured. The earth is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an inertial frame and there are many experiments that show it moves around the sun and not vice versa.

  78. #78 Djinna
    September 14, 2010

    This is really embarrassing, but I was actually taught in school that the world is flat. In the 80s. At the county’s magnet junior high, and not only was it a good school for the county, it was in Montgomery County, MD, not exactly a poor school district.

    Now, this was in social studies, and not science class, and I think that it was really just one teacher’s idea of an exercise in instilling critical thinking skills. Learning to question things that “everyone knows” is a valuable skill in social studies – that’s pretty much how everyone took it, no one ever SERIOUSLY stopped believing that the earth is mostly-roundish, though we had great fun pretending that we did, arguing if it were more like a contact lens shape (coincidentally, a lot of us were finally old enough for contacts that year), or “shaped like a burrito” as was referenced in Bloom County – the fact that we were using a throwaway line from Bloom County as a data point shows how seriously we took it. The other teachers all sort of rolled their eyes when the eighth graders had “the world is flat” week. It was an interesting exercise, and silly/fun, and a good way to get math-science oriented kids who are good at rote memorization to occasionally ask, “But how do we know that?” instead of just believing everything they’re taught, without question. 8th graders can get the concept of overwhelming scientific evidence, from multiple, completely divergent sources, pointing to one conclusion, even when an authority figure is saying otherwise, and has a ready answer for all of the standard questions based on said evidence.

    Or, at least they are capable of getting the concept, when the overwhelming scientific consensus is what they’ve been taught their whole lives. YMMV when referring to students who have been taught their whole lives that evolution is a pack of lies.

  79. #79 Colin Day
    September 14, 2010

    #76
    @Keith Harwood

    In General Relativity, it is better to speak of freely falling, rather than inertial, reference frames.

  80. #80 Colin Day
    September 14, 2010

    #69
    @njd

    Not all motion is along geodesics. The rotation of the earth’s equator cannot be geometrized away. Only freely falling objects have geodesic paths.

  81. #81 Ender
    September 15, 2010

    So if I’m following this right, there have been a bunch of self-congratulatory sneers at those people who are so woefully uneducated that they don’t know that we live in a heliocentric rather than a geocentric solar system, except as anyone who has studied relativity knows there is no such thing as a ‘primary’ or ‘correct’ reference frame, so it’s equally correct and incorrect to say that the solar system is either heliocentric or geocentric.
    Are any of the people who sneered at others for not knowing something that it turns out is not true going to come back and sneer at themselves? Or apologise for being educational snobs without the education or understanding to back it up?

    It just goes to show how easy it is to make elementary mistakes when you are operating out of your field (I hope none of you are physicists specialising in relativity) and even within your field if you’re not fully up-to-date.

  82. #82 raven
    September 15, 2010

    What’s wrong with the Flat Earth theory?

    There are still real Flat Earthers around. Most are Moslems but not all.

    Some say the Flat Earthers hate the Geocentrists and vice versa. I wouldn’t know, not caring to spend the time investigating such deep rifts.

  83. #83 raven
    September 15, 2010

    random religious kook:

    Sadly so many atheist are going to burn in hell all because they fallow the religion of science and don’t except Christ who did for their sins.

    One of the best of many proofs that there isn’t a biblical god. There is no hell filled with xians who post nonsense on the internet.

    I wouldn’t call it sad though. Unlike the mythological sadistic genocidal monster of the bible, when you are dead you are just dead and gone.

  84. #84 raven
    September 15, 2010

    That 18% number is believable. Half the US population has IQ’s less than 100 by definition. A lot of 70’s and 80’s in there, which isn’t much.

    This shows that no matter how stupid, pointless, and just wrong an idea is, some percentage of the population will believe it. 5% of the US population, 15 million people claim to have been abducted by aliens.

  85. #85 Anunofas
    September 15, 2010

    #75
    Roger[Poe]Kulp?

  86. #86 k
    September 15, 2010

    The Catholic Church: Reversing centuries of scientific, medical, and human rights advances, one Pope at a time.

    I was also raised in the church but quit long ago for many reasons. Although many here are atheist, not all religions hold such beliefs. E.g., the Baha’i faith holds that one’s work is service to God, and that scientific discoveries are gifts from God (somewhat like you worked for it, you earned it), and we should celebrate these blessings.

    Although it is not yet Thanksgiving, I want to thank you, Orac, for all the hard work you do to better human lives and for your excellent blog. As long as I’m at it, I’d also like to thank all legitimate physicians, MDs and DOs (excludes Chopra, Geier, Wakefield, Oz, Gordon, Arafiles, Weill, Eisenstein et al); legitimate medical and scientific researchers (excludes anyone published in Medical Hypotheses, JPANDS, Wakefield, Hewitson, et al); those who teach at med schools that shun quackademic medicine; the pharmacists who steer their customers away from worthless woo; the teaching dentists (hi Fred!) who eschew fads and gimmicks (and don’t fall for the ‘removal of amalgam filllings’ nonsense); and all other legitimate science/medical bloggers. All of you help improve human life, one patient/person/reader/experiment at a time.

  87. #87 Chance Gearheart, A.A.S., NREMT-P
    September 15, 2010

    @k, 86

    Except that this isn’t the catholic church, nor a function of the catholic church, nor a sanctioned event by the catholic church. This has nothing to do with Catholicism other than their stance hundreds of years ago. Except for the whole reproductive health issue, the Catholic church has been supportive of modern science, including evolution. Please don’t turn this into a religion bashing thread, when it’s not.

    /Athiest saying this.

  88. #88 Vicki
    September 15, 2010

    Raven–

    Yes, if you define “average” narrowly enough, half the population will be below average. (In practice, some people have IQs at 100, some above, and some below.) That doesn’t mean there’s a problem: it’s like pointing out that half the women in a population are below average weight, and using that to conclude that there must be a serious problem with malnutrition.

    Similarly, a person does not need to be above average to understand the idea that the Earth moves around the sun.

  89. #89 squirrelelite
    September 15, 2010

    As several people have pointed out with examples of similar survey questions, getting 79% of the people to come up with the correct (or at least more correct) answer to a question like this is actually pretty good. With only one question to go on, it’s hard to tell what the others were thinking.

    And, the alien true believers remain.

    I saw a good bumper sticker yesterday:

    Fasten your seat belt. It makes it harder for the aliens to suck you out of the car!

  90. #90 Colin Day
    September 15, 2010

    #81
    @Ender

    But there are freely falling reference frames. General Relativity does not allow you to treat a point on the earth’s equator as tracing out a geodesic.

  91. #91 njd
    September 15, 2010

    @Ender: try this. Imagine yourself a long way outside the Solar System. Allow yourself to be moving freely under the action of no external force other than gravity. Now, turn and look towards the Solar System. What will you see the planets doing? What will the Sun be doing? (Answer: they’ll all appear to be orbiting the centre of mass of the Solar System, which itself will be moving along a straight line at a steady speed, relative to you, to an excellent approximation.)

    This observation has nothing to do with relativity; it’s simply what you would see. It is true that in general relativity the laws of motion take the same form in all reference frames, but a reference frame isn’t something that’s really there. The Earth and the Sun (etc.) continue moving in the same way irrespective of how you choose to describe their motion.

  92. #92 Eric Lund
    September 15, 2010

    There are still real Flat Earthers around. Most are Moslems but not all.

    The first half of this is true, but I call BS on the second half.

    Muslim prayer protocol calls for facing Mecca at certain times of day, and there is a tool called the qibla which allows you to determine the correct direction from any point on Earth. If your location is in the eastern US–even the parts thereof that are north of Mecca’s latitude–the indicated direction will be northeast, as it should be on a spherical Earth. (From where I live the indicated compass heading is about 60 degrees.) If the computation used a flat earth, the correct direction from my location would be south of due east. Not all Muslims have a qibla, but the local imam would.

    I’m not sure that flat-earthers in this country are predominantly Christian, though I suspect this is true. Any Muslims living in North America would notice the discrepancy between the qibla and the direction on a Mercator projection.

  93. #93 Johnny
    September 15, 2010

    Eric gets it (mostly) right –

    From my Unca Cecil, who’s style is very much like Orac –
    http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2360/how-do-muslims-know-which-way-to-face-when-praying

    “Various methods were proposed to determine direction, such as prevailing winds, mountains, etc., but the most reliable by far was felt to be sighting on Polaris, the north star. This, along with the need to compute prayer times based on sun location, gave rise to an interest in astronomy, navigation, and related subjects that put the Muslim world centuries ahead of Europe.”

    However, there is a minor point – the qibla is the direction, not the tool.

  94. #94 raven
    September 15, 2010

    eric lund:

    The first half of this is true, but I call BS on the second half.

    Well you are just completely wrong. Too lazy to use google?

    Islam isn’t a unified faith any more than xianity. And lots of Moslem fringe groups are Flat Earthers. The Nigerian guy recently started a war with the police in an attempt to set up an Islamic state. And lost and is dead but Boko Haram is still around.

    wikipedia:

    Mohammed Yusuf, creator of the Boko Haram Islamic sect in Nigeria stated his belief in a flat earth [113]

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth – Cached – SimilarIraqi TV Debate: Is the Earth Flat?
    – 5 min – Feb 18, 2008 – Uploaded by mavaddat
    A debate between an Iraqi “Researcher on Astronomy” and a physicist on Iraqi television. The verse in question is in the Qur’an, 79:30. The …

    Shaykh Bin Baz believed in a Flat Earth?
    Some Mauritanian Ulama also hold the view that the world is flat. … furthermore, if the earth is flat, does it have edges? and why is it if you travel around the earth for long enough you can end up in the … Quick Navigation General Islam Top … Copyright © 2010 vBulletin Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved. …

  95. #95 Johnny
    September 15, 2010

    Raven, you are only looking a very minor fringe, not the main body, and probably quote mining.

    On the Wiki page you reference, I read –

    “Muslim scholars who held to the round Earth theory used it in an impeccably Islamic manner, to calculate the distance and direction from any given point on the Earth to Makkah (Mecca). This determined the Qibla, or Muslim direction of prayer. Muslim mathematicians developed spherical trigonometry, which they used in these calculations.[91] Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406), in his Muqaddimah, also identified the world as spherical. The belief of some later Muslim scholars, like Suyuti (d. 1505), that the Earth is flat represents a deviation from this earlier opinion.[92]”

    Why would they develop a special branch of mathematics to determine the quibla that only works on a sphere, if they didn’t think the world *was* a sphere?

  96. #96 Calli Arcale
    September 15, 2010

    Eric Lund & Johnny — indeed, the Islamic countries contributed heavily to astronomy during the Dark Ages, and even before. The Greeks were famous for many things, but their astronomical records were surprisingly poor compared to those of the Babylonians and other pre-Arabic societies in the mideast. The Arabs and other Islamic societies were simply carrying on the tradition, and there are some very famous examples of Muslim astronomers — even in places which today are considered terribly backward, such as Afghanistan. (Herat was a major center of astronomical study back when Europe was reeling from the Black Death.)

    The rise of Islam contributed to the interest in astronomy, not only because of the importance of accurately determining east (a problem which Christians of the period also faced — a little-known factoid is that cathedrals were traditionally oriented so that they would face Jerusalem, or at least as well as the builders could determine) but also because of timekeeping. Keeping a calendar is a strong motivator of astronomical studies, as shown by archeological findings at Stonehenge and of Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. Islam, like Judaism, follows a lunar calendar, but it tends to be more obsessed with precision. Today, it is something of a sport among amateur astronomers to spot the youngest possible new Moon, but this sport began with the Muslims, who perfected methods, long ago, for being in the right spot at the right time to observe the thinnest possible crescent. (Perhaps because of this, it is no longer possible to beat the record for naked-eye observations; the current record was set during daylight, with a telescope to magnify the Moon’s light enough to be seen against daylight.)

    Going back to the qibla, there have been three Muslims who have flown in space. Each time, the media would report that religious authorities had been consulted to devise a method of facing Mecca when you’re 300 miles up and moving over 17,000 MPH. (Aim and then pray really fast? I dunno.) None of the media reports ever explained how this was to be done, and I’ve always been curious. Does anybody here know?

  97. #97 raven
    September 15, 2010

    Johny the idiot troll:

    Raven, you are only looking a very minor fringe, not the main body, and probably quote mining.

    Now who is BSing? I didn’t say or even hint that most Moslems are Flat Earthers. In fact, I used the term Moslem fringe groups.

    And no I didn’t quote mine. It is just a fact that some Moslem groups today are Flat Earthers and very unfront about it. They had a debate on Iraqi TV a few years ago with a Koranic astronomer. You aren’t even bright enough to be wrong.

  98. #98 Scott
    September 15, 2010

    @ raven:

    You also claimed that “most” Flat Earthers are “Moslems.” A proposition for which you have provided no evidence at all. You’ve provided evidence that some are, but the flat assertion of “most” is entirely unsupported.

  99. #99 Ender
    September 16, 2010

    Thanks for your replies Colin Day and njd, I’m not sure you’ll ever be back to this thread, as I’ve waited so long before coming back, but just in case:

    @Colin Day – Ok, I’m not 100% sure what you’re saying, but that seems plausible, what I’m understanding you saying doesn’t seem to make any difference to my point though. Also, unless I’m wrong, you could however pick a point on the equator as stationary, around which everything rotates.

    @njd – So you’re saying that there are privileged reference frames, and we can identify them if we’re a long way away from the bound-system, observing it. That doesn’t jibe with my understanding of relativity.
    As far as I know, all that does is give you their motion relative to your reference frame, which is no more objective than taking their motion relative to any other reference frame.

  100. #100 Ender
    September 16, 2010

    Also, raven, your original comment was pretty lame and johnny’s reply was not unwarranted, but your overreaction to his replies reflects more poorly on you than it does on him.
    Anyone who is right, and has the evidence to prove it does not need to change someone’s name to ‘Johny the idiot troll’ in their reply, nor bastardise the phrase ‘not even wrong’ to ‘you’re not even bright enough to be wrong’, which doesn’t even make any sense.

  101. #101 Scott
    September 16, 2010

    @ Ender:

    The key distinction between inertial (freefall) frames and non-inertial (accelerating) frames remains valid in relativity – indeed, it’s even more important than in Newtonian mechanics. The standard example is to suppose you are in a sealed box, with no ability to observe anything outside. Accordingly, you take said box as your frame of reference. Let us suppose that you then perform the experiment of dropping a ball (inside the box) and observing its motion.

    If the reference frame is freely falling/inertial, then you will observe the ball remaining motionless relative to you. This is what you’ll see if, say, the box is in orbit around the Earth. Technically that’s still not quite freefall – tidal forces – but it’s close enough for our purposes.

    If the reference frame is NOT freely falling – for example, it’s sitting on the equator – then the ball will accelerate relative to you. In this case, it will fall “down” (which in principle might not have been the direction you chose to label “down” in the reference frame of the box).

    Accordingly, these reference frames are clearly distinguishable, and are not equivalent. In particular, in order to account for the motion of objects in that reference frame in the latter case, you need to stipulate an additional force (gravity) which you need not do in the case of the freely falling frame.

    Or in the case of a rotating reference frame, you’ll have to stipulate such things as centrifugal and Coriolis forces.

    Put another way, reference frames moving relative to one another are equivalent. Reference frames accelerating relative to one another are not.

    Does that make sense?

  102. #102 Ender
    September 16, 2010

    Thanks very much Scott. That makes perfect sense. Does that mean we can privilege one reference frame over others? There is a ‘correct’ reference frame we can default to?

  103. #103 Scott
    September 16, 2010

    Freely falling reference frames are privileged over non-freely falling reference frames. But all freely falling reference frames are equivalent and there is no ‘correct’ one.

  104. #104 Johnny
    September 16, 2010

    Gee, I’ve never been called a troll – it’s kind of fun.

    Raven, if your starting position was that *some* Muslims are flat-earthers, it would have been true, but, frankly, pointless. Idiocy knows no bounds. I would believe that any demographic would be represented in that group. Some are Muslim, and some are blond. True, but so what?

    However, you stated that “Most are Moslems…” and “lots of Moslem fringe groups are Flat Earthers”. Eric calls BS on this, and I agree with him. Given the importance in their religion of facing the Kaaba, and the work that they did to figure it out the Qibla to the degree that they have throughout history, I’d find it more reasonable to believe that they would be underrepresented.

    As Scot notes, you’ve made these statements, but haven’t backed them up. I tried to find a reference to prove you wrong (to show the breakdown of the flat earth demographic), but my Google-Fu is weak. I can’t find anything to settle this.

    Now, you have also said that “There are still real Flat Earthers around”. This makes me think that maybe you know a few, or have some insight into the group. So, from your prospective, *why* do you think most flat-earthers are Muslim?

    @ Calli, re: Muslims in space

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qibla

    The Qiblah from space
    “Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has stated that one should face the direction of the Earth.”

  105. #105 Porlock Junior
    September 17, 2010

    A fruitful thread, this. Lots to comment on, even though so much has been covered well. To begin near the top, in more senses than one, I’d nitpick Calli Arcale @ 38:

    The reason Galileo didn’t find any parallax wasn’t that he underestimated the distance (as the post appears to say), but that there was no way in Hell to measure something that small at the time! He was wrong, of course, in estimating the minimal size of universe for the effect to be unosbservable, which also implied whether there’d be some chance of observing it; this was because the currently understood size of the solar sytem was way small. Which in turn was because, as Calli noted, the parallactic measurement of the distance to the Sun was way off.

    BTW Archimedes made the same sort of calculation in the Sand Reckoner. He needed a lower bound for the size of the Universe if he was to figure out the number grains of sand to fill it; and *if* Aristarchus was right about the Earth’s moving, that had to be big enough to account for the lack of stellar parallax. The more you know of Archimedes, the smarter he gets.

  106. #106 Porlock Junior
    September 17, 2010

    It’s a bit late to be trying to write coherently, but since the bloody geniuses who run New York are using the taxpayers’ money to pay overtime to workers to use jackhammers at 1 AM in Times Square where the sucker tourists are spending hundreds of dollars a night for the fun of not sleeping, why not try?

    As far as I can see, it has escaped notice that the phases of Venus (and the size changes) can be explained in Tycho’s system. What you need is Venus orbiting the Sun rather than the Earth; what other things do is not relevant.

    Poor Tycho Brahe, the greatest pre-telescopic obervational astronomer. Galileo cited him respectfully in the Dialogue. Kepler based his revolutionary (sorry!) work on Tycho’s data. But both those worthies considered — as did Clavius — that the hybrid system was too much of a gimmick to take seriously. The great work he did should be remembered and not interred with his bones.

  107. #107 Porlock Junior
    September 17, 2010

    Oh sing unto the Lord a new song.

    Maybe the words will be New York, New York! If you can sleep there, you can sleep anywhere. Permanently, for all I care, Mr Bloomberg.

    But what I meant to say is that Henry Purcell, when he was not engaged in not writing Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary, wrote a fine choral setting of that psalm. Has no one sung his dramatic treatment of “He hath made the round world so firm that it cannot be moved”?

  108. #108 Porlock Junior
    September 17, 2010

    Scott @ 67:
    ‘”God can make two contradictory stories simultaneously literally true if he wants to. Obviously, he did so.”

    That’s pretty much a direct quote of the response the last time I pointed that out…’

    That’s a proper Catholic response, apart from being, as has been pointed out, some hundreds of years out of date. It’s in essence the pet theory of Pope Urban VIII to account for heliocentrism having so much evidence in its favor while being wrong because Scripture said so.

    But it’s Anglican, too, though not on such good authority. Sir Philip Gosse was not exactly the Archbishop of Canterbury, but his answer to evolution was the same idea, that God could make the world as He wanted to *and* could make it look as he wanted it to, even if that’s contradictory. But, as one commentator remarked, no Victorian Englishman could believe that God would plant evidence to deceive anybody as respectable as the Royal Society.

  109. #109 njd
    September 17, 2010

    @ Ender: If I might just add to what Scott has already said.

    If you look at a table and shake your head left and right, it looks to you as though the table is moving right and left. However, you don’t believe that the table is *really* moving in this way and start looking for forces acting on it to explain its motion, because you know that you are observing the table from a viewpoint that is accelerated because of the forces you are applying to your head as you shake it.

    It’s the same with the Earth’s motion. If you look at the Earth and the Sun from an unaccelerated viewpoint (and as Scott explains, such a viewpoint can be unambiguously defined even in relativity) you see the Earth rotating on its axis and moving around the Sun. Nothing stops you choosing a viewpoint from which this is not true, just as nothing stops you from shaking your head! But changing your viewpoint doesn’t change what’s really out there.

    I hope this helps.

  110. #110 Calli Arcale
    September 20, 2010

    Johnny — thanks! My curiosity is satisfied.

  111. #111 Calli Arcale
    September 20, 2010

    BTW, to those amused by the mental calisthenics needed to persist in geocentrism, I’ve seen even more strained efforts from the anti-gravity people. There are people who seriously claim that gravity does not exist — it’s actually caused by an expanding Earth. There was quite a long debate about that on the space.com message boards a while back, with regulars trying everything they could think of to demonstrate why it’s absurd. Non-circular orbits. Tides. Coriolis forces. Gravity measured between objects in a lab. The orbits of other objects not circling the Earth. Redshift. Didn’t budge the
    “expansionists” at all.

  112. #112 intercostal
    September 22, 2010

    >>>Heck, our biology teacher (who was a priest) made no bones about teaching evolution without the slightest hint of creationism.

    Well, yeah. Official Catholic position is that this is the domain of science, not of the Church, and so there’s no ‘Church doctrine’ on the origin of life as such– the Church accepts science’s conclusions. (Most of the recent statements by popes on the topic have been more warnings against using the idea to devalue human life.)

    >>Except for the whole reproductive health issue, the Catholic church has been supportive of modern science

    Strictly, the Catholic church doesn’t oppose the *science* on the issue — that would be saying that birth control *doesn’t work*. The Catholic position is just that it’s morally wrong to use — they don’t deny the science behind it.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.