Saturday, April 04, 2015 11:15 AM
The Copernican ‘Principle’ is the latest catchphrase for bifurcating religious belief and scientific inquiry, interpreting Copernicus’s astronomical observations as a ‘non-geocentric’ view. And a new movie being released, “The Principle”, presents the modern-day argument against Copernicus, based on a book entitled “Copernicus Was Wrong”. It may feel exhausting to learn that there are people here, now, in the twenty-first century claiming that the Earth is the stationary center of the universe, but it is my sad duty to inform you that such is, in fact, the case.
In the usual way, controversy over this film has centered on the very public disavowal by scientists filmed for this documentary of the edited comments they make in the course of their interviews. God forbid the media focus on the actual point of the controversy—the cosmology itself. It is far easier to have a grand ‘he said-she said’-type of verbal rumble than to examine the science and/or theology of the filmmaker’s representations—and more entertaining, as well, since actual thought is not necessary when discussing the ins and outs of a gossip-war.
These days I’m often tempted to become paranoid. I’m tempted to entertain the possibility that the powers-that-be are subsidizing the public discourse on anything that is so outrageous that sensible folks are taken aback at the mere mention of the premise. Denying evolution fits into this category, to my mind, as does climate-change denial. But geocentricism is just one step up from a belief in a flat Earth—surely no serious grown-up would argue that we should revisit the idea that our little planet is the very center of all creation—not just our own galaxy (in which our entire solar system is demonstrably placed far out on one of the Milky Way’s spiral arms) but of all the galaxies.
The fact that our discovery of other galaxies in the universe is fairly recent, and the product of modern science-based cosmology, doesn’t seem to faze the geocentrists. Neither do the geocentrists consider, as most scientific-minded folks might, the newness of our knowledge about other galaxies to be a warning sign against making premature judgements about their nature—like many apologists, they rather consider such ‘early returns’ an opening for wild theories about how we can return ancient myths to the realm of factual data.
This never fails to frustrate me. I can accept all kinds of argument about what this means, or what that means—I can accept that there may be many things that we, as humans, misunderstand. But I will never see the connection between that mystery and any sort of confirmation of ancient scriptures that describe ancient man’s encounters with ‘The Creator’. To me, that’s a pretty big hole in an argument—that its only backing comes from people who were basically fresh from inventing the wheel.
The problem, for me, is that we are not comparing the science of ancient times to the science of today—we are contesting the primacy of ancient myth versus modern science. When we make statements today, they are based on observations and calculations. When we choose the religions of millennia gone by, we are working exclusively by hearsay, without any information. And believers will make a point of this, insisting that ‘faith’ must operate outside of the scientific method. For them to turn it around and use their faith as an alternative to science, to attack science as an enemy of faith, seems like an argument against itself.
One thing that struck me was the filmmaker’s comment, during an interview with Church Militant (!), that cosmologists have been forced to go through all sorts of mental gymnastics to explain the creation of the universe without starting from the assumption of a Creator. Well, yes, Mr. Smarty-Pants, science without the benefit of Magical Thinking does get a little complicated. Everything gets complicated when we don’t allow ourselves the luxury of saying, ‘just because’. Apologies if that makes your poor little brain hurt.
Also, these Christian pseudo-intellectuals always gloss over a very important point—who says that humans are capable of knowing how or why the universe was created? If scientists can’t figure it out before lunch, does that mean that our only fallback position is to return to the crumbling scrolls of ancient civilization? Only if that’s where you meant to end up in the first place. Science is very useful stuff, but no one ever claimed it would replace all the ‘knowledge’ and ‘explanations’ provided by superstition. Science is handicapped by its insistence on being transferable to any culture or society. As Neil deGrasse Tyson likes to say, “The great thing about Science is that it’s true, whether you believe in it or not.” But no one claims that science is a complete answer—only religion offers that brand of snake-oil.
And in the context of this film, “The Principle” we aren’t even addressing the truth of science—we find ourselves in a discussion over the correctness of certain interpretations of scientific truth. After all, the question is easily decided—Einstein tells us that everything is relative to ‘an observer’. If we wish, we can interpret the rotation of the Earth as the rest of the universe spinning in the opposite direction while the Earth remains still. By the same token, we can consider ourselves stationary when walking—that the ground beneath our feet is moving backward as we float in a set point. Relativity allows us these mental games—and they are true in the technical sense. But they are no more true than the standard interpretations—that the Earth does spin, that we move while we walk.
Recent archeological research has determined that the ‘history’ in the Bible may not be entirely accurate. For instance, the movement of the Jews from Egypt into Canaan is represented in the Bible as a military campaign led by Joshua, who conquered city after city. Recent evidence indicates that the Jewish culture infiltrated the region in a less obvious way, and on an entirely different time-line than that given in the Old Testament. The show’s narrator speculates that the biblical account may have been a form of propaganda, written long after the actual events took place. Thus the Bible, which long ago lost its claim to scientific fact, is losing its last claim to relevance—as the only source of ‘historical’ documentation of biblical times.
But this very questionable bit of literature remains, amazingly, our fallback position whenever we are stymied by the stubborn nature of scientific truth. Even more hilarious, to me, is the Christians’ easy assumption that if religion is legitimized that Christianity will, of course, be the most legitimate of all the religions—a double-whammy of wishful thinking!
I don’t know about most other atheists, but I am constantly deluded by the fantasy that I can one day say, “Alright, you guys—that’s enough childishness. It’s time we started facing things like grown-ups. The fairy tales are nice, but we’ve got some real issues we need to deal with, and religion ain’t helping.” It is nearly impossible for me to accept that most people would hear such a simple statement as ‘crazy talk’. This is the greatest challenge for atheists, particularly lapsed Catholics like myself—the longer we live without religion, the sillier other people’s faith becomes. Eventually, it becomes very difficult to believe that they really are serious about their fantasies. We forget what it was like to simply accept magic in our lives without question.
They say that Love is the only socially acceptable form of insanity—but in my opinion, Religion takes the cake in that contest—Love doesn’t even come close. When Love creates difficulties in our lives we agonize over it—“Is this really Love?”; “Is this love worth that sacrifice?”, etc. But when difficulties arise over Religious beliefs, we refuse to even discuss the issue—talk about crazy. I’m not even going to get into the whole ‘beheadings’ business—jeez!
The filmmaker complains that his movie should win an award for “movie most reviewed by people who’ve never seen the film”. I’m afraid he’s right about that—but I don’t need to watch a whole film to understand what he’s trying to do by making it. I can just look out my window at dawn and ask myself whether the sun is rising or the Earth is turning towards it—and whether the astronauts looking out the ports of the International Space Station would agree with my answer.