Karl Keating is founder and senior fellow at Catholic Answers (www.catholic.com), the country’s largest apologetics and evangelization organization, and the author of several books of apologetics, including Catholicism and Fundamentalism and What Catholics Really Believe. His most recent book is The New Geocentrists (Rasselas House, 2015). He spoke recently with Carl E. Olson, editor of CWR, about the book.
CWR: Your new book, The New Geocentrists, takes on a topic you’ve followed and addressed for many years. First, what is geocentrism? Second, when and why did you first become interested in it?
Keating: Just as heliocentrism is the theory that the Sun is the center of our planetary system, so geocentrism is the theory that the Earth is the center. Geocentrism is the ancient understanding, best known in the formulation given by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy. The Ptolemaic theory was modified substantially in the sixteenth century by Tycho Brahe. Most modern geocentrists adhere to a variant of the Tychonian theory.
My interest in geocentrism goes back to my university days. I took a course in the history of science from Prof. Curtis Wilson, then and until his death in 2012 considered the top American expert on Johannes Kepler, who started out as Tycho’s assistant.
In Wilson’s course we took the ancient observational data, worked through the calculations, and discovered that, as observations became ever more precise, the Ptolemaic and Tychonian theories failed to account for the movements of the celestial bodies. It was this failure that led Kepler to develop his three laws of planetary motion, and it was this course that sparked my interest in geocentrism.
CWR: Why the need for a book-length treatment of geocentrism and its main proponents?
Keating: This movement has been gaining adherents for several decades—since the 1980s among very conservative or Traditionalist Catholics and since the 1960s among Fundamentalist Protestants. Despite being at loggerheads on many theological issues, these groups have joined forces to promote their idea that the Earth is not only at the center of our planetary system but is motionless (that is, it neither moves through space nor spins on its axis) and is at the absolute center of the entire universe. In their thinking, all other bodies—planets, the Sun, the distant stars, galaxies—revolve around the Earth each 24 hours.
There are two things wrong with these notions. First, the science is wrong. That’s bad enough. Worse, for Christians, is that the new geocentrists insist that the Bible (in the case of the Fundamentalists) or the Bible and the Church (in the case of the Catholics) teach infallibly that these scientific theories are true and must be accepted by faithful Christians. They are laying on Christian shoulders burdens that the Bible and the Church don’t really place there.
CWR: You note that your book, while addressing many of the arguments, focuses on the persons involved, hence the title. Why this particular approach?
Keating: In The New Geocentrists I critique many of the scientific arguments proffered for geocentrism but make no attempt to critique them all. I deal chiefly with the ones that most clearly show the failure of the geocentrist position, such as the complete inability of geocentrists to explain how geostationary satellites can remain suspended above an Earth that doesn’t rotate.
But most of my book is a look at the new geocentrists themselves: their backgrounds, their contradictory arguments, their conspiracy theories, their scholarly sloppiness, their plagiarism, their simple inability to “do” the science. In the book I repeatedly challenge their claim to be reliable explainers of science and religion.
CWR: Is it correct to say this topic is, in many ways, just as much about biblical exegesis and issues of authority as it is about science and cosmology?
Keating: Very much so. The new geocentrists hold themselves out as experts not only in science but in religion. They attempt to position themselves as authorities, and more and more people are accepting them as such. The result is that people end up subscribing not just to bad science but to bad religion. The danger is that eventually, when these people realize the scientific errors of geocentrism, they will conclude that truth is to be found neither in science nor in religion.
CWR: What do you hope readers will learn in reading The New Geocentrists?
Keating: I hope they will find a lively account of how people can become fixated on an idea that, while wrong, can seem right from certain angles and how such a fixation can lead to a cascade of incorrect inferences.
I have written The New Geocentrists for the lay reader, not for the expert in science, though I have had experts review the manuscript. Of course geocentrism is very much a minority view, but it is gaining adherents, and the average Christian ought to know about it so that it doesn’t become a stumbling block for him. In my book he will see the truth of the maxim that “ideas have consequences”—or, perhaps I should say, that “bad ideas have bad consequences.”