Social Issues

Goldilocks and the sun


Psalm 93 is a description of God’s reign on earth– that it is eternal, everlasting, and shall last “forevermore.” One of the images that the poet incorporates is of the steadfastness of the earth: the world is established, it shall never be moved. This is imagery we see in other places through the Psalms; in Psalm 96 the stability of the earth is linked with God’s fairness, justice, and equality. Psalm 104 is especially beautiful,  where the poet describes God as  “stretching out the heavens like a tent” and “covering it with the deep as a garment”; all these images are interwoven with the firmness of the earth “set on its foundations so that it can never be moved.” When David restores the ark to Jerusalem, he repeats the same idea: the earth will never be moved. It is set upon unshakeable pillars and foundations. Along with this concept that the earth is fixed in space come descriptions of the sun and stars moving across the heavens.

These passages, and other passages like it, form the basis for an argument known as geocentrism, or, as AiG puts it, “more properly geokinetism.” It’s the idea that Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler cumulatively defeated: that the sun, and the other planets in our solar system, revolve around the earth. 

We are all pretty familiar with where the story goes from there, especially when Galileo enters. This is where the argument for geocentrism is primarily based on the authority of the magisterium. Church tradition affirmed this teaching, occasionally going as far as making statements during Galileo’s time that heliocentrism is heresy, and contrary to Church dogma. It’s interesting to note that geocentrism still has loyal supporters– from people who are not fringe, like Robert Sungenis.

However, what many of the arguments for geocentrism ultimately reduce down to is this:

It is, therefore, consistent with Catholic teaching to believe that Jesus Christ . . has united divinity with humanity at the center of the universe which is earth. On a more basic level, if the earth is the center of the universe, then this means that someone put it there . . .

If the earth is indeed the center, then God is trying to tell us that we are special to Him. We are unique. We are destined to be with Him forever. This is why He opens His written revelation with the creation account. This is also why the atheists and agnostics want so badly to disprove geocentrism, because if they can do that, they can argue that there is no God. They want to argue that there is no God because they don’t want to be accountable to Him. If science would definitively disprove the geocentric theory, then, as St. Bellarmine suggests, “it would be necessary to proceed with great caution in explaining the passages of Scripture which seemed contrary, and we would rather have to say that we did not understand them than to say that something was false which has been demonstrated.”

If you grew up studying the arguments for Young Earth Creationism, then the  statements I’ve highlighted should sound intimately familiar to you. Because these arguments are what creationism boils down to: If you don’t believe in Creation, then there’s no reason to believe in God. And, by extension, many of the arguments for creationism revovle around how “special” the earth is. Everything on earth is set up to nourish and support life; it is so finely tuned, so perfectly balanced, that it couldn’t have possibly been an accident. It was intentional. It was created.

Except . . . Protestants and Catholics (well, unofficially. Officially, the Church has never annulled the statements regarding geocentrism, athough they issued a formal apology to Galileo) seemed to have gotten along without geocentrism just fine. Spectacularly fine, in fact.

And one thing I’m discovering as I move through new ways of thinking, of ordering my thoughts, of responding to and analyzing ideas, that giving up young earth creationism . . . well, it’s not the earth-shattering, faith-destroying decision I was taught it would be. I can look at how God formed Eve out of Adam’s rib and admit the possibility that this idea might have sprung from ancient Sumerian myth, where the “mother of all living,” Ninti, was formed out of Enki’s rib. I can look at the intentionality and orderliness of the Genesis account and contrast that with other creation mythologies, which were usually chaotic and desctructive, and lack a god calling everything in his creation “good.”

One of my favorite Tolkien works is The Silmarillion, and what I love the most about it is in the first few pages– the Music of the Ainur. In this passage, Ilúvatar creates the Holy Ones, the Ainur, and they make music so lovely that it creates the world. But, Tolkien makes a statement in the first paragraph that has always resonated with me.

But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in he understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.

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  • I do not think you have to believe in young earth creationism to believe in Adam and Eve and the fall of man. There is so much wickedness in the world, yet so much goodness in many human hearts, the idea that we fell from a state of goodness makes sense to me.

  • I’m sorry, but I have to say something (just because I’m a bit of an amateur historian). Whoever wrote that quote you put above, about how Earth being at the center of the universe proves that we’re special, has no understanding of medieval cosmology or the church’s teaching of cosmology during that period. I go into it in detail in a post of mine (I’ll put the link below) but basically by the medieval conception of the universe the Earth is not really at the center of everything but at the bottom. Earth is the giant septic tank of the universe. Everything that is evil and impure falls down and collects itself around the Earth. At the center of the Earth sits Hell. God himself sits as far away from Earth as possible, millions of miles away and separated by many barriers. The whole point of the medieval cosmology is not to say that man is special but to emphasize that man is evil, man is impure, man is separated from God. When geocentrism fell it actually brought us up in the universe. No more were we the clogged drain of existence!

    Also, while those few scriptures provide theological support, the idea itself came from the “science” of that era. The geocentric universe that the church taught and followed in those days came directly from the Greek philosopher Ptolemy, not from the Bible. It wasn’t a case of the church saying “The Bible says the Earth doesn’t move, so lets invent a cosmology around that!” Instead it was the church saying “Well we know, thanks to Ptolemy, that the universe looks like this, so lets find scriptures that show that the Bible taught that all along.”

    Alright, that’s my spiel. It’s something I get worked up about.

    Here’s that link I mentioned, where I go over the Medieval cosmology in detail.

    • Thank you for sharing your post, it was interesting.

      However, the Medieval Model and what the Catholic church had been teaching since St. Augustine… not the same thing. Church fathers from Basil to Tertullian to Gregory of Nyssa to Cyril to Hippolytus to Jerome all asserted that the earth was the center of the universe and that made it special. They frequently linked it to God’s sense of orderliness; that everything in creation was exactly as it should be. The fact that Jesus came to earth was also tied into the concept. Even St. Bellarmine, Galileo’s primary opponent asserted that the “earth is far from the heavens” while also asserting that the earth was where Christ had come, and it was important to God.

      • While I admit that the Church taught that the Earth was important to God, I also have to say that they did not feel it was important because it was at the center. Earth’s specialness had nothing to do with its location but with the fact that God reached down to Earth and took on flesh for us.

        In fact, in was in this respect that the Ptolemaic model of the universe was very much at odds with scripture. Scripture teaches us that Earth is very important, for God made it himself and came here to die for us. The Ptolemaic model teaches that the Earth is very unimportant, the bottom of creation. The spheres are populated by mighty beings, much like angels, each one higher, better, stronger, and more moral than mankind (and immortal, of course). “The Earth,” as C.S. Lewis wrote (and, regardless of anything else, he was the foremost expert on Medieval literature and the Medieval perspective in Britain when he was alive) “is ‘outside the city wall’. When the sun is up he dazzles us and we cannot see inside. Darkness, our own darkness, draws the veil and we catch a glimpse of the high pomps within; the vast, lighted concavity filled with music and life.” (The Discarded Image, pg 119).

        Lewis goes on to say that “The picture is nothing if not religious. But is the religion in question precisely Christianity? Certainly there is a striking difference between the Model where God is much less the lover than the beloved and man is a marginal creature, and the Christian picture where the fall of man and the incarnation of God as man for man’s redemption is central…there remains, at the very least, a profound disharmony of atmospheres. That is why all this cosmology plays so small a part in the spiritual writers, and is not fused with high religious ardour in any writer I know except Dante himself.” (pg. 120).

        The point I’m trying to make is that the Medieval, Ptolemaic, geocentric cosmology was foreign to Christianity. It came from the Greeks and the church accepted it as true just as the church today accepts heliocentric as true; because that’s what the “science” of the day said was true. The model itself puts Earth in a very small unimportant light, a light that was at odds with Christianity itself. The church defended geocentrism because it was so culturally rooted at the time and because Galileo outright insulted the pope himself in his book defending heliocentric, not because scripture demands a geocentric universe. The church did not see in scripture that the universe is geocentric and then invent a theory based on those scriptures; instead the early Christians believed the universe was geocentric, so they found scriptures to show that the Bible was in line with that.

  • This is just my weird imagination, but I think that if I were God, it would be great fun to make the universe out of a singularity. It would be the ultimate version of those little foam animals that expand out of tiny pills when you put them it water. Just a nearly dimensionless version that expands by design into a vast and beautiful universe. Because that would be awesome.