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The Flat Earth Temptation
by Gary North
I am writing this on Monday,
October 12, 1992: Columbus Day. Exactly five centuries ago, Columbus landed in
the New World, and nothing was ever the same again. One myth that has been
almost universally accepted in the United States is this: "Columbus was able to
discover the New World because he alone believed in a round earth." His
contemporaries, so the myth goes, believed in a flat earth. Somehow, they did
not believe their own eyes when they gazed out to sea from some hilltop. When
they saw the white sails of a ship appear on the horizon, followed by its bow,
they did not conclude the obvious: the earth is round.
Samuel Eliot Morison, the
master historian of both the early European voyages and the naval battles of
World War II, wrote in his popular book, Christopher Columbus,
(Mentor, 1954): "That it was theoretically possible to reach the Orient by
sailing west every educated man would admit, since every educated man knew the
earth to be a sphere, but nobody had done anything to test the theory. In 1476,
when Columbus reached Lisbon, the proposition of sailing west to reach the
Orient was at about the same stage as man-made flight in 1900 – theoretically
possible but full of practical difficulties" (p. 14).
It seems incredible, but in our
day there is still a Flat Earth Society. The last newspaper clipping I have on
the organization indicates that there are under two hundred dues-paying members.
Flat-Earthers have become the premier symbol of men’s intellectual resistance
against education and modern discovery. The Flat-Earther is dismissed as the
very incarnation of backward thinking. To be labeled a Flat-Earther is to be
identified as a kind of intellectual Neanderthal, a person so out of touch with
reality that nothing can penetrate the mental darkness.
And yet, and yet . . . the
modern intellectual has learned that there is no neutrality. The combination of
Marx’s doctrine of class ideology and Thomas Kuhn’s thesis of intellectual
paradigm shifts, announced in his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific
Revolutions, has undermined the older liberalism’s confidence in objective
truth, a world-view which was still dominant on the campus in my undergraduate
days. Today, academia insists that all ideas have a right to compete on campus,
especially those that have been refuted by recent events, such as Marxism. Well,
almost all ideas have this right. Theories of racial inferiority, with or
without documentation, are not offered equal time, nor is the suggestion, with
or without documentation, that the Nazis did not pursue a genocidal policy of
extermination against Jews. The modern humanist insists that all opinions are
equal, but some are more equal than others. To use the language of sports teams,
the flat earth did not make the cut. It is not taken nearly so seriously as the
"Elvis is alive" theory. Not even American supermarket tabloids are ready to
promote the flat earth theory.
I assume that no
self-respecting Christian would regard as plausible the suggestion that the
earth is flat. He would do almost anything to escape the stigma of being labeled
a Flat-Earther. But he has a problem, if he believes in the literal
interpretation of the Bible. The Bible teaches that the earth has four corners,
which indicates that the Bible teaches a flat earth.
And he shall set up an ensign
for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together
the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:12).
And after these things I saw
four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of
the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on
any tree (Rev. 7:1).
Other than simply to ignore the
language of these passages, how can a Bible-believing Christian avoid becoming a
public defender of a theory of the flat earth? There is an answer, as we shall
see, but this answer creates embarrassing problems for those who defend biblical
literalism. So, the literalists prefer never to think about, let alone comment
on, these passages. They act as though these passages were not in their Bibles.
They play a grown-ups’ game of "let’s pretend."
Principles of Biblical
(hermeneutics) has three aspects, each equally valid: grammar, logic, and
rhetoric. The grammatico- historical aspect reveals the literal meaning of words
and phrases. It also identifies which period of time the words were revealed or
uttered. The logical aspect is in fact the theological: the overarching
worldview that reflects and reveals the unchanging God of the Bible. The
assumption of God’s immutability is the foundation of theology: an unchanging
God who does not lie to His people about Himself or His relationship to His
creation. Finally, there is rhetoric, or more to the point, biblical symbolism.
When Moses threw down the tablets on which God had inscribed the law, he said
nothing. He nonetheless announced something. But what? God’s wrath, surely. A
broken covenant, surely. And perhaps even a coming judgment that would divide
righteous from unrighteous. But there is no doubt that the symbolism had
meaning. It was not a random act, nor was it the result of Moses’ tired arms.
No system of biblical
interpretation which emphasizes any one of these three approaches at the expense
of one or both of the others deserves to be called orthodox. Thus, the
much-vaunted "liberalism" of dispensational fundamentalism’s
grammatico-historical approach can and does lead to horrendous errors of
interpretation, The problem of the four corners of the earth is a good example,
both theologically and rhetorically. Most Bible commentators would agree with me
here, if only to avoid the Cain-like mark of Flat-Earthism. They are also ready
to grant the non-literal nature of Revelation’s prophecies regarding the
stars falling to earth (Rev. 6:13), since the twinkling little stars are in
fact very large and very far away. ("Or are they?", ask the geostationists.)
But this symbolic
interpretation of falling stars raises a problem with the literal fulfillment of
Jesus prophesy in Matthew: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days
shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars
shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken" (Matt.
24:29). If the stars will not literally fall from heaven, what about the
darkening of the sun and moon? Is it possible that Jesus was invoking the
rhetorical – symbolic – words of Isaiah, which he used to describe the coming
fall of Israel to Babylon? "Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with
wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the
sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations
thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going
forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine" (Isa. 13:9-10). Could
Jesus have had a looming political transformation in mind, just as Isaiah did
when he prophesied against Edom? "And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved,
and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall
fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the
fig tree" (Isa. 34:4). Could Jesus have been using rhetoric – symbols – in the
way that Ezekiel used them against Egypt? "And when I shall put thee out, I will
cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a
cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright Iights of heaven
will 1 make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord GOD"
(Ezek 32:7-8). This is what David Chilton argues in his book, Paradise Restored
(Dominion Press, 1985). But if Chilton is correct, then what happens to
dispensationalism and its defense of prophetic Iiteralism? Must it, too, go the
way of the theory of the flat earth?
Interpreting the Four Corners
These are not literal comers,
any more than Governor George Wallace’s famous enemies, the "pointy-headed
intellectuals," really had pointy heads. The phrase could refer to the four
corners of a map or the four directions. Jordan believes that it refers to the
earth as a house – a familiar biblical metaphor – as he argued in a December,
1981, article in The Biblical Educator. (Partial reprint below.)
Back in 1964, I heard a woman
privately announce the following to R. J. Rushdoony shortly after he had
delivered a speech to a small group: "They’ve found the four comers of the
earth. " Rushdoony remained politely silent. Who "they" were she did not say.
Where the four corners are she did not say. But she was convinced that "they"
had discovered all four. I filed that incident away in my mind as a classic
example of mental derangement produced by a misplaced liberalism.
This should stand as a warning:
every fringe movement, which is what any new movement is at its beginning,
attracts people who tend to be attracted to fringe movements and ideas. For
example, the Fabian socialists had their share of free love advocates,
vegetarians, spiritualists, and similar counter-cultural oddities. These people
arrive on the doorstep with a lot of fringe-laden baggage, picked up during
their previous periods of total commitment to other fringe movements. Some
quickly shed the baggage. Others try to integrate it into the new movement.
Others eventually move on to the next fringe group.
This has also been the
experience of Christian Reconstruction. I still retain my share of opinions that
1 picked up before there was such a thing as Christian Reconsruction, such as
the Austrian economics (Misesian) theory of the trade cycle, revisionist
history’s version of the origins of World War I and World War II, and so forth.
But I do my best not to base my opinions on business cycle theory or American
foreign policy on the Bible in the sense of these opinions having been revealed
The problem comes when a fringe
opinion gets tacked onto another fringe movement in the name of shared
presuppositions. Let me give an example. Christianity is a minority religion in
the world. Protestantism is a minority in Christianity. Evangelical
Protestantism is a minority within Protestantism. Calvinism is a minority
movement within evangelical Protestantism. Christian Reconstruction is a
minority movement that grew out of Calvinism, but which overlaps other groups.
As we move outward on the fringe (or perhaps inward to the "true" center), which
ideas get left behind and which get inserted into the tracts and treatises of
the outer fringe (or inner circle)?
Consider a doctrine universally
believed by Christians from at least the days of Augustine (City of God,
XVIII:40) until the eighteenth century the under 6,000-year-old earth. The rise
of uniformitarian geology in the early nineteenth century, followed by the
triumph of Darwinian biology, moved the vast majority of Christians in the West
away from any belief in six literal days of creation that took place recently.
Even the stalwarts on the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary by 1890
had adopted some version of the age-day hypothesis or progressive
creation. In this century, Dallas Theological Seminary has never affirmed
belief in the six-day creation as necessary to orthodoxy. Neither has any
conservative Presbyterian seminary.
Rushdoony and I co-founded
Christian Reconstructionism. We are both six-day creationists. So are the
following leaders: Bahnsen, Jordan, Sutton, Gentry, Chilton, and all the other
writers I can think of. This position is shared by many fundamentalists and some
evangelical, but not those who teach on seminary faculties.
Creation Science is a subset of
six-day creationism. Its members appeal to the tenets of Newtonian science –
"flood geology" and "entropy" – to defend their position. While I think
there are serious limits on such appeals, given the existence of miracles in
Gods providential government, I have no objections to using the techniques of
science to explain certain past geological events. But my faith in the six-day
creation is not based on such techniques. At best, these arguments and
discoveries are small-bore weapons to include in the arsenal of biblical
revelation. They are useful in minor skirmishes. They will not win the war.
On the fringes of Creation
Science is a small group of devotees of another theory, one offered in the name
of Creation Science by its members, but a theory that has never been promoted in
the books and journals of the Creation Science movement. This group defends
geocentricity: the earth as the literal center of the universe. More than this:
they defend a theory of an unmoving earth. The entire universe, they insist,
revolves daily around our tiny world. They have been publicly promoting this
theory since the mid-1970’s. The Tychonian Society is one of the organizations
that defends this cosmology.
I prefer not to refer to this
movement as geocentrism. They are geostationists. It is a movement with a unique
theory of cosmic movement and immobility. When they say that the sun rises in
the east and sets in the west, they really mean it. They insist that the
galaxies of the universe literally revolve around the earth, one revolution per
A cosmology which is this out
of touch with modern astrophysics is far more of a tactical problem for Henry M.
Morns and his natural science associates than it is for Christian
Reconstruction, which concentrates on social theory and policy. Dr. Morns has
prudently chosen to ignore the geostationists’ theory in (as far as I can
recall) all of his books. In his book, History of Modern Creationism (San
Diego: Master Book Publishers, 1984), there is not one word about geocentricity
or geostationism, nor is there any reference to the main promoter of this
theory, James Hansen.
Surely it was not an oversight
on Morris’ part that the geocentrists are absent in a book he wrote that serves
as the standard history of the modern six-day creation movement. He could have
attacked them, but Dr. Morris has always chosen to avoid confrontation with
those Christians who hold to a six-day creation but who sometimes go beyond what
he regards as the bounds of legitimate scientific discussion. For example, my
1988 book, Is the World Running Down?, as far as I know has never been
mentioned or reviewed in journals associated with Dr. Morns. What we can say is
this: when he publicly ignores something "within the camp, " we can be fairly
sure that he privately disagrees with it.
For over a fifteen years, I
have imitated Dr. Morris with respect to the stationary earth movement. Except
for publishing Jordan’s essay in The Biblical Educator (edited by David
Chilton), I have left the topic alone. Recently, however, I have inadvertently
been drawn into the debate after having stayed out for so long. I shall explain
this a bit later.
Joshua’s Long Day
There are several people who
claim to have earned Ph.Ds in physics who are promoting the theory of the
unmoving earth. Extremely important to them is a unique event of Joshua’s time.
"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" (Joshua 10:13).
That the sun did not appear to
move across the sky, I have no doubt. That it literally stood still – on all
fours? – I have grave doubts. What we have in this verse is a good example of
biblical rhetoric. Strong’s Concordance defines the Hebrew word for "stood as
Hebrew 1826. damam, daw-mam’; a
prim. root [comp. Heb 1724, Heb 1820]; to be dumb; by impl. to be astonished, to
stop; also to perish: -cease, be cut down (off), forbear, hold peace, quiet
self, rest, be silent, keep(put to) silence, be (stand) still, tarry, wait.
Hebrew 1724. daham, claw-ham’;
a prim. root (comp. Heb 1740); to be dumb, i.e. (fig.) dumbfounded:- be
astonished. So, the sun was dumbfounded. Not only dumbfounded; it was
astonished. It remained silent. It held its peace. It tamed. So says the Hebrew,
When I received my first
newsletter from a geostationist in 1976 — handwritten, no less — I became like
the sun., I was dumbfounded. I was astonished. I held my peace. But I shall hold
my peace no longer.
Why not? Restructuring
astrophysics in terms of this misinterpretation is preposterous but
inherently harmless – as harmless as some anti-establishment physicist who
spends his evenings puttering in the basement, using his own money, to build a
perpetual motion machine. (I can think of at least one non-physicist Christian
Reconstructionist author – "The New Age Christian," as one prominent
conservative national leader has described him in private – who has used his
frequently bizarre newsletter to promote inventors of what can best be described
as perpetual motion machines.) Misinterpreting the Bible, however, is always
dangerous. Furthermore, recruiting ill informed and emotionally vulnerable
laymen (theological and scientific) in terms of both the misinterpretation of
the Bible and an outer fringe theory of the cosmos endangers the victims’
Geostationism strains the outer
limits of both cosmology and credulity. If the naive victims’ faith in
geostationism is ever shaken by the breaking-in of reality, their faith in the
word of God-becomes at risk. Playing bizarre games with astrophysical theory in
private is one thing, so long as no one hires the practitioner to work in the
space program. Developing bizarre theories in the name of antiestablishment
science is normally neither dangerous personally nor significant culturally. It
is the pastime of very bright, very bizarre people. But a problem arises when
others with far more to lose emotionally are attracted to these bright but
bizarre people. These bright, bizarre people had better be correct, not just
bizarre. Other people’s spiritual and emotional stability is at stake.
The Achilles Heel
In case you should come across
one of these well meaning defenders of the unmoving earth, keep the following
argument in the back of your mind. I call it the Achilles heel of geostationism.
There is always a "soft underbelly" or Achilles heel in every movement: one
obvious inconsistency or anomaly that the position’s defenders find so difficult
to answer that they never deal with it in public. They only respond in private
letters. When you find such an area, probe relentlessly. Do not take doubletalk
for an answer. Pressure them to speak in English and stop mumbling. Ask them to
show you their published answers that have been seen by their critics, and also
any criticisms and their subsequent replies.
There is an old rule of formal
debate: when two debaters are equally matched intellectually and tactically, the
one with the stronger case will be revealed in the second rebuttal. When you
find some issue that one side refuses for years to debate in public, you can be
certain that you have located the defender’s Achilles heel. Let me mention the
obvious, real-world Achilles heel of the stationary earth movement: the lowly
(or "highly") telecommunications satellite.
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Satcom
Back in the 1940’s,
scientist-author Arthur C. Clarke described the best position in outer space for
the placement of a geosynchronous satellite. Had he patented the idea, he might
have made millions. Perhaps not; the patent probably would have lapsed before
the first commercial telecommunications satellite was launched. But he made his
prediction in terms of the conventional theory of a rotating earth. Launch a
satellite to an orbit that is about 21,500 miles above the earth, so that its
motion parallels a fixed point on earth, re-transmit electrical signals.
Because they move parallel to
and it can receive and the earth in a synchronous orbit, these satellites appear
to be motionless in the sky. We base our modern telecommunications system on
this visual illusion. Because they appear to be stationary, we know they are
moving. They remain in the sky, apparently suspended in one spot as if by magic,
because their centrifugal movement away from the earth, like the moon’s, is
counterbalanced by the gravitational pull of the earth. So, they neither fly
into outer space nor fall back to the earth’s surface.
Here is the Achilles heel of
the geostationary earth theory: if the earth does not move, then the
satellites do not move. If the satellites do not move, then there is no
physical force pushing them away from the earth (centrifugal force) to
counterbalance the pull of the earth’s gravity. How do they stay up there?
Consider also the gravitational
pull of the moon, a force great enough to affect ocean tides on earth. If the
earth is stationary, then when the moon moves "behind the earth" from the
perspective of a particular satellite, its gravitational pull is added to the
earth’s. Put differently, whatever upward gravitational pull that the moon had
this afternoon on the satellite becomes a downward pull tonight. The satellite
could not remain suspended in outer space unless God intervened 24 hours a day
to hold each one right where it is. Add to this the pull of the sun when sun and
moon are both pulling together, and we have a most remarkable phenomenon:
suspended satellites. I contend that it is not just the satellites that are
suspended. Also suspended is the scientific disbelief of those who believe
in the geostationary earth theory and who then observe the satellites.
It may be possible for a
Christian to defend scientifically both the stationary earth and stationary
satellites. He needs only to present a theory of astrophysics which offers a
series of testable mathematical formulas regarding what God predictably will and
will not do to overcome the force of gravity in specific cases. That is, as long
as the Christian (or Jew or anyone else) can specify predictable mathematical
limits for his theory of God’s cosmic thwarting of the Newtonian-Einsteinian
laws of gravity, he can make a case in public and not be laughed off the podium
or out of the profession.
The stationary earth movement
refuses to take this approach. Its members never publicly offer formulas that
present a precise description of God’s continuing, full time miracle of
satellite suspension. Moment by moment, God has to alter the pull upward or
downward on each satellite in order to compensate for the ever-shifting
gravitational pull of the sun and the moon. But geostationists refuse to appeal
to this inescapably necessary moment-by moment miraculous intervention by God.
They present themselves to the world as men totally committed to, and supported
by, the conventional Newtonian-Einsteinian equations governing astrophysics.
They also appeal to their credentials as scientists. I know; I received two
letters last week from self-proclaimed physicists who challenged my view that
their system lacks a scientifically testable theory of astrophysics, i.e.,
physical principles that got the satellites up there and keep them there.
The inescapable problem of the
truly stationary satellites was raised by someone in an audience that had just
listened to a 1979 speech by James Hansen. I heard the audio cassette tape in
1981 or 1982. Hansen mumbled a reply. That is the most polite thing I can say
about his attempt to evade the question. It was obvious to me (though of
course not to Hansen and his disciples) that at that moment his theory had
been blown out of the sky, or at least pulled down from the heavens. This is not
some recently discovered problem. I have waited for over a decade to see a
published article by a stationay earth scientist that explains why the
communications satellites do not fall down. In a published article,
evasive gobbledygook becomes risky.
When men put their most
controversial views in print, defending the truly hard cases, then I take them
seriously. When they refuse, year after year, to put in print something
scientifically testable that their peers can respond to, then I do not take them
nearly so seriously. That is to say, I do not take the geostationists seriously
except as a peculiar religious sect on the fringe of a fringe of a fringe.
Neither should anyone else. Hardly anybody does.
The Rhetoric of Mathematics
I noticed years ago that what
the geostationists do, year after year, is circulate arcane mathematical essays
printed with dot-matrix printers. (They also send out audio cassette tapes. )
Their limited-circulation essays frequently insist that the mathematics of the
stationary earth hypothesis is as conformable to – though of no logically
greater authority than – the astrophysical phenomena described as is the
mathematics of conventional astrophysics. They use mathematics as a kind of
rhetorical battering ram against their critics. Their critics are rarely either
academic or professional physicists, since professional physicists are unaware
of the existence of geostationists. This technique presumably works well against
non-physicists. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t keep using it.
Astrophysics is more than
mathematics. It is also mechanics. It has to do with physical objects that
possess mass. Astrophysics is the application of mathematics to repeatable
cosmic phenomena, primarily as a means of explanation, but also as a means of
control in the case of communications satellites. Mathematics is applied by
scientists to a wide range of physical phenomena in their search for fixed
relationships. The speed of light is the bedrock foundation of astrophysics: a
constant to which modern physical science returns again and again, the
"measuring rod" of astrophysics. But whatever the area of observation,
mathematics as such is a tool to discover predictable relationships. One of
these predictable relationships is the distance between the surface of the earth
and a band of communications satellites high overhead.
What the geostationist movement
has needed for over a decade – now that I think of it, for over four centuries –
is a comprehensive textbook in physics that moves from the atom to the galaxies
by means of a coherent, mathematics- based, testable series of logical and
empirical steps. This geostationist textbook must be internally consistent, just
as conventional physics and astrophysics are. The empirical examples and
theoretical assertions must fit together in a coherent exposition. Most
important for a successful defense of the movement, this textbook must be
available for other physicists to challenge: line by line, equation by equation,
assumption by assumption. Such a textbook is long overdue. Until it appears,
geostationism will retain the character of a bizarre Christian sect. Audiotapes
and brief essays will no longer suffice – not that they ever did.
Vulnerable Victims of the
A few months ago, I received a
letter from a man in a California prison. He seemed genuinely interested in
Christian Reconstruction. As a side comment, he referred to his commitment to
the stationary earth movement. He apparently assumed that I also hold it because
I defend the six-day creation. I replied briefly to him that he had better
consider the satellite problem.
Well, this poor fellow was
crushed. He replied by mail; then I replied. He began writing to others within
the unmoving earth movement about my "heresy." I sent him the following
I think it would be wise
for you to refocus your attention from the realm of astrophysics, which you
really don’t need to understand, to the world of ethics, especially the
world outside prison walls to which you will eventually return.
You have a problem. You want to
believe the Bible. You have also accepted the teachings of the "geostationicity"
movement as almost the equivalent of the Gospel. If this movement is wrong, you
fear, maybe the Bible is wrong. This is not the case; the movement is almost
certainly wrong while the Bible is certainly true – just not a literal
interpretation of a few passages.
You feel trapped. You keep
referring my letters to those people who you hope and pray can answer me. You
expect them to be able to do this as experts. Maybe they can, but they don’t.
The geosynchronous satellite problem has been the trap door problem for these
people for well over a decade. It keeps getting asked. They cannot answer it in
terms of Newtonian science, yet they keep pretending that they are faithful
adherents of Newtonian science. They have maintained this schizophrenia for a
long time. It’s very sad. All they have to do is be honest: accept their view of
the Bible by rejecting physics. They refuse to do this. They elevate Newton to
equality with the Bible. They refuse to admit that their view of the Bible
cannot be reconciled with Newton.
It is unwise for you to take
these people seriously until you see their published defenses of their theory of
the stationary earth and geosynchronous satellites. Then you need to send copies
of these published defenses to a few conventional astrophysicists and ask if
these articles have any mistakes in them. Then you can better decide what to
believe: Newtonian mechanics or the arguments of the geostationary movement.
Until then, think about other more profitable things.
When I wrote this, I forgot
that a man in prison has a lot of spare time to write letters. If he is a "true
believer," he will do so. This man began sending letters to the intellectual
leaders ‘-of the geostationist movement. "Answer North! Answer North!" His is
the problem faced by any non-specialist true believer who has been drawn into a
movement led by specialists whose academic specialty the disciple is unprepared
to understand, let alone defend intelligently. The disciple does not seem to
understand that these apparently certified specialists do not actually practice
their bizarre theory as professionals. They do it on the side as a kind of
hobby. Not being able to persuade their peers, they concentrate on persuading
This is characteristic of every
fringe movement in its early stages. The question is: Is the fringe movement
grounded in reality or merely psychology? I think geostationism is grounded in
the psychology of desperate cultural resistance, not grounded in physical
theory and certainly not in biblical principles of biblical interpretation.
Private Letters vs. Published
Because of the inmate’s
letters, I have begun getting letters from these leaders. They apparently take
very seriously the frantic appeal by that lone inmate. (I should think they
would be far more concerned with the deafening silence of the physicists.)
Because of my unfortunate
weakness, I began to reply to those who kept sending me letters promoting this
utterly bizarre thesis. The problem is, I have more valuable things to do with
my time than correspond with practitioners of the blatantly bizarre. The
practitioners, in contrast, have made the defense of their position their life’s
financially unrewarding calling. They regard their defense of their position as
top priority. So, I will surely run out of incentive to continue these postal
debates long before they do. I am therefore publishing this essay in an attempt
to force these folks to do what they needed to do a decade ago: publish in a
scientific journal – even their in-house journal – a detailed study of the
physics of stationary communications satellites.
There is no doubt that these
men are serious. They are attempting to defend the Bible as they interpret it.
They are doing their best to replace a Copernican theory of the universe with a
version that conforms to their misreading of Joshua and other passages – a
literalism which they are not ready to defend when it comes to "the four corners
of the earth. " They provide equations in their letters. They sometimes cite the
conclusions of essays published in mainstream scientific journals which they
contend prove that the mathematics of geostationism are equal to (but not
superior to) the mathematics of the Copernican system. Problem: they do not
include photocopies of geostationist essays on the stationary satellite problem.
In my letters, I continually
ask for photocopies of these published articles. The leaders never send them.
There is a reason for this: such published defenses do not exist. I deliberately
annoy them by asking to see these essays. One Ph.D. physicist professes to be
too busy to respond to me further.
A second correspondent sent me
a typical letter with a couple of equations – mathematical rhetoric for the
great unwashed. He says that he is a physicist and engineer with an M.A. degree.
He also says he is a Christian Reconstructionist. (That, of course, creates a
sense of uneasiness inside me. ) In a page-and-a-half letter using space-and-a
half spacing, he purports to provide an answer to the communications satellite
problem. The heart of his answer is this. I would not call it coherent –
certainly not as coherent as my simple question: "How come they don’t fall
One must remember that the
entirety of the universe is spinning. This leads to a statement of the "rest"
condition in a universe that is undergoing continual acceleration (rotational
motion is an accelerated reference frame). Since the reference frames are in
motion the motion of all particles in the system must be taken in reference to
(If this man had instead
majored in philosophy, he would probably be a follower of Herman Dooyeweerd. He
has an affinity for obtuseness.)
Then follow a couple of
equations that do not address the problem directly. Then his conclusion: "The
shift to scalar notation is permitted since the direction of the vectors is
known in the problem. The observed rotation rate is zero. . . ." He also
includes the familiar geostationist claim: "This simply gives us the same
equation used previously for the case of the heliocentric system with the same
resultant expression of the orbital radius. " In short, the mathematics are the
same; therefore, geostationism cannot be shown to be scientifically false.
There is one problem that he
neglected to address: the mass of the universe. It is not evenly distributed
across the heavens, and surely not in the heavens in the immediate (relatively
speaking) vicinity of the earth. The man-made satellites that "hover" high above
a stationary earth will be pulled back to the earth unless there is a perfectly
offsetting pull upward, meaning forces that perfectly and continually compensate
for the ever-changing, tide-shifting pull of the moon, not to mention the sun,
as it circles the earth. It is my belief that a brief dot-matrix letter
containing a couple of equations will not offset this astrophysical reality.
Then he cites the guru of the
movement, James Hansen: "A similar derivation has been undertaken by Dr. James
Hansen (in a private communication) who discusses all of the relevant objections
of this type; such as the Foucault pendulum. " As I mentioned earlier, Hansen
has been publicly sitting on this thorn for over a decade. I heard a questioner
torpedo his entire system with this question on a cassette tape. That Hansen has
disposed ,of "all of the relevant objections" – relevant to a true-believing
disciple – in a private communication indicates that Hansen so far has been
psychologically or intellectually incapable of responding in public
communication so that physicists rather than prison inmates, engineers who are
already in the movement, and newsletter ,publishers can comment on his handling
of this problem. Such reticence on his part since 1979 testifies to his
authority as the leader of a tiny religious sect rather than a scientific
No doubt I will now receive
lots of dot-matrix letters from other leaders in the movement, perhaps even the
guru himself. Let me state my request in advance: "Gentlemen, please enclose
photocopies of your publicly published answer to the Satcom Problem. My time is
valuable. I will answer only your published responses to this problem, and only
after I have three or four professional astrophysicists examine them. Then I
will publish their responses." Just like a Satcom communications satellite,
until they publish their solution, and until they publish detailed replies to
the conventional physicists who respond, the geostationist movement will remain
suspended high above the earth, completely out of touch with terra firma.
The geostationists are the
closest thing epistemologically and psychologically to Flat-Earthers that we
find today in the Christian community. I suspect that this is why Henry Morns
stays prudently silent about them. Why invite trouble? He has enough tactical
problems in defending the six-day creation publicly without also having to fend
off reporters’ inquiries about the speed of light and the galactic spinning top.
What should we do when we
believe fervently in some idea that the modern world rejects as preposterous?
First, we should make sure that we separate what we believe about this or that
event from what we believe is taught in the Bible. The Bible has greater
authority than this or that anti-establishment thesis.
Second, if what we believe is
taught in the Bible is at the heart of our anti-establishment affirmation, then
we must make as certain as we can that the Bible really does teach the
anti-establishment position we are proclaiming.! This means that we, or some
Bible-believing specialist in Hebrew and Greek, can show that the grammar of the
various texts really does affirm our position, Then we must test the grammar
with both biblical theology and systematic theology, and then compare our
findings with biblical symbolism. If all three confirm our position – grammar,
theology, and symbolism – then we can begin to elaborate the implications of our
belief. We can begin to publish Bible specific commentaries on the topic.
Third, we must compare these
biblically derived implications with the present-day beliefs of specialists in
science, if we are discussing a scientific issue. What have conventional
scientists written on the topic? What have other scientists replied? What
anomalies exist in the currently accepted theory of the particular phenomenon?
Where is the Achilles heel of the current establishment view? Is there more than
one Achilles heel? Can our theory solve these anomalies better than rival
Thomas Kuhn argues in The
Structure of Scientific Revolutions that paradigm shifts – shifts in scientific
worldview – occur when observed anomalies can no longer be explained away
successfully by the prevailing practitioners of establishment science. This
provides an opportunity for skeptics within a scientific guild or skilled
outsiders to challenge the prevailing theory. I think he is correct on this
If he is correct, then the
geostationists have a monumental problem facing them. They argue that the
equations adopted by conventional astrophysicists apply equally well to their
own theory. But equality is not sufficient; there must be superiority in order
for a new paradigm to replace the older one. The geostationists do not point to
such superiority except on the basis of their misuse of certain biblical texts.
(See Jordan’s essay, below.) I ask the following question. So should you. What
major anomalies in establishment astrophysics have been detected that are
uniquely solvable by the geostationist theory? Kuhn’s thesis indicates that
unless there is an overwhelming reason for a guild to shift to a new worldview –
a reason internal to the accepted prevailing standards of the guild – the shift
will not take place. The costs of such a shift are high; the expected payoff is
low. The establishment will not be moved off center. Therefore, it is not
sufficient for the geostationists to maintain that their theory is
mathematically equal to modern astrophysical theory. They must be able to
demonstrate that their theory and the mathematics that support it are far
superior to the prevailing theory.
This third stage requires one
or more scholarly journals. After several years of interaction with conventional
scholarship, and with other practitioners of the new paradigm, the promoters of
the new paradigm need to publish one or more textbooks. A stream of textbooks,
at least one per decade per academic discipline, is necessary to recruit younger
men into the fold. The fact is, until there are competing journals and competing
textbooks, the new paradigm has not even begun to approach establishment status,
i.e., has not yet come close to winning the field.
The step-by-step approach that
I have described here is what Henry Morris and the Creation Science movement
have been doing their best to achieve since the early 1960’s. They keep pointing
to anomalies in uniforrnitarian geological theory and in Darwinian biology –
anomalies that the evolutionists cannot easily explain or explain away. Morns &
Co. also suggest theoretical approaches based on the presupposition of
creationism that provide far more coherent – scientifically coherent – solutions
to these anomalies. They attempt to develop research strategies that can
demonstrate the validity of their theories. This is science. It is not a bunch
of guys sending dot-matrix letters to each other with little beyond this
message: "Their equations always fit our theory; therefore, the communications
satellites don’t fall down." To which those of us outside their sect reply:
"Does not compute."