Friday, November 12, 2010

Hanging out with the Geocentrists, Part 5

This will be the last of my posts describing the First Annual Catholic Conference on Geocentrism (see also parts one, two, three, and four). I've debated with myself all week about how this post should be written. On the one hand, it's very tempting to launch into personal attacks and mockery, which would be undeniably popular and therefore increase my blog traffic. It would also be really easy to write that way (e.g., a donation card distributed at the conference solicited funds for "an off-Broadway theatrical play" to "promote the Galileo Was Wrong teaching to the world"). But I don't see that it would accomplish much for the Church or for Christ. So I'm going to write this as if I were giving the geocentrists constructive criticism. I personally suspect that they're completely, utterly, and unnecessarily wrong, but I know they're absolutely convinced they're right, so I guess maybe if they actually take my advice, at the very least, we'll all have a better chance to communicate and understand our differences, which is perhaps the best we can hope to do. I will order my comments in order of importance, from the least to the most.

1. Please improve the mechanics of the conference. PLEASE. I realize that organizing conferences is a skill to be learned and improved upon. Since this was your first conference, I haven't mentioned these problems as major criticisms, but as long as I'm giving advice, this is worth mentioning. First of all, the schedule is too crowded. Talks should be in 2-2.5 hour blocks with a good 10 minute or so break in between blocks. Please provide a Q&A session after each talk, and please allow questioners to have their say. You can still cut off discussion at a certain time or if someone gets disruptive or disrespectful, but the carefully controlled Q&A panel with one question per person really limited the public interaction and inhibited the audience's comprehension. Four and a half hours of nonstop talks before lunch is too much. It's just too long to sit there.

Next, if you're going to use powerpoint, please make legible slides. Slides with line after line of text in 12 point font cannot be read by anyone, making the slide essentially useless other than as a prompt for the speaker (who couldn't read it either since the laptop was too far away). I know that having Microsoft products tell you how to write is annoying, but in powerpoint, the templates are actually kind of useful. They are a good guide to what can be read by the audience. Also, please work on contrast. Full color photos as backgrounds on slides generally render the text unreadable. Use a photo editor to alter the contrast or brightness of photos to mute the colors if you want to use photos as backgrounds on your slides.

2. This is going to sound insulting, but it is not meant to be: Please work on the logic of the schedule. The schedule that we had was kind of mixed up, with a brief introduction to the topic, followed by some science, then theology, then history, then more science, more history, more science, and finally history. That kind of back and forth of topics is like intellectual whiplash. If I were going to organize such a conference, I would put the theology and history first and then talk about the science later. That's my personal preference. Obviously, you could easily reverse it and do the science first and history/theology later. Going back and forth made the whole thing hard to follow.

Also, please include some kind of basic introduction to the factual issues in question. You launched right into a defense of geocentrism, and I was playing catch up all day on what you were talking about. For example, various speakers mentioned the Michelson-Morley experiment, but no one really explained precisely what it was, what they were trying to test, what the results were, and how the results should be interpreted. To use a technical phrase from the educational community, you must "put the cookies on the bottom shelf." If I don't know what Michelson-Morley is, I can't follow your evaluation of it.

3. Avoid ad hominem arguments. For a group that is routinely mocked and held up to public scorn as examples of medieval foolishness, you sure do like to indulge in personal criticisms of your critics. Whatever happened to the golden rule? You know, do to others as you would have them do to you? I think Jesus said something to that effect. Characterizing scientists as arrogant, deceptive, or purely driven by philosophical bias doesn't help your case at all. It makes you sound like conspiracy kooks. In fact, if I were you, I would avoid talking about critics altogether (individually or collectively). You can summarize their arguments quite easily without saying anything personal about them. Insulting those who disagree with you doesn't add anything to your argument, and it makes you look bitter and petty.

4. Avoid straw men. This is probably getting into more contentious areas, but frankly, I thought a lot - a LOT - of the responses to heliocentric arguments presented at the conference seemed like straw man arguments. For example, I kept hearing the anti-geocentrist argument "the smaller body always revolves around the larger." The response? "NOT TRUE! They actually both revolve around the center of mass of the system!" But I already knew that just from my year of college physics, and every physicist probably knows that, too. But when speaking of the earth vs. the sun, the center of mass of the system is approximately 450 km from the center of the sun. (recall that the earth averages about 150 million km from the sun). So yeah, the earth doesn't technically revolve around the center of the sun, but 450 km is close enough.

Likewise, your treatment of Galileo needs to improve. I get that you don't like the guy, and I understand that you disagree with him. But that should not be an excuse to gloss over basic historical facts. Also, when dealing with the Biblical arguments, you need to address actual biblical arguments against geostationism. For example, Ps. 93:1 says the earth "cannot be moved," but the Hebrew for "moved" is used in other passages for the feet of the righteous, which obviously can move. That Hebrew "moved" means to falter or fall away. It does not mean that the earth is absolutely motionless.  No one mentioned that at all, despite quoting Ps. 93:1 as evidence of geostationism.

Stop addressing stupid arguments against geocentrism as if they were good ones.

5. Now I'm really going to step on toes. Please stop with the handwaving. Frequently during the conference, speakers would make highly conjectural claims that could have been verified but weren't. For example, Bennett's ALFA challenge doesn't sound all that hard. It looks to this biochemist like a pretty straightforward experiment. So do it. If it really will "prove" your point or support geocentrism or refute heliocentrism, then why are you spending money on this conference? Why not just pay for the ALFA experiment? Then you'll have some real evidence, right? Likewise, I heard over and over again that systems rotate around the center of mass, and it only looks like the earth revolves around the sun if you just include the mass of the earth and the sun. If you include the stars, so I was told, then the center of mass shifts to the earth. OK, fine. Show me. There are estimates of the mass of the universe, and there are estimates of the size of the universe. Calculate the center of mass. So what if you have to make unmeasurable assumptions? If you use standard estimates of the universe's size and mass, then you should be able to come up with a center of mass that is some measurable distance from the center of the earth.

Instead what we got were speculations. Handwaving. If you calculate this, it supports geocentrism. If you do that experiment, it supports geocentrism. Enough with the IFs. If it's not a hard experiment or calculation, then do it! And if your idea has no way to be tested (like the superluminal velocity of the infinitely dense plenum aether that can't be detected by larger particles), then please just admit that it's a speculation.  Stop pretending to be all science-y when you're not.

You will never be taken seriously as long as you approach science with a "look but don't touch" attitude. You've gotta get your hands dirty.

So that's it.  I'm done with geocentrism.  Despite my complaints here, I still think attending the conference was time well spent.  I wanted to document this unusual event, and I did it.  I also wanted to at least consider the possibility that I was wrong about the universe, but at this point, I remain totally unconvinced that I am.  Perhaps if the geocentrists take my advice seriously, they might convince a few more people.

Or they might just convince themselves that the earth really does revolve around the sun.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.