Appendix D: Geocentricity

From the time the earth was discovered to be a sphere, most western thinkers have positioned it at the center of the universe.  When the heliocentric view triumphed in the centuries following Copernicus (1473–1543), some conservative Christians held to geocentricity, insisting that the Bible requires it.  During the last third of the 20th century, the geocentric view made a remarkable comeback among ultra-conservative Christians as an adjunct to creation science. 

The Pythagoreans (5th century B.C.), who were among the first to advocate the sphericity of the earth, also held that the sun was the center of the universe.  Although the spherical view triumphed among Greek thinkers within a century, heliocentricity quickly faded from sight.  About 350 B.C., Aristotle argued in On the Heavens that the earth must necessarily be immovable and located at the center of the universe.  This view became a fundamental postulate of the Hellenistic system of astronomy, which Claudius Ptolemy (fl. 150) completed in a form that lasted for a millennium. 

In the Christian church, some early Fathers held out for a flat earth, but most accepted a spherical earth centered in the midst of the firmament.  Influential thinkers such as Ambrose (339–397), Jerome (342–420), and Augustine (354–430) endorsed this view.  By late medieval times, so-called Ptolemaic astronomy had been thoroughly integrated into Christian thinking. 

The Copernican Revolution in Astronomy

Nicholaus Copernicus (1473–1543) revived heliocentric astronomy with Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, published in the year of his death.  Although his system aroused great interest among astronomers, it did not gain their immediate and universal acceptance.  The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546–1601), the best observer of the pre-telescopic era, rejected the Copernican system and instead promoted a geocentric system.  In the so-called Tychonic system, the sun and moon orbit the earth, and the planets orbit the sun.  In England, geographer and astronomer Nathaneal Carpenter (1588–1628?) advocated a modified Tychonic system with the earth rotating on its axis daily.  In France, the great astronomer Jean Dominique Cassini (1625–1712) rejected the Copernican system in favor of a Tychonic system modified to use oval-shaped curves (“Cassinians”) for the orbits of heavenly bodies. 

Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), who first used a telescope for astronomy, adopted the Copernican system, as did Johannes Kepler (1571–1630), who discovered that planetary orbits are ellipses with the sun at one focus.  Isaac Newton (1642–1727) provided an elegant theoretical basis for a Copernican system with Keplerian orbits in his Principia (1689), and heliocentricity rapidly triumphed among astronomers in the following decades. 

Christian Opposition to Copernican Astronomy

Taken literally, the Bible describes an immovable earth and mobile sun.  For example, 1 Chronicles 16:30 says, “He has fixed the earth firm, immovable.” (New English Bible.  See also Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, Psalm 104:5, and Isaiah 45:18.) At Gibeon, Joshua commanded the sun to stand still but said nothing about the earth ceasing to rotate (Joshua 10:12).  Likewise, when Isaiah moved the shadow on the dial of Ahaz, it was the sun that moved ten degrees (Isaiah 38:8).  Religious opponents of Copernican astronomy cited these and other passages to justify their position. 

Initially tolerant, the Roman Catholic Church eventually stood strongly against Copernican astronomy.  Thanks to Galileo’s advocacy, Copernicus’s Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres was put on the Index of prohibited books in 1616, and Galileo was forbidden to teach heliocentricity.  After he continued to do so, Galileo was charged with “a vehement suspicion of heresy” in 1633, forced to abjure, and confined under house arrest for the rest of his life.  The persecution of Galileo occurred as the heliocentric view was making rapid gains and perhaps already was dominant among astronomers.  During the following century, opposition faded and most of mainstream Christianity accepted heliocentricity.

Sectarian Geocentric Systems

Outside the mainstream, geocentricity persisted among religious sectarians.  Some sects developed unique astronomical systems.  For example, John Reeve (1608–1658) and Lodowick Muggleton (1609–1679) founded a modestly successful sect known as the Muggletonians.  Their doctrines included a unique cosmology with a spherical earth, heaven no more than six miles up, a moon that shines by its own light, and lunar eclipses caused by an unseen planetary body.  One sect member, Isaac Frost, published a detailed description and defense of the Muggletonian astronomical system in 1846 in Two Systems of Astronomy

Lieutenant Richard Brothers (1757–1825), self-proclaimed nephew of God and Prince of the Hebrews, developed another sectarian geocentric system while in a London asylum for prophesying the imminent death of King George III.  In The Universe As It Is: Describing the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Comets, with Their Daily Motions Round the Earth, which Is At Rest! (1796?), Brothers taught that the sun is an egg-shaped ball of heat and light that moves through space large-end first.  The moon is a rough body of ice, and the stars also are ice, created (like the moon) from waters above the firmament (Genesis 1:6).  Two followers, John Finlayson and Bartholomew Prescot, published works defending Brothers’ astronomy.  Brothers died in 1825, and for all practical purposes, his astronomical system died with him.

Geocentricity Among Lutherans

Martin Luther (1483–1546) dismissed Copernicus as a “fool” and an “upstart astrologer,” and perhaps that explains why geocentric beliefs seem more common among Lutherans than other denominations.  For example, in Germany, Pastor G. F. L. Knak (fl. 1868) earned the ridicule of German intellectuals for his geocentric views.  In America, Pastor C. F. W. Walther (1811–1887), the first president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), disparaged Copernican astronomy in the pages of the synod’s official publication, Der Lutheraner.  Walther’s intellectual successor in LCMS, theologian F. A. O. Pieper (1852–1931), also rejected Copernicanism.  Thus, it is not surprising that most geocentric works published in America between 1870 and 1920 were written by members (mainly clergymen) of LCMS, and geocentricity was widely taught within the synod. 

In 1873, the synod’s St. Louis printing office published and distributed a geocentric pamphlet entitled Astronomische Unterredung zwischen einem Liebhaber der Astromonie und mehreren berühmten Astronomen der Neuzeit (Astronomical Conversation between a Lover of Astronomy and Several Famous Modern-Day Astronomers) by J. C. W. Lindemann, head of a LCMS teacher’s college.  Pastor J. R. L. Lange (b. 1858), another LCMS clergyman, published at least three geocentric pamphlets, Die unhaltbarkeit des kopernikanischen systems (The Untenability of the Copernican System) in 1895, The Copernican System: The Greatest Absurdity in the History of Human Thought in 1901, and Antikopernikanische Aufzeichnungen (Anti-Copernican Notes) in 1907.  Lange advocated the Tychonian system, and his works reveal some familiarity with the history of science, especially the history of astronomy. 

Perhaps the most prolific LCMS geocentrist was Frederick E. Pasche (1872–1954).  Pastor Pasche wrote two substantial geocentric books in German—Christliche Weltanschauung.  Kosmogonie und Astronomie (Christian Worldview: Cosmogony and Astronomy) in 1904 and Bibel und Astronomie (Bible and Astronomy) in 1906.  In 1915, Pasche published a 49-page pamphlet entitled Fifty Reasons: Copernicus or the Bible.  As the 20th century progressed, however, the LCMS became more urban and sophisticated, and geocentricity largely faded from view.

Geocentricity and Modern Creationism

The modern resurgence of geocentricity began in North America in 1967, when Canadian schoolmaster Walter van der Kamp circulated a geocentric paper entitled “The Heart of the Matter” to about fifty Christian individuals and institutions.  Van der Kamp received only four favorable responses, but one was from Canadian astronomer Harold L. Armstrong, who subsequently (1973) became editor of the Creation Research Society Quarterly (CRSQ).  Pastor Walter Lang, a Missouri Synod Lutheran and founder of the Bible-Science Newsletter, also was sympathetic, and van der Kamp made presentations on the Tychonian system at National Creation Conferences sponsored by the Bible-Science Association (BSA).  From these seeds grew the Tychonian Society and its journal, The Bulletin of the Tychonian Society

Two Cleveland astronomers, James N. Hanson and Gerardus Bouw, were among the early converts, and, in the summer of 1978, they organized perhaps the world’s first geocentric conference.  Early in 1984, Walter van der Kamp retired as leader of the Tychonian Society and editor of the Bulletin, and Bouw succeeded him.  The next year, Bouw was chief organizer of the BSA-sponsored 1985 National Creation Conference.  This conference included several geocentric papers, and its grand finale was a spirited two-hour debate on the scriptural and scientific merits of geocentricity.  In 1990, Bouw reorganized the Tychonian Society as the Association for Biblical Astronomy (4527 Wetzel Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44109) and renamed the Bulletin to The Biblical Astronomer.  Two years later, he organized another conference on geocentricity, which was held in conjunction with a major creationism conference. 

Modern geocentrists have produced several books advocating Tychonian astronomy.  Bouw’s two books, With Every Wind of Doctrine (1984) and Geocentricity (1992), are the most sophisticated defenses of geocentricity ever published, and the only ones written by an astronomer with a Ph.D. from a first-class university (Case Western Reserve).  In 1988, Walter van der Kamp published a small geocentric book, De Labore Solis: Airy’s Failure Reconsidered.  And in 1991, Marshall Hall of the creationist Fair Education Foundation published The Earth Is Not Moving

All modern American geocentrists seem to be young-earth creationists who hold that the Bible compels them to reject Copernicus along with Darwin.  The variant of the Tychonian system advocated by the Association for Biblical Astronomy can predict exactly the same relative motions between celestial bodies as the conventional system.  This makes it far more coherent than Flood Geology, which often is helpless to account for geologic data.  Nevertheless, most creationists seem embarrassed by geocentricity.  (For example, the published proceedings of the 1985 National Creation Conference do not include or even mention the several geocentric presentations, let alone the two-hour debate on the relative merits of heliocentricity and geocentricity.) With a few exceptions, leading young-earth creationists publicly ignore—and often privately disparage—the geocentrists, who remain a small minority within the movement. 

Selected Bibliography

Bouw, Gerardus.  Geocentricity (Cleveland: Association for Biblical Astronomy, 1992). 

— With Every Wind of Doctrine (Cleveland: Tychonian Society, 1984). 

Hall, Marshall.  The Earth Is Not Moving (Cornelia, Georgia: Fair Education Foundation, 1991). 

Schadewald, Robert J.  “Scientific Creationism, Geocentricity, and the Flat Earth.” In Scientists Confront Creationism, edited by Laurie Godfrey.  New York: W. W. Norton, 1983. 

— “Scientific Creationism, Geocentricity, and the Flat Earth,” Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1981–1982, pp. 41–47. 

Stimson, Dorothy.  The Gradual Acceptance of the Copernican Theory of the Universe (New York: By the author, 1917). 

Van der Kamp, Walter.  De Labore Solis: Airy’s Failure Reconsidered (Pitt Meadows, B.C.: The author, n.d.).