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“Everything we think we know about our universe is wrong.”

by Greg Krehbiel on 9 April 2014

I am a Star Trek fan, so when my daughter told me that Captain Janeway was going to narrate a documentary about the Sun revolving around the Earth, I had to look it up. Sure enough.

Star Trek’s Kate Mulgrew Says She Was Duped on Film Narration

Robert Sungenis, the man behind the film, is an interesting character that I’ve interacted with online and spoken with on the phone a couple times. He’s an uber-conservative Catholic, and back when I was obsessing on that stuff his name was everywhere. He has some odd views on many things, including science.

None of that concerns me in this post. My real point is to wonder how any of us actually “know” that the Earth revolves around the Sun. I don’t doubt that it does, but I also realize that I’ve never seen any data or actually studied the question. In fact, I have little doubt that your average geocentrist knows more about the facts, figures and relevant issues than your average heliocentrist, simply because in order to be a geocentrist these days you are far more likely to have read about the subject, while to be a heliocentrist all you have to say is “everybody knows that.”

It’s like the guy who’s “sure” that the earth is billions of years old and he knows this because oil is made from dead dinosaurs. Well, yes, the earth is billions of years old, but oil is not made of dead dinosaurs.

We think we know so many things, but our knowledge is no more than skin deep. Your average believer in [fill in just about anything that "everybody knows"] has far less “reason to believe” than the heretic, who has studied all sorts of weird stuff and come to outlandish conclusions. For example, the average Jehovah’s Witness has far more data for his wrong-headed ideas than the average Trinitarian.

Our belief in heliocentrism is really just a belief in the reliability of established opinion.

-- 2014-04-09  »  Greg Krehbiel

Talkback x 9

  1. Robin R.
    9 April 2014 @ 10:50 am

    My favorite example of the same thing is: How do I know that I have a brain?

    Granted that I don’t know that I do, but it is nonetheless something I should believe, the next question is: Under what conditions should I believe things I don’t know?

    Perhaps it is a matter of trust. But why should I trust other people if I don’t even know that they exist as conscious entities?

    I don’t have one single scrap of evidence to indicate that there are other conscious entities besides myself, right?

  2. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    9 April 2014 @ 10:57 am

    It is an odd conundrum and puts the lie to the whole “I only believe what I can prove” nonsense.

  3. DSM
    9 April 2014 @ 12:00 pm

    There are actually some interesting questions raised about how things “really are” when there are equivalent mathematical representations of a system with different physical interpretations.

    If you can model gravity on a curved spacetime with one set of equations, and on a flat spacetime with another — you usually work this out as homework in a GR course, e.g. the Big Black Book — and the two have identical predictions, do we “know” that spacetime is curved? What if they have different predictions in some cases, but we can’t test those predictions yet?

    Even in physics, we tend to “know” things which seem most natural and elegant to us.

  4. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    9 April 2014 @ 1:32 pm

    @DSM, it’s my understanding that heliocentrism caught on despite the math — i.e., that the jury rigged math to make geocentrism work was actually better at predicting things than the early heliocentric models, and that heliocentrism caught on because it was more elegant.

    So then (not with heliocentrism, but as a general rule) are we justified in believing the “more elegant” answer? If so, why? In a way it strikes me as a theological position.

  5. DSM
    9 April 2014 @ 5:08 pm

    Yep, there was definitely a long period where in terms of sheer numerical agreement, the outcomes were better from the old model. By modern standards though that isn’t particularly impressive as they were putting in a lot more to get that output, so predictive power per input wasn’t very impressive…

  6. smitemouth
    10 April 2014 @ 1:07 pm

    Isn’t it the case that if geo-centrism is true, nearly everything we know about science is wrong? For instance, what we think about gravity would probably be wrong, because then objects of lesser mass would not orbit objects of greater mass…

    It is true that most of what lay people accept as fact regarding science is accepted by faith from the high priests–teachers, scientists, and “experts”.

    It’s funny/ironic that Sungenis has books out about how Galileo was wrong and the church was right when now the church admits it was wrong and Galileo was right.

  7. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    10 April 2014 @ 1:10 pm

    It’s hard for me to imagine how many other things would be wrong if geocentrism were true. DSM might be able to catalog a few of them.

    Sungenis is an odd character. It’s dangerous to follow the crowd, but it’s also dangerous to be too much of an outlier.

  8. Dave Krehbiel Dave Krehbiel
    10 April 2014 @ 2:58 pm

    I’m confused. If space is curved, does that mean the world is flat?

  9. pentamom pentamom
    10 April 2014 @ 8:34 pm

    Off the top of my head, and conceding that I’m not even a very well-informed amateur about this stuff, it occurs to me that if geocentrism were true, that whole Apollo program thing wouldn’t have worked. If geocentrism were true, the sun’s gravitational pull would have a markedly different effect on space flight, and attempting to fly to the moon with all the wrong assumptions about that would have been disastrous.

    Dave, of course the world is flat. Just go to Indiana sometime and you’ll see. ;-)