Friday, August 19, 2011

The New Geocentrists Come Unravelled

Bob Sungenis  and "johnmartin" have written "rebuttals" of my latest essay, Sungenis and "johnmartin" Studiously Miss the Point (they can be found here and here.)  Candidly, all they have done is to provide further proof that the geocentric case is a massive exercise in ecclesiastical and scientific special pleading, gummed together with a hermeneutic of suspicion and a liberal dose of conspiracy theories to fill in the chinks.

I won’t be spending much time on "johnmartin"'s response, for the simple reason that it's silly.  For example, "johnmartin" twice makes the argument that the Roman Catechism teaches geocentrism because a contested section involving the “earth” comes under the heading "The Formation of the Universe."  But in a previous piece he agreed with me that this heading is a mistranslation, all without skipping a beat.  Hello?  Then there’s his commentary on John Paul II's statement concerning the contents of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Here's what the Holy Father said:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium.

Now most people understand that a "statement" means that you use actual words.  But "johnmartin" somehow manages to find geocentrism in the Catechism—despite it not actually being there:

JPII clearly states the doctrines taught in the catechism are “attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium”, which means the catechism is illuminated by the decrees of past Popes against Galileo, the church fathers, who taught geocentrism and scripture, that teaches a stationary earth. As such, the catechism embraces geocentrism as a teaching of the church through scripture, the magesterium [sic] and the fathers.

Right.  Did you get that?  And does his argument sound familiar?  It should.  In other words, according to “johnmartin”, geocentrism is found in what one might call the penumbras and emanations of the Catechism. 

He says of me that, "Mr Palm is a heretic who opposes the magesterium [sic] and as such, he has fallen from the faith" and issues the further rash judgment that, "Unfortunately it is Mr Palm who is making a shipwreck of the faith of many by perhaps making a god out of This Rock and any apologetics association he has association with such as Dave Armstrong or maybe Catholic Answers who back up his anti geocentrist arguments."  In light of such unceasingly silly and boorish behavior, it’s no wonder that Dave Armstrong eventually banned “johnmartin” from making comments at his blog.  Recall, this same “johnmartin” has been singled out for high praise from “top” geocentric “experts” like Rick DeLano and Bob Sungenis.  In spite of such clownish behavior, "johnmartin" expects to be taken seriously enough that he should be answered "line by line".  I think I’ll pass.

Now, turning to Bob Sungenis, while I’ve never been impressed by his scholarship in this area, I’m genuinely a bit shocked at the degree to which his arguments continue to degenerate.  He's supposed to have studied this issue in great detail (Galileo Was Wrong was essentially his putative doctoral dissertation on geocentrism) and yet his reply was just shot through with outright errors, not to mention more of his usual debater's tricks.  Here are just a few examples:

  • "For example, Copernicus’ 1543 book, De Revolutionibus, which espoused heliocentrism, was put on the Index in 1548."

This is false.  The Index of Forbidden Books was not even established until 1559.  I think it's fair to surmise that Copernicus' work could not be put onto the Index before the Index was established.  (Bob's oddly anachronistic argument here is reminiscent of his repeated insistence that the essential context for St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, chapter 11 is the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, which took place 13 years after the writing of Romans and 3 years after St. Paul was dead; see here.)

In reality, Copernicus' work was not put on the Index until 1616, after the writing of the Roman Catechism.


  • "Rheticus’ book on heliocentrism was put on the Index in 1541."

False.  Obviously Rheticus' book, like that of Copernicus, couldn't have been put on the Index before it was even established.  I find no evidence that Rheticus' works were ever put on the Index, but my search was certainly not comprehensive.  Even if they were at some point, it certainly was not in 1541 or even in 1616, so Bob's statement is false.

  • "It [the Roman Catechism] never says the earth moves and, in fact, says the earth “stands still”"

False.  The Roman Catechism never uses that phrase.  Once again, Bob is adding words to the Catechism that are not there.  And it's time for him to stop dodging the exegetical argument I deployed that proves that the "foundation of the earth" passage has nothing to do with the position of the globe in relation to the universe, but instead speaks of the relationship of dry land to water on the surface of the earth.  Here is the passage again:


The earth [terram] also God commanded to stand in the midst of the world [mundi], rooted in its own foundation, and made the mountains ascend, and the plains descend into the place which he had founded for them. That the waters should not inundate the earth, He set a bound which they shall not pass over; neither shall they return to cover the earth. He next not only clothed and adorned it with trees and every variety of plant and flower, but filled it, as He had already filled the air and water, with innumerable kinds of living creatures.

Notice again that the Catechism states that God clothed the terram with "trees and every variety of plant and flower".  He also filled it with living creatures, "as He had already filled the air and water".  In other words, this terram is something distinct from the air and the water.  The passage makes perfect sense if terram means "dry land", as it does in Gen 1:10.  It makes no sense whatsoever if it means the entire earth, as in "the globe"—which is what the geocentrist needs it to say.

As such, I challenge Bob to provide a coherent counter-exegesis to support his interpretation or admit that this passage says nothing about geocentrism.  That goes for "johnmartin" too, who, as I accurately stated, did not even engage this exegetical argument.  It is Bob's claim that the Roman Catechism contains "One of the clearest official and authoritative statements from the Catholic Church defending the doctrine of geocentrism..." and he speaks of the "Roman Catechism’s dogmatic assertion of geocentrism".  This is the passage that he claimed would, "expel any doubt about what objects are revolving".  Thus, he is the one who needs to prove that his is the only possible reading of this and the other passages.  Remember that he is the one making this claim that not even the prelates during Galileo's day made, that the Roman Catechism teaches geocentrism dogmatically and clearly.  He's already given the game away by saying my interpretation could be correct.  To support his exaggerated claims he would need to demonstrate that my view is not reasonable and that his is the only interpretation that is reasonable.  But while he's already given the game away by saying my interpretation could be correct, he has yet to show how his own interpretation is even reasonable at all, let alone the only correct one.  It is past time to stop dodging his burden of proof and provide some, or else finally admit that he has misread this passage.

  • "Oresme suggested the earth might be rotating, but such diurnal motion was rejected by the Index in 1541, 1548 and condemned both in 1616 and 1633."

False.  No such ideas were addressed on the Index in 1541 or 1548, because it had not even been established yet.  And the geocentrists have greatly exaggerated the nature of the condemnations of 1616 and 1633.  See my Geocentric Double Standards and Exaggerations on Magisterial Documents and also more detail in a forthcoming essay.

  • "the Tridentine catechism knew of no alternate scientific theory other than heliocentrism when it supported geocentrism. It made no statement accepting heliocentrism. It made no mention of acentrism, or any other view. It gave no credence to Oresme, Cusa, Aristarchus, Pythagorus or any view that said the earth moved;"

Gratuitous assertion and straw man.  Cardinal Cusa's theories were never condemned and Bob has no proof that the authors of the Catechism could not have been aware of them.  And once again, Bob is tilting at windmills.  I specifically said that the Catechism does not teach any cosmological system.  It teaches nothing and rejects nothing about specific cosmological systems.

  • "the Tridentine catechism knew that the Catholic tradition believed the earth did not move and it makes no statement that indicates a break with the Church’s tradition, including no break against the consensus of the Fathers on geocentrism."

and

  • "How about the damage Mr. Palm creates when he puts the Tridentine catechism at odds with the very Tradition it came from? How about the damage Mr. Palm creates when he says that previous pontiffs, who based their condemnations of heliocentrism on Tradition and Scripture, made mistakes on cosmology, but the current clerics, who base their decisions on the shifting winds of popular science, are correct?"

Again, straw man.  One more time—The Catholic Church does not teach any system of cosmology as a matter of faith.  A Catholic is free to hold to geocentrism.  A Catholic is free to hold to acentrism.  No theory of celestial motion is a matter of faith in the Catholic Church.  Thus, obviously, I never said that the Catechism breaks with any tradition.  Rather, it uses generic language that does not assert any specific cosmological system.  So, enough of Bob's debater's tricks and straw men.

It belongs to a future essay to demonstrate that there is no such doctrinally binding consensus of the Fathers on geocentrism.


  • "the only reason Settele got his imprimatur was because a lie was being circulated by the Commissioner, Olivieri that the Church of the 1600s denied heliocentrism because it didn’t have elliptical orbits."

False.  In the process of accusing a priest of purposeful subterfuge Bob has seriously garbled the facts.  Let me just cite two points here, with more to come in the future.  First, several times in GWW2 (e.g. pp. 233, 244-5, 261, 262) he speaks of Fr. Olivieri as the Commissary General of the Congregation of the Index.  But Fr. Olivieri actually held that position in the Congregation of the Holy Office (the same office that issued the Galileo decree.)  A relatively small point, perhaps, but if you're going to accuse a priest of ecclesiastical treason then it behooves you to get your facts straight.

What's made very clear throughout GWW2 is that Bob doesn't like Fr. Olivieri very much.  Here are just some of the charges he levels.  He accuses Fr. Olivieri of being "devious", of "tortured logic", of putting forth "one of the most ludicrous and egregious forms of rationalization ever propounded by an ecclesiastical ward", of "calculating and deceptive motives", of "duplicity", of "twisting the truth", of "outright falsehood", of "attempt[ing] to twist and distort the truth", of a "concocted analysis", of "specious argumentation", of "malicious distortion of the historical record", of a "deliberate attempt to confuse the issue by inserting the red herring of elliptical orbits", and of "one of the most deceptive pieces of propaganda ever foisted on the Catholic Church".  (Does this level of insult and invective sound like the kind of material you would expect to find in a "doctoral dissertation"?  Not to me.)

But the fact is that Bob has seriously misrepresented Fr. Olivieri's arguments.  In the quote above and in GWW2 Bob boils the whole thing down to a matter of "elliptical orbits".  He asserts, without evidence, that, "'devastating mobility' refers to non-elliptical planetary revolutions" (GWW2, p. 250).  He calls this claim "preposterous" and so it would be, if that was actually what the Commissary General was saying.  But Bob has misconstrued what Fr. Olivieri meant by "devastating motion".

When the Commissary General speaks of, "the devastating motion from which Copernicus and Galileo had been unable to free the motions of axial rotation and orbital revolution which they ascribed to the earth" (Finocchiaro, Retrying Galileo, p. 208), he meant that the natural philosophers of Galileo's day (and even Galileo himself) could not figure out how it could be that the earth was revolving around the sun and rotating on its axis and we don't experience that as a devastating motion that lays waste the surface of the earth.  He cites Msgr. Fabroni explaining just this:

The Roman theologians were stressing the great disturbances of which we spoke, that is, the confusion of things produced by the earth’s motion. . . . the waters of the sea, the flow of rivers, the waters of wells, the flight of birds, and all atmospheric phenomena would be completely disturbed and intermingled (Finocchiaro, Retrying Galileo, p. 207).

Fr. Olivieri says, rightly, that this "devastating motion" was one of the reasons that the theological commission in 1616 said that Copernicanism was "absurd in philosophy", by which they meant natural philosophy, i.e. science.  But even the new geocentrists have to admit that this ruling has been proved to be erroneous, that there is now no natural philosophical absurdity in saying that the earth rotates around the sun and revolves on its axis.  How in the world Bob equates "devastating motion" with "non-elliptical planetary revolutions" is a great mystery.  What is clear is that Bob has totally misunderstood and misrepresented Fr. Olivieri on this point.

Fr. Olivieri also pointed to many other instances in which the views of modern astronomers differed from a strict Copernicanism.  Elliptical orbits was one.  He also noted that astronomers no longer believe that the sun is the center of the universe.  They no longer believe that the sun is motionless.  They have solved the difficulties of the "devastating motion" problem, thereby clearing modern views of the natural philosophical absurdity that formed a key part of the evaluation of the theologians of the Holy Office in 1616.  And Fr. Olivieri pointed to additional scientific discoveries and observations—most notably aberration and nutation—that gave additional support to non-geocentric cosmology (these can only be explained in the geocentric system through more special pleading.)

I will have more to say about the actions of the Congregation of the Holy Office in 1820-22 later.  But I believe what I have outlined above shows that Bob has vastly oversimplified and therefore garbled the matter by speaking only of elliptical orbits.  He then repeatedly slanders a Catholic priest based on his own confused analysis.



What's more, I would note something else that I will be expanding upon, namely, that this is all perfectly in line with the Church's actual canonical protocol.  The Catholic Church has taught from time immemorial that canonical censures are to be interpreted strictly.

Laws that establish penalties, restrict the free exercise of rights, or contain an exception to the law must be interpreted strictly (c. 18) It is long-standing canonical tradition that restrictive laws must be narrowly applied. . . . Strict interpretation means that the sense of the words of the canon and the scope of its application are limited as much as reasonably possible. (J. A. Coriden, An Introduction to Canon Law, 202-3)

Note well that it is the geocentrists who turn this principle on its head by striving to apply the 1633 decree against Galileo as broadly as possible, to as many people as possible.  Conversely, the Catholic Church applies her canonical principles to modern cosmological views and rules that these don't fall under the disciplinary decrees of the seventeenth century.


  • "In 1833, only 178 years ago, the Church required a disclaimer to be put on Newton’s Principia stating that the “Supreme Pontiffs have decreed, against Newton, that the Earth does not move.”"

This is yet another example of blatant geocentrist exaggeration and what might be termed "fabricative evolution".  Here's what Bob says about this matter in GWW:

when the three-volume edition of the Principia was published in Geneva, the Catholic Church apparently had enough power to assign two Minim friars from the Franciscan order, Thomas Le Seur and Fran├žois Jacquier as editors . . . although Newton assumed the heliocentric system to be true, this was not the belief of the editors, Le Seur and Jacquier, who represented the Catholic Church (GWW2, p. 241).

Here, Bob starts with an assertion, made up out of whole cloth, that "the Catholic Church apparently had enough power to assign two Minim friars from the Franciscan order . . . as editors"  He claims that they were, "commissioned by the Church".  But he cites no evidence that the Church had anything officially to do with these friars being the editors of the Principia.  None.

But in his latest reply to me this gratuitous assertion takes on a life of its own and evolves even further.  Now, suddenly, according to Bob, "the Church required a disclaimer to be put on Newton’s Principia" (my emphasis).  This is, of course, a gross exaggeration.  Two priest-editors with no official mandate suddenly evolve into "the Church".  If there were anyone who would have made hay of these priests' alleged official status, it would have been William Roberts.  Roberts wrote a book attacking papal infallibility based on the Church's handling of the Galileo affair.  Yet, even Roberts called this merely "the opinion of its Roman editors" (The Pontifical Decrees Against the Doctrine of the Earth's Movement, p. 53; my emphasis).

Considering the fact that Galileo Was Wrong was essentially Bob’s putative “doctoral dissertation” on geocentrism and that Bob received particular praise from Calamus International for the alleged depth and caliber of his research, one wonders how he failed to even find, let alone interact with, the copious material I’ve presented here that contradicts his thesis.  It’s not as if this material was hiding somewhere or as if I’ve spent the hours necessary to earn a doctorate.

  • "If the Church came out tomorrow with an official and binding statement and said that the previous Church was wrong in condemning heliocentrism and that science has confirmed that heliocentrism is true and the only cosmology we should accept, I and everyone else would forsake geocentrism in a second."

If Bob wants to assert once again that cosmology was somehow specifically excluded from these teachings of Leo XIII and Pius XII—despite the fact cosmology is considered the most obvious application for their words—then the burden is on him to prove that, not just assert it.  The point that seems to elude him is that these popes laid out a general principle that plainly applies to cosmology.  If he wants to carve out an exception to this principle for geocentrism, then he needs to provide justification from these encyclicals or some other authoritative source—something he has failed to do.  As such, his argument here is nothing more than bare, unsupported assertion—in a nutshell, more special pleading.

After that, he needs to explain why the entire Magisterium of the Church—popes and bishops—behaves and teaches as if these documents were addressing cosmology, even going so far as to publicly acknowledge the probability of non-geocentric cosmology.  Based on history, we can anticipate the likely answer: it’s all the result of ineptitude and cowardice.

Still, if the statement above is Bob's real position then well and good.  But it is very, very different from what he has said elsewhere.  For example:

If we say the 17th century magisterium erred, then it is a fact that the Holy Spirit allowed the Church to err, and if the Church can err in what it then declared as a matter of faith and morals (i.e., it was a matter of faith because Scripture taught the earth didn’t move, and Scripture cannot lie), then it can also err in matters of faith and morals today, and if that is the case then we simply don’t have the Catholic Church we have claimed to have. This is an all or nothing game, gentlemen. We can no longer sit on the proverbial fence and shun one period of our official magisterium as seriously misguided and accept the unofficial musings of another period as correcting the former, especially since modern science gives us no help in substantiating the latter (link).

Or how about a talk he gave in Canada during which this was reported:

Later on in the lecture, he actually said verbatim that if you did not believe in a geocentric universe you were atheist [if Bob denies that he said that, fine, but apparently there is an audio recording of it.]

So which view does Bob hold now?  The Church could teach against geocentrism and that would be just fine, or that if the Church taught against geocentrism we simply wouldn't have the same Catholic Church?


  • "How many times have you heard people use the Church’s supposed mistakes in the Galileo affair to posit that she can make mistakes in other important areas? Too many times. It’s the very argument feminists use for a female priesthood, and homosexuals use to say that the Church is culturally biased against them, or any number of issues that involve an interpretation of both the ecclesiastical and scientific data."

Yes, some people argue this way.  That doesn't make it a good argument.  And how does this make the geocentrist response tenable?  How does this make the scenario they paint any better than the scenario they’re reacting against?  In order to make their case, the geocentrists argue that the Church has been run by such incredibly inept and cowardly leaders from top to bottom that the fullness of the faith has been effectively abandoned and hidden from Catholics for last 300 years!

Fortunately, there’s a way to defend the Church aside from these two extremes that has the added benefit of aligning with the facts.  All the geocentrists need to understand is that any alleged consensus of the Fathers only binds on matters of faith and morals (as Leo XIII teaches) and that the matter of geocentrism was, as Fr. Brian Harrison rightly said, "promulgated only in disciplinary documents, not in formally doctrinal ones . . . [and] was never promulgated directly and personally by any Pope, only indirectly, through the instrumentality of the Vatican Congregations of the Index and the Holy Office".  That is, the Church has never taught geocentrism as a matter of faith, in either her ordinary or extraordinary Magisterium.  As the Protestant scholar Karl von Gebler has said:

The conditions which would have made the decree of the Congregation, or the sentence against Galileo, of dogmatic importance, were, as we have seen, wholly wanting.  Both Popes had been too cautious to endanger this highest privilege of the papacy by involving their infallible authority in the decision of a scientific controversy; they therefore refrained from conferring their sanction, as heads of the Roman Catholic Church, on the measures taken, at their instigation, by the Congregation “to suppress the doctrine of the revolution of the earth.”  Thanks to this sagacious foresight, Roman Catholic posterity can say to this day, that Paul V. and Urban VIII. were in error “as men” about the Copernican system, but not “as Popes.”  (Karl von Gebler, Galileo Galilei and the Roman Curia, trans. J. Sturge, London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1879, p. 239)

I personally might say "overreacted" rather than "were in error", but the point is that even a Protestant scholar can agree with what I wrote in a previous essay, "The seventeenth-century Popes knew perfectly well how to promulgate doctrinal decrees binding on the whole Church. But they consistently refrained from doing so with regard to geocentrism."  So if someone wants to continue to use the Galileo incident to excuse his rejection of the Catholic Church's authority, then let him.  But a sober evaluation of the actual facts—setting aside the exaggerations of both neo-modernists and the new geocentrists—provides the solid ground any Catholic needs to be confident in the integrity of the Magisterium.

  • "If Mr. Palm thinks otherwise, he needs to find us a statement after 1943 on full biblical inerrancy, or find a Catholic institution today that teaches it. He won’t be able to."


False.  First, and most obviously, note that 1943 is only 69 years away, which is a far cry from the 300 years Bob needs in order to create a parallel with geocentrism.  But even worse, he's just flat out wrong that 1943 was the last magisterial reiteration of full inerrancy.  In 1998 Pope John Paul II issued the document Ad Tuendam Fidem which amended Canon Law to include measures to be taken against heretics, those who publicly profess views contrary to the dogmas of the Catholic Church.  In its commentary on this document, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith laid out three tiers of doctrines and delineated the level of assent that is required for each.  The first category of doctrine contains those which are infallibly proposed, which are "defined with a solemn judgment as divinely revealed truths either by the Roman Pontiff when he speaks 'ex cathedra,' or by the College of Bishops gathered in council, or infallibly proposed for belief by the ordinary and universal Magisterium."  Examples include the Virgin Birth of our Lord, His bodily resurrection from the dead, the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff when speaking ex cathedra, the Immaculate Conception of our Lady, etc.  The CDF states that, "These doctrines require the assent of theological faith by all members of the faithful.  Thus, whoever obstinately places them in doubt or denies them falls under the censure of heresy, as indicated by the respective canons of the Codes of Canon Law" (link).

One of the truths which belongs to this category is "the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts".  The authority cited for this doctrine is Dei Verbum 11.  This, then, represents an authoritative interpretation of this passage from the Second Vatican Council.  According to the CDF, with explicit approval of the Pope, Dei Verbum 11 teaches "the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts," not (as the revisionists would have it) the absence of error insofar as the text in question is salvific in nature or some other such limiting interpretation.  The absence of error in the inspired sacred texts is not limited or modified in any way.

As such, Bob is wrong about the Magisterium not reasserting full biblical inerrancy.  Let’s hope that he will rejoice with us at this good news rather than seeking out additional difficulties in order to hold on to his geocentric “pebble.”

Finally, as for Catholic institutions that still teach full biblical inerrancy, Bob only asked for one, but here are three off the top of my head (I'm sure more could be added): Thomas Aquinas College, St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, and the University of Navarre.  Sadly, we can't add Bob's organization to that list because he was told by his bishop to take the word "Catholic" off his apostolate.

I hope that the material above will further help those who have encountered modern Catholic geocentrists to see that geocentrism is just as I have described it—an elaborate exercise in scientific and ecclesiastical special pleading, gummed together with a hermeneutic of suspicion and a liberal dose of conspiracy theories.



Postscript:

I would like to make clear that I continue to have mixed emotions about engaging Bob's arguments for geocentrism.  Among other things, I'm concerned that in the process of following these lengthy discussions, some readers may naturally tend to forget or be unaware of far more serious and dangerous problems related to Bob Sungenis' writing:  1) his continuing, public slander of Bishop Kevin Rhoades and 2) his anti-Jewish bigotry.  I want to ensure that no one is unwittingly drawn into these more dangerous areas as a result of these discussions and that I don't ever give the impression that I consider Bob's behavior in these other areas as anything less than outrageously unacceptable.

Bob has ignored the new essays that Michael Forrest and I have written that further expose what Bishop Rhoades himself calls Bob's "slanderous and erroneous" attacks and accusations against His Excellency (links below).  Bishop Rhoades has also rightly described Bob's attacks on the Jewish people as "hostile, uncharitable and un-christian."  Matters have degenerated to the point that a conference in England was shut down in large part because Bob was chosen as a last-minute replacement to speak there (see here.)

I think readers will also find in the documentation below ample parallels to the same sloppy scholarship, tendentious argumentation, and slander that we have seen him deploy here in support of geocentrism.  Bob needs to forthrightly retract and apologize for his ugly statements attacking the Jewish people (which can found here and here).  He also needs to retract his baseless, public accusations of heresy against Bishop Rhoades, issue an unqualified apology to His Excellency, and do penance in reparation for the scandal he has caused.

Bishop Rhoades and the Dual Covenant Theory

A Defense of Bishop Rhoades from More False Accusations by Robert Sungenis

Sungenis' Own Standards of Heresy: Why Don't They Apply to Bishop Rhoades?