Debunking the new geocentrists

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Karl Keating is the founder of Catholic Answers, one of the nation’s largest lay-run apostolates of Catholic apologetics and evangelization. For more than three decades, his career has been to patiently defend the Church, both in terms of its doctrine and its historical record, against attacks by those hostile to the Catholic Church.

But he also spars with those on the Catholic fringe, who espouse antagonistic attitudes to science and to the modern Church.

In his new book, The New Geocentrists, he takes on a small but very vocal pocket of conspiracy theorists who believe that Galileo was wrong and that the Church was right to condemn him and his book arguing that Earth and all the planets revolve around the sun. Further, these self-appointed champions of Catholic orthodoxy insist that not only was Rome right to condemn Galileo back in 1633 — but the condemnation was officially infallible, and that all Catholics remain bound as a matter of faith to accept the notion that the earth is physically and immovably fixed in the center of the universe — and all the heavens rotate around it.

Chances are you haven’t heard of this fringe group, but as Keating writes — in spite of their small numbers — they are attracting followers among the more traditionalist branches of Catholics.

The leader of the new geocentrists, Robert Sungenis, founded and still leads Catholic Apologetics International. With no substantial scientific background, except for having studied physics as an undergrad at George Washington University, Sungenis acquired a PhD in theology from Calamus International University, an institution which has no U.S. accreditation.

Nonetheless, Sungenis has managed to attract followers who do have science diplomas. With their help, he wrote a sprawling, self-published series of books called Galileo Was Wrong.

Keating goes into detail dismantling many of the bogus arguments from Sungenis’ book. In addition to publishing online articles in favor of geocentrism, Sungenis peddles his books and his ideas at friendly parishes — and he insists on challenging to a debate any Catholic who disagrees with him — as long as it’s in a friendly venue of his own choosing.

As for his scientific arguments? They wouldn’t fool a 10-year-old, as Keating shows. Here’s one example: If Earth is really not moving, how do you credibly explain geostationary satellites? Sungenis confuses them with GPS satellites, the functioning of which he misunderstands.

The same holds true for Sungenis’ inability to understand Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity, which he both loathes and claims nevertheless support geocentrism.

But, as Keating reveals in the book’s last chapter, Sungenis wanted to do more than simply publish his own books. Recently, he decided on a bolder approach of promoting geocentrism to a wider audience. He turned to Hollywood.

The finished product, The Principle, showed at only a few theatres in the country this past spring, generated plenty of controversy. Sungenis’ co-producer and principal marketer, Rick Delano, approached several prominent physicists, including Lawrence Krauss, Max Tegmark, George Ellis and Julian Barbour, about being interviewed for the film. As all of the scientists later made clear, they were never told the film’s intent was to slyly promote geocentrism.

Each of the scientists mentioned has since disavowed the film. Apparently, neither Tegmark nor Ellis nor Krauss had been made aware of the film’s intent and had no knowledge of Sungenis’ Galileo Was Wrong books.

To date, The Principle has not earned even $100,000. And perhaps this will be the high water mark of the new geocentrists. But, more likely, Sungenis will plod on, showing the film in DVD format to whomever will listen.

And after all, so what?  Why bother to worry about — let alone devote a book — to such unfounded science?

“We live in a credulous age,” Keating said on his Facebook page. “If that’s all they were doing — pushing a scientific theory, period — I wouldn’t have written The New Geocentrists. But they were arguing not just science but religion, insisting that the Bible and the Church mandate a geocentric view. They were laying on the shoulders of Christians a burden that the Church doesn’t put there.”

In short, the new geocentrists misconstrue the teachings of recent Popes and, according to Keating, of the Church itself, and that needs to be made clear.

In that key sense, Keating’s book is a valuable warning.

John Farrell is the author of The Day Without Yesterday: Lemaitre, Einstein and the Birth of Modern Cosmology from Basic Books. He writes about science, technology and media for Forbes.

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