Recently, I discussed how in The Discarded Image, C.S. Lewis elaborates on how Medieval cosmology exerted a profound creative influence on Medieval and Renaissance literature. Lewis worried that the creative aesthetic spark of this worldview had been lost in a utilitarian modern culture. It should not be a surprise that Lewis would incorporate elements of the Medieval worldview, which was both his academic specialty and passion, into his fantasy novels. Yet as Michael Ward points out in his book Planet Narnia, this aspect of Lewis’s work went unnoticed for decades and is only now beginning to be explored.
In this final blog on Geocentrism, I will present a rebuttal to the claims of modern geocentrists. This might seem like an exercise in futility, as those who reject geocentrism as gobbledygook will already have sound reasons for doing so, and those who do accept geocentrism are likely to adhere to the theory dogmatically and are unlikely to be swayed by any reason, religious, scientific, or otherwise. Given that one in five Americans believes this stuff, however, it’s good to have a firm grasp on the issue.
From my perspective, I believe that the fundamental religious issue here is one of fidelity to the meaning of the texts of scripture, which should be interpreted within the context in which it was written. An individual who starts from a modern viewpoint and reads contemporary questions of science into the text is simply not engaging in a literal (or sound) interpretation. Christian scriptures were not dictated by God from heaven (as in other religions), but were instead written by individuals operating within a specific historical and cultural environment. Scripture is viewed as “inspired” rather than “dictated”, in that they are viewed to contain the truth of God’s interactions with humanity from the pen and perspective of specific individuals in the setting of real culture and history. Viewing the scripture in this way does not question the truth of the Bible, but also does not assume that God was attempting to provide nomadic shepherds scientific theories which would be unintelligible 3,000 years ago and would continue to be until the advent of modern science.
As discussed last time, modern geocentrism is a widely held belief that many people may not even be aware exists. Unlike in ancient times, when such beliefs were commonly accepted by the religious and irreligious alike, today such models are held for primarily religious reasons. Geocentrism is deduced from a certain set of presuppositions regarding the interpretation of scriptures, rather than induced from examining the phenomena of the physical world. These phenomena must then either be reinterpreted or ignored in order to “preserve the appearances” of the model.
Fortunately, YEC organizations such as Answers in Genesis the Institute for Creation Research explicitly deny strict geocentrism. What does the adjective “strict” mean, however? It refers specifically to the Ptolemaic system discredited by Copernicus and Galileo. This leaves the door open, then, for a more common form of contemporary geocentrism, which could most easily be described as “relative geocentrism”. This theory posits that Einstein’s theory for general relativity provides scientific justification for a viewpoint in which the Earth was created first and the rest of the cosmos later created around it. Take the following comments posited by Dr. Gerrald Aardsma:
Apart from the intricate structure of Medieval cosmology, geocentrism was the default position for much of the ancient world, including the ancient Hebrews. One of the most fascinating aspects of geocentrism is that it has never entirely died out. When looking for some pictures (such as the one here) to include in a class presentation, I was surprised by some of the current support for the theory I found, and not just from fringe nutcases such as this or this. I think it is fair to say that such support starts with certain religious presuppositions regarding the interpretation of scripture, rather than from any scientific examination of the universe we actually live in. The type of logic used to justify a literal rather than contextual understanding of the Bible in support of a Geocentric universe is rightly rejected by nearly everyone I’ve ever met, although many young earth creationists (YEC) are vehement that the method of metaphorically interpreting verses in a culturally appropriate context (such as 1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 93:1, and Psalm 104:5) should only be applied to those passages which appear to support a geocentric cosmology. Following the geocentric rabbit hole, however, led to some bizarre places within the YEC subculture.
In preparation for a class assignment I recently had a chance to revisit The Discarded Image, one of my favorite books by C.S. Lewis. Different in tone and substance from much of his other writings, it is a series of lectures on the Medieval worldview drawn from his lectures on Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Oxford University.
One of my primary interests in the book is the aesthetic beauty of an outmoded view of creation, the “discarded image” of the title. Lewis’s description of the geocentric model is a stunning tour-de-force which invites the reader to truly understand how people viewed the world in a bygone culture. Drawn from classical sources such as Aristotle and Ptolemy, and passed on by early Medievals such as Lucan and particularly Boetheus, the model was appropriated by the Christian church, grafted into Biblical interpretation, and served as a foundational cosmology for nearly a millenium. Most literate adults are most familiar with a version of this model from Dante, but Lewis presents a portait that encompasses a vast swath of literature and poetry. This view of the universe did not only influence the imagination of the past, but has continued to provide influence for composers (such as Orff’s Carmina Burana) and writers such as Tolkein, Lewis’s own Narnia series, and even arguably for more recent fantasy writers such as Rowling. It is a universe filled with light, intelligence, and love. It is one of the most detailed, rational, and internally coherent cosmologies ever constructed.
And of course, it was wrong.