The incorrigible Doctor Bouw: Answers in Genesis don’t like the look of him
As a natural follow on from my two blogs on Young Earth Creationism (here and here) I must make mention of this guy, Gerardus Bouw a fundagelical geocentrist. That’s right, you didn’t mishear me, I said geocentrist; that is, somebody who believes the Earth to be stationary and at, or near, the centre of the universe.
In my last blog in this series I looked at the theory of YEC Russell Humphreys who, as he tried to solve the YEC starlight problem, took a lurch toward geocentricity. However, in spite of that Bouw is not exactly flavor of the month with mainstream YECs. One of the Answers in Genesis writers, Danny Faulkner, had a very sharp exchange with the incorrigible Doctor Bouw . But more about that later.
So, just how can someone seriously maintain
an eccentric a geocentric view in the light of today’s knowledge? Well, you’d be surprised. Here’s how it can be done in two stages:
Stage 1: Coordinate system change.
The first stage involves a mathematical trick, a trick that is valid even under established astrophysics: One simply selects a coordinate system where Earth is at the origin, stationary and does not rotate. But if you do this don’t be surprised if one’s equations of motion turn out to be a noncovariant, complicated, and inconvenient. Coordinate systems are often selected for their mathematical convenience in the sense that one selects the system that makes the equations of the problem one is interested in as simple and convenient as possible. For example, if one is studying the proper motions of stars it is unlikely that one would choose a coordinate system that set the Earth’s rotation to zero because the stars would then possess huge rotational velocities that would increase in proportion to their distance from earth.
However, if one is so minded there is nothing to stop one using the Earth as a stationary non-rotating frame even though it may return rather perverse equations of motion. In fact going a step further, one can be completely non-committal about the interactions between heavenly bodies and proceed purely kinematically – that is, one proceeds only on the basis of the observed motions in the sky without regard to any dynamical theory of motion that posits the use of fields. This kinematic approach was, by necessity, the approaches of Ptolemy (2nd C) and Tycho Brahe (16th C) because these astronomers predated mechanics and gravitation. By creating models that superimposed a variety of circular motions Ptolemy and Tycho returned schemes that gave reasonable fits to what was observed in the heavens. In fact I suspect that if one tries hard enough using the Ptolemaic and Tychonian methods of using "wheels within wheels" to build the periodic motions in the heavens even better fits could eventually be achieved. The reason for this is that what is being carried out is a form of Fourier analysis of the motions. By the introduction of more and more harmonics in the form of circular motions one is effectively introducing more free variables that can be adjusted to improve fit. In fact Bouw himself seems to use the trick of multiplying variables (or “entities” as Occam would have it) in his desire to make a better fit: He does this by carefully distinguishing between what he calls geocentrism and geocentricity. According to Bouw:
In geocentricity, the earth is static, but not necessarily at the center if the universe. In geocentricity the earth is actually offset from the geometric center of the universe.
Thus, offsetting the Earth adds another free variable that can be adjusted to improve the fit of a geocentric frame of observation.
Stage 2: Positing an Ontologically Static or Preferred Frame.
Stage 2 is really the stage that sorts out the heathen from the
cranks true believers. If one is going to insist on using a coordinate system that makes the linear and rotational motion of the Earth zero then there must be a good physical reason why this preferred frame of reference is used. Just to claim that the Earth is stationary on the basis of sheer strength of assertion is not enough – one has to make clear that it is stationary with respect to something, presumably something significant and important enough to warrant one’s claim. At a quick reading of Bouw’s views it seems that he posits something he calls the plenum (to be identified with the Biblical firmament in his estimation). The plenum is an ether like substance that provides the stationary absolute frame of the cosmos. With respect to that frame, according to Bouw, Earth is stationary and near the centre. And with respect to that frame the stars on the edge of the universe are rotating at unbelievable speeds as they circumnavigate the cosmos all in one day! In Bouw’s view the cosmos has some kind of holistic property that holds it all together as it rotates round the Earth.
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.
I’ve no idea how Bouw explains such things as the dynamics of the weather which are affected by the centripetal accelerations that effectively define what "a rotating Earth" means. It looks to me as if Bouw is engaged in a one man rewrite of physics. But frankly the details of Bouw’s theories are not at the top of my hit list. In any case I suggest we leave him to his own devices and not mix with him for reasons that will perhaps become clear as I move onto to the next section. Like many other fundagelicals (such as we see at Answers in Genesis) Bouw believes he speaks with the authority of the Word of God and thus his righteous wrath is terrible to behold, as the man from Answers in Genesis, poor Danny Falkner, found out!
Geocentricity and the Bible
Let me say from the outset that the Bible is certainly geocentric in its point of view and for good reason: Suffice to say here that the Bible was written by arcadians whose natural perspective was that of an Earth rotationally and linearly static, with all motions being referenced with respect to this frame. A coordinate system where the Earth is stationary and not rotating is far more useful to the man in the street or the man working the furrow than a system where the Earth is considered to rotate. The arcadian's “coordinate system” which posited a static Earth as a preferred frame is perfectly valid for their purposes (But it is unlikely that they had in mind anything like Bouw's “plenum”.) In fact even today at the level of street and furrow a static Earth is a more useful frame than the frames used by astronomers who have other purposes.
However, let me now give you a sample of Bouw’s use of the Bible. His use of scripture is certainly worth comparing with that of YEC Russell Humprhreys. In my last blog entry on this subject I indicated how Humphreys was anxious to show that the Bible proved the Earth to be in a gravitational well. The following quote contains the “proof text” he pulled out of the hat:
But in a creationist cosmos having a center of gravity, if you were to travel outward from the center you would, on the average, go steadily "upward" in a gravitational sense. On a large scale, the heavens would be at a higher gravitational "altitude" than the earth. As Isaiah 55:9 says: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth . . ."
Now, compare that merciless violation of a Biblical metaphor with the way Bouw uses scripture in the samples provided below: (See here for the source of the quotes below)
Bouw: The earth is immobile as seen from outside the universe, that is, as seen from the third heaven, the location of the throne of God. (Note: a footstool is not a footstool if it is moving – Isa. 66:1.) And why heliocentrism instead of a-centricity or acentrism? Because the modern acentric model still divides the universe into unrelated sections; and because it was founded on the worship of the sun.
My Comment: Notice how the footstool metaphor has been interpreted to convey a literal message about motion! Are we then to interpret this to mean that the Earth is literally a footstool? Does it mean that God has feet and legs? Is it intelligible to talk of God as if He is an out-sized humunculus with a stationary frame of reference? Whether or not the Earth is moving when viewed outside the universe depends on entirely on the frame of reference – we could quite easily use a frame of reference which puts the Earth back into motion. What I think Bouw really means here is that the Earth is static with respect to his conjectured “plenum”. Notice the innuendo linking the heliocentric solar system with Sun worship. I bet the fundagelical Faulkner loved the hint that he is a crypto sun worshiper! Bouw is looking for some deep spiritual crime to hang his righteous wrath on: To this end he can satisfy himself that there is an idolatrous slant in current science, a sin punishable by death in the Old Testament.
Bouw: One of the arguments that creationists use against geocentrists is that geocentricity destroys the credibility of the creationist in the eyes of unbelievers like these two men. What makes them hard to win to the creationist cause is that they clearly see the hypocrisy. They have more insight into the nature of the argument than Faulkner has, for they cannot be “snowed” by illogical arguments. Geocentrists find that most atheists will acknowledge, as de Morgan, that geocentricity is science, whereas they will never admit that of creationism. Indeed, on a personal note, it was people like Danny Faulkner and Hugh Ross who converted me to atheism in my teen years. How? Because according to them, science led the way to the truths of heliocentrism and evolution while the Christian scholars needed thirty years or more to “come around.”
My Comment: According to Bouw AiG have not gone far enough: They must embrace geocentrism in order to help spread the Gospel rather than compromising with the heliocentric scientific conspiracy. However, I haven’t noticed ex-atheists queuing up to become geocentrists
Bouw: Here are the three strongest geocentric scriptures.
Joshua 10:13 says:
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Isnot this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.
Ecclesiastes 1:5 says:
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
And Malachi 4:2 says:
But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.
In Joshua 10:13 it is the sun that is said to stand still. God could have said “And the earth stopped turning so that the sun appeared to stand still,” but he didn’t. In effect, Faulkner claims that since it was inconvenient for God to tell the truth, he promoted the commonly accepted story, although the Holy Ghost knew it not to be true. How then can God say that he is the God of Truth and the Spirit of truth? Indeed, God’s creative power is such that his very speaking “the sun stood still” would instantly have transformed the acentric cosmos unto geocentric. It has been noted by scholars that God cannot lie because if he ever did, then the “lie” would immediately come to pass and it would instantly no longer be a lie. This they believe because God spoke the universe into being when it was not. So in a very real sense, to be consistent, those that reject the geocentric model must also reject the creationist model.
In Ecclesiastes 1:5 it is the sun that ariseth, goeth down, and hasteth. Again, God could just as well have spoken the “geokinetic truth” by simply adding the sense “seemeth to” before each of the three actions. That is, to say instead “The sun also seemeth to arise, and the sun seemeth to go down, and seemeth to haste to his place where he arose. Why did God persist in his geocentric “error”?
My Comment: Those scriptures are explained as the natural and perfectly acceptable geocentric frame and perspective of the arcadian (and moreover of any modern man in the street). But for Bouw anxious to accuse of heinous error it’s an all or nothing dichotomy: The concept of “perspective” isn’t in his book, and he doesn’t allow different perspectives to be right at the same time. Witch hunters have never been very sensitive to the notion of perspective and for Bouw the choice is between his version of geocentrism or apostasy. Notice also Bouw’s view that God “spoke the universe into being” in the manner of the magician who says “hey presto!”. In this respect his views are very similar to AiG’s concept of a God of Magic.
Bouw: In the light of this, his (that is Danny Falkner) charge that geocentrists “offer a very easy target of criticism for our critics” is revealed as sheer nonsense. Evolutionists, atheists, and agnostics in the know can easily shame creationists on the issue of geocentricity by simply pointing out the hypocrisy of their insistence that the days in Genesis 1 are literal while the rising and setting of the sun is not. Likewise, to insist that the rising of the sun is figurative while the rising of the Son is literal is also hypocrisy. Given that the geocentric model is pure physics, mathematically tractable, and realistic, and consistent with Scripture, we conclude that the creationist’s desire to reject it can only be for the sole purpose of appearing intellectual and acceptable to the world, which desire is enmity with God (James 4:4). The creationist movement is fortunate that evolutionists don’t understand these simple issues, for if they did, creationists would be shamed and held contemptible even more than they are now.
My Comment: It seems that Faulkner doesn’t want to look as though he is “with” Bouw! The self righteous indignation of Bouw (always the prerogative of those who know they are right) boils over and he shouts “hypocrite!” What Bouw is unlikely to appreciate is that Faulkner is probably right; AiG would be held in even more contempt if they became geocentrists.
Bouw has given the YECs at AiG a taste of their own medicine; namely, a dose of crass Biblical literalism. This literalism is used as a pretext for a self righteous tirade toward those who don’t share their interpretations and who are then accused of compromise. This whole incident is a fine example of how fundagelicalism often works against itself when two opposing sides who claim to have the very “Words of God” meet and slug it out in the name of the Lord. The irresistible force meets the immoveable object! Bouw’s approach to the Bible is like that of Humphreys, only more so, thus inadvertently caricaturing and satirising AiG. Indeed, if we are to accept AiG’s approach to scripture then why not go the whole hog and, as one fundagelical preacher once put it, believe “the Bible tells it like it is” and accept Bouw’s geocentrism? No, the Bible tells it like arcadians saw the universe and that must be borne in mind. But for Bouw and AiG religion is all about their elaborate trappings of piety; namely, their concepts of right practice and right belief. And if one doesn’t accept these elaborations one may come in line for some heavy shepherding: For Bouw gives dark hints about the association of heliocentrism and idolatry and AiG writers refer to Christians who disagree with them as merely “professing” Christianity. Religionists such as AiG and Bouw pay lip service to God’s Grace: For them salvation is intimately bound up with assent to their doctrinal articles about cosmology and a move away from these beliefs is treated as a potentially grave sin. Such is the authoritarianism of those who identify their interpretations with the very Words of God.