We all have that family member or friend. The one who vehemently disagrees with the contemporary scientific consensus purely on the grounds of some non-scientific standard while still regarding it somehow as scientific. I’ve experienced it countless times particularly among relatives, especially those who, for example, outright deny the evidence for evolution, the big bang, and/or climate change. In any and all instances of pseudoscience, one must maintain a non-condescending manner while also explaining why the other person’s worldview does not comply with reality. The article I’ve chosen for my blog post, while not specifically about heliocentrism and geocentrism, goes along the same lines as to what to do with people who deny objective facts, and that is to take their reasoning to its logical (or rather illogical) conclusion and to provide an alternative explanation in its place.
Ian Whittaker of Nottingham Trent University wrote an excellent article a little over three months ago explaining in great detail why the “flat Earth” hypothesis is very misguided and ignorant of the observable evidence to the contrary. Near the start of his article, he gives an example of how the Ancient Greeks first discovered the Earth was globular. Very basically put, they had multiple sticks erected in various Greek cities and all documented the shape and direction of their shadows cast at the same time. What they found was that the shadows were all different from each other, meaning the Sun, while seemingly perfect in line with the Earth, was casting shadows at varying angles, leading the Greeks to confirm that the Earth did indeed have a curve as if it did not, this would not have occurred. After explaining this, he then goes into detail about an 1838 study which is often cited from flat-Earth proponents and explains why this study leaves out a few things, like the presence of mirages, and why it is not held in high regard by scientists today.
So what does all of this flat-Earth debunking have to do with geocentrism and heliocentrism? What they share greatly in common is that both the flat-Earth hypothesis and the geocentric worldview are based on ignorance, whether willful or not. This is not meant to sound discouraging, rather it is an affirmation of what really goes on in the minds of people who hold these misunderstood positions. Tradition, for example, is a dangerous justification to hold scientific ideas. That is to say, “this is the way it’s always been”, which is not how science works. Rather, science is determined by observable evidence, as Copernicus found himself when first proposing heliocentrism (he wasn’t necessarily the first to claim this as we learned in class, just the first to justify it with a preponderance of evidence). Instead of attempting to convince other scientists with persuasive rhetoric, he published his findings for others to observe the facts themselves. Our conversation in class about dispelling pseudoscience was what sparked me to write this post, as I take misconceptions of science very seriously. I firmly believe they must be addressed immediately, especially if they have far-reaching effects on society (such as anti-vaccination and faith healing).
As for what I learned from the article, I learned many new facts pertaining to dispelling the flat-Earth hypothesis. One example would be how the author near the end explains one of the most effective ways, especially for school experimentation purposes, of showing the curvature of the Earth is to attach a live camera to a high-altitude balloon and view it directly. As for the objective, I learned about Aristarchus of Samos, who I was previously unaware of. I had already known of Copernicus and his heliocentric model, however, I never knew about Aristarchus being the first one to propose a heliocentric model. This surprised me as I was not under the impression that heliocentrism was as well as it was understood then to be properly formulated.