Monday, October 08, 2012

The Earth Goes Around the Sun

It does. But, it certainly doesn't look that way. It is and it was reasonable to build a system in which the sun goes around the earth. This was the view for thousands of years supported by the likes of Aristotle and then the catholic church. Even suggesting that it might be the other way round could get you into deep trouble with the church.

A geocentric model of the universe

From our lofty position in the 21st century we might wonder why the church cared which celestial object went around which. The church didn't really care on a scientific basis. They didn't have a scientific ax to grind it was just that it had been taught the other way so long and 'change' is just not in their vocabulary. This coupled with the idea that the earth is special and created by God and all heavens are just a light show for our evenings' entertainment. If we are special  then we ought to be at the center (not the third rock out) with everything going around us and the data be damned.

Now, from a purely scientific point of view it is not unreasonable to suggest that the sun (and everything else for that matter) goes around the earth. Like I said, it certainly looks that way. A hypothesis that says this is certainly a testable hypothesis. It can be well formed and it was and many models that tried to fit the data to the model were tried. In the end they all fall away at the beauty and simplicity of a sun centered system. The simplist explanation is usually the correct one (Ocam's Razor) and this is a fine example of it.

Why don't we teach students that the sun MIGHT go around the earth? It's a reasonable suggestion. Shouldn't ALL possible explanations be presented to the students? Isn't that fair?

Well it might be fair on some planet but it's not what is done in science class. As a history lesson it is and should be taught. As a good example of a well formed hypothesis that ended up being wrong* it should be taught. But it is certainly not taught as a possible reality that should be seriously considered.

The proponents of Creationism would like you to believe that they have a viable and well formed hypothesis and therefore it must be taught along with any other hypothesis that explains speciazation and basically how things got this way in our biosphere. The problem they have is that their hypothesis is so poorly formed. You can't have a scientific hypothesis that basically says that things were created out of nothing by a magically being. Why? Because it is untestable. There is no experiment you can do to SEE if the creator works or worked this way or whether or not he (or she) even exists. PLUS, we don't teach anything about a magical being in public school because that is the equivalent of teaching religion and of course that is the Creationist goal all along. They really don't have a science ax to grind. They only have a religion ax to grind and apparently teaching crazy shit on Sunday and as much as they want in their own home isn't enough for them. They want the magic rammed down everyone's throat whether they are believers or not.

We don't teach that the sun goes around the earth because, although this is reasonable, it is also testable and turns out to be wrong. We don't (at least we shouldn't) teach that the species we see on the planet were formed as is by an un-seen magical hand because for one it fails to cover all the facts and is just a bad model but more to the point of this article it is un-testable and has no place in the science class room. Teach it in religion class. Teach it in history class. Teach it in a class about different cultures but let's keep it OUT of the science classroom unless you need an example of really bad scientific method!

*By the way, there is a sentiment out there that says things to the effect that theories come and go. They work and then they are proved wrong. It is important to know that there virtually zero examples of a working theory being proved 'wrong'. It's already working, see? A hypothesis can be proved wrong. That's why it's called a hypothesis. People think that Newton was proved 'wrong' by Einstein. That's not the case. Newton's laws of gravitation work just fine and got us to the moon and back. Einstein extended the ideas to include crazy fast speed and crazy huge masses. Einsteins work reduces to Newton's if you let speed and/or mass be small. Evolution is way past being a hypothesis. It is a firmly established theory that explains how things got this way. It already works. To argue its veracity now is to just be very annoying and frankly transparent in your true goals (prayer in school).