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Monday, February 19, 2007

The Insanity Parade: Seeing is Believing Edition

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another in our (highly) irregular series The Insanity Parade. In this series we examine and lampoon some bizarre website or other and hopefully learn something in the process. Realistically this almost never happens but if I can pretend that there's an educational purpose to all this I sleep better at night. Some of you may remember the last installment of the insanity parade when we examined the claims of Ramtha. As it goes without saying, her claims are complete and utter crap.

This time our subject matter comes to us courtesy of alert reader Bookmobile, who was nice enough to forward the link to a rather fascinating website. The site, named Fixed Earth has a fairly simple initial claim: that the Earth is not moving. Indeed, this website's goal appears to be to convince the rest of us that the Earth is indeed flat and that the Copernican Revolution in astronomy was all some sort of misunderstanding. If that isn't enough for you, he also hates evolution.

Now, to be honest, this is a fascinating website to me. As many of you know, I am something of an evolution proponent. As such I keep an eye on the Evolution/I.D. "debate" and often find myself growing frustrated with the sorts of arguments lobbed by the other side. One common rhetorical move is to point out that "evolution is only a theory." This idiotic assertion is then usually countered by scientists who point out that other major scientific theories include gravity, electricity, nuclear theory, and so on. Those theories all work well so, obviously, calling evolution a theory isn't much of a criticism. Now, normally I find this a fairly strong response and the I.D. people usually don't have much to challenge it with- I mean, hell, I think the I.D. folks are cranky but they at least believe in gravity, right? Well, maybe so, but it's pretty fascinating running across a creationist who literally thinks the world is flat. It's as though a cheap taunt has been made flesh ("Heh, you don't believe in evolution? Do you think the earth is flat too?") and I honestly don't know whether I should laugh or cry. Frequently I do both, but it freaks people out so I try to keep it to a minimum.

Fixed Earth does try to back its claims up with "evidence" but actually comprehending that evidence may prove difficult. Well, let me rephrase that: understanding the evidence is easy, grasping the arguments of the author is slightly harder. This is because they are, to put it simply, mind-numbingly incoherent. At the bottom of the Fixed Earth main page we find a set of links to 12 "Subject Areas." These include everything from Factless Copernican Model to No Excuse Left for Churches.* Within the first subject area, "Factless Copernican Model," we find a set of "articles" with names like Tycho Brahe Poisoned?! and Quotations From Contemporary Scientists Declaring A Non-Moving Earth Model Just As Valid As The Copernican Model.** Yummy!

Starting with the article Star Trails: A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words, we can begin to grasp the author's main point. He begins by posting a series of pictures of "star trails." These are long-exposure photographs of the night sky that show stars moving as the Earth rotates. If you point the camera in the direction of the North or South pole (depending on your hemisphere) you get what look like circles. So, they tend to look something like this:

Using these pictures, the author makes the following statements:

If you can do so for a few minutes, just lay aside the Copernican indoctrination that accompanies such pictures and take a good hard look at these photographs of something that really, really happens every single night.

Do you see what I see? I see all the visible stars in the northern skies going around the North Star in perfect circles. In other words, I see all the stars which these time exposures have recorded actually going around that navigational star that is there for we Earthlings in the Northern Hemisphere. Remember: the first two pictures are eight hour exposures. Again, look closely and you can see the third of a circle in the center and in the next star trail or so. This means that each star circles in one 24 hour day (i.e., 23 hours and 56 minutes).

You see that too, you say, but you "know" that this is really an illusion caused by the Earth rotating West to East ccw every 24 hours. Right? The stars are really not going around the Earth, you want to tell me (as if talking to a seven year old child). It just looks like they are moving because the Earth is rotating around its polar axis, and that rotation gives us the illusion that the stars are actually going around... as any fourth grader will explain to you. If you doubt that is what is really happening, just read under the pictures, for Pete’s sake! Most will tell you the same thing, and the others don’t bother because practically every literate person in the world knows that this is what is happening!

Well, this universally accepted explanation for this phenomena that we can watch with our own eyes and record on our own film is always the same. That is to say, we are assured that what we see and record with our cameras is an illusion caused by the Earth rotating on an axis in an East to West direction at an equatorial speed of c. 1040 MPH.

This universally accepted "explanation" is pure assumption! It is an "explanation" without the first piece of indisputable evidence to support it...and it is in denial of the plentiful evidence that rejects it!

The untouched photos themselves plainly and precisely "explain" what happens to the stars every 23 hours and 56 minutes, namely: They go around a stationary Earth! What we’ve all been taught is an "explanation" is--in fact--just one of seven interdependent assumptions which all interact to uphold the moving Earth mythology.

So, to sum all this up, he makes the argument that because the sky appears as though the stars are moving in circles they must really be doing so. We don't need to worry about perceptions- seeing is believing and we always correctly interpret what we see. This is, obviously, a pretty big problem because often time what we think we see isn't really what's there. Consider for a moment a man and a woman walking down the street together. They're smiling and laughing and each are eating ice cream. They pass you deep in conversation. "Wow," you think, "What a nice couple. They must really love each other."

The problem, however, is that you didn't see them do anything that indicates conclusively that they are a couple. Perhaps they are romantically involved but, then again, maybe they're just close friends or, for that matter, siblings.*** Any of these interpretations would fit your observations and any of them may be correct. As such what you see (i.e. the two people walking) and what you perceive (i.e. a couple on a date) are very distinct and separable things. Similarly, what we see in the sky are rotating stars but that doesn't mean that the stars are literally rotating in a circle. They might be but, then again, they may only appear to do so because of our vantage point. It isn't that our observations of the sky are "wrong" but rather that we have to figure out what those observations really mean. There is a difference between sight and perception, or observation and inference, and concluding that your existing perception is wrong doesn't mean the original sight was wrong. Put more plainly- deciding that the two people were just friends doesn't change anything about what you observed.

Now, keeping this "model" in mind (the author's model of astronomy I mean), let's see what the author does with a major piece of supporting evidence for a Copernican model: solar eclipses. The author has much to say about this subject which I will present below, with my own comments added in [brackets].

The solar eclipse tableau involving the sun, moon, and earth reveals a truly amazing fact about the universal acceptance of the Copernican Heliocentric Model of a rotating earth orbiting a stationary sun. That amazing fact is this: The Eclipse Tableau exposes as no other illustration does the bald truth that the Helio Model is built purely on assumptions that deny all observational and experimental evidence.

[Okay, first off, all models contain assumptions. Secondly, what the hell do you mean about 'denying observational and experimental evidence'? We have some pretty damn solid predictions of when eclipses are going to occur! Those are, themselves, arguments in its favor.]

Notice these seven assumptions which are indispensable to the Helio Model in general and are so apparent in the Solar Eclipse Phenomena.

1) It must be assumed that the Sun is stationary in the "solar" system relevant to the Earth (and to the Moon) and that it has never traveled East to West daily across the sky as observed by everyone on Earth throughout all history.

[This isn't so much an assumption of the model as it is an assertion and, besides that, we return once again to that "perception versus observation" issue. Seeing is believing, but it's not always the case that we know what it is that we are seeing.]

2) Likewise, it must be assumed that the Earth rotates West to East ccw (counterclockwise) on an "axis" every 24 hours at an equatorial speed of c. 1040 MPH in spite of there being no hard evidence for this motion whatsoever.

[I'm not sure what you mean by "hard evidence" but, really, the success of the space program, the existence of artificial satellites, and Foucault's Pendulum seem like pretty good indications to me.]

3) It must be assumed that the Earth is also orbiting the Sun annually (ccw) at an average speed of c. 67,000 MPH.

[This is not so much assumed as calculated but that's not the point. Wait, that is the point!]

4) It must be assumed that the Earth’s axial alleged tilt of 23.5 degrees--in combination with its assumed annual orbit around the sun--is the only available scientific explanation for the seasons.

[No, that isn't assumed at all. What is observed is that the sun's output doesn't vary sufficiently with the seasons to account for the differing weather. The changes in the angle of the sun, however, are sufficient and are perfectly in accordance with a round, rotating earth that possesses the stated axial tilt. By the way, you should have written "alleged axial tilt" not "axial alleged tilt." I have no goddamn idea what an "axial alleged tilt" would be.]

5) The Earth’s atmosphere must be assumed to be just an airy, fixed extension of the alleged rotating Earth. It is assumed and must be assumed that this atmosphere must have the remarkable ability to synchronize speeds of objects in it at all altitudes--birds, clouds, jets, low orbit satellites, alleged geo-synchronous satellites over 22,000 miles out--and to be unaffected by alleged Earth movements of speeds ranging from 1000 MPH to 67,000 MPH to 500,000 MPH to 660,000,000 MPH. This assumption is mandatory once the rotating Earth assumption is made and can not be ignored in the helio model of the eclipse phenomena.

[Whuh? What the hell are you talking about? The atmosphere doesn't synchronize objects' speeds at all. It's simply that everything on earth also has rotational velocity and, when you leave the surface, that velocity doesn't just go away. This is basic physics. Likewise, the current model doesn't include an atmosphere shell that extends all the way up to satellites- they're orbiting beyond the majority of the atmosphere, which is why they stay up so damned long in the first place. If you're going to make a bizarre argument, at least make it against real physics and not some freaky strawman physics from bizarro world!]

6) A particularly fantastic assumption necessary to accommodating the precise Solar Eclipse Phenomena in the Helio Model involves the bold reversal of the Moon’s observed direction of travel. Acceptance of this occult slight of hand from the Arcane Math Department of Mystic U. has no basis in reality, of course. Rather, it must be coupled with prior acceptance of the other assumptions of a rotating Earth orbiting a stationary Sun. No moon reversal means no accurate eclipse forecasts and no accurate eclipse forecasts means no heliocentricity model.

[No "moon reversal," as you put it, also means we couldn't land probes on the moon because it wouldn't be where we expected it to be! Evidently the author can't grasp the basic idea that if you're on a body that rotates faster than another object orbits in the same direction, that object will appear to move backwards. Likewise I can only assume that he wonders why, when he climbs on an office chair and spins it around, the entire world turns but he remains stationary. Indeed, quite a mystery. Hey, come to think of it, if he tried that little experiment with a person walking the same direction around the chair as he was spinning I think he'd see what I'm saying. Then again, that's just bunkum from "Mystic U," right crazy guy?]

7) It must be assumed that the Stars do not move around the Earth diurnally as observed by everyone who has ever lived.

[Again, not so much an assumption as an assertion of the model.]

Each one of these seven assumptions is dependent on the other six. They are all interdependent and totally without observational or experimental support. They are solely mathematical models contrived to account for eclipse and other phenomena and replace the fact that what we actually see explains the phenomena.

[And that's utter falsehood.]

I could continue quoting from this lunatic, but I really don't think I need to. The simple truth is that there is a wealth of evidence for a round, rotating earth. The parabolic trajectories of airliners, the observed curvature of the planet from high altitudes, the space program, artificial satellites, gravity measurements at the poles and at the equator, and even simple things like pendulums and the ability to circumnavigate the planet. The only possible way to believe that the earth isn't round and rotating is to be ignorant- and not just ignorant but willfully ignorant because otherwise the overwhelming preponderance of evidence is simply inescapable.

But, of course, this doesn't stop people from clinging to their ignorance anyway- especially when, as in this case, they can claim that their ignorance is heroic resistance of an imposed ideology. Specifically, the author claims that modern physics is just a dirty jew conspiracy. Goo goo g' joob. Well, if we're gonna be nutty, we may as well be racist as well. Once you add in his horrid spelling and grammar, we've hit the internet crank trifecta.

This also demonstrates something else- that from time to time people may be so desperate to refute one thing, that they stumble into even deeper idiocy. Do you think that the Fixed Earth page is stupid? Probably- but some of your elected officials don't. It turns out that State Representative Ben Bridges of Georgia recently sent a memo to Texas State Representative Warren Chisum that was then forwarded to the entire Texas Assembly. What was this memo about, you ask? Why, a way to get evolution out of schools by "proving" that it, and modern physics, are simply crazy Jew talk. Think I'm kidding? Check out this quote:

Indisputable evidence—long hidden but now available to everyone—demonstrates conclusively that so-called “secular evolution science” is the Big-Bang 15-billion-year alternate “creation scenario” of the Pharisee Religion. This scenario is derived concept-for-concept from Rabbinic writings in the mystic “holy book” Kabbala dating back at least two millennia. Evidence in the URLs below show conclusively that “evolution science” has a very specific religious agenda and (as with “creation science”) cannot legally be taught in taxpayer supported schools according to the Constitution.

Amazingly enough all of this does, in fact, originate with the Fixed Earth website and that is what those referenced links point to. It's not just internet cranks anymore but also elected officials who seem to think that the earth is flat. And, of course, they believe it in order to protect their faith.

Sight is a powerful thing and, as a scientist, I'm a big believer in observation as a way of settling disputes. The problem, however, is that what we see often isn't what we get. Our observations are, instead, just an imperfect window into a complex world and we have to recognize that our perceptions may not always match reality. Just because that cloud looks like a penis, it doesn't mean god is molesting us with the sky, and just because the sun appears to orbit the earth, it doesn't mean it really does.

I suppose most conservatives recognize this. I suppose most of them think that the earth is round and that it does orbit the sun. I suppose that any day now they will take a stand in favor of science and opposed to mindless rejection of solid research. I suppose all of this might be true...

But I'll believe it when I see it.

* Despite how that last one sounds, I think he means "No excuses left for churches to accept modern astronomy," as opposed to the more apparent interpretation, "No excuses left for churches, so let's just get rid of all of them."

** As it happens, I've run into this claim before and the explanation is simple. Astronomers readily admit that a fixed-earth model is adequate for a lot of observations so long as the model is sufficiently detailed. This is where the "celestial sphere" comes from. Thus, scientists aren't literally claiming there's no difference, only that for certain applications a fixed-earth approximation is sufficient. This is much the same as how Newtonian physics are a sufficient approximation of real physics to work in most circumstances.

*** My sister and I look very little alike, as it happens, so people who don't know us have from time to time mistaken us for a married couple. This really creeps us out, but we've made our peace with it.

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