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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

The Principle: A Documentary About Geocentrism. Yeah, I Know.

By Phil Plait

Of all the wrongiest wrongs that ever wronged wrongness, Geocentrism is way up on the list. The idea that the Earth is the center of the Universe makes creationism look positively scientific in comparison. It might be edged out by people who think the Earth is flat, but just barely.

And yet somebody actually went out and made a “documentary” where, apparently, that is exactly what they’re trying to promote. It’s called The Principle, and it’s making the rounds on the ‘Net right now. Here’s the trailer. Be ye fairly warned, says I: head asplodey stuff enclosed.

The trailer does seem to be making a case for Geocentrism (it's mentioned specifically), but given the title, I would guess they're going to try to make a broader point that the Universe itself was made—created, if you will—purposely for us. This idea (broadly speaking) is called the strong anthropic principle (hence the doco title), and as a philosophy it's not terribly informative. It's fun to think about in a limited sense, but in the end it always boils down to "God did it," which is slamming a door in the face of exploration and inquiry. I'm not a big fan of that.

About the trailer, yes, it’s narrated by Kate Mulgrew, aka Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager. Some people are lamenting this, wondering if she’s a geocentrist. I doubt it, and you can’t necessarily judge an actor for the work they do. Mitch Pileggi (from The X-Files) narrated an episode of Exploring the Unknown debunking the Apollo Moon hoax, yet he also narrated Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? So you can’t jump to any conclusions here.

[UPDATE (Apr. 8 at 20:15 UTC); Well, that was fast. Kate Mulgrew just posted a note on Facebook disavowing the film in no uncertain terms. Thanks to Ben_Etc on Twitter for pointing this out to me!]

What’s far more interesting is that the trailer shows physicists Michio Kaku and Lawrence Krauss, both of whom, I strongly suspect, would call Geocentrism nonsense (and wait! Krauss did exactly that). So why are they in the movie? I would guess the producers didn’t tell them exactly what the movie was about when they did their interviews; that’s more common than you’d think. The makers of the execrable movie Expelled did just that to several scientists. A German TV company did that to me about a Moon hoax documentary they filmed me for (the segment promoted the hoax).

Update, April 8, 2014 at 15:15 UTC: On Twitter, Krauss has said that the clips of him in The Principle were taken from other interviews: "For all who asked: Some clips of me apparently were mined for movie on geocentricism. So stupid does disservice to word nonsense. Ignore it."

Anyway, the topic of geocentrism is interesting. You have to separate out little-g geocentrism as a frame of reference in physics (like saying “The Sun rose”) versus capital-G Geocentrism which is that the Earth is the center of the Universe because the Bible says so. The former is perfectly fine in limited cases (we use it to launch satellites and point our telescopes), but the latter is provably wrong.

I’ll note that the guy who made this documentary, Robert Sungenis, has been promoting this flavor of nonsense for a while now. I wrote about a Geocentrism conference he ran a few years back (called, seriously, “Galileo Was Wrong, the Church Was Right”). To give you an idea of the guy we're talking about here, he has a history of saying anti-Semitic things and also of making Holocaust denial claims (and you can find more lovely things about him here). That would fit with the conspiratorial tone of some of the movie trailer, too.

So I expect this movie/documentary will be more of this same flavor of nonsense. We'll see. As I’ve said before, the path of reality is narrow, and once you step off it, all manners of silliness seem equally plausible.

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