I Do Not Believe The Earth Is The Center of the Universe – A Review of Rick DeLano’s “The Principle”
I had to say it right out of the gate. Right in the title. I had to because otherwise I was going to get a few hundred jerking knees and a mass exodus out of this group because of this review. Because
I have nothing bad to say about this film.
I have been wanting to see it since it was released but financial reasons made it a low priority (I almost never pay for anything online unless there is a chance that it will eventually make me more money than I spent on it). I have read many reviews on it and seen the complaints of those who allowed themselves to be interviewed for it, and Orange Is the New Black star Kate Mulgrew who was only too happy to be paid to do the voiceover work but was embarrassed later to be associated with it because of the controversial view of the filmmaker.
Aww. Poor Captain Janeway.
The impression that one gets by reading that material is that those who appear in the film are annoyed because just by being in it, people may think that they agree with the conclusion supported by the film. Well now I have seen it and I can say this with confidence. Only an idiot would assume that about ANY of the people whose faces and voices show up in the course of the movie other than Robert Sungenis, the Executive Producer of the film and author of the two volume work Galileo Was Wrong and his co-author Robert Bennett. If there are any other geocentrists in the movie, you wouldn’t know it. The film is not a Comedy Central split screen like the kind Stephen Colbert has done with Trump and that Jon Stewart did with Obama (and Bush), showing conflicting statements and using hilarious questions to frame quotes to make them look like absurd answers. There was nothing like that. There were no tricks. There was no deception or distortion. The filmmaker was not obligated to disclose his intention to those in it. Imagine what a chilling effect that would have on documentarians if they had to show all their cards to all their interviewees! Michael Moore would have to shut up forever, that is for sure. If Laurence Krauss thinks that people are going to believe that he is a geocentrist after seeing this movie then he is as much of a moron as he thinks the filmgoers who would draw that conclusion are.
The film is a fair exploration of the current state of the Cosmological Principle aka the Copernican Principle, namely, that the earth is not the center of the universe nor located in any privileged place, and humanity is not special. To the best of my knowledge it is in no way a distortion of the issue. Or if it is, it’s no more a distortion than a Scientific American article I read on the subject a few months before the film was released. If this makes people so uncomfortable that they have a need to run for philosophical cover and drape themselves in their prejudices in order to preserve their worldview, and thus they have to dismiss the question out of hand as ridiculous rather than evaluate it dispassionately, well, guess what? That is the point of the film! That people do that! Case Closed!!
I am not going to go over the evidence. If you want that you can either watch this movie or read Sungenis’ book. I am going to focus on its technical aspects and the manner in which it makes its case. It is well explained, easy to follow, and brings the best minds in modern Cosmology to bear on the subject. The evidence is not at all difficult to grasp. In its technical characteristics it is a good documentary. I did find it regrettable that Michio Kaku does not adequately understand the Giordano Bruno case — he has no purchase on the subtext of the conflict between the old guard late medieval Aristotelians and Bruno’s blatantly pagan and heretical Hermeticism, which is miles apart from the much more faithfully Catholic Hermeticism of Marsilio Ficino or even that of Galileo — but it would have been a gross distraction from the film’s point to explore that, so that fault cannot be laid at the door of the makers of the movie. Moreover, I was delighted that Sungenis managed to make a very good case that Galileo’s repentance of his heliocentric views may have actually been sincere. So much for the myth of the secretly defiant Galileo under house arrest, muttering in Italian under his breath about the earth E pur si muove. Good. Yes, I do think that the earth moves. But I don’t like lies.
I like the film, even though it has not made a geocentrist out of me, because I like challenging, potentially worldview upsetting material. I like to be cognitively shaken up. Some people don’t like that. They pretend that they like challenging ideas, such as material that calls religious dogmas or traditional beliefs into question. But those are usually the old beliefs that are too far out of fashion to take seriously. Case in point: geocentrism. The same goes for young earth creationism, or old fashioned views about sexual morality or gender roles. There is nothing daring or challenging about targeting those positions. But a defense of the traditional belief? WHOAH there! You’re not supposed to do that! That actually IS challenging! Way out of line there, man! We’re supposed to pretend to like that not actually do it!
So I like The Principle. I like the argument. I like underdog views that actually have some evidence to support them but are not given a fair hearing because they are a threat to the status quo. I like paradigm shifting stuff. For those who like that too, who like to be challenged and forced to think about their prejudices and enjoy having their cognitive cage rattled, I heartily recommend this film. If you do NOT appreciate that, STAY AWAY. I am not saying anything bad about this film by saying that. I am just saying that if you don’t like what it has to offer, of course steer clear of it.
So why has this movie not made a geocentrist out of me?
There is one thing about geocentrism I can’t shake, no matter how good a case can be made for it (and the case is surprisingly strong – it is not a stupid view, like flat earth B.S.) I can’t escape one image.
I think about a man on Mars. I know, there isn’t one. I know that is not a trivial point. Nevertheless, I think of a man on Mars, looking up at the Martian night sky. I think of Matt Damon, munching on a potato, looking out the window at the stars, and saying, oh look, MARS is the center of the universe!
Because many of the observations that support the centrality of the earth, like the sun and the fixed stars orbiting the earth as seen from the earth, suddenly look very different when seen in a Martian sky. The Martian observer categorically does not see the sun and the fixed stars orbiting the earth from Mars. He sees them spinning around Mars.
Now, the Tychonic geocentric system can accommodate that fact. But I don’t care. Because a Martian Tycho could accomodate the earth Tycho’s accommodation and fit it all in a Marticentric (? Arecentric??) system.
So I am solidly stuck in a system of relative motion and no fixed center of the universe at all. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate another point of view. I am not at all hostile to geocentrism. I am hostile to people who can’t tolerate dissent from scientific orthodoxy, because IN PRINCIPLE such people are holding back science, even when they happen to be right. Now THAT is a PRINCIPLE that I can get behind! And that is why I like this movie.