Eppur si muove

An editorial
Gershom Zajicek

"Eppur si muove !" Galileo's heroic outcry was legitimized recently by the Vatican (1). After twelve years of inquiry the Vatican concluded that both sides in the dispute acted in good faith. At that time, Galileo's arguments were still inconclusive and the Inquisition remained therefore unconvinced. It is true that the compelling evidence for the Heliocentric theory was obtained nearly a century later (2), still, doubts about the sincerity of Inquisition remain. Vatican's declaration is regarded by the scientific community as a victory in a prolonged and on going dispute on profound issues, and attention is now turned to the next, Darwin versus Creationism. However, "Eppur si muove" unveils also a hidden and unpleasant aspect of modern science, far less heroic, and relevant to medicine.

"The sun rises and the sun goes down. . ." (Ecclesiastes)

Modern science has accepted the Copernican hypothesis as dogma, regarding it as absolute truth. And yet, the Heliocentric theory contradicts our daily experience of a rising and setting sun. Does this new view of the universe justify the abandoning of ancient wisdom, e.g., that of Ecclesiastes (Chapter 1,5) ? We are told that by simplifying the representation of the universe the Heliocentric hypothesis improved the predictability of eclipses. Ptolemy's representation, based on the Geocentric doctrine, was extremely complex. Heavenly bodies moved in epicycles and the estimation of their trajectories was difficult. On the other hand in the Heliocentric universe conceived by Kepler, planets moved along simple ellipses. The universe became simpler and even more esthetic. Still, does this justify the rejection of daily experience? Why not leave Kepler's equations to Caesar and keep Ptolemy's for our daily life? Isn't Ecclesiastes' view of the universe as worthy and esthetic as Kepler's? Such a heretic view is met by modern science with contempt. Ptolemy's proponents are regarded as quacks, charlatans or alchemists, since "Ptolemy was wrong and Galileo is right !". This is the hidden aspect of Galileo's struggle. It is a struggle on absolute truth. Now, since even the Vatican backs Galileo's "eppur si muove", Ptolemy is wrong by decree of Heaven.

Absolute truth

According to the Vatican, the Inquisition did not object so much to the Copernican theory, but to Galilelo's belief in its absolute truth. "Had Galileo not championed the absolute triumph of the Copernican hypothesis, he would not have been persecuted" (2). In view of the "benevolent" history of the Inquisition such an understatement sounds like a farce. Yet it illuminates the hidden aspect of the feud between Science and Church. The monopoly of absolute truth.
Prior to the era of modern science absolute truth was part of religious belief, revealed to mortals by prophets and demi-gods. To the first Greek philosophers, e.g., Thales, Anaximander and Heraclitus (3), truth was relative. Later on Plato laid the foundation of an absolute reality that is concealed from us. His philosophy was adopted by the exact sciences claiming that knowledge of absolute truth is achievable scientifically. This view places scientists like Galileo shoulder to shoulder with prophets and other messengers from Heaven. An unacceptable situation that the Church tries to correct with the aid of its Inquisition.

Big Bang

Einstein posed even a greater threat to the Church than Galileo. Galileo dethroned only the Earth, while Einstein dethroned Heaven and its inhabitants. Fortunately the Church was saved by Einstein's disciple, S. Hawking, the high priest of the "Big Bang" theory (4). Hawking's mathematical equations describe concisely the history of the universe from its very beginning, leaving the actual creation to God. While Science and Church embrace Hawking with love, his theory actually refutes the existence of absolute truth. It demonstrates that both, Copernicus and Kepler, were wrong.

According to Kepler, since planets move in ellipses, each year the earth will advance along the same route. Yet if the universe continuously expands, as maintained by Hawking, we all expand in it and earth trajectory is not an ellipse but an ever expanding spiral far more complicated than Ptolemy's epicycles. In Hawking's universe neither does the sun go around the earth, nor is the opposite true. Why not then embrace Ecclesiastes?

The censored Albert Einstein

This seemingly unexpected conclusion was obvious to Albert Einstein. His theory may be difficult to understand, yet its name reveals its philosophical background. Einstein's relativity applies to our measurements and how we conceive the universe. Since everything is relative, so is truth. According to Einstein "the two sentences 'the sun is at rest and the earth moves' or the sun moves and the earth is at rest' . . .can be used with equal justification." (2,5). Einstein's relativity of truth is ignored by the scientific community or better, it is censored in its collective consciousness.
The three theories, Ptolemy's, Copernicus', and Einsteins', are equivalent, neither replaces the other, and they are used when convenient. Kepler's laws are used for predicting eclipses, galaxies continue expanding according to Hawking's equations, and the geocentric universe still dominates our daily life since it appeals most to our common sense. The same common sense that served medicine from the dawn of mankind and was banned by the exact sciences.

Ludwik Fleck

Fleck was interested in the philosophical theory of reality. As physician he realized that the Platonic approach of the exact sciences is not applicable to medical reasoning and felt that neither does it applies to exact sciences themselves. "Truths" evolve and emerge (6,7). Truth in science depends on a particular thinking style by a group of scientists, or thought-collective. A thought-collective is "a community of persons exchanging ideas or maintaining intellectual interaction". The individuals of a thought-collective share the same thought-style. Truth and falsehood in science are meaningful only within a specific thought-collective and with respect to a given thought-style and depend on the purpose of investigation. Different views can be equally true (8).

Fleck maintained that even if in the thought-collective of the exact sciences truth is regarded as absolute, it is actually relative to the truths of other thought-styles. The "eppur si muove" story supports Fleck's assertion that even in the exact sciences truth is relative and continuously evolves . Science and religion belong to two thought collectives of persons exchanging ideas. In spite of their different names both may be regarded as sciences. Nothing in the scientific thought-style makes it more "scientific" than that of the Church. Yet if relativity of truth is taken as scientific hallmark, the two thought-styles differ. Why not then leave absolute truth to the Church?

The Bible as scientific document

The three western religions regard the Bible as ultimate truth and have difficulty to deal with modern scientific discoveries that are either not mentioned in the Bible or contradict it. Like dinosaurs whose remnants are obvious even to believers? Or, how to reconcile between the Genesis story and Darwinism? According to the Israeli philosopher and scientist J. Leibowitz the Bible is not a scientific document. Its sole role is to guide Jews how to serve God. On the other hand, many stories in the Bible were proven scientifically, and archeologists search the Bible for clues where to dig and how to interpret their findings, regarding it as a valuable scientific document.
From the viewpoint of the scientific thought-style, the Bible is a scientific document, and its statements, scientific hypotheses. One of them is Creationism. Despite its "Ptolemic aura", it is a valid scientific hypothesis. Yet when creationists maintain that theirs is the only correct theory they actually join the non-scientific thought collective. As long as this aspect of Creationism is explained to the students there is actually no harm in teaching Creationism in schools.

Truth in medicine

Medical thought-style (9,10) has a unique way for examining the correctness of statements. Any statement that improves the patient's well being or restores his health is medically correct. Medicine should investigate not only traditional statements, but also the so called "unproved methods", usually labeled as quack medicine, e.g., para-medical theories, Chinese method, or spiritual approach .(11). Following the example of the exact sciences, modern medicine still adheres to absolute truth, attacking dissenters, even devoted physicians and healers (12). The medical establishment does not shy away from attacking even distinguished opponents like P. Duesberg, a retro-virus expert who doubts that AIDS is caused by HIV. Duesberg may not be a Galileo, yet the scientific establishment hastily applies Inquisition tactics in order to destroy his credibility (13).
Indeed "eppur si mouve". Earth, sun , truth. Anything! (3).


1 Eppur si non muove, Editorial. Nature 360:2,1992.
2 Psimopoulos M, Theocharis T. Problems with Galileo. Nature 363:108,1993.

3 Zajicek G. Chaos reigns - Heraclitus is back. Cancer J. 6:108,1993.
4 Hawking SW. A Brief History of Time. Bantam Books New York, 1988.
5 Einstein A, Infeld L. The Evolution of Physics.Cambridge University Press p. 224,1938.

6 Zajicek G. Ludwick Fleck: Founder of the philosophy of modern medicine. Cancer J. 5:304-305, 1992.
7 Cognition and fact. Materials on Ludwik Fleck. Cohen R.S. and Schnelle T. Eds. D. Reidel Publishing company, Boston USA, 1986.

8 Lowi I. The immunological construction of the self.in: "Organism and the origins of the self". Tauber A.I. Ed. Kluwer Academic Publishers Norwell USA. p 43-71,1991.
9 Zajicek G. What is wrong with clinical trials?Cancer J. 6:102-103,1993.

10 Zajicek G. Cancer and Metaphysics. Cancer J. 5:1,1992.
11 Zajicek G, How to evaluate unproven methods in oncology? Cancer J. 5:180,1992.

12 Moss RW. The Cancer Industry. Pergamon House New York, 1989.
13 Silvester DJ. Letter to the editor, Nature, 364:96,1993.


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