Weekly readers’ beefs

January 18, 2015 • 10:33 am

Here’s a selection of the nasty, humorous, and misguided comments that some readers tried to post over the last few weeks. All of the misspellings and other errors appeared in the original (attempted) comments.


Reader “NEIL C. REINHARDT” (yes, in caps, like the rest of his email), had a few words to say about cats in a comment on my post “Spot the Jack Russell terrier“:







This was actually similar to an argument made by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker‘s “Cats vs. Dogs” debate that we had last October. Gladwell’s thesis, which he deliverered in a hilarious 8 minute-talk, was that the superiority of dogs was demonstrated by their participation in the War on Terrorism (bomb sniffing, finding victims, etc.), while cats didn’t give a rat’s ass about terrorism. Ergo, he argued, dogs were superior. Here Mr. CAPSLOCK argues that cats are inferior because they don’t do the bidding of humans. I guess, then, he’d argue that slaves are better than free people! Seriously, though, one of the appeals of cats is that they don’t do what you want; they are independent, semi-wild, and an animal closer to being wild than is a dog. And you have to earn their love, which is what you do with humans, who do not (as do dogs) love you unconditionally. But I’ve said all this before. My real reply to NEIL C. REINHARDT would be this: “Back away from the caffeine. Slowly. . . ”

Reader Mark sent me this cartoon as an answer:

Obedience ≠ Intelligence


Reader “Katia” defended the Pope against my criticisms in the post “Pope Francis says it’s not kosher to make fun of faith“:

Frankly I agree with Pope Francis 100%.
To question this and continue the path of blaming and criticizing more progaganda.

I’m not catholic, it just COMMON SENSE

What I said about Pope Francis was the harmful nature of his claim that nobody should criticize religion (of course he meant Catholicism). I’m not sure what Katia is trying to say here, or what common sense is, but if nobody “blamed” the Church, its reprehensible policy of covering up child rape would have never been uncovered, and might well have continued.


Reader “John Balmer” criticized evolution in an attempted comment on my post, “Scotland refuses to ban teaching of creationism“:

If Evolution is such a solid fool proof and unshakable scientific fact ….then why are evolutionists so scared if it being challenged by an alternative view of Origins and by having it put under scrutiny….the truth is the evolution Theory is full of holes and has become nothing more to the ruling establishment than a Sacred Cow not to be touched or challenged……now that is Indoctrination !!!

Dear Mr. Balmer,

I’m not scared at all of creationists, who tend to be a foolish lot, nor am I afraid to put the theory of evolution under scrutiny. After all, that’s what I did in my last book, comparing its ability to explain the data with the ability of creationism. Evolution won hands down. (Did you read that book, by the way?) And what are the “holes” you’re talking about? Our unsolved questions, like the origin of life? Well, we’re working on them, and, unlike you, at least we have a way to know whether our answers are wrong. Finally, you do realize, don’t you, that any scientist who could disprove the existence of evolution and natural selection would become instantly famous? Scientists don’t get famous by buttressing an established paradigm, but by overturning it.  But you appear to be blinded by faith, and so you may not understand what I’m trying to say.

Have a blessed day,
Professor Ceiling Cat


Reader “Raynor” had something to say about Alex Malarkey, the Christian boy who retracted his assertion that he visited Heaven after an accident, as detailed in my post, “Boy who wrote bestseller on visiting heaven retracts his claims”:

Alex, et. al are possesed and the book is true. All who claim otherwise are going to hell.

Now this may be a “Poe,” but I’ll assume that Raynor is serious. And if Alex is possessed (presumably by Satan), why would Satan, speaking through the boy, produce an account of heaven that is true?


Reader “Zenta” made this comment on “The Paris murders: Catholic League’s Bill Donoghue gets it wrong; New Yorker’s George Packer gets it right“:

Dear Biology Professor,

Social life, politics and Power are more complicatde than Biology. It is funny to see trying to explain everything based on wrong analogy, irrelevant biology or psychology.

(I’ll assume this is a female, but it doesn’t matter.) It appears she’s trying to say something, but can’t quite figure out what. And its relevance to the post on the Charlie Hebdo murders, in which I didn’t even mention biology, is nebulous.


Finally, reader “Grow up”  objected to my post “Yiddish girl” corrects Ami magazine about geocentrism“, in which a girl wrote to the Jewish teen magazine AMY (an offshoot of the Jewish magazine “Aim”), saying that “Jews believe” that the Sun goes around the Earth instead of vice versa. I, of course, said that was bogus and that the girl’s views were corrupted by faith.  “Grow up,” almost certainly an adult, argues that, in fact, you can conceive—both religiously and scientifically—of a geocentric solar system:

To start with, I know the editor of the Aim personally. She told me that she barely thought about the answer when responding. She would not insult a young girl writing in so just chose to be polite. She does not in anyway believe in Geocentrism, nor to any very Orthodox Jews she or I know of. It takes great immaturity, obsessiveness and secular fundamentalism to attack a letter written by a little girl in a kids magazine! This is a magazine that regularly has features for kids on accepted science and never has in any way promoted geocentrism.

Still, the editor was right about differing opinions. The opinions she refers to are not scientist but Rabbinic scholars. This girl was arguing that “we Jews” by which she can only mean Orthodox rabbinic consensus, was geocentric. The editor replied specifically to her assertion that it was a fundamental belief of Orthodoxy. It would be a lie to say that not Rabbinic scholars since Galileo have ever been geocentrists because many were. Today however few Rabbis ever thought geocentrism in any way a religious belief and feel free to accept scientific views. Any person seeking to prove what Orthodox Rabbis historical believed can bring proofs either way. Some Rabbis vehemently rejected heliocentrism while there was even one Rabbi who was even a student of Galileo and an ardent heoiocentrist. Thus her answer of differing (rabbinic) opinions was correct and the best answer to give when arguing on theological issues. Regardless, geocentrism today is no longer as “wrong” as it used to be. The Lubavitcher Rebbe pointed out that the theory of Relativity makes the question of what moves around what moot. I am no student of physics but even I understand that relativity does make defining what moves around what much more flexible. If one really feels the need to theologically believe in geocentrism they can do so due to the the theory of relativity.

Leaving aside religion, let’s tackle the scientific claim based on relativity. Now I’m not going to give the answer here, as I’ll leave it to readers. But let me just pose this Gedankenexperiment. Model the Earth going around the sun by making two fists and having one of them revolve around the other.  If you could see your fists from afar, floating in space, you wouldn’t know which object was going around the other. From the Earth’s reference frame, it would look like the Sun was going around the Earth, and vice versa from the Sun’s reference frame. So why isn’t “Grow up” right on scientific grounds?

I’ll put up the answer later, just so readers can think about the evidence for a heliocentric solar system. But do put your own answers below in the comments.

57 thoughts on “Weekly readers’ beefs

  1. Jerry,

    In a related vein…you were right to show Jesper the door when he went off the rails a few days ago. But, if he returns to his senses, I hope you’ll consider letting him back in.


      1. On another forum, he has admitted to being struck by mental disease and (fortunately) getting help.

        Incidentally, I only recently recognised him from elsewhere, in another time. Seems like this is not the first time he’s got to deal with this.

    1. I missed that. Can you tell me which thread it occurred in? Also, I assume you’re speaking of a guy with initials JBP. I recently, accidentally, stumbled across his Twitter account. It is very disturbing. I almost couldn’t believe it was the same guy who sometimes posts comments here.

        1. Thanks, Ben. I did not know what that was about. I just took the comment to be mildly ‘edgy’.
          As someone who has some struggles in the past, I really hope Jesper is doing better.
          Always move forward. That is my motto.

          1. More than just a single comment, and some more than merely “edgy.” Many were clearly deliberately intended to give offense, though, to Jesper’s credit, they seemed to lack the sincerity to truly do so.


  2. For Mr. Up, were we to reduce the Solar System to just the Sun and the Earth, Jerry’s proposal that it wouldn’t matter which we considered at the center would probably be defensible. But the Solar System is far more complex than just that, and the math for modeling the rest of the objects in the Solar System gets unwieldily as soon as you add a single other planet, and downright insane once you add another.

    And even that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Include some of the nearby stars — or, if you like, the entire Milky Way, and maintaining the pretense that the Earth is the center of it all is as insanely absurd as suggesting that zombies can fly or some such.



    1. Newtons’s and Kepler’s laws do not work in a geocentric worldview but they are pretty good in a heliocentric one. Of course, strictly speaking, the Earth (and everything else in the solar system) does not orbit the Sun but the barycentre, a point which frequently lies outside of the Sun’s body.

  3. All coordinate systems are by convenience. And a heliocentric one is a lot more convenient. It makes the planet orbits come out as ellipses. And in most mono-stellar systems neatly ordered towards the star.

    But appealing to relativity, you stack the deck towards using the star as reference! General relativity is a gravitational theory, and of course you now want to use the gravitational center of the system as reference to most easily make sense of what you see. The GC happens to lie within the star in most systems, again assuming one star, the planets mass a percent or so.

    That is why the example of looking at the system from afar comes out as naturally heliocentric for observers. The star will wobble slightly, while the planets will be seen as orbiting around it in a corkscrew pattern as the star travels in relation to the observer.

    “I am no student of physics but even I understand that relativity does make defining what moves around what much more flexible. If one really feels the need to theologically believe in geocentrism they can do so due to the the theory of relativity.”

    The first is a misconception. Classic galielan relativity moots the same absolute coordinate system as later special relativity theories do.

    The latter doesn’t withstand the smell test:

    ‘If one really feels the need to theologically believe in moving corpses with fondle-licious intestines they can do so due to cell theory.’

    1. According to this rather neat page:


      our own solar system’s center of gravity is often outside the Sun’s photosphere but never leaves its corona. Take Jupiter and Saturn out of the equation and it would stay in the photosphere. Remove Neptune and Uranus and the barycenter is confined to a very, very small region at the Sun’s core.

      It helps to put those numbers in perspective. If we were to build a to-scale model of the Solar System with the Sun represented by a standard basketball (diameter of ~9 1/2″ / 24 cm), the Earth would have to be about 5/64″ / 2mm big and 84 feet / 26 meters away; think of the Sun as the ball at one basket and the Earth a grain of rice at the other basket. Jupiter would be about one inch / 24 mm in diameter, and be 440′ / 130m away…about goalpost-to-goalpost in American football. Pluto would be a kilometer away, over half a mile. The nearest star would be 4300 miles / 7000 kilometers away, a third of the way around the real Earth. And the galactic center would be some thirty million miles away at this scale, an hundred times farther than the Moon, a third of the way to the Sun.

      So, circling back…with the Sun modeled as a basketball suspended in one basket and the Earth a grain of rice at the other basket and Jupiter a ping-pong ball in the nosebleed seats, the gravitational center of the Solar System meanders not quite as far from the center of the basketball as the rim of the basket.


    2. not to mention the fact that anything outside of about the orbit of pluto would have to be moving at greater than the speed of light to make it around in a day.

      1. Kudos to T. Larsson on his handshake-winning answer. I had imagined your point on velocity would be part of the “best” answer, too. Were the sun revolving around the earth, its relative speed would be on the order of 2.4×10^7 miles per hour, or 4% (ish) of the speed of light.

        So if one were handed the solar system as an arbitrary puzzle to solve for the most parsimonious coordinate system and frame of reference, to T. Larsson’s point, how could the solution be to put a body at the center which is the sixth most massive and still account for the paths taken by other bodies in the neighborhood? And, to your point, what possible model would account for the largest body racing (at a speed which attains measurable time dilation, at least 8 seconds per day I calculate) around a body 1/333,000 its mass?

        One does not need to know the actual value for Big G to infer that the orbital math for our solar system would be impossibly complicated. A child’s understanding of big heavy things versus little light things is all that should be required to know it should be simpler, yet there are grownup “biblical astronomers” who build geocentric orreries which (allegedly) work – in the “papers” I’ve seen they neglect to mention the insane rates of speed required of the sun and planets relative to earth.

        I don’t have any idea whether the following observation is a maxim or not, but it seems to me that Occam’s Razor is in evidence: of all the coordinate systems and reference frames one could apply to the solar system, the one we hold as “true” happens to be the one with the slowest relative motions among the bodies in total, and also with the least distance traveled relative to one another in total.

    1. Neil is just like that, he’s been posting to my blog off and on for years, he’s never made a post that didn’t ramble aimlessly and he’s probably never encountered a lower-case letter in his life.

  4. Firstly, from the point of view of Newtonian physics, the Sun and the Earth both revolve round their combined centre of gravity – which lies within the Sun itself because if it’s much larger mass.

    Secondly, the special theory of relativity applies only to inertial frames of reference – objects travelling at constant speed in a straight line with repect to each other.

    Thirdly, the general theory of relativity introduces the concept of curved spacetime. The curvature of spacetime caused by the mass of the Sun is much greater than the curvature of spacetime produced by the Earth. But, in fact, according to the general theory, both the Sun and the Earth travel in a straight line through spacetime.

    In other words, neither Nwetonian physics, nor either theory of relativity support the poster’s view.

    1. As pointed out elsewhere the centre of mass is not always within the Sun’s photosphere, it frequently is outside of it. If one were to just consider the Sun and Jupiter (by far the most massive of the planets) then the centre of rotation would actually be external of the Sun.

      1. As Jerry suggested, I am considering just the Sun and the Earth. In the Sun/Earth system, the centre of mass does indeed lie within the Sun itself.

  5. Zenta’s post make me want to know more about Power and Social Life since they are more complicated than Biology.

    They did not offer those two classes in any of the schools I attended.

  6. It’s a question of simple Physics.

    When two bodies are bound one another by an attractive force (gravity), they will rotate around their centre of mass.

    From memory, the Sun is about 300,000 Earth massess and – after doing the maths – the Sun-Earth system rotates around a point (again from memory) about 400 km from the Sun’s centre.

    The force of gravitational attraction and the Earth’s orbital radius also determine the period of rotation.

    As for the Solar System, the apparently anomalous orbits of the planets points to the Heliocentric model.

  7. First “Grow up” needs to visit Super Planet Crash:


    Then needs to understand that Dirac verified that all of the spectra of visible light that we see from atomic transitions is modified by relativity. The precision of these measurements now exceeds 1/10^18. Without both general and special relativity the ‘clicks’ of our best clocks would be wrong. Now did someone say something is wrong with relativity? It could be…but they have to account for everything else first!

  8. Another way of looking at the geocentric theory .. Just about everything in the universe would need to exceed the speed of light to complete one revolution about the earth in twenty-four hours.

    1. …but not if the stars are but pinpricks in the metallic Dome of the Firmament….

      The ancient cosmology wasn’t all that wacky. It basically made sense, so long as you ignored a number of things we’ve known for so long they’re intuitively obvious.


        1. Indeed.

          The point I’m trying to make is that, if you’re operating with a body of knowledge from the Bronze Age, the conclusions today’s idiots come up with make a great deal of sense. And many of the supporting facts of modernity that’re obvious to us are so incongruous to the Bronze Age mindset that they’re easily dismissed if not outright incoherent.

          The wonder isn’t that these people reach the conclusions they do. It’s that they manage to work themselves back to that starting point in the first place.

          …and the tragedy is that, once there, thanks in no small part to cognitive dissonance, it can be a major undertaking to escape….


          1. That’s sounds about right. I’ve heard tell of people who just “wake up one day” and realize the whole construct is BS. Everyone’s mileage will vary, but I do wonder how abrupt that kind of change really is: I would expect that a lifetime of indoctrination, peer pressure, reinforcement, etc, takes time to undo, even if some of that undoing happens as an unconscious process.

            1. _Father Ted_, “The Tentacles of Doom”:

              Bishop O’Neill: I reached some very interesting conclusions. Father Ted: Oh? About what exactly? BON: Well It’s nonsense, isn’t it? FT: What is? BON: Religion. FT: Er BON: Think about it. Very little evidence. Blind faith, that’s all we have to go on. There’s not a shred of proof! Nothing! Aliens? Now, there’s something that might just be possible. But everlasting life? Big demons sticking red-hot pokers up your arse for all eternity? I don’t think so. The whole religion thing, I just don’t buy it. I’ve been struggling for some time, but Father [Dougal] McGuire was the first man to spell it out for me in black and white.


          2. The wonder isn’t that these people reach the conclusions they do. It’s that they manage to work themselves back to that starting point in the first place.

            Even more so considering they use modern technology and access the web.

  9. There are a lot of possible correct answers here (already given by others) – mine would involve counterfactuals. If the Earth were to suddenly vanish, the Sun’s course of motion relative to everything else would stay nearly exactly the same. If the Sun were to suddenly vanish, the Earth’s course of motion relative to everything else* would undergo an instant radical change. That’s the assymetry between the Earth and the Sun.

    (* Okay, everything else except perhaps the Moon)

  10. Celestial navigation using a sextant, chronometer and tables of star positions implied a geocentric model, just because it was simpler for this purpose. Then we got GPS.

  11. Despite the use of CAPSLOCK, I do agree that dogs are better pets than cats. Obedience and tameness are what makes dogs better as pets. I don’t understand the “wild” argument. I had a civet when I was a boy (in Southeast Asia). Nasty little critter, it’s always caged or else it’ll go around biting all of the kids. If you want a semi-feral beast, civets beat cats.

    1. So, one report of a cat like creature biting kids. Check out the endless stories of dogs biting mauling and killing many children, old people, ordinary people, other peoples pet dogs and other peoples pet cats.
      Then perhaps consider the use as a weapon dogs can be used for. By individuals, by police, quite nastily in some countries.
      The war on drugs is considered by many to be an evil in itself, how many otherwise innocent people are rotting in jail because of a dog?

  12. “Now this may be a “Poe,” but I’ll assume that Raynor is serious. And if Alex is possessed (presumably by Satan), why would Satan, speaking through the boy, produce an account of heaven that is true?”

    As my Catholic informant explains: The Devil will tell a thousand truths just to slip in one lie.

    Apologists really do have an answer for everything.

    1. I know the babble says that Satan lies, but can you think of any actual examples? It is more nearly true (if not absolutely so) that in those stories Satan always tells the truth and Yahweh always lies. See if your Catholic friend can refute that.

  13. A couple of points additional to the many excellent ones that have already been made:

    1) For the Sun to rotate round the Earth in one day, the mass of the latter would need to be five milliard times greater than it is. In that case, the Moon would orbit the Earth in about eleven seconds. This is not observed.
    2) In order to take the Earth as stationary, you need to invent all sorts of fictitious forces to account for the movement of everything else. For example, the Earth orbits the Sun, which orbits our galaxy while oscillating perpendicularly to the plane of its orbit; our galaxy is orbiting the centre of mass of the local cluster of galaxies, which in turn orbits the Virgo supercluster, and the whole lot is being pulled by the Shapley supercluster at 630 km/s relative to the cosmic microwave background. That view of the relative motion of the Earth with respect to the nearby Universe can be described simply with Newton’s laws of gravitation and motion. Anybody who wants to justify a stationary Earth needs to derive the fictitious forces emanating from the Earth that would cause the Shapley supercluster to follow the exact inverse of the motions described above. Good luck with that!

  14. In fairness to Neil Reinhardt’s use of all capital letters, the US Navy required messages to be written thus until 2013. perhaps NR is a Navy veteran. I used to have a couple of American colleagues like that, who seemed unable to break an ingrained habit.

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