Since the church was wrong about the earth’s motion, and let science modify its interpretation of the Bible on this point, why should we not do the same for matters concerning origins?
For example, Dr R. Scott Clark in his book Recovering the Reformed Confession (2008) makes much of the fact that before Copernicus (1473-1543) all Christians were all geocentrists. There were staunch, orthodox Reformed defenses of geocentrism in the late 16th century; geocentrism was the dominant view among the Reformed through the 17th century (see my post Reformers Contra Copernicus). Yet today hardly anyone is a geocentrist. According to Clark, no one changed their view because of biblical exegesis. Rather, they changed their view because the science changed, forcing a change in our understanding of Scripture.
The lesson Clark draws from this is that we should be wary of using the Bible to settle scientific issues. In particular, we should not be insistent on a literal view Genesis 1. In such manner, Clark seeks space within Reformed circles for his own non-literal view of the creation days.
Science and Motion
All this takes for granted that science has proven the earth to move.
But does the earth really move?
Historically, the issue was not whether the sun or earth was the center of the solar system, as many people mistakenly believe. Rather, the question was whether the sun or earth was fixed at the center of the universe. Most geocentrists held also that the fixed earth was non-rotating: the sun and stars rotated about the earth every 24 hours.
At one time, when Newtonian mechanics still reigned, it was widely believed that the earth had been proven to be moving in an absolute sense. Since 1915, with the advent of Einstein's general relativity, scientists know better.
Indeed, how could science possibly show that the earth really moves? Any astronomer will tell you that the earth’s absolute motion cannot be proven. To determine absolute motion we need an absolute reference point. What point should we choose? the sun? distant galaxies? But how do we know that, say, the sun, is at absolute rest? After all, even with a telescope, we can observe only relative motion. We get exactly the same observations whether we assume the sun moves around the earth or vice versa. To determine absolute motion we must go beyond the observations.
Nor do mechanical considerations help. Einstein’s general relativity, too, uses only relative motion. Whether we consider the earth to be fixed or moving, we end up with exactly the same physical consequences. According to Einstein, writing in 1938, the two sentences “the sun is at rest and the earth moves” or “the earth is at rest and the sun moves” simply reflect two different choices for coordinate systems, both equally valid. If Einstein had no scientific objections to a fixed earth, why should we?
Much the same points have recently been made by George Murphy ("Does the Earth Move?", Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith 63 (June, 2011):109-115. Murphy, however, argues that, although the center of the earth could be fixed, the earth itself must be rotating, else objects further than Neptune would be moving at speeds greater than the speed of light, which relativity prohibits. On this point Murphy is mistaken. The relativistic constraint that objects can't move faster than light refers only to motion with respect to the local background space--or aether. The aether itself may move at any speed. Thus, if the entire universe--including the aether-- revolved about the earth, this would not violate relativity.
In this regard, it has been shown that, in general relativity, the universe rotating about a fixed earth produces Coriolis and centrifugal forces, the bulge at the earth's equator, and all other phenomena generally adduced to prove that the earth is rotating (see D. Lynden-Bell, J. Katz and J. Bilak, “Mach’s Principle from the Relativistic Constraint Equations”, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 272 (1995), pp. 150-60). The two reference frames--fixed earth or rotating earth--are thus scientifically equivalent.
In short, Dr. Clark's reasoning reveals an out-dated knowledge of science. Ultimately, one's choice of an absolute standard of rest must be based on extra-scientific considerations, based on philosophical or theological factors. A geocentric biblical frame of reference is thus beyond any scientific disproof.
The Absolute Standard of Rest
You might think it implausible for the immense visible universe to revolve about a tiny fixed earth. This, however, presumes the materialist error that the visible world is all that exists. Christians know better. God’s creation is much larger, encompassing also the vast, spatial heaven where God and His angels reside (see my post Cosmology and Heaven). The ultimate focal point of the entire creation is God's heavenly Throne. Would it not be most fitting for God to designate this--the dwelling place of the Absolute--as the ultimate standard of absolute rest?
The link between the earth and God's throne will become even more obvious in the future, after the earth is renewed. Then God's dwelling place shall descend from heaven to be with man (Rev.21:1-4), and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be established on the earth itself (Rev.22:1-5).
The universe in its fullest sense is therefore neither helio-centric nor geo-centric but, rather, Christo-centric.
The earth’s rest, defined in terms of God's holy Throne, serves to remind us of the presence of God and of the multi-dimensional richness of His creation. Of course, such geocentricity, correlated as it is to a currently invisible heaven, does not necessarily have any scientific consequences, since scientific data is limited to observations of merely the visible universe.
Geocentricity and Genesis
There are many similarities between the 17th century Reformed battle against Copernicus and the current debate on origins. In both cases, the main issue was one of Biblical authority versus scientific theorizing. The Reformed theologian Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676), a major anti-Copernican, believed the Bible to be inerrant and fully authoritative. He held that science should accordingly conform to Scriptural truths; yielding to Copernicanism meant exalting human reason over God's Word.
In both cases, the Bible was challenged by dogmatic scientific claims going well beyond the observational evidence. In both cases, the data can be reaily explained by alternative theories more consistent with the biblical givens. In both cases, many theologians surrendered too readily, over-estimating the power of human science and lacking sufficient confidence in God’s word.
The two issues are in fact directly connected. For example, Prof. N.H. Ridderbos [Is There a Conflict Between Genesis 1 and Natural Science,1957, pp. 42-44] was convinced, on purely exegetical grounds, that the Genesis days were literal days. However, this plainly entailed geocentricity since, for example, the earth was created before the Sun and stars. Consequently, Ridderbos, (erroneously) believing geocentricity to have been scientifically falsified, rejected the plain reading of Genesis 1.
The Copernican revolution banned God from the modern universe, which no longer has a place for heaven; the Darwinian revolution banned God from history.
In sum, before we adapt Scripture to accommodate some alleged scientific fact--particularly concerning absolutes or origins--it would be prudent to weigh the cost in terms of Biblical authority and honest exegesis.