In the late 1800s, Albert A. Michelson, the first American to win the Nobel Prize in the sciences, devised an experiment to prove the Earth is moving through space, through a medium for bearing light called the "aether."
If he could show that light was slowed down by being fired into an aether headwind, like a swimmer swimming against a stream, Michelson reasoned, it would prove the Earth's motion through space.
But the experiment didn't work the way he expected. In fact, it proved the opposite.
The world of science was baffled. Was the Earth not moving?
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Eventually, however, another Albert, with the last name of Einstein, developed a theory called special relativity to explain Michelson's results.
It wouldn't be the last time, a startling new documentary called "The Principle" suggests, that scientists had to scramble to make their theories about space fit observable facts and experiments that didn't jive with their prevalent understandings.
Increasingly, bizarre and unproven theories such as the mysterious "dark matter," "dark energy," "multiverses" and the creation of "everything from nothing," the moviemakers claim, have been thought up to try to make the hard data fit with an underlying assumption science has accepted since the 16th century.
But what if instead of dreaming up wild theories to explain away inconsistencies, the moviemakers suggest, scientists allowed the facts to challenge the underlying assumption itself? What if everything science believes about space … is wrong?
"The Principle," which is opening now in select cities around the U.S., boldly challenges the widely accepted Copernican Principle, named after Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. He famously argued Earth revolves around the sun and went further to suggest Earth is in no central or favored place in the universe.
We inhabit, in famous cosmologist Carl Sagan's words, "an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people."
Hogwash, the makers of "The Principle" say.
"Everything we think we know about our universe is wrong," the movie's trailer asserts.
Citing Isaac Newton, various current astronomers, Einstein himself and even defenders of the Copernican Principle, the documentary makes the case that the data science is discovering indicate the entire known universe is pointing directly at Earth.
"We are in a special place," argues one of the voices quoted in the documentary. "I do believe that the universe was created by God."
Rick DeLano, writer and producer of "The Principle," declares the "question of our place in the cosmos is the greatest scientific detective story in all of history."
"The world has been shaped by two great assertions: One places us in the center of it all, and the other one relegates us to utter insignificance. Amazingly, 'The Principle' is the first documentary to examine this persistent puzzle at the heart of modern science."
The film traces the "persistent puzzle" from the ancient astronomer Ptolemy, centuries before Copernicus, to today. But rather than assuming science is at odds with religious faith, as in Galileo's day, "The Principle" assumes the two dovetail.
"I have great respect for science," DeLano said. "Where I become offended is when people ignore the evidence. They haven't proven that something can come from nothing.
"Strong evidence shows there is a special direction in the cosmos, and it points toward Earth. This is a serious claim that could indicate that perhaps the Bible was true in its account of creation … and they're ignoring it," he continued. "Experimentation is supposed to be the acid test of an assumption. Experiment trumps all. In the universe, we are told there are no special places – no up, no down, no left, no right. But every experiment tells us we are indeed in a special place, which the scientific community sees as impossible.
"For them to even remotely consider that the Bible could be true is a laughable joke. It's beyond ignorant," DeLano said. "The arrogance of the scientific atheist is unbelievable. But as the Bible says, 'Pride [goeth] before a fall.'
"What they don't understand is that science and theology have the same author: 'In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth,'" DeLano concluded. "We have the distinct advantage of having the truth on our side."
"The Principle" opened Oct. 24 in select theaters in Chicago with plans to expand to Los Angeles and then to various theaters around the country. Those interested in the film can learn more at its website, ThePrincipleMovie.com.
A trailer for the film can be seen below: