The Flat Earth Myth

By | November 10, 2006

Did most people up until a couple centuries ago believe that the Earth was flat? Did Christopher Columbus encounter opposition from flat-earthers? Is the idea that the Earth is approximately spherical a discovery of “modern science”?

It may come as a surprise to many to learn that the answers to all three of those questions is a resounding, NO!

The ancient Greeks knew that the Earth was round and they had a pretty good estimate of how large it was (<5% error). One has to look really hard to find anyone of any significant stature during the Middle Ages who thought the world was flat.

The idea that the world was filled with flat-earthers a couple centuries ago is flat-out false, and was made-up in the late 19th century as part of an ongoing anti-religious polemic on the part of Darwinian naturalists and positivists.

See the link below for additional details.

6 thoughts on “The Flat Earth Myth

  1. Tom

    I was having lunch with a mainstream evangelical pastor a year ago who rejected Copernicus (helliocentrism) and continued to insist on the basis of the Bible that the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies rotated around the earth.

    I was speechless.


  2. Alan Rhoda

    Hi Tom,

    You say a mainstream evangelical pastor? I would almost think that his stance on heliocentrism is enough to take him well outside of the mainstream. I’ve met plenty of young Earth creationists, but never a geocentrist.

    What’s his Biblical case anyway? Even if there are passages that, when literally construed, imply geocentrism, he would need to show that they could not more plausibly be construed as describing things in terms of appearances. As Galileo (quoting one Cardinal Baronio) famously put it, “The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

  3. Edward T. Babinski

    You never met a heliocentric creationist Christian? Here’s an introduction to that type and a few others you haven’t met, the remnants of which might still be around.


    Most of the early Christian Church Fathers were geocentrists who agreed with the Greek hypothesis of a spherical earth, yet it’s not widely known that they also believed the firmament around that spherical earth was solid. “Origen called the firmament ‘without doubt firm and solid’ (First Homily on Genesis, FC 71). Saint Ambrose, commenting on Genesis 1:6, said, ‘the specific solidity of this exterior firmament is meant’ (Hexameron, FC 42.60). And Saint Augustine said the word firmament was used ‘to indicate not that it is motionless but that it is solid and that it constitutes an impassable boundary between the waters above and the waters below’ (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, ACW 41.1.61).” Such early Christian geocentrists also taught that it was illogical to believe that the opposite side of the globe (the “antipodes”) were inhabited by human beings (such were the arguments of St. Augustine and St. Lactantius).

    In the 1960s in America, concurrent with the revival of young-earth creationism there was a revival of geocentrism. A young-earth creationist convention hosted by The Bible-Science Association in Cleveland, Ohio, 1985, featured two creationist geocentrists who debated their heliocentric counterparts concerning both biblical and astronomical interpretations.

    Today, 2006, there are Catholics, Protestants and Jews who defend geocentrism based on verses from the Bible coupled with scientific arguments that they believe nullify the evidence for heliocentrism.

    Catholic Apologetics International is one such group, which sells the book, Galileo Was Wrong!

    Paula Haigh, another Roman Catholic geocentrist

    Elmendorf, has had a standing offer
    of $5,000 for proof that the Earth moves around the Sun, and another $5,000 for proof that the Earth rotates on its axis.

    Malcolm Bowden (geocentrist, young-earth creationist author)

    Marshall Hall

    Gerardus Bouw (Bible-believing geocentrist, Ph.D. in astronomy from Case Western Reserve, president of The Society for Biblical Astronomy)

    Kari Tikkamen’s list of links on this bizarre subject

    Also, “Geocentrism is the enforced Truth in certain circles of Orthodox Judaism — even among Orthodox with advanced degrees. Forty or so years ago, it was losing ground to interpretations of the Torah [= the first five books of the Bible] that accommodated its earth-centered passages to contemporary astronomical science. Today, it has made a remarkable comeback in the Orthodox community, many Orthodox Jews trace what they regard as the evils of today, including biblical criticism, the sexual revolution, humanism, and evolution, to heliocentrism.” [Alexander Nussbaum, “Creationism and Geocentrism Among Orthodox Jewish Scientists,” National Center for Science Education Reports, Vol. 22, no. 1-2, Jan.-Apr. 2003.]

    In the opinion of geocentrists, visualizing the sun at the center of the planets is an echo of ancient pagan sun worship and denies the clear words of Scripture that depict the earth’s primacy in creation, its immobility, and the movement of the sun, stars, and constellations, round the earth. Geocentrists also cavil at Copernicus who argued that the earth moves round the sun. Or, as the head of The Society for Biblical Astronomy put it:

    “Historians readily acknowledge that the Copernican Revolution spawned the bloody French and Bolshevic revolutions … set the stage for the ancient Greek dogma of evolution … led to Marxism and Communism … It is reported that Marx even acknowledged his indebtedness to Copernicus, without whom Marx believed that his ideas would not have gained much acceptance … It is thus a small step [from the Copernican Revolution] to total rejection of the Bible and the precepts of morality and law taught therein.” [Carl Bouw, “Why Geocentricity?”]


    Besides some early Christian Church Fathers who were flat earthers, flat earthism underwent a revival in England in 1849 when British flat earthers supposedly swept the opposition away in public debates, one of their arguments being that if the earth is not a globe, then you can “throw out your Bible.” That revival continued till the 1920s, even here in America, where a minister in Zion, Illinois, built the largest radio transmitter in the nation at that time and railed daily against the blasphemies of “modern astronomy,” citing Bible verses to prove his points. (Keep in mind the 1920s in America were also a time of revival for fundamentalist religion in general, a time of “anti-evolution laws” and the “Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial,” and even a time when the inerrancy of the Bible was debated in Carnegie Hall, New York City, before huge crowds.) A remnant of that revival, the International Flat Earth Research Society of America, continued to exist right up till the late 1990s. The late president of that society and publisher of The Flat Earth News, Charles K. Johnson, denounced modern scientists as “witchdoctors, sorcerers, tellers of tales… and pathological liars,” and referred to heliocentered fundamentalist Christians as “atheists.” On the other hand, he was so sensitive to counter-rebukes that to receive his literature you had to sign a statement that affirmed your aim was “not to harm, degrade, or defame this Society.” At least once member of ICR, the young-earth creationist group, mentioned also being a member of the Flat Earth Society.

    Do flat earthers still exist? According to the Robert Schadewald (not himself a flat earther but a researcher on the subject) they do: “Charles Johnson is sort of a wacky character, but he is not really representative of flat earthers in general. The half dozen or so other flat earthers I’ve spoken or corresponded with have included a successful Boston trial lawyer, a priest who belongs to a society devoted to the preservation and translation of ancient Coptic manuscripts, a retired financial officer from a major metropolitan school system (he thoughtfully corrected an error in Greek grammar I had copied from a flat earth source), and a young man who intended to translate an 8th century flat earth treatise by Aethicus of Istria from Latin into English. Not exactly a bunch of semiliterates!”

    Schadewald added: “The Antiochene Fathers of the early Christian Church more or less invented the historical-critical method of exegesis popular among modern fundamentalists within the Reformed tradition. (Not surprisingly, *every* Antiochene Father whose views on the subject I have been able to discern was a flat earther!) So I think it is a bit strong to suggest that this method doesn’t have ‘anything to do with the history of Scriptural interpretation.’ It may have been moribund for a long time, but it has ancient roots.” [Emails dated 8/10/99 and 8/5/99 respectively from the late Robert Schadewald, author of numerous articles on “flat earthism,” and author of the unpublished work, The Plane Truth: A History of Flat Earth Science.]

  4. Figulus

    I think that Babinski's comments on Origen's 1st Homily on Genesis is too simplistic. Origen says there that the reason this heaven is called a firmament is because it is a physical heaven, as opposed to the first heaven which is spiritual or mental, “primum coelum … mens nostra est”. The purpose of this physical heaven is to separate the higher waters of the Christian way of life from the lower waters of sin. You get the idea.

    In sum, I'd like to warn against a fundamentalist literal interpretation of Origen's homily that reads too much cosmographical theory into it. Or any cosmographical theory at all, for that matter.

    As for Ambrose and Augustine, I've not read the cited texts, but I can't help but be skeptical of similar interpretations of their work.


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