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This site is named for the famous statement of US Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver from Missouri : "I`m from Missouri -- you'll have to show me." This site is dedicated to skepticism of official dogma in all subjects. Just-so stories are not accepted here. This is a site where controversial subjects such as evolution theory and the Holocaust may be freely debated.

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My biggest motivation for creating my own blogs was to avoid the arbitrary censorship practiced by other blogs and various other Internet forums. Censorship will be avoided in my blogs -- there will be no deletion of comments, no closing of comment threads, no holding up of comments for moderation, and no commenter registration hassles. Comments containing nothing but insults and/or ad hominem attacks are discouraged. My non-response to a particular comment should not be interpreted as agreement, approval, or inability to answer.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The flat-earth straw man

The mythological notion that medieval Christians believed that the earth is flat is one of the Darwinists' favorite straw men and they don't realize how ignorant and foolish they look when they repeat this myth. Trolls have repeated the myth many times on this blog. A historian at the Univ. of Calif. - Santa Barbara said,

It must first be reiterated that with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat . . . (emphasis in original)

. . . . Historians of science have been proving this point for at least 70 years (most recently Edward Grant, David Lindberg, Daniel Woodward, and Robert S. Westman), without making notable headway against the error. Schoolchildren in the US, Europe, and Japan are for the most part being taught the same old nonsense . . .

. . . No one before the 1830s believed that medieval people thought that the earth was flat.

The idea was established, almost contemporaneously, by a Frenchman and an American, between whom I have not been able to establish a connection, though they were both in Paris at the same time. One was Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848), an academic of strong antireligious prejudices who had studied both geography and patristics and who cleverly drew upon both to misrepresent the church fathers and their medieval successors as believing in a flat earth, in his On the Cosmographical Ideas of the Church Fathers (1834). The American was no other than our beloved storyteller Washington Irving (1783-1859), who loved to write historical fiction under the guise of history. His misrepresentations of the history of early New York City and of the life of Washington were topped by his history of Christopher Columbus (1828). It was he who invented the indelible picture of the young Columbus, a "simple mariner," appearing before a dark crowd of benighted inquisitors and hooded theologians at a council of Salamanca, all of whom believed, according to Irving, that the earth was flat like a plate.

This medieval belief that the earth is flat has as much factual basis as Washington Irving's headless horseman.

I remember being taught that Columbus's crews almost mutinied because they were afraid that they would sail off the end of the earth and that Columbus bravely told them, "sail on." I first realized that the flat-earth story was fishy when I learned that the ancient Greeks estimated the size of the earth by measuring the angles of shadows cast at noon-time at the same time of year by sticks at two different latitudes. I just mistakenly assumed that this knowledge was lost during the Middle Ages, but now I know the truth.

But now, why did the false accounts of Letronne and Irving become melded and then, as early as the 1860s, begin to be served up in schools and in schoolbooks as the solemn truth?

The answer is that the falsehood about the spherical earth became a colorful and unforgettable part of a larger falsehood: the falsehood of the eternal war between science (good) and religion (bad) throughout Western history. This vast web of falsehood was invented and propagated by the influential historian John Draper (1811-1882) and many prestigious followers, such as Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the president of Cornell University, who made sure that the false account was perpetrated in texts, encyclopedias, and even allegedly serious scholarship, down to the present day. A lively current version of the lie can be found in Daniel Boorstin's The Discoverers, found in any bookshop or library.

The reason for promoting both the specific lie about the sphericity of the earth and the general lie that religion and science are in natural and eternal conflict in Western society, is to defend Darwinism. The answer is really only slightly more complicated than that bald statement. The flat-earth lie was ammunition against the creationists. The argument was simple and powerful, if not elegant: "Look how stupid these Christians are. They are always getting in the way of science and progress. These people who deny evolution today are exactly the same sort of people as those idiots who for at least a thousand years denied that the earth was round. How stupid can you get?"

Even with the power of the Internet to spread refutations of this mythological flat-earth story, Darwinists continue to frequently repeat the story. They should stick to their straw man argument that Darwin doubters think that 2 + 2 = 5 -- at least that argument only makes the Darwinists look stupid and does not make them look ignorant too.

This blog has a previous article about the flat-earth straw man.
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18 Comments:

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Friday, October 10, 2008 7:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

The "trolls" in which you refer to them as, either don't know (never bothered to learn about it, just watched others in their choir sort of speak, writing about it) or they use the myth to insult creationists or Intelligent Design advocates.

Friday, October 10, 2008 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you're trying to say that no person, at all, since the third century BC believed the Earth was flat, then you're wrong. It has been the prevailing idea since that time, but there have always been people who believe it is flat, some due to interpreting certain passages of the Bible as being literally true. Indeed, if you go back and re-read the source you have linked to yourself, it makes this precise point. Some people, indeed, actually still believe the Earth is flat in the present day (the Flat Earth Society, for example), regardless of the overwhelming evidence supporting the idea the Earth is round.

Friday, October 10, 2008 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Anonymous said...
>>>>> If you're trying to say that no person, at all, since the third century BC believed the Earth was flat, then you're wrong. <<<<<<

The historian said,
It must first be reiterated that with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat . . (emphasis added)

Friday, October 10, 2008 11:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

“According to Stephen Jay Gould, “there never was a period of “flat earth darkness” among scholars (regardless of how the public at large may have conceptualized our planet both then and now). Greek knowledge of sphericity never faded, and all major medieval scholars accepted the earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology.”

Flat earth was never taught in the Bible either...So there was no prevailing viewpoint either in the secular realm or religious that the earth was flat.

Saturday, October 11, 2008 12:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Larry quoted:

The historian said,
It must first be reiterated that with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat


Then I don't understand what you're trying to prove. As I said, whilst you are correct in saying the prevailing view was that the Earth was round, some of the 'extraordinary few exceptions' included some Christians, due to them interpreting particular passages of the Bible as being absolute, literal truth, and it has been the case that Christians of this flavor have existed since the founding of Christianity, including the medieval period. As for your claim that 'Trolls have repeated the myth many times on this blog', I have to admit that I haven't checked your entire blog, but the person who seems to make, by far, the most references to this is, in fact, you. Most often, from what I can see, you go out of your way to point out or try to prove it's a myth, even though that's usually not relevant to the point being made, or the argument at hand. Now, here you're bringing it up, apparantly at random, simply so you can claim that it is, 'one of the Darwinists' favorite straw men'.

Irony incarnate.

Michael said:

Flat earth was never taught in the Bible either

Not entirely correct. If you read the Bible, taking every word to be absolute, literal truth, as some do, there are some passages that simply cannot be true unless the Earth is flat. This is most commonly reconciled to the fact the Earth is round by interpreting these passages as being metaphorical, rather than literal, truth.

Saturday, October 11, 2008 1:18:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

>>>>>>Larry quoted:

The historian said,
It must first be reiterated that with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat

Then I don't understand what you're trying to prove. <<<<<<

I don't understand what you're trying to prove.

>>>>> As I said, whilst you are correct in saying the prevailing view was that the Earth was round, some of the 'extraordinary few exceptions' included some Christians, due to them interpreting particular passages of the Bible as being absolute, literal truth, and it has been the case that Christians of this flavor have existed since the founding of Christianity, including the medieval period. <<<<<<

So then the myth of the flat-earth belief is just guilt-by-association.

>>>>>> As for your claim that 'Trolls have repeated the myth many times on this blog', I have to admit that I haven't checked your entire blog, but the person who seems to make, by far, the most references to this is, in fact, you. <<<<<<<

The trolls Voice in the Urbanness and Voice in the Wilderness have frequently made references to the flat earth. I myself rarely mention it -- out of over 900 posts on this blog, only two are about the flat earth.

Anyone who has read a lot of comment threads that debate the evolution controversy has seen this myth of a flat-earth belief repeated many times. And though the myth was created before Darwinism, the above article says that the myth was propagated mainly for the purpose of defending Darwinism:

The reason for promoting both the specific lie about the sphericity of the earth and the general lie that religion and science are in natural and eternal conflict in Western society, is to defend Darwinism. The answer is really only slightly more complicated than that bald statement. The flat-earth lie was ammunition against the creationists.

>>>>>> Now, here you're bringing it up, apparantly at random <<<<<<<

I just happened to see the article now and decided to make a post about it.

>>>>>> If you read the Bible, taking every word to be absolute, literal truth, as some do, there are some passages that simply cannot be true unless the Earth is flat. <<<<<<<

Can you give examples of such passages?

>>>>>> This is most commonly reconciled to the fact the Earth is round by interpreting these passages as being metaphorical, rather than literal, truth. <<<<<<

If most educated Christians do not accept these passages literally, then what is the big deal?

Saturday, October 11, 2008 3:16:00 PM  
Anonymous 'Nonymous said...

"Can you give examples of such passages?"

See flat earth in the Bible.

BTW, "apparently" (sp).

Sunday, October 12, 2008 1:58:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

I Chronicles 16:30: "He has fixed the earth firm, immovable."

Psalm 93:1: "Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm..."

Psalm 96:10: "He has fixed the earth firm, immovable..."

Psalm 104:5: "Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it never can be shaken."

Isaiah 45:18: "...who made the earth and fashioned it, and himself fixed it fast..."

That is just geo-centrism -- there is nothing there about a flat earth.

Anyway, you have presented no evidence that medieval Christians believed that the earth is flat.

Sunday, October 12, 2008 3:00:00 AM  
Anonymous 'Nonymous said...

<< That is just geo-centrism -- there is nothing there about a flat earth. >>

Oh, excuse me! Their scientific acumen is undeniable, then.

Sunday, October 12, 2008 10:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand what you're trying to prove.

I'm pointing out that, if you are trying to say that it is utterly impossible that some Christians believed the Earth was flat, you are wrong, basically - as your own source points out.

So then the myth of the flat-earth belief is just guilt-by-association.

What? No, the myth of the Flat Earth exists, for some, due to them interpreting the Bible absolutely literally.

The trolls Voice in the Urbanness and Voice in the Wilderness have frequently made references to the flat earth. I myself rarely mention it -- out of over 900 posts on this blog, only two are about the flat earth.

You most commonly bring it up in the comment threads, or reference it in passing in posts about something else. ViU and ViW do, indeed, reference Flat Earthism - by comparing it to ID, and applying the same pro ID arguments to the idea of a flat Earth, and thus point out the argument is just as valid to argue that the Earth is flat. They rarely, if ever, actually bring up the idea of medieval Christians believing the Earth was flat.

Anyone who has read a lot of comment threads that debate the evolution controversy has seen this myth of a flat-earth belief repeated many times.

No, I've seen Flat-Earthism referenced in the same as as ViU and ViW have many times, along with the idea that a literal interpretation of the Bible teaches Flat-Earthism, but rarely, if ever, seen any reference to the idea that medieval Christians believed the Earth was flat. On the rare occasions where I have seen such an argument, it usually gets corrected - fairly often by a 'Darwinist', as you would term him.

By the way, talking of straw men, you do realise using 'Darwinism' and 'Darwinist' in the way you do is one, right?

And though the myth was created before Darwinism, the above article says that the myth was propagated mainly for the purpose of defending Darwinism

Yes, the above article asserts that, but fails to actually provide any evidence of this - a style you seem to emulate. Considering that, even going by what this article says, this 'defense of Darwinism' came about before Darwin even proposed his theory, that would be a rather neat trick.

Can you give examples of such passages?

Well, as well as the link 'Nonymous gave you (try reading the whole page, by the way), there is Matthew 4:8, 'Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them' (it's impossible for the Devil show him all the kingdoms of the world simply by going up a high mountain unless the world is flat), Daniel 4:11, 'The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth' (ditto, except tree instead of mountain), Job 38:13, 'That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, that the wicked might be shaken out of it?' (the Earth can't have 'ends' unless it is flat), Isaiah 40:22, 'It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in' (if the Earth is a circle, it's flat). Those are just a random sampling.

If most educated Christians do not accept these passages literally, then what is the big deal?

The big deal is that you are essentially saying that it is impossible for Christians to believe the Earth was flat, and claiming that is a favorite 'straw man' of 'Darwinists'. Both parts of that simply are not true.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 6:13:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

>>>>>> I'm pointing out that, if you are trying to say that it is utterly impossible that some Christians believed the Earth was flat, you are wrong, basically - as your own source points out. <<<<<<<

Where am I trying to say that, bozo? And does it matter?

You lousy trolls have this compulsion to always try to prove that I am wrong.

Don't feed the trolls.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 9:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where am I trying to say that, bozo?

The original blog post, bozo.

And does it matter?

Well, obviously, otherwise you wouldn't have bothered to make a blog post about it, bozo.

You lousy trolls have this compulsion to always try to prove that I am wrong.

That's because it's utterly fascinating to encounter a person who is almost invariably wrong on just about everything. Even on the rare occasions you are right, you manage to find a way to be wrong at the same time. This is a perfect example of that - you are correct to say the widely-held view that all folk in medieval times believed the world was flat is a myth, but you add to that by saying that a favorite 'straw man' of 'Darwinists' is to say that medieval Christians believed the Earth was flat. It isn't a 'straw man' of 'Darwinists' at all - it is a common mistake made by many people, 'Darwinists' and 'non-Darwinists' alike, and has been made since before Darwin's time. In addition, the few Christians who DID believe the world was flat did so, by and large, due to interpreting the Bible absolutely literally.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 10:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I shaould add to the above that the very accusation that this is a 'straw man of Darwinists', plus the way you use the term 'Darwinist' are, themselves, straw men, so you are heaping heavy doses of irony on top of your inaccuracy, thus making it even more fascinating.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Don't feed the trolls.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Malcolm said...

Mat 4:8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;

I was once told in all seriousness that the earth must have been flat in biblical times because Jesus was shewn ALL the lands of the earth - and that is impossible if we're standing on a sphere...

Monday, October 27, 2008 11:53:00 PM  
Blogger Malcolm said...

Mat 4:8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;

The world must be flat - on a sphere he couldnt have seen *ALL* the kingdoms....

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 12:12:00 AM  
Anonymous kairosfocus said...

I happened across this discussion.

It seems that a FYI will be helpful for future readers. (And I will not be entertaining trolls with an exchange of comments.)

1] General context: Mountains, in the Bible, are a "standard" place for spiritual encounters, often of visionary character [cf Mt of Transfiguration in the same Gospel and the Mountaintop experiences of the two worthies who appeared on that mt: Moshe and Elijah . . . both at Horeb. Since it is credible Jesus was in the Judaean wilderness near Jordan, "high mountain" may even be a visionary experience itself, probably alluding to Horeb. In the next three chapters, Jesus will have his own revelatory mountaintop experience: he calls his disciples to himself and teaches them in the famous Sermon on the Mount, in Galilee. So, his role in Chs 5 - 7 of Mt is intentionally parallel to that of the Angel of Jehovah who appeared to Moshe at Horeb, when the people were too terrified to have YHWH communicate further to them directly. In Christian theology, there is a respectable tradition that would hold that the Person of the Godhead who appeared to Moshe at Horeb would be the pre-incarnate Son. In that look-ahead context, that he has his own "anti-mountaintop" experience with God's would-be usurper first is an underscoring of the significance of his revelatory and reformatory sermon that follows, as he comes back from the Wilderness in the power of the Spirit.]

2] Thematic & Textual Contexts: Thus, in biblical context -- and recall in the passage there is a reference to the Devil taking Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, too -- the most reasonable understanding is that the encounter is an "anti-mountaintop" visionary experience where instead of an encounter with God, the encounter is with the antagonist of God on earth.

3] Or, "translating" into modern, technological terms: if I were to say that I went to my PC and there looked at "all the kingdoms of the earth" that would carry no implication that the earth is flat. (Calling Google Earth, calling Google Earth . . . )

4] In short, just as with the other passages, we see a fundamentally eisegetical reading into the text to serve a hostile agenda. That is, the argument is a strawman attack, one soaked with ad hominem implications. (This is consistent with a now all too common -- and utterly indefensible and destructively uncivil -- current debate and public relations tactic of usinfg distractors, distortions and denigration to "justify" dismissal of Christians and their thought from the public square.)

5] On the sphericity issue, it bears noting that the principal objection in council to Columbus' project was that his estimate for the distance around the earth was implausibly low. And, correctly so, dating back to Eratosthenes' estimate of c 300 BC: in his projected (and actual) 90 days, CC traversed the Atlantic to the Bahamas, not the Americas and the Pacific, so he arrived in the Bahamas and Cuba, not Japan and outlying islands. [In his favour, he had collected evidence that pointed to something out here in reach of a 90 day trip, e.g. bodies in canoes reaching Ireland I think it was.]

6] As to the geocentricity issue, I will say this: it makes sense to speak in phenomenological terms to the people who are the audience for a communication, if the focal intent is to communicate not confuse -- cf., too, how we still speak of sunrise and sunset, 500 years after Copernicus. (And, there are passages that speak of the earth reeling like a drunkard and "fleeing" from him who sits on the throne of judgement, etc.)

Just a few balancing thoughts.

Sunday, July 12, 2009 11:12:00 PM  

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