Author Topic: Flat Earth  (Read 3248 times)

Offline misfitguy

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Flat Earth
« on: August 30, 2009, 07:25:51 AM »
I just received this post from a Baha'i Apologetic and discussion group I belong too.  It is probably sacrosanct and I shouldn't repost this, but I thought it was worthy and apologize to Iain Palin if I have done so against his beliefs.  I also had a problem trying to decide which topic I should post it under.  It surely discusses religion, as well as science, but I finally decided it really discussed the "politics" of religion and so posted it under this more general area.  Anyway, I am going to order the book, but hoped for a little discussion here as well.


"Iain Palin"


I have just finished reading a fascinating book. "Flat Earth" by Christine Garwood chronicles the story of Flat Earth belief in a very readable manner and demolishes a few misguided notions that the rest of us may have had in the process.

She shows that:

- Belief that the Earth is flat is not some ancient idea that ignorant people held to through the centuries until the glorious coming of Columbus, or modern astronomy, or whatever. The Ancients know the Earth is round for several centuries before Christ, and that view remained part of mainstream belief right through history.

- The early Christian church - with a few notable exceptions - had no problem with a round Earth, and it was accepted as mainstream Christian belief right from the start. A very few early Christian writers did reject the idea, seeing it as part of "pagan knowledge" that they were rejecting by becoming Christians but they were not the rule. In modern times people with an anti-religious agenda made out that the Church taught the Earth was flat in order to further their own agenda.

- For much of history there was no science v. religion conflict on this point (though there was on others).

- Columbus's opponents who tried to talk him out of his Atlantic journey knew as well as he did that the Earth was round, there was no question of his falling off the edge or anything like that. In fact their beliefs were a lot closer to our current knowledge than Columbus's, which was way off. He got lucky, for other reasons. The "Columbus was the visionary, the learned churchmen who opposed him believed the Earth was flat" tale was first actively propounded in Nineteenth-Century America by writers. They apparently wanted to build up "their hero" (the man who is falsely credited with discovering America), as a ruggedly individualistic visionary in the American mould - and the chance to show the Catholic Church in a bad light was a bonus.

- Flat-Earthism as a vocal and articulate lobby actually arose in Nineteenth-Century England, spreading from there to the USA. It was established by fundamentalist Christians who were reacting to the advance of scientific knowledge, which they saw as a godless force or conspiracy aimed at destroying the Christian faith. In response they constructed a "Christian" model of the Universe based on scattered verses from the Bible.

- Flat-Earthers were adept at conducting research which gave results they wanted to see, and denying the validity of research which went against their views.

- Science and scientists were routinely misrepresented; scientists were subjected to sustained attacks, vicious ad hominems, personal campaigns, and libels.

- Flat-Earthers were also against other scientific advances which threatened to undermine religious faith in their eyes, notably Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

- There was historically an overlap between Flat-Earthers and Creationists, a connection the latter now find embarrassing and try to minimise.

- But with time antipathy grew between the two movements: Creationists regarded Flat-Earthers are embarrassing extremists who were discrediting "Bible Science", Flat-Earthers regarded Creationists who accepted the roundness of the world as sell-ours and little better than the evil scientists.

- Not just the approach, but the psychology and mind-set of Flat-Earthers and Creationists have a lot in common, especially as our society, in which Creationists and other anti-scientists appear to be flourishing, has much in common with the Nineteenth Century society that gave rise to the Flat-Earth movement.

There was also a brief discussion of "presentism", a term I hadn't come across before, explained as "a culture's tendency to congratulate itself on its knowledge modernity and progress from the alleged ignorance of the
past". This also seems a factor in the readiness to believe that people in previous centuries accepted the idea of a flat Earth.

As I say, a fascinating book, well written, exhaustively researched, and really quite kind to and understanding of the Flat-Earthers as people. I just wish I had read it before I gave my "Science and Religion" course at Summer School - it would have been an interesting example of the science-religion interface and how it is influenced by other factors.


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