When the Church Taught the Earth Was Flat: Flat-Earthism, Geocentrism, and Christianity and Science

David Russell Mosley

Description English: An azimuthal equidistant projection of the entire spherical Earth. A rendered picture of the Flat Earth model. Created By Dominic Sobieski, The white around the outside of the globe is thought to be an 'Ice Wall', preventing people from falling off the surface of the earth. Date 14 November 2008 (original upload date) Source Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by MathiasRav. Author Trekky0623 at English Wikipedia ("I made this map myself")
Description
English: An azimuthal equidistant projection of the entire spherical Earth. A rendered picture of the Flat Earth model. Created By Dominic Sobieski, The white around the outside of the globe is thought to be an ‘Ice Wall’, preventing people from falling off the surface of the earth.
Date 14 November 2008 (original upload date)
Source Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by MathiasRav.
Author Trekky0623 at English Wikipedia (“I made this map myself”)

Ordinary Time
Christ the King 2017
The Edge of Elfland
Manchester, New Hampshire

Dearest Readers,

By now you’ve probably seen something about Mike Hughes who wants to launch himself in a home-made rocket in order to prove that the earth is flat. I find this man hysterical and worry significantly for his safety. This is not Hughes’ first launch––nor his first daredevil trick––but it will be his first launch as a “flat-earth researcher.” Which calls into question whether he really wants to prove that the earth is flat, or if he just thought flat-earthers were more likely to pay money for his trip.

I am honestly quite flabbergasted by this strange resurgence of flat-earth research and belief. For some it is tied to the notion that the earth is the center of the universe and is thus tied to backwards Christian beliefs that sacred, but atheist or at least secular, science has had to have the courage to debunk. This is a fairly common narrative anymore. Christians believe in things like the Incarnation or bread and wine becoming flesh and blood. So of course they also purveyed hilarious ideas about the earth being flat or the center of the universe.

And, of course, Christians in recent days haven’t done us much good. Thanks to people like Ken Ham with his creation museum (suggesting dinosaurs and humans coexisted despite a complete lack of evidence) and his replica of Noah’s ark, the greater world seems inclined to think that Christians just stand in the way of science.

Others more versed in the history of science and its relationship to religion in general and Christianity in particular can better to speak why so many of our modern myths about the middle ages don’t teach the truth. But the one I want to focus on is this notion of a flat earth and its relationship to geo-centrism.

With only a few possible exceptions, the Church has never taught, certainly not in any widespread, official, or magisterial way, that the Earth is flat. One might be able to glean such a conception from certain ancient Hebrew texts, but the overwhelming majority of Christians have always believed that the earth is round. This, of course, makes a decent amount of sense. After all, as well as being formed by the Hebrew scriptures, many early Christians were also reading Greek philosophy including Pythagoras who, amongst others, said that the earth was spherical.

Interestingly, I think there is a connection here to geocentrism. That is, in addition to things like the shadow cast by the earth on the moon, from at least the time of Ptolemy onward it was believed that each of the planets moved in perfect, concentric circles around the spherical earth, the cosmos’ center. At this time and up through the middle ages, the earth was not believed to be a planet because they believed it stationary (though it did revolve on its axis). This belief about the place of the earth and its relation to the planets was based on the best science and math available.

So why is it that the geocentric model and flat-earth belief get painted with the some brush? After all, one had sound science behind it that was eventually overturned and the other is almost impossible to find any credible proponent until the modern age? And why do some Christians seem to be jumping on this ridiculous bandwagon?

I can’t give a firm answer to this but my guess in both cases is poor historical formation. Fringe, and sometimes not so fringe, Christians have gotten certain understandings about the Bible and science and Christianity into their heads. They seem to think that science as science is antithetical to Christianity. This goes neatly with the narrative that says everything about “the world” is evil and will be consumed by fire and can thus go to hell in a hand basket a little early; or why things like global warming are considered to be a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese (full disclosure, I’m not saying “the world” is inherently good, either, just that many have misunderstood what people like St. Paul meant by the word). The facts, the data be damned! We know the scientists are lying to us!

As for the proponents of scientism, I think the problem is the same. They misunderstand or believe out and out lies about the history of the Church and science and so let their biases dictate their modern understandings. I mean who among us wasn’t taught, whether in school explicitly or implicitly elsewhere, that part of why Columbus or Magellan sailed as they did was to prove that the earth is round. The facts, the data be damned! We know the Church is lying to us!

In the end, we must find the middle road. Those of us who know the truth must speak it louder. Yes, the Church needs to confront, and often has confronted, when it has been wrong. But so too must scientists, or more likely non-scientist proponents of science, recognize that they have been perpetuating lies.

Man did believe the earth was the center of the cosmos (and this was not a good thing for the earth or for us), but the Church has never officially taught that the earth is flat. So let’s all pray Mike Hughes doesn’t kill himself as he seeks to become famous by selling snake oil to the gullible.

Sincerely,
David

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