Monday, September 9, 2013

The natural selection to flatten the earth into biblical proportions.

Understanding the origin of the 'flat earth' myth.

 Without a doubt, one of my favorite topics is true history. When you take a piece of history and remove revisions, myth or misinformation, you get 'true history.' This kind of topic gets a wide variety of reactions from people, especially those with a vested interest in the 'assumed history.'
Some classic examples of assumed history include:
• American Independence Day was July 4th
• Native Americans were not a civilization of math, science, or architecture
• Marie Antoinette told people to eat cake
• Napoleon was short
• Vaccines cause autism
and one of my favorites:
• The belief in a flat earth
Perhaps you are not reading this far yet, as you are Googling factoids about my list above. Perhaps you already did and are either angry, confused, or feeling lost as a human being...

However you feel, welcome to the rounding out of the earth. Welcome to true history, almost universally, no modern culture ever believed that the earth was flat.

Given the seemingly endless 'evidence' that goes back for centuries, it might seem hard to fathom that the flat earth theory is entirely untrue. However, as I present the information throughout this post, you will no doubt see how easily the myth became so deeply entrenched.

Most revisions of history occur when powerful forces have a vested intrest in certain viewpoints getting all the props. The basis for flattening out the earth was very simple, religion needed to look stupid. In the nineteenth century, there was a significant confrontation underway between science and established religion. The entire premise behind the flat earth was to reframe religion as an institution that opposed, blocked, and even murdered scientific advancement.

Keeping this thesis in mind, let's begin to establish the foundation of the entire big picture. All the way back to the 6th century B.C., Pythagoras — and later Aristotle and Euclid — explained through math and evidence that the earth was a sphere. Ptolemy wrote “Geography” at the height of the Roman Empire, 1,300 years before Columbus. Columbus himself owned this book.

The following image comes from Johannes de Sacrobosco’s Tractatus de Sphaera (On the Sphere of the World)
written in 1230 AD. It showcases the knowledge that the appearance of ships on the horizon testified to a curved earth.
There were moments in history that some did speak up and profess a flat earth, but they were soundly put down by none other than the Christian church itself. Men named Lactantius and Cosmas Indicopleustesn made claims about a flat earth, but were resigned to obscurity. There were influential monks like Bede (670-730) who was very unambiguous that the earth was round, and even explained the tides of the earth being effected by the moon. There were countless scientists, priests, and philosophers who all affirmed the spherical nature of the earth. It appears that the church itself opposed the flat earth belief for centuries. It is not to say that the ancient and pre-modern church avoided all opposition to progress or scientific discovery, but it hardly earned the eternal role of subjugator and opponent of progress.


The entire person of Columbus has been distorted into a caricature of reality even greater than the story of Da Vinci. If you were to believe what we were all taught about Columbus, we would literally have to live on a cartoon planet. The truth is, Columbus was not at odds over the round earth belief with anyone. Eratosthenes has estimated that the earth was roughly 23,000 miles across (not bad, it's actually 24,900). The entirety of human navigation from that time forward did nothing but establish this measurement. When Columbus presented his voyage plans to the committee of Salamanca they rejected his plans. Not because of his belief in the shape of the earth, but the size. They argued that Columbus would not have big enough ships to carry the needed supplied for the journey. The Queen of Spain made a handsome contribution and apparently convinced Columbus that he was thinking too small. Ironically, the real story of Columbus that is the REAL story of Columbus is far more shocking...but that's a different blog.


No, that's not the truth either. Galileo was an amazing thinker, but he didn't appear in a vacuum. He was proceeded by Copernicus and other astronomers who all believed in a round earth. He was one man among a great number of thinkers who moved civilization forward. History tells that his friction with the Pope had far more to do with his insistence of heliocentricity as a fact, and pushed it during a time that Europe was undergoing reformation anxiety.

However, it's a long story to tell and reads nothing like the tales of imprisonment, torture, and rejection that history wants us to believe.

I found a fantastic link for your personal study regarding Galileo. Let it guide you on as you find intrest.


Getting back to what I first wrote, there were opposing interests at stake. During the 1800s' there was some guy named Chuck Darwin taking cruises around the South pacific... perhaps you've heard of him? Well, it goes without saying that "The origin of Species" made quite a stir. Darwin is a significant figurehead in a large conflict that covered decades. That conflict was primarily between evolutionary biology and creation. Basically, the church against science. As it goes with any conflict, people get snarky. In painting the church as ignorant and people of faith as simpleminded, the snarky part of the argument gleaned a rather silly but effective tool.

The flat earth.
The claim that it was a long held religious belief was invented and propagated by the historian John Draper (1811-1882), Andrew Dickson White was also a noted supporter of this claim. He was the President of Cornell University, and made sure to propagate this myth in writing. One of the biggest influences on the ideas of a flat earth, Columbus, and the Christian doctrines famously stemmed from a work of fiction. In 1828, Irving wrote “The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus,” which sounds like a biography but is mostly fiction. It says that Europeans learned from Columbus’s trips to the New World that the planet was round. The idea that the sailors on board his ships feared falling off the earth, the church opposed him, and many other falsehoods stemmed from that book. Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848), a French academic used old Christian writings to pin a flat earth belief upon the entire faith.

In order to avoid playing too lose and quick, there are certainly no shortage of examples to actually laugh at. There is an organization alive and well today called "The Flat Earth Society." But they have as much significance to the larger world of science as the Westborough Baptist Church does to modern Christianity.

Now, we sit in a time period where, even though the entire myth has been refuted by 'believers and atheists' alike, the idea remains firmly planted, even among clergy and academics.

If you wish to study this further, you will find (like I did) that the internet is exploding with volumes of academic and anecdotal research.

1 comment:

  1. I knew about Eratosthenes but haven't given much thought on the subject. Thanks