The Flat Earth - A Lesson To Us All
Genesis and the big bang
Young Earth - Old Earth, what does it matter?
Science and the Bible can be harmonized
The Bible and Science in Conflict
Understanding Genesis Chapter 1
Scriptural Evidence for Long Days
The Origin of the Universe
The Creation / Evolution Controversy Part 1
The Creation / Evolution Controversy Part 2
The Creation / Evolution Controversy Part 3
The Creation / Evolution Controversy Part 4
Entropy, the Fall, and Adam
The Tree Of Life
What I learned at an Answers in Genesis Conference
What's Wrong With This Picture?
Science finds a purpose for the appendix
Flat Earth - A lesson to all of us
Why are young people leaving the church?
Why Does God Hate Me?
Links to the World and Beyond
in your history book?
In 1492 Columbus sailed off into history. We all know before he set sail there was some concern about this voyage as its original intent was not to discover a new world but to sail around the world to India. The concern, as I was taught in school, was that Columbus might sail off the edge of the world as it was believed to be flat. After all, that is what the Bible said and everyone in Europe knew it and believed it.
It turns out this is not actual history at all despite the fact it was taught to us in history class in the late 1960’s. I asked my mother and she said she had been taught the same fact in school. Now, my son had no clue what I was talking about so either 1) this is no longer being taught or 2) he wasn’t paying attention that day. He will graduate with honors this year so I firmly choose to believe the first option.
I am not going to go through the whole history lesson on this subject, I’ll leave that to the experts. Instead, I will only mention a few points and then furnish some links at the end so interested parties can read through this matter on their own. What I really want to write about is a few lessons we should learn from the subject.
It appears in ancient Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations the belief in a flat earth was common. Of course it was from this part of the world that Abraham was called by God. So did Abraham believe the earth was flat? Some of the poetic language of the Bible suggests he might have. Some see this as proof against God, but if it is true it is only proof of a lack of knowledge. God told Abraham to go to the Promised Land not sail around the world. Knowledge of a spherical world wouldn’t have made much difference to the nomadic people of his day.
By the time of the sophisticated Greek culture of Pythagoras, Aristotle, and Aristarchus, (350 – 500 years before Jesus walked the earth) the belief in a flat earth had begun to be replaced by knowledge of a spherical planet. Apparently due to the poetic language in the Bible a very few early church leaders did deny the spherical earth in favor of a flat one. Yet the vast majority of the church disagreed with this view. The last recorded flat earth belief by a church leader came around 547 A.D. over 900 years before Columbus.
So where on earth did this idea that Columbus would sail off the edge of the earth come from? Apparently it originated in the mind of Washington Irving in an 1828 fictional book he wrote about Columbus. That the idea caught on in the minds of people is obvious but how did this fantasy get elevated to truth in the classroom? According to historian Jeffrey Russell it was a deliberate attempt by a few historians and academics of the day to discredit Christians who were resistant to the new evolutionary theories of Darwin.
This is a very stinging accusation! It is also a very scary accusation. I link an atheist rebuttal to Russell’s comments later but what is interesting is they do not deny the flat earth lie was real on who started it. They do deny the reason for it without giving a better explanation for the motives.
Since it is no longer being taught as truth in schools it appears historians have corrected the situation. Unless of course Russell is correct in which case the situation has only been swept under the rug. I hope other serious historians will undertake this investigation and get to the bottom of how a fabricated story made its way into textbooks.
The first lesson that should be taken from all this is to accept each of us have a personal bias. It is a very difficult thing to remain neutral. It is necessary each of us admit our bias if we are to avoid unintentional error in acting on our own agendas. This is true whether we are writing history or looking back and trying to critique it. My personal bias is to believe Russell is correct in his examination of the motives of those who put the lie into textbooks. Yet I must admit I can’t prove he is correct. I must remain cautious in accepting his conclusion.
The second lesson is it is true those who write the history books determine what is considered truth for the future generation. Hopefully they record the past accurately. I have read of entire segments of history being wiped from the records in ancient Egypt when the past wasn’t per the liking of those in charge. The point is historians have bias too, whether national, political, religious, academic, or otherwise. I would like to believe it is a lot harder if not near impossible for such a thing to happen today with the self-correcting mechanism of peer review. One would have thought that such peer review was present in the mid 1800’s as well. That leaves me a little uneasy. Hopefully it is unfounded concern.
The third lesson is that regardless of the motives it is clear if you say something enough times it can become accepted as truth whether it can be substantiated or not. Especially if it is taught to you while you are young by those you respect and trust. You see the fabrication of truth often in politics when two sides put their spin on a situation until one story wins out in the arena of public opinion. The truth is seldom so simple or one-sided.
My final point is actually a warning. Be careful what you believe. Do your research before simply accepting what others tell you about someone or something else. Since your kids don’t know to do this you will have to stay very involved in their lives so you can help them learn this skill. Be even more careful about what you say. Do you honestly want to be responsible for destroying an individual or group simply to get your way? In the bible, James, doesn’t warn us of the dangers of the tongue for no reason.
The last point is especially relevant in the creation/ evolution debate. Both sides are usually very distrustful of the other. Both sides keep the war going. Neither side really listens to the other – they just wait for their turn to talk. Sometimes they don’t even do that and then they just end up shouting over each other. What is the point? No one’s mind is changed in this way. Both sides often leave bitter and angry. What do you suppose is your influence on those who observe these exchanges? These things should not be. This is not the way of love.
Before I end this article I would like to point out the real historical controversy surrounding the voyage of Columbus had to do with the diameter of the spherical earth. Columbus had it wrong, as the world was much larger in diameter than he believed. Being wrong and with dwindling supplies making a return journey impossible all would have been lost for the crew of the three small vessels if they had not accidentally stumbled upon an island in the Caribbean Sea. This interesting bit of history helps to prove that while the size of the earth was uncertain it was common knowledge in Columbus’ day that the earth was round.
I have enjoyed bringing you this subject matter and I hope it speaks to you in some way. Thanks for reading and I bid you peace.
Here are the links to a few of the articles I found helpful in studying this subject:
An article by professor of history at UCSB, Jeffrey Burton Russell, with pretty heavy Christian overtones.
A detailed rebuttal of some of Russell’s comments by a self-proclaimed atheist group.
What I perceive to be a middle of the road article posted on The Textbook League site by professional editor William J. Bennetta.
God, Genesis and the big bang
Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Sluder
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