Is the Earth Flat?

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Why Write about a Flat Earth?

Many people will probably wonder why it is necessary to write an article defending a round earth. Or, more specifically, an earth that is spherical. You see, the earth could be both round and flat, if it were disk shaped. Recently I had a conversation with some people about a Christian young man they know who frequently argues that the earth is flat. Mind you, this young man does not actually believe that the earth is flat. Rather, he finds the topic interesting and the discussion of it stimulating. Indeed, it can be. In my years at the university, I always asked the same sort of question in my introductory astronomy classes to motivate my students into thinking more deeply. By raising the question, I challenged our cultural mythology that, until the time of Christopher Columbus five centuries ago, nearly everyone thought the earth was flat. Supposedly, with our sophistication and intelligence today, we know better than the ignorant people of the past. Most of my students were surprised to learn that the facts of history are very different. The question of the earth’s true shape had been settled two millennia before Columbus. Rarely could any of my students give a good reason why the earth is spherical. So much for our modern smug superiority over the supposedly ignorant people of the past.

Consequently, with no idea of the reasons we know that the earth is spherical, most people long ago entered a complacent state of more or less taking someone else’s word for the matter.

Most people have not given this question any thought, because they have been taught their entire lives that the earth is spherical, so why worry about it? Consequently, with no idea of the reasons we know that the earth is spherical, most people long ago entered a complacent state of more or less taking someone else’s word for the matter. When someone comes along, such as this young man, who has given this some thought and begins to raise what appear to be simple objections to the earth’s spherical shape, it doesn’t take much to fluster most people. When cornered in this manner, people generally respond with the observation that we have photos from space that clearly show a spherical earth. However, the clever speaker will respond that such photos easily can be faked. Indeed, because we all know that it is very easy to fake such photos, perhaps those photos don’t prove much after all. Furthermore, those sorts of photos have been available only for a little more than a half-century. Belief in a spherical earth goes back much earlier than this, so obviously there must be better responses.

Once the space photos of a spherical earth are shot down, the vast majority of people usually have one of two responses. The most common response is to dismiss the person asking the questions as a crank or fool, because “everyone knows that the earth is round.” The other response is to pay more attention to the “flat-earthers,” looking for errors in their facts or logic. However, rarely having the knowledge readily at hand to refute the case for a flat earth, most people who take this approach soon look for help. That search for help usually is on the Internet, whereupon they quickly find a slew of websites and videos promoting the flat earth, but precious little, if any, refuting it. Some people emerge a few hours later, their egos bruised and their intelligence a bit insulted, because they still think that the flat earth is nonsense but are frustrated that they can’t seem to answer many of the arguments they’ve just encountered. Still others never emerge from this rabbit hole and end up thinking that maybe the conspiracy theories that they have encountered along the way may be right—perhaps for a long time we’ve all been fed a whopping lie about the true shape of the earth.

Reasons We Know That the Earth Is Spherical

Earth’s Shadow

So how did people in the ancient world know that the earth is spherical? The earliest recorded discussion of a spherical earth is from Pythagoras in the sixth century BC. Pythagoras correctly understood that the cause of lunar eclipses is the shadow of the earth falling on the moon. This can happen only when the moon is opposite the sun in our sky, which coincides with full moon. The earth’s shadow is larger than the moon, so we cannot see the entire shadow at once. However, during a lunar eclipse we see the earth’s shadow creep across the moon. Because the edge of the earth’s shadow always is a portion of a circle, the earth’s shadow must be a circle. If the earth were flat and round, similar to a disk, it could cast a circular shadow, but only for lunar eclipses that occur at midnight. For a lunar eclipse at sunrise or sunset, the earth’s shadow would be an ellipse, a line, or a rectangle, depending upon how thick the disk was compared to its diameter. However, the earth’s shadow during a lunar eclipse is always a circle, regardless of the time of night when the eclipse occurs. The only shape that consistently has a circular shadow, regardless of its orientation, is a sphere.

The only shape that consistently has a circular shadow, regardless of its orientation, is a sphere.

Visibility of the Stars

Another argument involves the stars that are visible in the northern and southern parts of the sky. The North Star lies within a degree of the north celestial pole, the direction in space that the earth’s rotation points at. As the earth rotates each day, the stars, the sun, and the moon appear to spin around the north celestial pole, so the north celestial pole remains fixed in the sky. In the ancient world, many people thought that the celestial sphere rotated each day around a non-spinning earth. For our purposes here, it doesn’t matter which is the case. The north celestial pole makes an angle with the northern horizon. We call this angle the altitude of the north celestial pole. Since the North Star is so close to the north celestial pole, we can approximate the altitude of the north celestial pole with the North Star’s altitude.

Vela and Surrounding Constellations

Vela and surrounding constellations. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The altitude of the North Star is noticeably higher in the sky at northern locations than it is at southern locations. For example, the North Star is much higher in the sky in the northern United States and Canada than it is in Florida, as anyone who pays attention on a trip, such as a vacation, can attest. This can happen only if north-south motion is along an arc. This is further underscored by other considerations. There is a region around the North Star in which the stars do not rise or set but instead are continually up and appear to go in circles around the north celestial pole. We call these circumpolar stars, meaning “around the pole.” The region of circumpolar stars is larger at northern locations than in southern locations. Likewise, there is a circumpolar region below the southern horizon whose stars are always below the horizon. The northern circumpolar region, where stars are always visible, is very large, and the southern circumpolar region, whose stars are never visible, is also large. Closer to the earth’s equator, the two circumpolar regions are smaller. For example, for many years I lived in South Carolina, about four degrees farther south latitude from where I now live in Northern Kentucky. I can see that the North Star is slightly higher in Northern Kentucky than it was in South Carolina. Furthermore, during winter in South Carolina, the bright star Canopus barely rose above the southern horizon each night; but in Kentucky I can never see Canopus. This is because in Northern Kentucky, Canopus is in the southern circumpolar region where stars are never visible, while in South Carolina it is not. This too shows that the earth is curved in the north-south direction.

Curvature of the Earth

Not only is the earth curved in the north-south direction, it also is curved in the east-west direction. There is a time difference of three hours between the east and west coasts of the United States. That is, the sun rises and sets approximately three hours earlier on the east coast than it does on the west coast. This is easily verified by anyone who has flown between the east and west coasts of the United States. Not only will your watch show that there is a time difference of three hours, but your body will notice the difference in time as well. If one drives from one coast to the other, the trip will take several days, so our bodies will not notice the time difference as much. However, our watches reveal that the time has changed. Such rapid transportation was not possible in ancient times, but the ancients could see this time difference a different way. A lunar eclipse obviously must happen simultaneously for everyone on earth, but it will be different times at different locations. For instance, a lunar eclipse may start shortly after sunset in the eastern Mediterranean, such as in Greece. However, in the western Mediterranean, such as in Spain, the moon would already be in eclipse when the moon rose that night. This means that the lunar eclipse began before sunset/moonrise in Spain, but after sunset/moonrise in Greece. Communication was such in the ancient world that people were aware of this effect. This shows that the earth is curved in the east-west direction. If the earth is curved in both the north-south and east-west direction, the most likely shape of the earth is a sphere.

Ancient Sources

Ancient sources, such as Aristotle, also mentioned that the hulls of ships disappeared before their masts did as ships sailed away. This would happen only if the earth is spherical. Without optical aid, this is difficult to see. However, one easily can see a related effect. If one is perched atop the mast of the ship, one can spot land or other ships before people on the deck can. This is why spotters often were placed in a crow’s nest high above a ship’s deck. If the earth were flat, there would be no advantage to being above the deck. A similar thing can be observed on land. The Door Peninsula in Wisconsin forms the eastern shore of Green Bay. The distance across Green Bay from the northern portion of the Door Peninsula to Northern Michigan is more than twenty miles. Looking across Green Bay from the beach on the west side of the Door Peninsula, one cannot see Northern Michigan. However, if one ascends the bluffs above the beach, one can see the shoreline of Northern Michigan. This is possible only if the earth is spherical.

Potawatomi State Park at Sunset

View of sunset from Potawatomi State Park, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Eratosthenes

Eratosthenes. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Not only did ancient people know that the earth was spherical, one of them accurately measured the size of the earth around 200 BC. Eratosthenes worked at the Great Library in Alexandria, Egypt. Eratosthenes is the father of geography because he coined the term and commissioned the creation of many maps. One particular year on the summer solstice, Eratosthenes was in southern Egypt near modern-day Aswan. Being on the northern limit of the tropics, the sun was directly overhead at noon on the summer solstice. Eratosthenes realized this, because he could look down into a deep well and see the bottom.

Normally, the bottom of a well is not visible because the sun’s light does not shine directly on the bottom, but it did at noon on the summer solstice because the sun was directly overhead. The sun never was directly overhead in Alexandria, because it is not in the tropics. Back in Alexandria the following year, Eratosthenes measured the altitude of the sun at noon on the summer solstice. He did this by constructing a vertical pole of known height and measuring the pole’s shadow at noon. Trigonometry allowed Eratosthenes to compute the sun’s altitude. The difference between ninety degrees and the altitude was how far the sun was from being vertical. Eratosthenes found that the angle was about one-fiftieth of a circle. This meant that Alexandria and Aswan were separated by one-fiftieth of the earth’s circumference. Eratosthenes knew the distance between those two locations, so multiplying that distance by fifty gave him the earth’s circumference.

Why do so many people today assume that everyone thought that the earth was flat until the time of Columbus? The argument at the time of Columbus was not over the earth’s shape, but over the earth’s size. Muslims had closed to Europeans the overland trade routes to the Far East. Everyone realized that travel to Asia by sailing west from Europe was possible, but why would you want to? There was a vast ocean (they didn’t know about the two American continents in between) separating Europe and Asia. It was much shorter to sail eastward from Europe, perhaps around Africa, to reach Asia. In the small ships used at the time, it was not advisable to sail more than a few days out of sight of land. Columbus was proposing a voyage of a few months over open, uncharted waters. That was very dangerous. To make his proposed voyage more palatable, Columbus overestimated the eastward distance from Europe, and at the same time he decreased Eratosthenes’ measurement of the earth’s circumference. The difference in these two was Columbus’ expected distance to Asia by sailing westward from Europe. In Columbus’ estimation, it was shorter to reach Asia by sailing westward than eastward. A glance at a modern globe or map of the world reveals that this is false. In other words, Columbus was wrong, and his critics were right!

Accusation of Christianity

In the late nineteenth century, two atheistic skeptics, Andrew Dickson White and John Draper, created the conflict thesis that Christianity held back the progress of science. One of their major arguments was that throughout the Middle Ages the church had taught that the earth was flat. In creating this myth, Draper and White suggested that the church could redeem itself for this supposed error on the earth’s shape by getting in on the ground floor of Darwinism. This ploy was very successful in that much of the church capitulated on evolution. It also falsely altered history. It is this false version of history that most people have learned.

Descent into the Rabbit Hole

Within days of my conversation with the people about the young man who espoused a flat earth, I had two additional, yet independent, conversations with people having similar concerns about two other Christian young people. However, while the first young man merely talked about a flat earth as an intellectual exercise, these two young men apparently had become convinced that the earth may actually be flat. With three conversations over less than a week, I wondered, “Is there something going on out there?” There had been a few warning signs along the way. During the previous six months I had been asked about the flat earth several times. One was from the department that handles correspondences and questions directed to Answers in Genesis. It seems that people submit a question about this to Answers in Genesis often enough. Two of our speakers here at Answers in Genesis recently had received questions about the flat earth while traveling. Two other creation speakers not associated with Answers in Genesis had asked me about it. More recently I had someone raise this question after a talk that I gave at the Creation Museum. All of this suggested that there must be some sort of movement out there within Christianity promoting the flat earth. This immediately raised two questions: who are the people responsible for this recent interest in a flat earth, and what is their motivation?

The search for those answers required that I disappear inside the flat-earth rabbit hole in the Internet for a while. Before I share what I found, I need to make one point very clear—as in the story of Alice in Wonderland, not everything is as it appears. Most people are aware that there is a Flat Earth Society, thinking that the Flat Earth Society is a serious group of people dedicated to promoting their own peculiar view of the world. The situation is far murkier than that. Actually, there have been several Flat Earth Societies. Some of them clearly have been tongue-in-cheek, while others appear to be far more serious. Some flat earth advocates obviously are having fun, and they don’t seem to mind if their audience is in on the gag. However, some people promoting a flat earth appear to enjoy watching people squirm uncomfortably when confronted with an argument that they disagree with but can’t quite manage to refute. Of course, these people are not about to let on that they are anything but serious about the flat earth. This is perverse.

Examples of Flat-Earth Proponents

An example of someone who may not be serious about the earth being flat is Matthew Boylan. According to some sources on the flat earth, Boylan is an artist who was an independent contractor with NASA. He supposedly left that job after NASA employees took him into their confidence and invited him to join the conspiracy promoting the lie that the earth is spherical. According to Boylan, NASA fakes nearly everything that it does. Boylan has several videos on the Internet, but some of them appear to be comedy routines. For instance, this video has an audience that reacts as if audience members understood that they were watching a comedy routine.

Boylan’s delivery, including his frequent use of profanity, is similar to so many comedy routines today. In this routine, Boylan included a photo that he says shows the Apollo 11 Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) landing on the moon. According to him, because there had to be a camera crew already on the moon to take the photo, NASA faked the moon landing. However, the photograph clearly shows the curved edge of the moon, indicating that the LEM was far above the lunar surface. Actually, this photo was taken by Michael Collins, who remained aboard the Apollo 11 Command Module (CM), as the two other astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, landed on the moon. Collins took the photo shortly after separation of the LEM from the CM. Similarly, Boylan shows an image of the Galileo probe arriving at Jupiter. Boylan mockingly notes that the Galileo probe must have been followed very closely by another spacecraft carrying a camera. NASA frequently produces this sort of image of spacecraft superimposed with an image of some space object relevant to the spacecraft. In other words, this is an artist’s rendition. As an artist, Boylan must understand this. He must be very amused that so many people think that he is serious.

“Support” for a Flat Earth

Let us discuss some of the more frequent claims that supposedly prove that the earth is flat rather than spherical. Most of the supposed evidences are negative; that is, they are attempts to show that the earth is not spherical. However, at least one, the Bedford Level Experiment, is positive, an attempt directly to show that the earth is flat. In 1838, Samuel Birley Rowbotham claimed to have conducted an experiment on the Old Bedford River on the Bedford Level near Norfolk, England. The Bedford Level is a six-mile stretch of the Old Bedford River that is straight, allowing an uninterrupted view along the six miles. Furthermore, there is no gradient there, so that portion of the river amounts to a slow-flowing drainage canal. If the earth is curved, then the drop from one end to the other is about 24 feet. That is, if one were to use a telescope at water level to view along the water on one end of Bedford Level, a mast or pole 24 feet high on the other end would not be visible.

Rowbotham Curvature

Diagram of Rowbotham’s experiment on the Bedford Level. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Rowbotham waded into the river and used a telescope held eight inches above the water to observe a rowboat with a five-foot high mast row away. Rowbotham claimed that he could see the mast when it was six miles away, even though the spherical earth required that the top of the mast be about eleven feet below his horizon (as viewed from eight inches above the water). Rowbotham concluded that the earth must be flat, or it is more likely that he already thought this and this experiment proved his thesis, at least to his satisfaction. Rowbotham, using a pseudonym, published his results in a pamphlet titled Zetetic Astronomy in 1849, which he expanded into a book in 1865.

Most people ignored Rowbotham’s work. However, in 1870 John Hampden, another flat earth proponent, offered a wager of a hefty sum to anyone who could demonstrate a convex curvature of a large body of water, as a spherical earth would require. The famous Alfred Russell Wallace took the challenge. Apparently unaware of Rowbotham’s result, Wallace altered the technique a bit. He placed two identical objects at different locations along the Bedford Level. Wallace examined either object from a telescope mounted on a bridge. He found that the nearer object appeared higher than the more distant one, consistent with the results predicted by a spherical earth. Why the difference? The density of air decreases with increasing height. Because this causes a slight change in the index of refraction in air, rays of light passing close to the earth’s surface are bent downward. As can be seen in the following figure, this makes distant objects appear higher than they actually are.

Atmospheric Refraction

Incidentally, this well-understood effect causes the sun to appear to rise about two minutes earlier than it actually does. A temperature inversion, where the temperature increases with height, is common at low heights along the Bedford Level and other bodies of water. Temperature inversions accentuate refraction. If the rate of increase of air temperature with height is great enough, a temperature inversion can even cause objects in the distance to appear above the horizon. In 1896, Ulysses Grant Morrow conducted a similar experiment on the Old Illinois Drainage Canal under these conditions, and found results consistent with the earth being curved concavely (there are people who think that the earth’s surface is the inside of a shell). Apparently, Wallace was aware of these effects, while Rowbotham was not. This is what prompted Wallace to conduct his experiment high enough above the water to eliminate the major contribution of refraction due to a temperature inversion at low height.

Those who promote the flat earth often mention the Bedford Level Experiment as proof that the earth is flat. They seem to think that Rowbotham’s 1838 experiment settled the matter for all time. They are willfully ignorant that the experiment has been repeated many times since 1838. When those experiments are properly conducted to minimize the effect of refraction, they are consistent with a spherical earth.

Some Internet videos promoting the flat earth show a time-lapse film of the midnight sun. The sun appears to move rightward along the horizon, slowly bobbing up and down once each day. The claim is made that the midnight sun is visible anywhere north of the Arctic Circle (around 66.6 degrees north latitude), but that if the earth were spherical, the midnight sun would be visible only at the North Pole. The following figure shows the correct situation.

Arctic Circle

On the summer solstice, the earth’s Northern Hemisphere has its maximum tilt toward the sun. Consider an observer on the Arctic Circle. At point A, it is noon, and the sun is as high in the sky as it can be, nearly 47 degrees. To an observer facing the sun with the North Pole to his back, the sun would appear in the southern part of the sky. However twelve hours later, the earth’s rotation will take the observer to point B. This will be at midnight. As you can see, the sun’s rays pass over the North Pole and reach point B tangent to the earth’s surface. The sun’s rays being tangent to the earth’s surface means that the sun is on the horizon. Since the observer must face the North Pole to view the sun, the sun is in the northern part of the sky.

On the Arctic Circle, the midnight sun is visible only on the summer solstice. At higher latitudes, the midnight sun is visible for more days. At the earth’s North Pole, the sun is above the horizon for six months. The sun does not appear to bob up and down each day at the North Pole. Instead, the sun appears to circle each day at about the same altitude. Actually, the sun rises on the vernal equinox and slowly gains altitude until the summer solstice, whereupon the sun slowly descends again until it sets on the autumnal equinox. The sun’s maximum altitude, on the summer solstice, is 23.4 degrees.

There is an irony here. While supporters of the flat earth falsely claim that the midnight sun on the Arctic Circle cannot happen if the earth is spherical, it is the flat earth that has difficulty explaining the midnight sun. Most flat earth models have the North Pole at the center of a disk-shaped earth, as in the following illustration.

Arctic Circle

Suppose that the midnight sun is visible at the North Pole as well as on the Arctic Circle. This is indicated by lines from the sun to the North Pole and at point A on the Arctic Circle. Notice that on a flat earth, we can draw a line from the sun to any point on the earth not within the Arctic Circle (such as point C). Hence, if the earth were flat, the midnight sun must be visible everywhere, not just within the Arctic Circle. Because this clearly is not the case, the earth must not be flat.

Some of the flat earth promotional videos that deal with the midnight sun show the sun orbiting each day around the earth’s North Pole. Mysteriously, there is a shadow on the earth on the other side of its North Pole from the sun. As the sun orbits the North Pole, so does the shadow. Apparently, the shadow indicates where it is night on the earth. However, because the sun clearly is above the horizon for locations in that shadow, it ought to be day there. The origin of this shadow producing night is never explained. Furthermore, since the sun clearly is above the horizon for the entire flat earth, it ought to be day everywhere on the earth. This, too, is not explained.

Another claim made against the spherical earth is that if the earth were a spinning globe that orbited the sun each year, the earth’s spin axis would not stay aligned with the North Star. This is because, as we shift from one side of the earth’s orbit to the other, our perspective changes, as can be seen in the following visual.

Earth’s Orbit

If the earth’s axis were aligned with the North Star at point A, then the earth would not align with the North Star six months later when the earth arrives at point B. This effect is well enough known to warrant a name: parallax. At least one of the videos gives what astronomers think is the distance to the North Star (four quadrillion km, but it’s actually about twice that distance) and the radius of the earth’s orbit (150 million km). We can use these numbers to find how much the parallax angle, π, is. As we shall see, the angle π is a small angle, so we can use the small angle approximation. If an angle is small, we can express the angle, in radian measure, as the ratio of the baseline to one of the other sides. The baseline is the earth’s orbital radius, r, and the other side is the distance to the North Star, d. That is,

π = r/d = (150 million km) / (2 quadrillion km) = 7.5 x 10-8 radians.

To convert this to degrees, we must multiply by 57.3. After doing this, the angle is 4.3 x 10-6 degrees, or a little more than four millionths of a degree. That is the apparent diameter of a dime when viewed 150 miles away. Actually, the total shift that we would see would be twice this amount, but remember, the distance given in the video is about half the true value. Obviously, this is a very small angle, far too small for our eyes to notice. Therefore, this supposed proof that the earth is flat is specious.

In an interview, flat earth promoter Eric Dubay discussed parallax. Dubay has written several books on the flat earth, such as The Flat Earth Conspiracy, and he is featured or is credited with several videos on YouTube. In this interview, Dubay explicitly stated that there are no parallax measurements. This is patently false. Despite being very small, it is possible to measure parallax for the stars closest to earth. The first parallax measurements were in the 1830s. Technology has improved tremendously since then, so that today there are parallax measurements for several hundred thousand stars. The HIPPARCOS mission of the early 1990s was most helpful in this. From this mission, we have parallax measurements of most stars within 600 light years. The Gaia spacecraft, launched late in 2013, is greatly adding to this. The Gaia mission ought to give us parallax measurements out to 6,000 light years. It is not clear if Dubay is ignorant of the status of parallax measurements, or if he knows better and has chosen to say otherwise.

In the interview, Dubay made a number of false statements. He said that the North Star is visible down to latitude 23 ½ degrees south of the equator. This is untrue: the North Star is not visible south of the equator. Dubay said that the moon is not solid, because we can see stars through the moon. This is nonsense, because from time to time the moon passes in front of a bright star, an event that we call a lunar occultation. Astronomers measure how long it takes the lunar limb (or edge) to block out stars during lunar occultations, because the time measure reveals something about how large stars are.

If Dubay understood even elementary physics, he would know that because of Newton’s first law of motion, an object requires a force in order to orbit.

Dubay clearly does not understand physics. He claims that rockets cannot work in space because there is no air. Rockets work because of Newton’s third law of motion (action-reaction) not because they push off air. Dubay protests that gravity seems to have two contradicting properties: making things stick to the earth and causing other things to orbit the earth. If Dubay understood even elementary physics, he would know that because of Newton’s first law of motion, an object requires a force in order to orbit. Gravity provides that force. This is no different from any object that goes in a circular path. A weight whirled around a string is compelled in its orbit by tension in the string. In similar manner, gravity provides the force required to make the moon orbit the earth.

Many of the arguments put forth by Dubay and others for a flat earth are so poor, that one has to wonder how serious these people must be. Dubay seems serious enough, but could he really fail to understand so many things? There may be a hint very early in the interview that suggests that the entire thing was a gag. The interview was done via Skype. Both the interviewer and Dubay sound as if they are American. The interviewer stated that Dubay was in “sunny Thailand,” Dubay replied that Thailand then was “moonlit.” Apparently, it was daytime where the interviewer was, but it was night in Thailand. That would be difficult to explain on a flat earth, but relatively easy to explain on a spherical earth.

Christians Supporting the Flat Earth Belief

As I searched around, I wasn’t able to find a single source responsible for renewed interest in the flat earth among Christians. I did, however, find a long documentary film on the subject apparently produced by Christians, “The Biblical Flat Earth Series: The Global Lie Flat Earth Revelation Documentary.” There are four people credited in the documentary: Philip Stallings, Rob Skiba, Robbie Davidson, and Emmanuel Lokonga. There isn’t much information about Emmanuel Lokonga. Robbie Davidson apparently is the filmmaker and primarily responsible for the production of the documentary. Both Rob Skiba and Philip Stallings have other videos promoting flat earth, as well as other ideas, on the Internet. Stallings is identified as the founder of the Bible Flat Earth Society. An organization called Celebrate Truth also was involved in the documentary. It is not clear what Celebrate Truth is or who is behind it. Both Celebrate Truth and the Bible Flat Earth Society appear to have a presence solely on social media.

While the documentary appears reasonably well done from a technical standpoint, much of the material in the program is poor. For instance, between 53:00 and 55:30, the documentary makes the claim we do not see stellar parallax, and so concludes that the earth must not be moving. As already mentioned, this is patently false. This is so easily refuted, it makes me wonder if this documentary is a serious attempt to support the flat earth or if it merely is yet another subtle, tongue-in-cheek project to reel-in unsuspecting people.

Arizona Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater-Arizona. Image by NASA Earth Observatory, via Wikimedia Commons.

Around 56:30 there is a list of various odd things thrown together. One item on the list is a denial of the existence of extrasolar planets (they exist). Another denies that stars are far away (they are). There is a denial that meteors strike the earth. (There is abundant evidence meteors do strike the earth. For instance, the Arizona Meteor Crater is a well-documented meteor impact). Also included is a denial that the sun’s source of energy is nuclear, even though there is evidence for that. The old Aristotelian claim that a moving earth would leave its atmosphere behind is there too. A variation of this latter point is made at 1:22:30, where the claim is made that an airplane could not land on a runway if the earth were moving. As the earth moves, the atmosphere moves with it, so the atmosphere is not left behind. Furthermore, because aircraft move with respect to the air, as air moves with the earth, aircraft are carried along with both the air and the earth. The only difficulty is if there is significant wind across the flight path, but pilots deal with this every day. Again, this is all so bad that I have to consider the possibility that this entire documentary is satire or lampoon. Around 1:29:11, an appeal is made to the foundational importance of Genesis. This sounds similar to the message of Answers in Genesis. Is this some sort of slam of Answers in Genesis?

Earth from Apollo 17

Photograph of earth by Apollo 17 astronauts. Image courtesy of NASA.

Once one postulates a flat earth, it leads to other preposterous claims. If the earth is flat rather than a sphere, then it is inconceivable that we have ventured into space. In the previously mentioned interview with Eric Dubay, he denied that there are any satellites orbiting the earth or that astronauts have gone into space. He claims that all photos and videos taken from space are faked. For example, Dubay says that the famous photograph of the earth taken by the Apollo 17 astronauts is a computer-generated image. Of course, this line of argumentation automatically requires belief that the Apollo moon landings were hoaxes. However there are good reasons to believe that we really did land on the moon during the Apollo program.

Christians who want to entertain this nonsense ought to know that during his six-month stay on the International Space Station in 2006, astronaut Jeffrey Williams photographed the earth more than any astronaut in history. Some of Williams’ photos are found in his book, The Work of His Hands: A View of God’s Creation from Space. Many of the photos show that the earth is spherical. It ought to be apparent from the book’s title that Williams is a Christian, but the book’s content makes it abundantly clear. Hence, to doubt that the earth is spherical or that astronauts have gone into space is to accuse a Christian brother of perpetuating a tremendous lie.

But Williams is not the only Christian to have gone into space: Jim Irwin and Charles Duke were among the twelve men who walked on the moon. Recently, I asked Charles Duke to respond to those who think that the earth is flat and those who think that we faked the Apollo moon landing. This is what he wrote:

I was the lunar module pilot on the Apollo 16 mission to the moon. We launched from KSC (Kennedy Space Center) in Florida on April 16, 1972. We left earth orbit for our three day trip to the moon about three hours later. As we maneuvered our spacecraft to dock with our lunar module, the earth came into view about 20,000 miles away. It was an awesome sight. As you can see in the photo, it is obviously a sphere and not a flat circle. As we journeyed to the moon, we would look out our windows and see a smaller earth, and each time we would see different landmasses, so it was obviously rotating on its axis.

Earth from Apollo 16

Some people are questioning the fact that we landed on the moon, alleging that it is a big hoax. Well, we did land on the moon six times, and the evidences are overwhelming. If we faked the landing, why did we fake it 6 times? One needs only to look at the photos from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from my mission. The photos of our landing site shows the descent stage, the lunar rover, the experiments package, and the tracks we left on the moon. Every landing site has similar evidence. There are many other proofs that conclusively show that Apollo actually landed on the moon six times.

Lunar Surface

Again, Christians who think that the earth is flat or that men never set foot on the moon are effectively accusing several Christian brothers of lying about one of the biggest things that ever happened in their lives. Are the Apollo moon landing deniers prepared to make this accusation?

Conclusion

Are these people who believe in a flat earth for real? It’s hard to say. They could be well-intentioned but seriously misguided people. Or they could be attempting to discredit the Bible and Christianity. If the latter, their approach probably is “If you think that the Bible is literally true, then I’ll show you just how literally true that the Bible is!” But this is a false dichotomy. We here at Answers in Genesis don’t say that the Bible is literally true. Rather, we understand that the Bible is true because it is inspired by God. As such, it is authoritative on all matters and is reliable. The Bible contains imagery and poetry. However, those passages are easy to identify. When it comes down to the sorts of questions that matter here (such as “Did God create the world?”), the Bible must be read and understood historically and grammatically. That is, historical narrative does not lead to symbolic interpretation. Hence, the creation account is literally true.

At least some of the people behind this upsurge in the flat earth movement may be lampooning the creation movement. As such, they clearly are no friends of the church; rather, they oppose Christ and His kingdom. I recommend that Christians be very discerning about their teachings.

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