They Think the Earth is Flat?

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BBC News: “Do They Really Think the Earth Is Flat?” They’re a tiny minority of untrained, pseudoscientific hacks who—partially based on an overly literal interpretation of Scripture—buy into a disproven, centuries-old myth rather than accepting well-established modern science.

That may sound like familiar rhetoric, but in this case, the subject at hand is not young-earth creationism but instead the idea that the earth is flat (two ideas which are not synonymous, by the way!).

BBC took a look at flat-earth advocates who apparently are still around, “[o]n the internet and in small meeting rooms in Britain and the US,” although our cursory review of flat-earther sites on the Internet didn’t convince us that any of them (the sites or the advocates) weren’t farcical. BBC News even asks, “Are they really out there or is it all an elaborate prank?”

Assuming for a moment there are true flat-earthers out there (and assuming their beliefs are represented accurately on the web), it may seem strange for us to criticize them. After all, aren’t they, too, fighting an uphill battle against presuppositions disguised as objective science? And aren’t they being faithful to Scripture as opposed to “compromisers” like us who say the earth is round?

Aren’t they being faithful to Scripture as opposed to “compromisers” like us who say the earth is round?

While there may be some cursory similarities, the differences are far more notable:

  • Whether the earth is flat or spherical is entirely within the domain of operations science, where repeatable experimentation can disprove hypotheses. Flat-earthers make falsifiable claims that scientific investigation can verify or falsify (but see below). This is considerably different from the origins science of the creation/evolution controversy, which covers interpretations of data and models of unrepeatable historical events. See Do Creationists Reject Science? for more on different types of science.
  • Flat-earthism is forced to rely on conspiracy theories, such as dismissing photographs from space and other satellite data as “hoaxes,” along with stories of circumnavigation. In other words, unless you’ve personally been into outer space to see the roundness of the earth, flat-earthers will claim you’ve been duped by NASA, et al. And if you claim to have been to space, they will label you as part of the conspiracy!
  • Unlike the origins controversy, the issue of whether the earth is flat does not undermine the rest of scientific inquiry. Whether we were created in the image of God or evolved through millions of years of accidental mutations, vicious natural selection, and so forth gives us very different starting points when we consider whether man can be logical, moral, and so forth.
  • From the scant information offered by flat-earther websites, there is no indication that any flat-earthers have specific training in the fields of geology, physics, or planetary science. On the other hand, young-earth creationist groups like Answers in Genesis employ scientists with extensive training in fields related to the origins controversy. For example, AiG employs geologist Dr. Andrew A. Snelling, astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle, molecular geneticist Dr. Georgia Purdom, anatomist and biologist Dr. David Menton, and historian of geology Dr. Terry Mortenson, all of whom hold PhD’s in their fields from major universities.
  • Unlike young-earth creationism, flat-earthism is not scriptural and has no profound theological implications. There are (mostly poetic) passages that could be cited by flat-earthers, such as Revelation 7:1, which refers to the “four corners of the earth”—but these are most clearly interpreted as figurative.

There are even experiments ordinary individuals can conduct to prove the curvature of the earth—watching ships sail over the horizon, for instance, or approaching a skyscraper-laden city on a plain from far away. The idea that most people believed in a flat earth until the time of Columbus, and that many resisted the idea even after that time because of the Bible, is a widely discredited myth that nonetheless still deceives some.

Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us.

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