What If I Told You that “Flat Earth” Was A Myth of Secularism?

It’s taught in school textbooks, it’s a favorite citation of New Atheism, and it’s been referenced by no less than the President himself — Medieval Europe believed the Earth was Flat.  And so it’s fact!  —  Except that they believed no such thing.

The popular view taught in schools is that scientists came along and rescued us all from the Medieval Church’s anti-scientific views that the World was Flat.

The only flaw in that story is that nobody ACTUALLY believed it was flat, and hadn’t believed it was flat in a very, very long time — as far back as Greek Antiquity.  Even Pythagoras, Aristotle and Euclid called it spherical.

Textbooks from the middle ages described the world as round.  So did Dante.  And no less than the Catholic Church’s leading Medieval thinker, Thomas Aquinas wrote the following in his greatest work, Summa Theologica“:

“The physicist proves the earth to be round by one means, the astronomer by another: for the latter proves this by means of mathematics, e.g. by the shapes of eclipses, or something of the sort; while the former proves it by means of physics, e.g. by the movement of heavy bodies towards the center, and so forth.”

Where did the idea of “Flat Earthers” come from?  The idea has been traced back to “a slanderous fabrication invented by opponents of Christianity in the 19th century and has been thoroughly debunked by contemporary historians of science.”

As it happens, Washington Irving wrote a fictional novel about Columbus, which was reported as history by John William Draper (History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science) and Andrew Dixon White’s similar tome.  The “Conflict Thesis”  (idea of Religion and Science being incompatible) is attributed to Draper’s work.

Contra Mundum: The Flat-Earth-Myth” is the article much of my piece has been summarizing.  It goes into greater depth, and gives references.  I highly recommend it.

This leaves us with two closing thoughts.

1) If the authors and “historians” who gave rise to the Flat Earth Theory have been dismissed by serious historians as propagandists of their day, which are really behaving like “Flat Earthers” … people of faith, or those who blindly parrot debunked historians?  (The latter includes, ironically, Richard Dawkins.)

2) If the so-called historian to whom the “conflict thesis” has been attributed was caught in a lie, how much weight should we put on his characterization of the tension between faith and science?  Is it not possible that a public duped by an untrue Flat Earth myth might also have fallen for his Conflict Theory?  Maybe instead of “taking scientists word for it” we could decide for ourselves whether the two are in conflict.

About the author: Wes Walker

Clashdaily's Religion Editor, Wes Walker, believes that freedom, faith, family, and the flag need more than to be simply cherished. They need to be understood, articulated, defended and promoted, not just by a few voices in prominent places, but by every man or woman who truly prizes them. In fact, the reason he wrote "Blueprint For a Government that Doesn't Suck" was so that every "ordinary Joe" will be able to do just that... and do it with confidence. Follow on twitter: @Republicanuck

View all articles by Wes Walker

  • Janet

    THIS ISNT TRUE JUST SOEMTHING YOU CHRISTIANS LIKE TO MAKE UP

    • Tyson4

      Janet, spelling isn’t your forte, is it? Reading either. And stop yelling, it doesn’t make your point any more ridiculous. Mr. Walker supported his supposition (that means idea) with actual facts and quotes from people that even leftist idiots say are intelligent – Pythagoras, Aristotle, Euclid and Aquinas.
      Anything else to share? Hmmm?? Thought not.

      • Christopher D Blue

        I was surprised that he left out Eratosthanes, who not only proved with experimentation that the Earth is round, but accurately measured its circumference to within 2%.

    • Tilly

      Janet isn’t real. She’s a republican troll.

      • oldgoatee

        Nope, I believe liberals can be that stoopid…

      • Steven

        Troll: yes. Republican: maybe, but there is NOTHING here to support or debunk that ASSUMPTION on your part. YOUR bias is showing.

      • lraivala

        Republican Troll? How do you get Republican Troll out of that response? I would bet it is a lemming demonrat troll.

    • Tilly

      Janet isn’t real. She’s a republican troll.

    • Tilly

      Janet isn’t real. She’s a republican troll.

    • Festerhawg

      Sorry but the article is right. Guess you need to lay off the kool aid

    • lraivala

      Oh, because you cannot research this on your own and someone did not tell you differently. It is wrong than?
      Hmmmm, how is that flat_head society going for you?

  • Janet

    THIS ISNT TRUE JUST SOEMTHING YOU CHRISTIANS LIKE TO MAKE UP

  • Abby

    Great stuff. Thanks Mr. Walker

  • Abby

    Great stuff. Thanks Mr. Walker

  • Tabitha Bliss

    Not to mention the fact that the Bible itself refers to the earth as a sphere.
    http://www.openbible.info/topics/the_earth_is_a_sphere

    I think they like to believe that when scripture refers to ‘the four corners of the earth’, it is stating (in the author’s belief), the earth is flat.. But what’s being referenced in those passages, is cardinal direction / points. (N,S,E,W)..

    • Hal Jordan

      Can you reference the specific verse where the BIble says the planet is spherical? I’m not seeing it, but I would love to be able to quote it.

    • Hal Jordan

      Can you reference the specific verse where the BIble says the planet is spherical? I’m not seeing it, but I would love to be able to quote it.

    • Hal Jordan

      Can you reference the specific verse where the BIble says the planet is spherical? I’m not seeing it, but I would love to be able to quote it.

  • Tabitha Bliss

    Not to mention the fact that the Bible itself refers to the earth as a sphere.
    http://www.openbible.info/topics/the_earth_is_a_sphere

    I think they like to believe that when scripture refers to ‘the four corners of the earth’, it is stating (in the author’s belief), the earth is flat.. But what’s being referenced in those passages, is cardinal direction / points. (N,S,E,W)..

  • MJ Berryhill

    I wonder if it is possible that the idea of the world being flat could influence seculars/atheists to see life as flat, dull, boring, hopeless as opposed to the Christians who beleive the world is round and we live a very well rounded life, we are not afraid of falling of the (flat) earth.

    • Shermer

      No, it’s not possible.

    • Shermer

      No, it’s not possible.

    • Shermer

      No, it’s not possible.

  • MJ Berryhill

    I wonder if it is possible that the idea of the world being flat could influence seculars/atheists to see life as flat, dull, boring, hopeless as opposed to the Christians who beleive the world is round and we live a very well rounded life, we are not afraid of falling of the (flat) earth.

  • Deb

    Really interesting, Wes. Thanks.

  • Deb

    Really interesting, Wes. Thanks.

  • Deb

    Really interesting, Wes. Thanks.

  • teroras

    Interesting article. While the idea of the “flat earth” had been debunked by the Christian world, the idea of a Geocentric universe still prevailed well into the 16th century because of adherence to biblical text.

  • teroras

    Interesting article. While the idea of the “flat earth” had been debunked by the Christian world, the idea of a Geocentric universe still prevailed well into the 16th century because of adherence to biblical text.

    • zombiekiller117

      Where does the bible state that the Earth is the centre of the universe ?

      • Steven

        It doesn’t. The author’s reply to the same comment you replied to suggests the myth that it does is a ‘Christian’ as the ‘Flat Earth’ myth.

      • Steven

        It doesn’t. The author’s reply to the same comment you replied to suggests the myth that it does is a ‘Christian’ as the ‘Flat Earth’ myth.

      • Steven

        It doesn’t. The author’s reply to the same comment you replied to suggests the myth that it does is a ‘Christian’ as the ‘Flat Earth’ myth.

    • zombiekiller117

      Where does the bible state that the Earth is the centre of the universe ?

    • Wes Walker

      I’m glad you raised that point.

      Actually, the Geocentric model originated with Ptolomy, a pagan, not within Christian practice. It was not rooted in religion, but in Greek philosophy. (You know, the forerunner of modern science.) It grew out of the idea of 4 elements

      In fact, had 16th Century Christian leadership not shown slavish and unquestioning blind acceptance of “settled science” the Christian traditions would never have defended this incorrect belief.

      It should also be noted that the Protestant world was much more open to the Heliocentric model, but anti-theists would never talk about that. It doesn’t fit the narrative.

      Just like they’ll never compare the fatality numbers between the French Reign of Terror contrasted to the bogeyman of the Spanish Inquisition. (Which I covered in an older article.)

    • Wes Walker

      I’m glad you raised that point.

      Actually, the Geocentric model originated with Ptolomy, a pagan, not within Christian practice. It was not rooted in religion, but in Greek philosophy. (You know, the forerunner of modern science.) It grew out of the idea of 4 elements

      In fact, had 16th Century Christian leadership not shown slavish and unquestioning blind acceptance of “settled science” the Christian traditions would never have defended this incorrect belief.

      It should also be noted that the Protestant world was much more open to the Heliocentric model, but anti-theists would never talk about that. It doesn’t fit the narrative.

      Just like they’ll never compare the fatality numbers between the French Reign of Terror contrasted to the bogeyman of the Spanish Inquisition. (Which I covered in an older article.)

    • Wes Walker

      I’m glad you raised that point.

      Actually, the Geocentric model originated with Ptolomy, a pagan, not within Christian practice. It was not rooted in religion, but in Greek philosophy. (You know, the forerunner of modern science.) It grew out of the idea of 4 elements

      In fact, had 16th Century Christian leadership not shown slavish and unquestioning blind acceptance of “settled science” the Christian traditions would never have defended this incorrect belief.

      It should also be noted that the Protestant world was much more open to the Heliocentric model, but anti-theists would never talk about that. It doesn’t fit the narrative.

      Just like they’ll never compare the fatality numbers between the French Reign of Terror contrasted to the bogeyman of the Spanish Inquisition. (Which I covered in an older article.)

  • teroras

    Interesting article. While the idea of the “flat earth” had been debunked by the Christian world, the idea of a Geocentric universe still prevailed well into the 16th century because of adherence to biblical text.

  • Mark Steinacher

    Could you provide the “Summa Theologica” reference, please? I would really like to read that particular section. :-)

    • BigUgly666

      Summa Theologica

      put those two words in a google search – easy

    • BigUgly666

      Summa Theologica

      put those two words in a google search – easy

    • BigUgly666

      Summa Theologica

      put those two words in a google search – easy

    • Peter

      Thomas Aquinas: “In [lunar] eclipses the outline [of the earth] is
      always curved: and, since it is the interposition of the earth that
      makes the eclipse, the form of this line will be caused by the form of
      the earth’s surface, which is therefore spherical.” (Thomas Aquinas, Exposition of Aristotle’s Treatise On the Heavens,
      2 vols, trans. by Larcher, R. F., and Pierre H. Conway (Columbus, OH:
      College of St. Mary of the Springs, 1964), Book II, lect. 28. 400-402.)

  • Mark Steinacher

    Could you provide the “Summa Theologica” reference, please? I would really like to read that particular section. :-)

  • Mark Steinacher

    Could you provide the “Summa Theologica” reference, please? I would really like to read that particular section. :-)

  • zeprin

    IIRC the main ‘Flat Earth/World(s)’ idea was embodied in Norse mythology. Even though they, the Vikings, knew, as a practical matter, that the Earth was round. Their religious myths portrayed the multiple Norse worlds as flat. As an aid in allegory to paint easily understood pictures within the Saga’s. A writers device or ‘Poetic License’ if you will. Nobody was supposed to actually believe it.

    • Christopher D Blue

      Ennnhhhhhh . . . it can be interpreted that way, and is often depicted that way, but in reality, if you look at the texts themselves, it’s not really that simple. they really do suggest that the three levels of reality which contain the Nine Worlds are what we might call “dimensions” which are interconnected by things like the root system of Yggdrasil and Bifrost. Asgard was surrounded by an ocean which was both endless and in the shape of an O. Midden-gard was surrounded by Jormundgand . . . but parts of this great serpent also intruded on both Asgard and Niffelheim.

    • Mark Stuber

      That’s very interesting. Can you provide me with a source. It makes sense. I mean archetectrual plans work as if the earth was flat.

  • rory

    Secular kings/noble’s and religious hierarchy BOTH kept medieval serf’s poor and illiterate on PURPOSE, used misinformation for their ill-gotten gains and killed or jailed detractors and intellectuals… so what’s your point?

  • Kurt Engstrom

    Interesting. As an Atheist I have to say that I never thought that Christians ever believed that the Earth was flat, so I’m not sure who has ever attributed “Flat Earthers” to Christianity. I mean, even the ancient Greeks were able to prove that the Earth was round. However, I do know that the early Catholic Church prescribed geocentrism, the belief that the sun (in fact, the whole universe) orbits the Earth. Galileo was tried and imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition for promoting his belief that the Earth orbits the Sun.

    • JFM

      Actually the Pope himself believed in Galieo’s theories and had no problem with them. Galileo was tried and imprisoned in order to protect him from lynching. Are you sure none of the prospective mobbers was an atheist or protoatheist? And BTW the Earth being spherical and not being the center of the Universe are two distinct theories. AFAIK Ptolemy established sphericity and calculated its diameter but he and his successors believed that it was the Sun that orbited the Earth and not the opposite.

    • Feral Lemming

      The Spanish Inquisition was in Spain and her colonies. Galileo was in Italy.

    • Feral Lemming

      The Spanish Inquisition was in Spain and her colonies. Galileo was in Italy.

    • Feral Lemming

      The Spanish Inquisition was in Spain and her colonies. Galileo was in Italy.

  • Kurt Engstrom

    Interesting. As an Atheist I have to say that I never thought that Christians ever believed that the Earth was flat, so I’m not sure who has ever attributed “Flat Earthers” to Christianity. I mean, even the ancient Greeks were able to prove that the Earth was round. However, I do know that the early Catholic Church prescribed geocentrism, the belief that the sun (in fact, the whole universe) orbits the Earth. Galileo was tried and imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition for promoting his belief that the Earth orbits the Sun.

  • JFM

    Actually it is not that the Greks believed in a spherical earth is that Hellennistic Greeks proved it was spherical basing on the fact that at some place in Egypt on some days sun rays were vertical and illuminated the bottom of a well. This allowed them to make a basically right calculation of Earth’s diameter.. After that, basing on eclipses they calculated Moon’s diameter and distance between Earth and Moon. So in 1492 scholars did not need a Columbus to tell them Earth was round. They just distrusted that Genovese crook telling them Earth was small enough the West route to China India was shorter than going around Africa.

    • systemovich

      Their so-called proof was based on the assumption that the Sun is far enough away that its rays may be assumed to be parallel when they reach the Earth.

      Based on this assumption, they infered that, because the shadow ratios of objects were different, the Earth’s surface must be curved.

      If one makes the opposite assumption, that the Sun’s rays are not parallel, it explains the different shadow ratios on a flat surface.

  • k

    Articles like this always make me wonder why any Christian would educate their children *anywhere* but in their home, especially the author.

  • Guest

    i can’t find the article you referenced. “Contra Mundum: The Flat-Earth-Myth” I think Contra Mundum is a series Published in ,Investigate Magazine. If I am right, to you know what issue?

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