Monday, 13 August 2018

A flat Earth? That's what a literal reading of the Bible reflects...

One common strategy fundamentalists employ is an appeal to a literal reading of the first creation narrative to prove that the universe was really created in six literal consecutive days. [1] Of course, as we've known for quite some time, the universe is nearly 14 billion years old, the Earth is 4.6 billion years old, and the sequence in which life appeared on Earth contradicts the sequence in Genesis 1, so a literal reading is falsified by hard evidence.

Fundamentalists however are determined not to let something as trivial as hard facts get in the way of a literal interpretation of the Bible elevated to the status of dogma, so the usual response is to retreat to hard fideism, and simply ignore the facts. Science is after all merely the 'wisdom of men' and can routinely be ignored when inconvenient. Where things become problematic for the YEC literalist is that they are almost always [2] believers in a spherical earth and a heliocentric cosmology. As has been stated many times, a truly consistent reading of the Biblical references to the nature of the universe would require the fundamentalist to believe in a flat, fixed earth. I have yet to encounter a YEC who is able to defend heliocentrism and a spherical Earth purely from the Bible, which of course means the non-flat earth, non-geocentrist YEC is placing science above the literal word of the Bible. [3]

This is not a hypothetical example. In 1913, the then-editor C.C. Walker fielded a question from a T. Griffith who not only believed that the Earth was flat, but regarded it as a matter of vital importance, even linking its denial to a denial of inspiration. The entire letter follows below:

DEAR BROTHER WALKER.—Referring to your brief eulogium on Sir Robert Ball’s speculation as to the “dots in the heavens” (The Christadelphian, July, page 316), I shall be glad if you will condescend to reply to the following queries through the columns of The Christadelphian.

Seeing that the veracity and verbal inspiration of the Scriptures are denied by many on the basis of the revolving globe-earth theory, even to the extent of rejecting the ascension of Jesus into the heaven of heavens as a “geometrical impossibility.” the matter surely cannot be set aside as of no importance, and beyond the province of a magazine devoted to the defence of Biblical teaching and the overthrow of pagan and papal dogmas.

The globe-earth theory is essentially pagan in its origin, and no amount of ingenuity has yet succeeded in harmonizing it with the cosmogony of the Bible.

It is supposed that the theory was first introduced into Europe by Pythagoras, in the sixth century B.C., and he was a rank pagan. It was afterwards adopted by Plato, and latterly modified to its present form by Aristarchus of Samos, “who went to the length of ranking our green world as a planet revolving yearly round the sun.” Through Copernicus and Galileo the theory has acquired a distinct Romish taint.

We may blame the author of “Lead Kindly Light” for following the glimmer of Rome’s magic lantern, 1 instead of bringing his mental difficulties to be solved in the light of the word of God; but what about those who allow themselves to be led by the vapourings of scientific theorists while pondering over the plainly worded inspired narrative of creation? . . .

There may not be much danger of a brother being led astray by the perusal of modern rationalistic literature, for in that case he is prepared to antagonize the fallacies of modern thought, but morsels of error, in the form of “scientific” tit-bits, daintily wrapped up within the covers of a Biblical magazine, devoted to the defence and advocacy of Scripture doctrine, may not give rise to suspicion that there is anything wrong. The wrong is there all the same, and its effects become manifest when he who has swallowed the morsel finds, as the logical outcome of an adopted bastard theory, that the Bible and modern science are at variance, and verbal inspiration a farce. . . .

The late Prof. Woodhouse, of Cambridge University, once wrote, in reference to the globe-earth theory—“We shall never arrive at a time when we shall be able to pronounce it absolutely proved to be true. The nature of the subject excludes such a possibility” (Astronomy, Vol. 1, p. 13).

The “great astronomer,” Sir Robert Ball — wherein does his greatness lie? Certainly not in his discovery or advocacy of scientific truth. He is an evolutionist of the first order, and a pronounced anti-creationist. He is just the type of unbeliever that so-called modern science is producing; the old Scripture - revering type of astronomers, such as Ferguson, Woodhouse, and Herschell, is fast dying out as the natural effect of an anti-Scriptural theory.

But here I must submit my queries:—

1.—Is it not a fact that the Bible teaches that there are but two great lights and but one sun?
2.—Is it not a pure speculation, unsupported by any natural fact, the theory that the “dots in the heavens” are great suns?
3.—Is it not a fact that the enormously extravagant distances and magnitudes of the so-called “dots” have for their bases, the unproved assumption that the earth is a revolving globe, speeding through space at 68,000 miles an hour, and with an orbit of 190 millions of miles?
4.—Is it not a fact, as Prof. Robert Main, of Greenwich, candidly affirmed, that the theories “respecting the distances of the fixed stars and other cosmical problems” are based upon the “refined speculations of modern astronomy?”
5.—Is it not the teaching of Scripture that the earth, that is, the dry land, is a stationary body, founded upon the seas, and established upon the floods, and with its foundations in the deep?
6.—Is it not the plain testimony of Moses that sun, moon, and stars, were made and set in the heavens on the fourth day of Creation week?

Believing, as I do, with you, that it is “necessary to bring everything to the test of the Word of God,” I present these questions in all good faith for your serious consideration.
Faithfully yours, in the pursuit and defence of all divine truth,
In passing, those familiar with fundamentalist Protestant attacks on evolution will recognise the same pattern of attacks (catastrophising, fideism, anti-intellectualism, and even gratuitous anti-Catholicism) here suggesting that as Qoheleth notes there is truly no new thing under the sun. The main point I am making here is that T Griffiths was correct in asserting that a literal reading of the Bible does indeed reflect (but not endorse) a flat earth (and geocentrism). The challenge for the YEC is how they would persuade T. Griffiths that the Earth was indeed a sphere without reference to modern science. I have yet to encounter a single YEC who can honestly do this, which alone shows that their appeal to the literal meaning of the Bible to defend a young Earth is one that is not based on a consistent, defensible hermeneutic. Ideally, that should give them reason to consider the wisdom of accusing their fellow-believers of heresy for accepting what modern science has to say about things other than the shape of the Earth and the nature of the solar system.


1. Of course, the second creation narrative declares that everything was made in one day. Literalists suddenly find themselves forced to adopt some very non-literal readings in order to avoid a contradiction
2. There are indeed geocentrist and flat-earth creationists out there, and I must admit that they are far more honest in their literalism than the usual YECs who compared with the geocentrists and flat earthers are extremely selective in their literalism when it comes to following a Biblical cosmogeography.
3. The YEC who appeals to Isaiah 40:22 and Job 26:7 is forgetting that Biblical scholars who don't have a fundamentalist / inerrantist axe to grind have shown that these passages are anything but proof that the Bible taught a spherical earth suspended in space.
4.  Walker C.C. "Is it 'wrong' to believe that the Earth is a sphere?" The Christadelphian (1913) 50:346–347.