A flat earth, and other nonsense

Debunking ideas that would not exist were it not for the Internet

by and

Published: 13 September 2016, last updated 17 August 2018

Table of Contents

Introduction

Does the Bible teach a flat earth?

The case for a spherical earth

Who are the major flat earth proponents?

Discussion (why flat-earthism is so misguided)

Some easy-to-understand main points

Conclusions

Introduction

Proverbs 18:17 The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

It perplexes us to see that belief in a “flat earth” is gaining traction, despite being thoroughly debunked for thousands of years. This idea was almost non-existent until recently, yet this particular branch of pseudoscience is making inroads. It’s notable that the article The Flat Earth Myth, busting the myth that the church taught a flat earth, written as recently as 2013, did not receive any negative comments from flat-earth believers. Why? Because there were hardly any people back then who believed it! Rather, readers were grateful to see that the church had never taught this nonsense. Several honest atheists have even slammed people from their own side who have pushed a bad pseudo-history that accuses the church of teaching a flat earth.1

So, if almost nobody believed it back then, why do some people believe it now? This includes several who commented on an article published earlier this year: Isaiah 40:22 and the shape of the earth. Most of the influence today is coming from a series of online videos that have been shared widely. These were created by charlatans and, sadly, are deceiving many. Even more sadly, some Christians are being caught up in the hype.

It is not our business to warn people about each and every false idea that comes up, but only when the idea directly impinges on a straightforward biblical teaching. Thus, we steer clear of 9-11 conspiracies, but directly engage with people who attempt to claim the moon landings were a hoax on our Arguments Creationists Should Not Use page. Why? Because the first, even though it deals directly with physics, is enmeshed in too much conspiratorial gobbledygook. The second, however, gets into how we see the world, how the universe works, how science proceeds, and how we can tell what is true and what is not.

Even though we have addressed the Flat Earth Myth multiple times (see Related Articles, below), and even though we have gone into the biblical and scientific arguments against it, people have recently started to ask us about it (or criticize us for our firm global-earth view). Our only conclusion is that the Internet is breeding people who have trouble thinking through important ideas.

Last year, we took the subject of geocentrism head on (and earlier this year we further refuted geocentric supporters). Sadly, we must also take on the subject of whether or not the earth is flat.

By necessity, this paper aims to be very thorough to demonstrate how wrong flat-earthism is on so many levels: biblically, historically, and scientifically. But readers can skip to some of the main points below.

Does the Bible teach a flat earth?

Some people believe in the flat earth because they have been convinced that the Bible teaches it. So they believe that by denying the FE, people are denying God’s word. IF the Bible taught the earth is flat, their argument would be sound. But the Bible does no such thing, so appealing to biblical inerrancy for non-existent flat-earth proof texts makes no sense. This is the classic fallacy of begging the question, or assuming the conclusion in the premises. As the list below shows, the Bible does not teach a flat earth!

Yet they are afraid of their opponents using a valid form of argument called denying the consequent: if God’s Word teaches a flat earth, and if the earth is not flat [denying the consequent], then God’s word is not true.

But since the earth is not actually flat, and since the Bible does not teach that it is flat, they fall into a trap of their own making and must hold onto an illogical and untenable position despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Before we address specific verses, we note again that if the Bible really taught a flat earth, then it’s inconceivable that almost no one throughout the entire history of the church taught it. That’s despite a demonstrably high view of Scripture in general held by many of the global earth teachers throughout church history.

Refuting “200+ flat earth Bible verses”

Many flat-earth believers circulate lists or memes that allege that there are “200 Bible verses supporting a flat earth.” The list can be found in many places online, and has a history unknown to most FE believers, being originally compiled by people who were trying to mock the Bible, not support it. We sourced the list below from a site called “Flat earth doctrine”, but it is basically the same as many others. However, this oft-parroted list contains the usual scholarly sloppiness and leaps of logic that we have come to expect from flat-earthers. Most of the verses have absolutely nothing to do with the shape of the earth, so the list is basically elephant-hurling.

We want to address this list here for one specific reason: we do not want to see anyone else get caught up in this deception!

Many of the verses below are actually dealing with a different issue: whether the earth is stationary or moves, i.e. geocentrism vs. geokineticism, which is distinct from whether the earth is flat or spherical. Almost all geocentrists, from the time of the classical Greek astronomers, to Galileo’s opponents, to the present day affirmed a spherical earth. For example, the leading geocentrist authors today, Gerardus Bouw and Robert Sungenis, are staunchly opposed to flat-earthism (indeed, we have it on very good authority that the latter has just penned a huge a 750-page tome rebutting flat-earthism, entitled Flat Earth—Flat Wrong). For additional discussion of this class of verses, see our other paper, Refuting absolute geocentrism: Biblical phenomenological language.

In general, the Bible uses correct but equivocal phenomenological language on many scientific subjects, as we do today because speaking strictly scientifically would drive us all crazy. There is no reason to be so pedantic that we cannot use the shorthand “sunrise” and “sunset” for example, even though we all know the sun is only appearing to move because the earth is spinning. But even if we have learned a few things about science over thousands of years, the purpose of the Bible is not to be a science book.

Instead, it is a history book that points us to Jesus Christ, the Saviour. Thus, it should be understandable to both ancient and modern people, in line with the doctrine of perspicuity of Scripture (i.e., the Bible is understandable). It should also not be wrong when it delves into science, but we should not expect to learn a great deal on many scientific subjects from within its pages. Clearly, the earth was created in a short space of time a few thousand years ago. And clearly, the universe did not arise through naturalistic means. But most of the details have been left to us to discover, in a sense “thinking God’s thoughts after Him” as the great astronomer and dedicated Christian, Johannes Kepler, said.

Also, we need to read different Bible passages according to this grammatical and literary context. While the psalms, for example, do contain some historical information, one does not treat a psalm in the same way as a passage from one of the historical books (e.g., Genesis or Judges). See further explanation in Is the raqîa’ (‘firmament’) a solid dome? and Is the ‘erets (earth) flat?. Many of the supposed flat-earth passages are from poetic books that are not meant to be taken literalistically.

An important consideration is what “earth” (אָ֫רֶץerets) means in the Bible, and it can mean different things depending on context. For example, in Genesis 1:1, “earth” the planet is being discussed, in contrast to the heavens. But on Day 3, God made dry land appear and called it “earth”, in contrast to the waters that he called “seas”. And in Exodus 20:8–11, it explains that God made the whole created order in the six days of Creation Week, contrasting the earth with both the heavens and the seas, making it an all-encompassing merism.2 When it comes to the verses cited by flat-earthers, we should understand that the passages are likely to be talking about the land, not the planet.

Finally, if you are not in a position to check the original language of Scripture, at least check multiple English versions. If a reading is found in only one, and that one is being cited by a flat-earther, it is probably cherry-picked.

The list of “200” verses that supposedly support a flat earth can be grouped into at least three classes, each of which displays a different error on the part of flat-earth supporters. We have kept the “200” but re-ordered them.

Class 1: verses that have nothing to do with the flat-earth argument. In classical terms, these are called non sequiturs, or “does not follow”.

Class 2: verses that are ambiguous in relation to the shape of the earth, i.e. using equivocal language. A proper analysis would require a decent knowledge of ancient languages and the context, or at least a careful reading of scholarly sources that discuss the passage in question.

Class 3: verses that involve a misreading of non-modern English terminology in some older versions, often cherry-picked. In classical terms, this is called lying.

This is actually being generous, because most fall into multiple fallacies not just one!

Class 1: non sequiturs

Earth Created Before the Sun: Genesis 1:1–19

We agree—see How could the days of Genesis 1 be literal if the sun wasn’t created until the fourth day? But how does this prove that the earth is flat? They are attempting to argue against a fictitious “sun worship” they claim has crept into science. But the Bible clearly teaches against this, so citing the verse goes nowhere. Just because the earth came first does not mean the earth is flat.

Universe is Complete, NOT ever expanding: Genesis 2:1

The expansion of the universe can be debated, and is debated within our circles, but how would a non-expanding universe prove that the earth is flat? Arguing against the big bang is not the same thing as arguing that the earth is flat.

Earth Measurements Unknown: Job 38:4–5, Job 38:18, Jeremiah 31:37, Proverbs 25:3

How does this prove that the earth is flat? In any case, these passages were written before Eratosthenes measured the circumference of the earth quite accurately, so at the time of writing this was true. And modern flat-earthers typically tell us the size of their disk (“25,000 miles in diameter”, or something similar), so how does this passage not equally apply to them? By citing these passages, they are condemning themselves.

Earthquakes shake Earth, and does not move: 2 Samuel 22:8, Isaiah 13:13, Revelation 6:12–13

Why can’t earthquakes shake a round earth? Indeed, as explained here, seismology has provided even more evidence for a spherical earth. Here, they are trying to get around the problem of an ‘unmoving’ earth that also ‘shakes’ (and we can also measure movement of different parts of the crust during earthquakes) by combining ideas in incongruous ways.

Earth is fixed and immovable: 1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 33:9, Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, Psalm 104:5, Psalm 119:89-90, Isaiah 14:7, Isaiah 45:18, Zechariah 1:11

Even if the earth were fixed, arguendo, it would not mean that it’s flat. But the same ‘reasoning’ would also say that the Psalmist and the righteous are fixed and immovable (Psalm 16:8, 121, 125:1). But of course this has already been explained in Refuting absolute geocentrism: Biblical phenomenological language. These are examples where they take verses once used for geocentrism and pretend that they imply a flat earth.

Be still, and know that I am God”: Psalm 46:10

How does this even hint of a flat earth? Even calling this a non sequitur is more than it deserves. It is nonsense to quote this passage in support of a flat earth.

Sun Moves, not the Earth: Genesis 15:12, Genesis 15:17, Genesis 19:23, Genesis 32:31, Exodus 17:12, Exodus 22:3, Exodus 22:26, Leviticus 22:7, Numbers 2:3, Numbers 21:11, Numbers 34:15, Deuteronomy 4:41, Deuteronomy 4:47, Deuteronomy 11:30, Deuteronomy 16:6, Deuteronomy 23:11, Deuteronomy 24:13, Deuteronomy 24:15, Joshua 1:15, Joshua 8:29, Joshua 10:27, Joshua 12:1, Joshua 13:5, Joshua 19:12, Joshua 19:27, Joshua 19:34, Judges 8:13, Judges 9:33, Judges 14:18, Judges 19:14, Judges 20:43, 2 Samuel 2:24, 2 Samuel 3:35, 2 Samuel 23:4, 1 Kings 22:36, 2 Chronicles 18:34, Psalm 50:1, Psalm 113:3, Ecclesiastes 1:5, Isaiah 41:25, Isaiah 45:6, Isaiah 59:19, Jeremiah 15:9, Daniel 6:14, Amos 8:9, Jonah 4:8, Micah 3:6, Nahum 3:17, Malachi 1:11, Matthew 5:45, Mark 16:2, Ephesians 4:26, James 1:11

How does this prove anything about the shape of the earth? This is about geocentrism, not the earth’s shape, and an issue of phenomenological or reference-frame language.

Sun STOPS moving: Isaiah 60:20, Job 9:7, Joshua 10:12–14, Habakkuk 3:11

Even if this were not phenomenological or reference-frame language, it would prove nothing about the shape of the earth. Arguing against geokinetics (which is a losing battle anyway) is not the same thing as arguing for a flat earth.

Sun moves BACKWARDS: 2 Kings 20:8–11

Even if this were not phenomenological or reference-frame language, it would prove nothing about the shape of the earth.

Moon has its own Light: Genesis 1:16, Isaiah 13:10, Isaiah 30:26, Isaiah 60:19–20, Jeremiah 31:35, Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:24, Ezekiel 32:7, Revelation 21:23.

What does this have to do with the shape of the earth? And there is nothing in those passages that rule out the moon shining by reflected light, as was common knowledge in the medieval church. For example, Johannes Sacrobosco’s astronomy textbook The Sphere (AD 1230) explained, “the moon has no light except from the sun, it actually is deprived of light” when the earth blocks the sun during a lunar eclipse. And “…no less a churchman than Pope Innocent III (c. 1160–1216) was perfectly aware that the moon’s light is reflected from the sun, and seemed to assume that this was widely known.”3 Since they all clearly had some regard for Scripture, they must have understood that the Bible allowed for reflected light—and a global earth for that matter, which was likewise almost universally believed!

Of course, if the moon and sun are circling only a few thousand miles above us, the geometry is such that the sun could not possibly be reflecting off the moon, which is why they appeal to these passages. But the fact that the moon reflects sunlight is simple and obvious. From the large-scale geometry of the sun-earth-moon system to the ever-changing shadows of lunar craters, our observations always perfectly agree with the geometry positions of the sun, moon, and earth.

New Jerusalem, the HUGE cube: Revelation 21:15–17

So how does a future huge cube, a 3-D shape, prove that the earth in the present is a flat, essentially 2-D disk? Just another example of one of the verses that doesn’t even superficially discuss the shape of the earth.

Creation Worshippers: Deuteronomy 4:19, Deuteronomy 17:3, 2 Kings 23:5, Jeremiah 8:2

OK, so there are creation worshippers. How does this prove a flat earth? This is another which doesn’t even rise to the level of non sequitur. Instead, they are ‘poisoning the well’ by a totally baseless link of spherical earth with a pagan religion. After all, one reason that biblioskeptics claim that the Bible teaches a flat earth is that they believe that the surrounding pagan nations did. This would entail that many pagan creation worshippers, and even pagan child sacrificers such as the Moloch devotees, were flat earth believers. Naturally, flat-earthers would not like this sort of poisoning the well against them, so they would do well to treat globe earthers in the way they would like to be treated.

God’s Word is ALWAYS Faithful and True: Jeremiah 42:5, Revelation 3:14, Revelation 19:11, Revelation 21:5, Revelation 22:6

Yes it is. How does this prove a flat earth?

Class 2: equivocal or decontextualized language

Earth is a Disk/Circle, not a ball: Isaiah 40:22, Job 38:13–14

These books were originally written in Hebrew, not Early Modern English (i.e. the stage of the English language that includes the KJV and Shakespeare). And as explained in our article, the word translated ‘circle’ is חוּג (khûg), which is a generic word meaning ‘roundness’. Biblically, it is also used to describe the ‘vault’ of heaven. Flat-earthers insist the vault is a solid dome, i.e. a 3-D roundness (Job 22:14). So, it can’t be limited to 2-D roundness. It cannot mean ‘flat disk’ even to a flat-earther.

Some flat-earthers claim that another word דּוּר (dûr), would have been used if it had meant ‘ball’, as in Isaiah 22:18 (in the form כַּדּ֕וּר kaddûr). But Isaiah uses the same expression in 29:3, “And I will encamp against you all around (kaddûr).” Are we to understand that the army besieging Jerusalem formed a dome over the city? If not, then it follows that dûr is not exclusively used for 3-D roundness either. We have discussed this issue in Isaiah 40:22 and the shape of the earth.

Another point against them is that the earth could mean the dry land, and since one meaning for khûg is any sort of ‘circuit’, the ‘circle of the earth’ could mean the shorelines.4

As for the Job passage, this includes the dawn light shaking the wicked out of the earth, as shown by including v. 12 for context:

Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and its features stand out like a garment.

If this is not literal, then neither is the next part about the earth “changed like clay under the seal”, which in any case doesn’t say anything about flat or round. Rather, the earth (land) changes its appearance as the dawn breaks, just as the clay changes appearance when a seal is rolled over it. The ‘flatness’ of the final product is not what is being compared to the earth but the changeableness of the material.

Earth Measured with a Line, not a curve: Job 38:4–5

A diameter of a sphere is measured as a line. Distances between points on its surface are in linear dimensions, e.g. miles or kilometres. So what is the problem? See A direct test of the flat earth model: flight times for many examples of measuring distances on the earth with straight lines.

Paths are Straight, not curved: 1 Samuel 6:12, Psalm 5:8, Psalm 27:11, Isaiah 40:3, Jeremiah 31:9, Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23, Acts 16:11, Acts 21:1, Hebrews 12:13

Even today, we talk about a ‘straight path’ as the most direct route given the constraints of the surface. Also, ‘straight path is used allegorically as the opposite of ‘crooked’. This meaning is not lost on the modern audience.

Earth has Pillars, and hangs on nothing: 1 Samuel 2:8, Job 9:6, Job 26:7, Psalm 75:3, 2 Peter 3:5

Yes, it hangs on nothing—we now have many pictures of the ‘big blue marble’ from space, and it indeed doesn’t hang on anything.

The Job passages about pillars are poetic, which is why the same ‘pillars’ can be ‘astounded’ (Job 26:11). This is also a clue to understanding 1 Samuel 2:8, which also need not mean physical pillars, since we also have Paul referring to James, Cephas, and John as “pillars” of the Church (Galatians 2:9). See also ‘Pillars of the Earth’ — Does the Bible teach a mythological cosmology? This is a critical idea. We must read these biblical passages the way they were intended or we fall into a pit of hyper-literalistic mumbo jumbo within which all logical discussion breaks down.

Earth has a Face (a geometrical flat surface): Genesis 1:29, Genesis 4:14, Genesis 6:1, Genesis 6:7, Genesis 7:3, Genesis 7:4, Genesis 8:9, Genesis 11:8, Genesis 11:9, Genesis 41:56, Exodus 32:12, Exodus 33:16, Numbers 12:3, Deuteronomy 6:15, Deuteronomy 7:6, 1 Samuel 20:15, 1 Kings 13:34, Job 37:12, Psalm 104:30, Jeremiah 25:26, Jeremiah 28:16, Ezekiel 34:6, Ezekiel 38:20, Ezekiel 39:14, Amos 9:6, Amos 9:8, Zechariah 5:3

I don’t know about the author of this list, but my face is not flat, but round with holes and protrusions.

Waters have a Face (a geometrical flat surface): Genesis 1:2, Genesis 7:18, Job 38:30

Again, faces are flat only in 2-D pictures. Face means ‘surface’, and surfaces are rarely flat.

Earth has Ends: Deuteronomy 28:49, Deuteronomy 28:64, Deuteronomy 33:17, 1 Samuel 2:10, Job 37:3, Job 38:13, Psalm 46:9, Psalm 48:10, Psalm 59:13, Psalm 61:2, Psalm 65:5, Psalm 67:7, Psalm 72:8, Psalm 98:3, Psalm 135:7, Proverbs 8:29, Proverbs 17:24, Proverbs 30:4, Isaiah 5:26, Isaiah 26:15, Isaiah 40:28, Isaiah 41:5, Isaiah 41:9, Isaiah 42:10, Isaiah 43:6, Isaiah 45:22, Isaiah 48:20, Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah 52:10, Jeremiah 10:13, Jeremiah 16:19, Jeremiah 25:31, Jeremiah 25:33, Jeremiah 51:16, Daniel 4:22, Micah 5:4, Zechariah 9:10, Matthew 12:42, Luke 11:31, Acts 13:47

Since the ‘earth’ here means the land, the ‘ends of the earth’ are the shorelines.3 But even without this, a spherical earth has ends in a sense, because it is finite: the ‘ends’ in this case would be the two points at the end of diameters, roughly 12,742 km apart. This is no different than saying the flat, circular disk has ‘ends’, as they claim.

Earth has Corners: Isaiah 11:12, Revelation 7:1

But modern flat-earthers believe that the earth is a round disk, which doesn’t have corners! This is not the only time where their alleged ‘biblical flat earth model’ is incompatible with the model they actually believe. Anyway, clearly both sides agree that they are not literal corners, so why did they even bring this up? For what this term means, see The Bible talks of ‘the four corners of the earth.’ Does this mean the days of creation could be non-literal, too?

Of course, some FEers will claim that the living part of the earth is a circular field on a larger, square plate, but at this point they are just making things up.

Firmament/Dome: Genesis 1:6–8, Genesis 1:14–18, Genesis 1:20, Genesis 7:11, Genesis 8:2, Job 37:18, Psalm 19:1, Psalm 150:1, Isaiah 40:22, Ezekiel 1:22–26, Ezekiel 10:1, Daniel 12:3

The Hebrew word is רָקִ֖יעַ (rāqîa’), which means ‘expanse’, i.e. space. See this section of our geocentrism paper; see also Is the raqîa’ (‘firmament’) a solid dome?. There are all sorts of problems that come up when people uncritically interpret the meaning of rāqîa’, including where the sun, moon, and stars are (within the rāqîa’ or beneath it?), the extents of the rāqîa’, etc.

High Altitude Perspectives: Daniel 4:11, Daniel 4:20, Matthew 4:8.

This is the best argument the flat earthers have! But these verses only superficially hint at a flat earth. In reality, this is a huge stretch.

The verses in Daniel 4 are about the dream of a pagan king! Why would anyone derive doctrine from a dream, since dreams often have fantastic elements? Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a tree that ‘reached to heaven’ and was visible ‘to the end of the whole earth’. OK, where is this tree today? Can anyone show us the stump at least? And if from the top of that tree a person could see across the face of the whole earth, then every place on earth could, in turn, see the tree! Similarly, the Pharaoh of Joseph’s day dreamed of cannibalistic cows and even cannibalistic ears of wheat (Genesis 41), so are we to take these to be real as well? In any case, the tree was not even literal, quite aside from being in a dream, because it symbolized Nebuchadnezzar himself.

Matthew 4:8 reads, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.”

From this, flat-earthers presume that the world would need to be flat as all kingdoms could be seen from a high mountain. But once again, this would imply that, like Nebby’s tree above, this mountain would also be visible from everywhere. So where is this mountain? And even from a flat-earth perspective, given the dimensions of their disk, would kingdoms even be visible with the naked eye from such a great distance?

Also, the parallel passage in Luke 4:5, “And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.” It’s notable that the flat-earthers don’t cite this passage, which explains that the Devil showed Jesus the kingdoms in a moment, and doesn’t mention a mountain. So the emphasis is the Devil taking Jesus up to some isolated spot, and showing him a vision of these kingdoms.

Everyone Sees Jesus: Revelation 1:7

Yes, now we have the Internet and international news on TV. But even if this was not the case, there would be myriad places on a flat earth where a person could not see a descending Jesus, including when standing in many deep valleys, next to any tall mountain, and within many cities.

Breadth”, spread out FLAT, of the Earth: Genesis 13:17, Job 38:18, Isaiah 8:8, Revelation 20:9

Genesis 13:17 is an example of where “earth” means the dry land. That is, God tells Abram, “Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” This is clearly about God’s promise to give land to Abraham, which was not the whole of even the land within which Abraham had travelled, but the Land of Canaan or Israel. ‘Length’ and ‘breadth’ are normal measurements of a plot of land.

Job 38:18, “Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?” is God asking Job whether he understood the size of the earth. Clearly, he did not. Whether this is the land or the whole planet, it says nothing about its shape.

Isaiah 8:8, “And it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”

This is explicitly about land, not the planet, and the land of Judah at that. Anyone who has been to Israel knows that its topography is hardly flat, but full of mountains and valleys, as the Bible says! So ‘breadth’ can hardly imply flatness.

Revelation 20:9, “And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth.” The ‘earth’ in this context must refer to ‘dry land’ here, because people don’t march over water!

Class 3: relying on archaic English translations

Waters are Straight, not curved: Job 37:10

This is a misunderstanding of the KJV, “the breadth of the waters is straitened”—notice the different spelling (no ‘g’ in ‘strait’). This is not the same word as ‘straight’. In fact, you cannot even replace one with the other and make any sense (‘straight as an arrow’ makes sense, but ‘strait as an arrow’?). A clue could be the meaning of ‘strait-jacket’, which goes back to the same archaic meaning of ‘strait’ as ‘tightly fitting’ or ‘constrained’. And indeed, the Hebrew מוּצָק (mutsaq) means ‘constraint’. Another clue is what comes immediately before, “By the breath of God frost is given.” God sends a chilling wind that causes frost and straitens, i.e. constrains or freezes the waters, as per most modern versions. Are waters straight? No. Can they be straitened? Yes, when frozen.

Voice of Creation goes out in a “line” through all the earth: Psalm 19:4

No, the voice IS the “line”! The word for ‘line’, קָו (qav) refers to the message (HCSV, NLT, CSV, CEV) or voice (ESV, NIV, Berean Study Bible, NET Bible). Even in English, actors learn their ‘lines’. The way they use this passage is reckless and deceitful.

Matthews Bible from 1537 says “Flat Earth”: 2 Samuel 11:11

Flat-earthers must be desperate to cherry-pick this now-obscure old Bible that was superseded first by the Geneva Bible (the version of choice for most of the English-speaking Reformers) and then the KJV! Both of these translate the Hebrew פְּנֵ֤י הַשָּׂדֶה֙ (pənei hassādeh) as “open fields”, and many modern versions have the singular “open field”, and rightly so. This is the passage where the soon-to-be-doomed Uriah was telling David that all his soldiers are camping out rather than being at home with their wives, and has nothing about the whole planet, let alone its shape. But even if ‘flat earth’ is not the best translation here, it is not necessarily wrong. It would make little sense for Uriah to say they were camping on a steep slope.

The case for a spherical5 earth

We can use observation and reason to figure this out. It is so easy to see even ancient civilizations understood it. There are several evidences we think are impossible to refute:

The earth and the moon

Time lapse photos of the moon
Time-lapse photos of the moon during a lunar partial eclipse, clearly showing the circular shadow produced by the ball-shaped earth.

The shadow of the earth, when cast on the moon during a lunar eclipse, is round. This was known in ancient times. But note that lunar eclipses do not always happen when the moon is in the same position in the sky. If the earth were flat, the earth’s shadow would not have the same shape when the moon is directly overhead as it would when the moon is closer to the horizon. Since it is possible to observe multiple full and partial lunar eclipses during an average lifetime, this would not have been lost on any observant person, even in the distant past (note that this is assuming one model of a flat earth, the one where the sun and moon cross under the earth as they travel back to the east). Also, if the sun and moon were orbiting overhead, as in some recent flat earth models, then how could the earth ever get in between them to cast a shadow in the first place?

The moon’s phases are also proof that it’s orbiting a global earth. In real life, at any given part of the moon’s cycle, all people on earth see the same phase, and the moon is always about the same size. This makes sense if it were orbiting the globe from a distance far greater than the earth’s diameter. If it and the sun were always orbiting above a flat earth, as per a recent flat earth scenario, then they would both change size drastically, and people in different areas would see different moon phases. Someone looking toward the moon would be presented with a different view than someone looking at it from the other end of the earth.

Instead, a person with a telescope can actually watch the shadow creep across the moon’s surface and someone on the other side of the earth can then pick up watching the shadow creep when the moon drops below the horizon of the first person. There are human eyeballs all over this globe of ours, and the progress of the moon (and sun) represents a continuum.

Also, by watching the shadows creep across the craters and plains of the moon, it is clear that the moon is a sphere. Also, the crescent and gibbous phases, which have curved boundaries, are possible only on a spherical moon, not a disk.

And we can watch sunspots migrate across the face of the sun and they behave as if they are moving across a spherical surface. There is also the phenomenon of limb darkening, where the sun (and other stars) appear darker and redder towards the outside, which proves a spherical sun, not a flat disk. We have overwhelming evidence that the other bodies in the solar system are spherical. And we have overwhelming evidence that the earth is also a sphere.

Note also, if the moon and sun were flat disks, then their apparent shape would become more elliptical as they moved lower in the sky. The fact that a full moon and sun always look circular from any angle shows that they are spheres, not disks.

Things disappearing over the horizon

People have often noted that ships coming up over the horizon appear sail-first. That is, the highest portion of the vessel comes into view while the lower parts are still hidden by the bulge of the earth. It’s so well known that there is an old naval term for it: ‘hull down’. Sailors could even roughly estimate distance from their own height and how far down the other ship was. And the same happened in reverse, with observers on ships seeing objects on land. Also, higher observers could see further, hence the advantage of the ‘crow’s nest’ (see for calculations, box, below). Indeed, this was explained well back in the Middle Ages by John Sacrobosco (c.1195–c.1256) in his Tractatus de Sphaera (Treatise on the Sphere, i.e. the earth):

That the water has a bulge and is approximately round is shown thus: Let a signal be set up on the seacoast and a ship leave port and sail away so far that the eye of a person standing at the foot of the mast can no longer discern the signal. Yet if the ship is stopped, the eye of the same person, if he has climbed to the top of the mast, will see the signal clearly. Yet the eye of a person at the bottom of the mast ought to see the signal better than he who is at the top, as is shown by drawing straight lines from both to the signal. And there is no other explanation of this thing than the bulge of the water. (Tractatus 1:11)

Flat-earthers often produce photos of things that are visible even though they are so far away they should be below the horizon. However, these are almost always over water, which on rare occasions (usually in the Spring) can produce a temperature inversion, i.e. cold air below warmer air. This, in turn, causes refraction, bending light around the curve, so we see things we normally wouldn’t, in what is called a superior mirage. This is quite uncommon, and photos of the same area under most conditions would not show the mirage, even on the clearest days. Also, mirages can be minimized when the object and viewer a few metres high, so the line of sight mostly avoids the inversion layer.

Importantly, videos, as opposed to still photos, show that the images change rapidly (they tend to shimmer, flip, duplicate, triplicate, etc.), thanks to fluctuations in the air, as we would expect from a mirage. We wonder why flat earthers almost never show videos of these below-the-horizon features.

We also wonder why they do not time the passing of the sun, for when it is rising and setting we are not actually seeing it in the place we would expect it. It ‘rises’ a little earlier and ‘sets’ a little later than we would expect because of atmospheric lensing. In essence, every sunset is a mirage!

toronto
Looking across Lake Ontario to Toronto from Olcott NY, 63 km (39 miles) away, only about ⅔ of the CN Tower is visible. However, about ⅓ of the tower, as well as the much smaller buildings next to it, are hidden by the earth’s curvature. Now that we have good telescopes, we can see this more clearly. If we zoom in on a ship that has half-disappeared below the horizon, we don’t see more of the ship, but just a bigger image of what we see with the naked eye. Likewise, if there is a clear field of view, we can see the top-parts of tall buildings whose bases are below the horizon (above). If the earth were flat, the bases would be as visible as the tops.

Credit: Jeff Conrad, WikipediaGeometric-distance-horizon

Distance to the horizon from different heights

The distance to the horizon (d) from an observer at a height above sea level (h) on a sphere of radius R can be worked out by Pythagoras’ theorem. It comes to √(h(2R + h)). Since most observers’ heights are much, much less than the earth’s average radius of 6,371 km, this formula approximates to √(2Rh). That is, horizon distance is proportional to the square root of the observer’s height, e.g. a lookout on a crow’s nest with eyes 8 m above sea level would see twice as far as observers on a deck with an eye level 2 m above. In particular, if horizon distance is in km and observer’s height is in m, this comes to d ≅ 3.57√h. For distance in miles and height in feet, the formula is d ≅ 1.22√h.

The reverse is true: if you were sailing in a low yacht with eyes at sea level on a clear day, you could see the top of hill 100 m high from 35.7 km, but mounds only 1 m high could not be seen until 10 times closer: 3.57 km away.

To calculate the distance (D) at which an object at h₂ will be visible to an observer at height h₁, just add the horizon distance from h₁ to the horizon distance from a hypothetical observer at h₂. So the formula for km and m is D ≅ 3.57(√h₁ + √h₂). For example, a lookout at 9 m high could see a 100-m-tall tower from a distance up to 3.57 (3 + 10) km = 46.41 km. (There is even an online Distance to the Horizon Calculator that works for both sets of units, and even with nautical miles, for varying h₁ and h₂.)

Note also, since the horizon distance is proportional to the square root of the height, the amount the surface drops away due to the earth’s curvature (c) is proportional to the distance squared. That is, c ≅ (d/3.57)² for km and m, and c ≅ (d/1.22)² for miles and feet (which gives a rule of thumb: c ≅ ⅔d²). For example, many have correctly heard that the earth curves 8 inches (⅔ foot) in 1 mile. But to curve 6 feet or 72 inches, nine times as much, it doesn’t require a distance of nine times further but only three (√9) times.

But there is much more observational evidence that shows the curvature of the earth. Anyone standing on a shore can see that there are points along the shore that are not visible. But if that person walks along the shore to the edge of what they could see at the starting point, new things appear in front of them and things that were once visible in the other direction have since disappeared. The simplest explanation for this is that the earth is curved. You can do this yourself. Just take a drive along a shoreline on a clear day and take photos of what you can see at different points along your journey.

123rf.comsun-set

Sunrise and sunset

Furthermore, the sun rises every morning, and the sun sets every evening. We can clearly see the round disk appearing and disappearing piecemeal. Its apparent diameter stays almost the same, as does the moon’s, i.e. their angular size is almost constant (about ½°, or about half the width of your index finger held out at arm’s length). They don’t get smaller in diameter, which it would if it was getting further and further away. This applies especially to a modern flat earth model where the sun orbits in a plane overhead that is parallel to an earth disk. By simple trigonometry, its apparent size would be proportional to the sine of its angle to the horizon. So it would appear to be about half the size at 30° (sin30° = ½) as it is directly overhead (sin90° = 1), and the vertical sun would appear almost six times as big as it would appear at 10° (sin10° = 0.173).

Note also, if the flat earther claims to be a biblical literalist, this sun perpetually overhead contradicts the passages about the sun rising and setting, e.g. Ecclesiastes 1:5 and Psalm 113:3. These are compatible with a global rotating earth, using the earth as a reference frame (see Biblical phenomenological language), but not with this new flat earth model.

Relative sizes and distances of sun and moon

Credit: Andonee, WikipediaAristarchus-half-lit-moon

Furthermore, such modern flat earth models absurdly claim that the sun is much smaller than the earth, although in reality the sun is much larger. In fact, even back in the 15th century, Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464) correctly deduced from the shadows of the eclipse that the earth is smaller than the sun and larger than the moon, and he was far from the first to do so.6

The order of sizes was known least as far back as Aristarchus of Samos (c. 310 – c. 230 BC), who wrote On the Sizes and Distances (of the Sun and Moon). By his time, Pythagoras of Samos (c. 570 – c. 495 BC) and Plato (427–347 BC) had taught a spherical earth, and Plato’s best pupil Aristotle (384–322 BC) provided reasons. Eratosthenes (276–194 BC) had yet to measure the circumference of the earth, but Aristarchus knew that it must be big. So how did he work out relative sizes?

First, from observation, he knew that the moon and sun have the same angular size in the sky (about 31 arcmin (′) or ½°), so their relative sizes would be proportional to their relative distances (using similar triangles). Second, the moon blocks the sun in a solar eclipse, so the moon must be closer, so smaller. Third, how much smaller? He used what would now be called trigonometry (see diagram): at the first or third quarter of the lunar cycle, where it appears like a half-moon (semicircular), the earth-sun-moon angle must be 90°. Therefore the ratio of the earth-moon distance (L) to earth-sun distance (S) is the cosine of the moon-earth-sun angle (φ). Aristarchus measured this angle at 87°, and cos87° is about 1/19. So the sun, he thought, was 19 times further away, so 19 times larger. Actually, it wasn’t easy to be so precise, because it was hard to measure from the centres of the sun and moon, and also to know when the moon was exactly in a quarter phase. Now we know the angle is 89°51′10″, meaning that the sun is actually 389 times further away, and precise measurements show that the sun is 403 times the diameter of the moon.

By analyzing the geometry of lunar eclipses, he could also provide a rough estimate of the distances in terms of earth’s radius. And because the sun was clearly the biggest of all, Aristarchus thought that it was the centre of the solar system. Most astronomers after him agreed with the relative sizes, but it took almost two millennia for astronomers to agree with his conclusion.

Also, how many people have witnessed sunlight striking a high mountain either just before sunrise or just after sunset? This is possible only because the earth’s curvature does not block the light ray from the sun to the mountain, while it does block the view of the sun from low ground.

There is also the phenomenon of noctilucent clouds, meaning clouds lit up at night. These are too faint to be seen during daylight, because they are actually very high-altitude (~80 km) clouds composed of tiny ice crystals, but can be seen when the rest of the sky is dark. They are easily explained by the rays of the sun below the horizon reflecting off the ice, while lower-altitude clouds are blocked from the sun by the earth’s curvature.

Also, it doesn’t matter how strong a telescope you use, you will never be able to see the sun at night. That’s because you can’t see through the earth! And no, despite what these mendacious videos claim, the sun does not “behave like a spotlight”; the sun is a sphere, which is why it always appears as a disk, no matter what direction it’s viewed from.

The absurd ‘spotlight’ sun

Flat-Earth-Test-Spotlight-Sun-Equinoxes-Solstices
Above: diagrams of the fallacious flat earth with spotlight sun model—click image to enlarge
1. During the northern hemisphere summer solstice, everything within the Arctic Circle (dashed line) receives 24 hours of sunlight. Red dot approximates the location of the North Pole. Antarctica is almost completely within the Antarctic Circle (dotted line) and so receives no direct light at all.
2.Twice every year at the equinoxes, exactly one-half of the earth is illuminated during daylight hours. A round, ‘spotlight’ sun could never do this. A very distant and large sun, however, would bathe exactly one-half of a globe in constant light.
3. During the northern hemisphere winter solstice, everything within the Arctic Circle receives no direct sunlight, but Antarctica receives 24 hours of illumination. That is, the entire continent is lit up simultaneously.
4. The earth is truly a sphere, lit up by a very large and very distant sun. The earth’s axis of rotation is also tilted with respect to the sun. The diagram below shows how the earth’s tilt explains both the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and the Arctic and Antarctic circles. These simple facts explain all the relevant details concerning the seasons and sunlight, create a self-consistent pattern, and make a mockery of flat-earth belief.

To try to evade the severe problems with time zones (see below), a common ‘modern’ flat-earth idea is that the sun is like a spotlight, floating a few thousand miles above the earth and shining down in a localized area. Added to the simple observational contradictions above, everybody who has ever seen a flashlight/torch in use at night knows you can see it from the side. But even if the light coming from the sun was perfectly uniform in its starting direction, as soon as light hits air it begins to scatter (indeed, studying of light scattering was part of the doctoral dissertation of one of the authors [JS]). This is the reason the sky is blue whenever the sun is up, even at the far side of the sky from the sun. If the sun was above the earth ‘but not visible because the sun is like a spotlight’ a huge portion of the sky would still be blue.

There is another difficult puzzle they cannot solve. This has to do with the shape of the area in the sunlight portions of the earth and the way this changes though the seasons. Let’s test this by looking at what is being illuminated during January, June, and March/September. That is, at the solstices and equinoxes. For those who do not know what these terms mean, the solstices occur in the winter and summer when the sun’s apparent path is highest in the sky (the summer solstice) or lowest in the sky (the winter solstice)—‘solstice’ comes from Latin meaning ‘sun standing still’, i.e. its path is neither rising nor sinking. There are two equinoxes every year, in the spring and fall, when all portions of the earth receive 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness (‘equinox’ comes from the Latin meaning ’equal night’, i.e. equal to the day). How does this look on a flat earth?

In the northern hemisphere summer, the north pole receives 24 hours of light, the famous ‘midnight sun’. In fact, anything within the Arctic Circle is bathed in sunlight for an entire day during the summer solstice—the day the sun does not set. At the same time, Antarctica gets essentially no light at all as the sun is below the horizon across approximately 99% of the continent. Everywhere in the Antarctic Circle, the sun remains below the horizon for 24 continuous hours at least once per year even at noon. If you were to plot the area of the earth that is experiencing daylight at noon in Africa, for example, it would look something like the figure.

Credit: Przemyslaw Idzkiewicz, WikipediaEarth-lighting-summer-solstice
Illumination of Earth by Sun at the northern solstice. The earth’s axial tilt explain is why the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and Arctic and Antarctic Circles, are at the latitudes they are.

Three months later, however, everything is radically different. As we said above, at the spring and fall equinoxes, all places on earth receive 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness. This is not debatable. But if you look at the time the sun rises and sets on the equinoxes in different places, it becomes quite clear that a round sun could not produce the necessary effect on a flat earth. Take a line drawn due north from southern South America. Sunrise happens simultaneously in Patagonia (southern South America), Colombia (northern South America), and Nunavut (in the North American Arctic), while at the same time it is setting at Lake Baikal (east central Asia) and the Knox Coast of Antarctica.

How could a round spotlight produce a straight line like this on a flat earth? The ‘beam’ of sunlight should be at least roundish, but instead it illuminates fully one-half of the flat-earth map with a perfectly straight line between light and dark. Why does Columbia not see the edge of the sun’s circle first, and why does it not get more hours of daylight, since this is where the fat part of the sun will pass overhead? The answers to these questions is simple: the earth is actually a globe, and the sun is actually very large and very far away.

Three months later, the situation is clearly impossible for a round ‘spotlight’ sun. During the northern hemisphere winter solstice, nothing within the Artic Circle receives any sunlight for at least 24 continuous hours. But at the same time, the sun does not set in Antarctica—it’s now Antarctica’s turn for the midnight sun. If you were to display what areas of the earth are lit, it would look something like the figure. Not only did the approximately circular area at the first winter solstice turn into a half-watermelon shape at the equinox, but it kept changing until the sunlight areas wrapped around the entire earth and overlapped at Antarctica.

And if this ‘spotlight’ sun were radiating light in a cone, then the base of a mountain would be lit before the peak at sunrise. It’s easy to confirm that the peak is lit first, because the curve of the earth blocks the sunlight from the base.

‘Spotlight’ sun? No! Spherical earth? Yes!

Parallax problems

trigonometry
(left) Using simple trigonometry, one can determine the distance to far-away objects by measuring the angle to that object from different locations on earth. Once angles A and B and distance d are known, there are multiple ways to calculate the distance to the object (D). If one of the angles is 90°, the problem is much simpler. This is similar to how Eratosthenes (276–194 BC) calculated the circumference of the earth. Parallax measurements like this can be used to estimate the distance to the moon, but the sun is so far away that the angle is essentially 90° for both observers. (right) The flat–earth model runs into intractable mathematical problems that run contrary to direct observational evidence when trying to use parallax to measure distance. Objects that appear far above the heads of people living on the equator appear to be sitting on the ground to observers far to the north or south, which cannot be true. This also applies in the east-west direction.

One of the worst aspects of the flat-earth claim is that to believe it you also have to deny simple trigonometry. You see, if two people standing at different places on the earth, but a known distance apart, simultaneously measure the angle to the sun (from a theoretical chord drawn through the earth), they get approximately the same answer. Why? Because the sun is so far away that parallax is almost non-existent. It amounts to just over 8″ of angle (0.000407°.

What happens if the earth is flat and two people try this? Let’s say someone measures the angle to the sun at sunrise. At the exact time someone else on the other side of the world measures it at their sunset. They both get an angle of zero. This means that the sun must be sitting on the earth! In the north-south direction, stars that appear overhead at night to an observer on the equator would appear to be sitting on the ground to an observer at the north pole, and v.v. Yet, both parties would claim those stars are very far above their heads indeed.

Due to the nearly featureless face of the sun, it is difficult for two obsvaervers in different places to pick out the (to less than 4/10,000th of a degree) same spot to observe. We had to wait until the 1700s to accurately determine the distance to the sun, and then only after multiple parallax measurements were made of the transit of Venus across the sun in 1761 (we wrote about this in our article against geocentrism). Multiple measurements of the time it took Venus to cross the plane of the sun were made, but all the measurements had to be timed to the nearest second in order to be useful. They were, and the measured distance (153 million km) was more than 97% accurate (modern measurement is 149.6 million km). The real, measurable distance to the sun is far too great for flat-earth models. Thus, they also have to reject math, or claim that even more people are liars.

You can, however, use parallax to measure the distance to the moon. Hipparchus did this in the 2nd century BC (thus, you could do it too). He was less than 10% off and must have assumed a spherical earth to do the calculations. Today, we know the moon is 384,400 km away. This is not debatable. Or trigonometry is a lie. Like the sun, the moon is also too far away for flat-earth models.

And the moon and the sun have almost the same angular size (about half a degree), making total solar eclipses possible. From similar triangles, it follows that the sun must be as many times the moon’s size as it is far away (400 times). Flat earthers (as well as some geocentrists) deny the clear trigonometric evidence for the vast size of these bodies, especially the sun.

Time zones

When most people think of a flat earth, they think of the sun going under the earth at night. This would mean the entire surface would be illuminated as long as the sun was up, and all parts of the earth would experience the same sunrise time and sunset time. However, we know that different longitudes have different time zones. John Sacrobosco pointed out:

That the earth, too, is round is shown thus. The signs and stars do not rise and set the same for all men everywhere but rise and set sooner for those in the east than for those in the west; and of this there is no other cause than the bulge of the earth. Moreover, celestial phenomena evidence that they rise sooner for Orientals than for westerners. For one and the same eclipse of the moon which appears to us in the first hour of the night appears to Orientals about the third hour of the night, which proves that they had night and sunset before we did, of which setting the bulge of the earth is the cause. (Tractatus 1:9)

Remember he is writing in the 13th century!

However, now that we have the ability to communicate across the earth, this argument is even stronger. Many of us have had to be careful when calling someone in another country, in case we catch them in the middle of the night, and they become irate at being woken up! Also, when CMI-USA staff have Skype meetings with their colleagues in CMI-Au, it’s usually evening in America and morning in Australia (and the Americans know quite well that the Aussies get to have meetings during normal working hours!).

Jesus, the Creator, clearly knew of this phenomenon. Speaking of His second coming, which will be in an instant, He said:

I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left. (Luke 17:34–35).

I.e. in one place, it would be night, with people in bed; while in another place, at the same time, it would be during the morning when women ground grain. And in the parallel passage of Matthew 24:40, there is allusion to a still different time zone, the main part of the day: “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.”7

The different time zones are clear proof that the earth is curved at least in the east-west direction. (See Sunrise and sunset above for refutation of the modern flat earth fudging about the sun orbiting above the plane of the earth). But the earth is not a barrel. There is abundant and clear evidence that it is also curved from north to south.

Different stars

One thing astronomically inclined northern visitors to the southern hemisphere love to do is see the Southern Cross. This constellation is not exactly at the southern celestial pole, but it cannot be seen in most of the northern hemisphere. People in Europe and North America can’t see it no matter how powerful their telescopes. Yet this constellation features on the flags of two countries with CMI offices, Australia and New Zealand. Brazil’s flag features the Cross and more stars visible only from the southern hemisphere.

But as consolation, northerners can see Polaris, the North Star. People can never see this from the southern hemisphere, even with the best telescopes, and no matter how far north they look. This even applies to countries in the same time zone. For example, South Africa and Germany share the same time zone, South Africans can see the Southern Cross at night while at the same time Germans are seeing Polaris.

Also, on the FE model, people in countries six hours apart who both point southward would be pointing 90° from each other (6⁄24 × 360°). So at night, people from such countries in the southern hemisphere looking due south should see different stars when they are looking simultaneously (e.g. while Skyping to each other). But in reality, people in both South Africa and Western Australia, which are six hours apart, looking due south will both see the south celestial pole, and with good eyes or binoculars will see Sigma Octantis aka Polaris Australis.

This was well known to the ancients as well, although they didn’t come as far south as many people have today, e.g. John Sacrobosco:

That the earth also has a bulge from north to south and vice versa is shown thus: To those living toward the north, certain stars are always visible, namely, those near the North Pole, while others which are near the South Pole are always concealed from them. If, then, anyone should proceed from the north southward, he might go so far that the stars which formerly were always visible to him now would tend toward their setting. And the farther south he went, the more they would be moved toward their setting.

Again, that same man now could see stars which formerly had always been hidden from him. And the reverse would happen to anyone going from the south northward. The cause of this is simply the bulge of the earth. Again, if the earth were flat from east to west, the stars would rise as soon for westerners as for Orientals. which is false. Also, if the earth were flat from north to south and vice versa, the stars which were always visible to anyone would continue to be so wherever he went, which is false. Also, if the earth were flat from north to south and vice versa, the stars which were always visible to anyone would continue to be so wherever he went, which is false. But it seems flat to human sight because it is so extensive. (Tractatus 1:10)

Conversely, the diagram below shows how a flat earth would produce observations contrary to what we see. E.g. navigators in the northern hemisphere have long known that the angle of Polaris to the horizon equals the latitude. However, on the flat earth, the angle could never be less than 45°.

toronto

Furthermore, New Zealand is almost in the opposite time zone, so is day while South Africa is night, but they see the same constellations every night. In the flat–earth model, New Zealand and South Africa are almost diametrically opposed, so should have different constellations overhead.

When employees of CMI’s US office in Atlanta visit their colleagues in Brisbane, Australia,8 and v.v., they have to lean over backwards when looking at the stars to get things into their normal perspective. Atlanta is about the same distance above the equator (33.7°) as Brisbane is south of the equator (27.4°). Due to the curvature of the earth, if you are used to seeing the moon, planets, and stars in one setting, everything looks upside-down in the other setting! Why? Because if you look ‘straight up’ from either place you are looking at a very different place in the sky.

A well known example is the constellation of Orion the Hunter. In the southern hemisphere, Orion looks like he is standing on his head, so his ‘shoulder’ (Betelgeuse) is down, and Rigel on the bottom of his tunic is ‘up’ and is the first bright star to appear as this constellation rises in the sky. Also, in the original constellation as understood by the ancient Greeks in the northern hemisphere, the stars are meant to picture Orion holding his club above his head, but in the southern hemisphere, his club looks like it’s digging something.

The sun, moon and planets move along a line called the ecliptic, but the ecliptic is toward the south at that latitude in the northern hemisphere and toward the north at that latitude in the southern hemisphere. Why? Because the earth is a sphere! Another disconcerting aspect of living on a sphere is that after the sun rises in the northern hemisphere it moves diagonally up to the right, but it moves diagonally up to the left in the southern hemisphere.

Stars rotate around celestial poles in opposite directions

Another illustration of the same phenomenon is using time-lapsed photography to see the stars in the northern hemisphere revolving anticlockwise (counterclockwise) around Polaris (or more precisely, the Celestial North Pole). In the southern hemisphere stars appear to revolve clockwise around the Celestial South Pole. See the time lapse videos below (left: northern hemisphere; right: southern hemisphere).

Speaking of rotation, in tropical cyclones or hurricanes, the powerful winds blow anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern, because of the Coriolis effect on a sphere. They would rotate in the same direction if the earth were a spinning flat disk.

Variable speed of the stars through the heavens

From our vantage point on the earth, the following three points are not debatable:

  1. The North Star does not move. It is too close to what is called the northern celestial pole [apart from the ‘precession of the equinoxes’ (axial precession) which has a theoretical period of about 25,000 years].
  2. The further from the northern celestial pole you go, the further the stars must visually travel each day to get back to where they started. Stars close to the North Star trace out little circles. Stars farther away trace out larger circles.
  3. This trend continues until you reach stars circling above the Celestial Equator, at which point the flat earth and spherical earth theories diverge.

Here, we are defining the Celestial Equator as an imaginary east-west line through the heavens that is directly above someone at 0° latitude. Flat-earthers do not believe it actually exists, but this definition works for both parties (on the global earth view, it’s a great circle of the ‘celestial sphere’ on the same plane as the equator).

The discussion so far might seem unfair for flat-earth supporters in the Southern Hemisphere, so just flip the argument around, if you like. This sets up an interesting test. If the earth is flat and if the stars are circling the earth on a dome-shaped heavenly vault, the visual speed of the stars will continue to increase until you reach the edge, which we assume will be past the supposed “Antarctic ice wall”. Like kids on a merry-go-round, the stars near the center of rotation travel a smaller distance per revolution than the stars at the edge.

However, if the earth is a spinning sphere, the velocity of the stars will begin to decline past the Celestial Equator until they stop moving at what we will call the South Celestial Pole.

Except for the North and South Poles, from any other point in either hemisphere, you can see stars on the other side of the Celestial Equator. CMI-US has an office in Atlanta, GA, at 33.7°N. We can see a lot of stars past the CE. In fact, the stars we see are exactly the ones we would expect to see given our latitude north on a spherical earth. The North Star is also exactly at the correct angle above the horizon, given our location on a spherical earth. But, we can leave these two points aside for the time being and simply focus on the visual speed of the stars through the night sky. The stars past the CE (fully ⅔ of the stars we see!) should be moving more slowly across the sky, and the visual speed should decrease as we look closer to the horizon.

CMI also has an office in Brisbane, Australia, at 27.5°S, meaning they can see more of the Northern Hemisphere stars than we in Atlanta can see of the Southern Hemisphere stars. We also have an office in Auckland, New Zealand, at 36.8°S, almost mirroring the Atlanta office. If the South Celestial Pole exists, our people in these two places should see be able to see it, and it should be closer to the southern horizon for our Brisbane people.

CMI also has an office in Singapore, at 1.4°N. This is the best place to be for this test. We will have to ignore the fact that the stars do NOT trace a semi-circular path through the heavens like they should if they were on a dome spinning above a disk. Instead, at any time of year, any star that is due east rises straight up, passes overhead, and descends straight down, to the point where it intersects the horizon once again. Actually, the fact that the stars always travel parallel to the Celestial Equator is a direct disproof of the flat earth. Putting this also aside, someone at the equator should be able to see stars moving most quickly when they are following the east-west line that passes directly overhead. But the further north or south they look, the stars should move more slowly. This continues to the point where trees, buildings, or haze on the horizon obscures the view of the stars.

Note, both of us have spent time at the Equator (JS in Singapore; RC in Ecuador), the Southern Hemisphere (Australia and New Zealand), and the Northern Hemisphere (Europe, North America, and Asia). Flat-earth supporters with limited geographic exposure beware!

OK, so which model do you think fits what we see?

  1. The stars ‘past’ the equator do indeed travel in smaller circles. You can see this yourself no matter where you live. We have seen this with or own eyes. How about you?
  2. The South Celestial Pole does indeed exist. Look for videos or time-lapse photos online, or travel south of the Equator yourself. We have seen it.
  3. Add to this these facts:
    1. Two celestial poles exist, one in the north and one in the south.
    2. The height of the North or South Celestial Poles exactly matches your latitude.
    3. The field of stars you see at night exactly matches your latitude.
    4. Stars you cannot see are not too far away to see;, the earth is blocking them from view.
    5. Stars do not trace a curving path you would expect them to if they were fixed onto a rotating sphere.
    6. In fact, stars always travel parallel to the Celestial Equator.

Why are points 1–3 and subpoints a–f true? Because the earth is a spinning sphere!

The missing South Pole

Another problem lies with the modern flat-earth claims that the earth is encircled by an enormous Antarctic ring ‘due south’ from everywhere. And what do we make of the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station? It was built by the United States and is manned year-round, and has a web camera that’s accessible anywhere in the world via the Internet. There is no south pole on a flat earth.

Circumnavigation of the globe

While it was a myth that Columbus was the only spherical-earther of his day, he (and of course everyone else) did realize that if you sailed west far enough, you could make it back to where you came from (barring land masses in the way). In fact, this was well known at least a century before him in the fictional work The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. One of the stories involves such a journey, and the author expected his readers to know that the earth is a sphere.

I have often thought of a story I have heard, when I was young, of a worthy man of our country who went once upon a time to see the world. He passed India and many isles beyond India, where there are more than five thousand isles, and travelled so far by land and sea, girdling the globe, that he found an isle where he heard his own language being spoken… He marvelled greatly, for he did not understand how this could be. But I conjecture that he had travelled so far over land and sea, circumnavigating the earth, that he had come to his own borders; if he had gone a bit further, he would have come to his own district.

Later, the expeditions of Ferdinand Magellan9 (1480–1521) and Sir Francis Drake (1540–1596) did circumnavigate the globe, as did the HMS Beagle with the young Charles Darwin aboard as the gentleman-companion of Captain Robert Fitz Roy (a devout Christian who later became a creationist). Now of course we have airliners doing this. Two of the board members of CMI-US are pilots; so are they also lying when they say they fly across the globe (to say nothing of their thousands of passengers)?

Astronauts in space

The International Space Station has now gone around the earth over 100,000 times, carrying with it more than 220 different astronauts over the past 15 years. One astronaut, Col. Jeff Williams has recently returned from his fourth trip to space. Not only has Col. Williams set the record for cumulative days in space (534) but he is also an outspoken Christian!10 He and other astronauts have taken thousands of pictures and hundreds of hours of videos of the earth from space, many of which are available online. You can patch these together seamlessly to make a montage of the entire earth, and it is demonstrably a sphere. All of these scientists and astronauts are not lying!

Earthquakes and seismic waves

Credit: sbesson, WikipediaCircular-segment
A chord at a given angle is always shorter than the arc. For a radius R and angle θ, the arc length is (θ/180°)πR (or just the shortest map distance on a globe), while the chord length is 2Rsin(θ/2).

Earthquakes are often very powerful events, and their waves can travel enormous distances. Geophysicists have learned much about the earth from such seismic waves, which travel at known speeds. The most important for our purposes are the two major categories: body waves and surface waves. The first go through the earth, while the second stay close to the surface.

And as expected, if the waves are strong enough to be detected by seismographs at a great distance from the site of the earthquake, the body waves will arrive quite a long time before the surface waves, even though the surface waves from powerful earthquakes can travel around the world several times. The reason for this is simple: body waves have less distance to travel.

But here’s the key: On a globe, the ratio between the surface distance and the through-the-earth distance increases as points become further apart. This is because the through-the-earth distance is a chord of a circle and the surface distance is an arc (see diagram). On a flat earth, the ratio would be the same for shallow earthquakes and almost the same for deeper earthquakes (the distance to the detector can be treated as the hypotenuse of a very flat right-angled (or right) triangle).

This presents us with yet another test of the flat-earth model. For a detector close to the source of an earthquake, the body and surface waves arrive together in both models. If the detector is further away, the surface waves arrive later. Surface waves travel about 90% of the speed of body waves, but if the earth is flat they will always arrive just behind the body waves and always with a ratio of 0.9 no matter how far away the detector is. If the earth is a sphere, however, the body waves will arrive proportionally faster than the surface waves as the distance between earthquake and detector increases. The greatest test would be if the detector is at the antipode of the earthquake focus, because by definition the body waves would travel the diameter of the earth, while the surface waves must travel a distance π/2 times this, i.e. 57% further.

Credit: Vanessa Ezekowitz, WikipediaEarthquake-wave-shadow-zone
Paths of p-waves and s-waves through earth’s interior. Earthquake shadow zones are the zones where seismic waves do not reach. Diagram shows p-wave shadow zone. S-waves don’t penetrate the outer core, so they’re shadowed everywhere more than 104° away from the epicenter.

Seismologists have been recording earthquakes from all around the world since the last decade of the 19th century, and of course their results have been consistent with a global earth. Again, this is information known long before NASA. It is a simple fact that body waves arrive earlier than surface waves, and this ratio changes with distance from the epicenter. This can only be true if the travel distances are proportionally different, i.e. the earth is not flat.

Yet another test involves only the surface waves. If you have an array of detectors at various points on the earth, you can time how long it takes for the surface waves to travel between the points. The flat-earth map puts places like Australia and South America on opposite sides. But the time is takes for surface waves to travel between them is proportional to a much smaller distance. In fact, if you network the times between the thousands of stations currently positioned around the earth, after accounting for various slight discrepancies, the only way to make any sense of the data is if you project them onto a spherical surface.

Furthermore, the different types of body waves can even tell us about the earth’s interior. The primary (p) waves (called that because they are the first to arrive) are pressure waves or longitudinal waves, basically sound. The secondary (s) waves are shear or transverse waves. The p-waves can travel through both solids and liquids, but the s-waves can’t go through liquid. Seismologists soon worked out that there was a “shadow zone” for the s-waves—we can’t detect any from a seismometer over about 104° from the earthquake. So they realized that deep inside the earth, there must be a liquid core about 2,890 km deep. And because the earth is a sphere, the core must also be a sphere of smaller radius (3,480 km) than the earth. An earthquake shadow zone can’t be explained on a flat earth, even one with a deep liquid layer deep down. And this shadow zone exists at a certain surface distance from the earthquake (about 12,000 km or 7,200 miles) in all directions, no matter where the earthquake occurs. This means the earth has a uniform shape with no edges, i.e. a sphere.

Also, boundaries between different layers can cause partial reflection of the waves, and refraction can occur if the waves can be transmitted into the next layer. Both types of wave travel in gentle curves as well, caused by refraction as the earth changes consistency at different depths. This is similar to the reason you cannot hear a rocket blasting off beyond a certain distance—the sound waves bend as they travel through the surface air layer that cools with altitude. This means that there is also a shadow zone for p-waves,11 between 104° and 140°. However, the Danish scientist Inge Lehmann (1888–1993) analyzed the devastating 1929 Murchison earthquake in New Zealand (7.3 on the Richter scale, 17 people killed). She was surprised that p-waves were detected in the shadow zone, so she realized there must be a solid inner core off which they reflected. Its radius is obviously smaller than that of the outer core: about 1,220 kilometres, about 70% of the moon’s.12

So in summary, seismologists all around the world long ago showed that the earth must be a sphere—indeed, a sphere layered in spherical shells, or spheres within spheres. There is simply no other way to make sense of the data.

Sound waves from Krakatoa

A similar argument involves a type of pressure wave with which we are very familiar: sound. Sound travels through our atmosphere, and we can detect that with our ears or microphones. However, ordinary sounds are dissipated quickly. Yet when Krakatoa blew up, the explosion was so loud that it could be heard around the world. Indeed, on the British ship Norham Castle, 40 miles from the explosion, over half the crew’s eardrums were shattered. A barometer at the Batavia gasworks 100 miles away from Krakatoa measured 172 decibels, which is over 100 times more powerful than standing next to a jet engine before takeoff, at ‘only’ 150 dB (the dB is a logarithmic scale, so a sound 10 dB higher is 10 times more powerful, but is perceived as only twice as loud).

By this time, weather stations all around the world had barometers, and they measured pressure spikes. And of course they were consistent with distances on a spherical earth. Given the known shape of the earth, we would expect the shock wave to spread out from the explosion, and continues to spread outwards, until it’s quarter of the way around the earth, to an ‘equator’ as viewed looking down towards Krakatoa. Then the sound waves would converge until they meet again at Krakatoa’s antipode, the point directly opposite (actually in Colombia). Then they would spread out again. The full circle takes 34 hours. Yet they were being detected for five days. So they went around the world 3–4 times before dissipating, and most of the barometers detected seven peaks, because they detected waves from both directions. One article relates:

Six hours and 47 minutes after the Krakatoa explosion, a spike of air pressure was detected in Calcutta. By 8 hours, the pulse reached Mauritius in the west and Melbourne and Sydney in the east. By 12 hours, St. Petersburg noticed the pulse, followed by Vienna, Rome, Paris, Berlin, and Munich. By 18 hours the pulse had reached New York, Washington DC, and Toronto. Amazingly, for as many as 5 days after the explosion, weather stations in 50 cities around the globe observed this unprecedented spike in pressure re-occuring like clockwork, approximately every 34 hours.13

These observations are perfectly explainable by expected sound paths in an atmosphere surrounding a globe. A flat earth would not have the right distances, and no plausible way to explain the 34-hour round trip regardless of direction. Nor does it explain the repeated detections in the first place (even bouncing off the ostensible circum-Antarctic ice wall would not explain the sequence of detection). (Thanks to Philip Bell for this section.)

Prove it to yourself

Anyway, you don’t have to believe us. For the (mostly northern hemisphere) people who have been taken in by these videos, find a person on social media who claims to be from the southern hemisphere, and set up a video conference with them (using something like Skype). Ask them what time it is, have them point their camera outside, ask them what stars are visible, ask them where the moon is, and what phase it is in. This is a simple experiment and can be done by just about anyone with friends online. For even more fun, interview multiple people in different places in the world on the same day/night. Unless everyone in the other hemispheres are independently lying to you about all these things, this will show that the earth is a globe.

The differences in the stars are clear proof that the earth is curved in the north-south direction. Combine these two categories and we have proof that the earth is curved in both the east-west and the north-south direction. Now what sort of shape can do that—as well as leave a circular shadow on the moon when the shadow comes from any cross–section of the earth? Exactly, a sphere.

Why does the earth superficially look flat?

It’s a very simple explanation: if we look at a tiny part of a circle, it approximates a straight line. Another way of thinking about this: the larger the circle, the smaller the curvature. One well known illustration comes from unfortunate hikers who have lost their sense of direction and wander around in circles. They think they are walking straight ahead, but in reality, they are turning very slightly. Eventually, this small curvature adds up to coming full circle. The earth is just so huge compared with structures on it that the curvature is very low. But it is real!

curvature
As a circle gets larger and larger, its edge approximates a straight line (in black). This is why the horizon appears flat to an observer standing on the surface of our planet. In the same way, as a sphere gets larger and larger, the surface begins to approximate a flat surface. This is why the earth appears flat beneath your feet when standing on a level surface. Yet, one does not have to look far before one begins to see things that do not fit with a ‘flat’ earth, as the examples in this article illustrate.

But the apparent flatness is only local. You can make a reasonable map of an area just a few kilometers square with little fear of distortion at the edges. But since the dawn of cartography, mapmakers have been struggling with how to depict the continents on world maps without significantly distorting high-latitude landmasses like Greenland or Antarctica.

How much curve should we see?

One common flat earth mantra is: SHOW US THE CURVE!

Credit: sbesson, WikipediaCircular-segment
This is the same diagram as in the Earthquakes and seismology section, above. But this time we are considering the arc length (s), corresponding to the distance we can look across the land or sea surface. But now we are considering how much curvature we would expect, in terms of the height of the segment (h). This is given by h = R(1 – cosθ/2). The angle θ is simply worked out by fraction of the arc length to the 360° circumference, which is also 2πR: so θ = s/(2πR) × 360° = (180°/π) s/R. The calculator linked in the text uses some different letters but the calculations are the same.

But such questions refuse to consider even the simplest geometry of the standard GE model, which has the earth’s radius FAR larger than distances they are talking about, e.g. a few metres or km. When this is done, how much of the curve would we to see? Here is an easy place to do it for you: Online calculators: Circular segment.

Now put in some numbers for the earth’s radius according to the GE model: 6,371,000 (in metres, to be consistent with the other data). Now put in an arc length of 500 (i.e. again metres). You will find that the chord height, i.e. the height difference between middle and ends, is ~5 mm. This would be hard to spot over such a distance.

If you put in 5,000 m (5 km), then the chord height comes to ~0.5 m. Still rather hard to notice this deviation from flatness over such a distance—although you can see it if you have a reference point that is virtually perfectly horizontal, e.g. using a bubble (spirit) level.

Then put in 50,000 m (50 km): now the difference between the highest and lowest point on the curve is 49 m. Over such a distance, this is hard to see just by looking across the surface. But most of the time, looking from one side of the curve to the other should see much of the bottom cut off. Hence you would expect to see hilltops but not a beach even though it was closer, and would notice ‘hull-down’ ships, known to seafarers for centuries (see Things disappearing over the horizon, above).

In general, flat-earthers really should try to understand how much bigger the GE radius is than the distances you are talking about.

Also, if you go to a very flat place (e.g. Hay, Australia, one of the flattest places on earth) and turn in a circle, the horizon will appear almost perfectly flat. Why? Because you are standing on a sphere and can only see a small portion of that sphere. If you took a round fruit (like an orange) and tangentially sliced off a small section of the edge, that would be a good representation of what you can see – and the slice would be an almost perfect circle.

Who are the major flat earth proponents?

As we have pointed out, a global earth was an almost universal teaching by all leading church scholars throughout its history. We could count the flat earthers on one hand, and none of them were major figures. So, who are the modern flat-earthers? Here are a few examples of prominent flat-earth proponents. This is not meant to be exhaustive, but it should be revealing.

  • Daniel Shenton resuscitated the defunct Flat Earth Society in 2004. One evolutionist reports: “The Flat Earth Society is an active organization currently led by a Virginian man named Daniel Shenton. Though Shenton believes in evolution and global warming, he and his hundreds, if not thousands, of followers worldwide also believe that the Earth is a disc that you can fall off of.” As late as 2014 his society has as few as 500 members, but that was before the flat-earth YouTube phenomenon caught on.
  • Eric Dubay has produced lots of flat earth videos. He describes himself on his website as “a 35 year-old American living in Thailand where I teach Yoga and Wing Chun part-time.” Other articles on his site show that he is a rabid anti-Semite, a Holocaust denier, and thinks Hitler was a peace-loving good guy who has been wrongly vilified (and he thinks dinosaurs never existed). Dubay is thus a New Age neo-Nazi, not a Christian, and he makes money peddling conspiracy theory through online advertising. He is not a neutral party on this issue.
  • Rob Skiba is another major YouTube player. He has questionable theology. He claims to believe in the Trinity, but when probed further, he denies that the Holy Spirit is a person. This is not something new—it is called the pneumatomachian heresy (meaning spirit-fighters). He calls the creedal (and biblical) view, i.e. one God in three Persons, heresy. He says that, if you believe in what Christians have believed about the Trinity for the past 2,000 years, you are a heretic. But this means he’s not a Christian, by definition. Misusing words like this, where the speaker intentionally means something different than what receiver thinks he is saying, is a classic mark of a cult. Beware!
  • Michael Heiser is a compromising theologian who does not believe in a flat earth, but argues that the Old Testament cosmology describes a flat earth—he just thinks they got it wrong. He argues that because “the Bible was not produced to give us science” we can reject its cosmology while maintaining belief in “things that the Bible does in fact ask us to believe.”14 Sadly, many of those arguments are identical to those of Bible haters like the atheist and anti-creationist Robert Schadewald (1943–2000), and thus he doesn’t really believe in biblical inerrancy (but compare Does the Bible really teach a three-storey cosmology?). And in arguing that the biblical authors taught a flat earth, he has given support to people who use his arguments about Hebrew cosmology, but have a more consistent view of the Bible’s perspicuity.

Note, exposing the above is not committing the genetic fallacy. We are not attacking the man in order to discredit the theory. Rather, we are making an appeal to Christians that we have no reason to trust people who deny the very authority of Scripture to which they are supposedly appealing; they are not our friends and allies. Christians should certainly not allow anti-Christians to dictate to us about what the Bible says, and we should be wary of those calling themselves Christians who attack the very foundations of our shared faith. We should also not allow the flat-earth myth, derived as it was from atheistic attacks on the Bible, to influence our understanding of Church history.

Why would we trust them over all the Bible-believing Christians throughout church history who affirmed a spherical earth? Remember, these are the people who affirmed the Biblical canon, and who fought for, and often died for, the foundational doctrines Christians hold dear, and in whose footsteps we walk today.

This is a matter for discernment and we would encourage anyone researching these issues to be very careful. It is not always easy to spot an error, especially when presented by slick marketers, and in this case one can fall so far down the rabbit hole that it can become difficult to climb back out.

Discussion (major problems with a flat earth)

If the earth is flat, we cannot use physics to explain how things work. Essentially, the universe becomes a place of magic where things happen that simply defy explanation. We would have to go back centuries and reject just about everything we have learned about physics. This includes the great discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton (who gave us the Three Laws of Motion and the Theory of Gravity), Johannes Kepler (who gave us the Three Laws of Planetary Motion), and the works and discoveries of many other Bible-believing scientists.

What do we do with the work of Dr Mark Harwood, who retired from a long career in the aerospace industry and who specialized in the design of geostationary satellites? These satellites appear to be stationary in the sky but they are actually orbiting at around 3 km per second to keep pace with the rotation of the earth. This principle only works because the earth is a sphere. If the earth were flat, the stationary satellites would either plummet to the earth if they were not actually moving or sail off into space if they were. And how can we explain the work of Dr John Hartnett, whose cryogenically cooled, sapphire-crystal clocks generate the most precise microwave signals on earth, and who has used both GPS satellites and geostationary satellites to transfer his time and frequency signals between cities?

Flat-earthism also impugns almost all the great Christian leaders of the past and present who affirmed a spherical earth. Flat-earthers should ask themselves why they instead trust the videos of avowed enemies of the Gospel such as Dubay.

Actually, we note with some irony the modern ‘moon landing hoax’ nonsense tends to accompany flat-earthism (and geocentrism, but that is another story). Back in 1969, although there was appropriate rocket technology that could take us to the moon, the video technology was totally inadequate to fake this.15 Nevertheless, there are people who believe that the faking was somehow managed. Yet they are totally oblivious to the fact that the video technology of 2016 could easily fake a flat earth! Also, one of the main arguments against the moon landings is that the moon is too far away (384,399 km, 238,854 miles) for rockets to reach. But modern flat-earth models claim that both the sun and moon are only 3,000 miles away, so they undercut their own argument.

Clearly, the Internet easily radicalizes people. It is trivially easy to present someone with a series of things that are obviously true and slip something false into the mix. Pollsters have known for a long time that if you can get someone to answer a series of questions in the affirmative they are more likely to answer “yes” to the one question you really want to ask.16 In today’s world, it is easy to find someone trying to defend just about any opinion you can imagine. Some of these are very professional looking and they provide interesting and often true facts (mixed in with fallacies). But sometimes the arguments seem very complicated and you can’t quite figure out what the person is saying. This makes the presenter look very smart, to the novice, but slick presentations that are just on the edge of understanding actually make it harder to think through the issues.

We have been wondering what is motivating people to go down this road. Some might simply be fooled by the tricky nature of the ‘facts’ being presented. Some might have the conspiratorial idea that ‘science’ equals evolution, so therefore they must reject science in general. Others might have a pseudo-pietistic mindset, that by rejecting science and embracing what they see as the ‘plain’ teachings of the Bible they are being more holy. We saw some of this in our rebuttal of geocentrism. It is as if some people believe that God will bless them more if they embrace really nutty ideas, even when those ideas directly clash with both the Bible and sound logic.

There is a tragic flaw in human psychology. It deals with the trouble people have when presented with facts that are contrary to some belief they hold. People don’t change their mind like they change their socks. No, they usually take a long time to come to a different view. Why? Because they have to think through a number of different issues. In the case of the flat earth, people have been fed a line of false reasoning that takes a while for some people to ‘unthink’. With this in mind, we encourage people to put on their thinking caps and take a serious look at what the Bible and science have to say.

You could probably think up a few bits of supporting evidence for any theory, and that’s one of the difficulties we as people face. But no amount of evidence can prove something. Instead, science is all about falsification. As Albert Einstein once famously said, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.” For every piece of evidence that seems to point to a flat earth (and there really are not that many), there are many more pieces of evidence that show it cannot be true. Are you trying to figure out if the earth is spherical or flat? We encourage you to think of things that disprove the idea. Likewise, try to think of something that disproves a spherical earth (if you can!).

If the earth is flat, one has to reject mountains of clear observational evidence. From the shadow of the earth on the moon to the fact that people in the northern and southern hemispheres see different stars, none of it can be true. You have to reject experimental science, and nearly all physical science going back centuries. You have to reject Christian scholarship, going back to the beginning of the religion. You have to reject the testimonies of thousands of scientists, and the personal observations of billions of people who happen to live on the other side of the world from you.

Nothing we observe in science contradicts Scripture. Not only that, but Scripture does not teach a flat earth, neither has any serious Christian scholar throughout the entire Christian era. We have written about this several times (see Related Articles, below), pointing out how clear it is that not only is the earth round but that at least for the past 2,000 years no scholar of any repute believed in a flat earth. Still, the question keeps coming up, and more frequently, and from different quarters, thus there was need to address it here.

Video discussion of flat earth and geocentrism

Watch Dr Henry Richter, Dr Robert Carter, Dr Jonathan Sarfati, and CMI-US CEO Gary Bates discuss flat earth teaching and geocentrism.

Some easy-to-understand main points

  • CMI—and you, the reader—should be pro-Bible first and foremost, not anti-establishment just for the sake of it. We should oppose the establishment only when it contradicts the Bible.
    • As a corollary, the creation/evolution issue is about historical science, while the shape of the earth is operational science, which CMI affirms.
  • The Bible does not teach the flat earth. Atheists and their compromising churchian allies claim this, but in reality, some passages in the Bible lean towards global, and other passages are not teaching anything about the shape of the globe at all.
  • Despite the widespread myth of Columbus vs. flat-earthers, almost every theologian and scholar throughout church history who commented on the earth’s shape affirmed that it is spherical. So evidently they never saw the Bible as a flat-earth book. So flat-earthism is actually a theological novelty, contrary to almost universal church teaching. So it’s not surprising that the leading flat-earth video makers are anti-Christian.
  • Things really do disappear piecemeal down the horizon as they are hidden by the earth’s bulge. Seafarers have used the term hull-down for centuries. It was no accident that their lookouts were high on the mast so they could see further past the earth’s curvature, and they knew full well that hills came into view before beaches.
    • Flat-earth agitprop often shows pictures of things that should be below the horizon. However, these are rare occasions when a large, cool water surface on a warm day produces an inversion layer that curves light around the curve of the water, producing a ‘superior mirage’. Videos of the same scene (which flat-earthers won’t present) show much movement and distortion per a mirage. And at most times, even on the clearest days, you will not see these below-horizon objects.
  • Anyone who phones or Skypes internationally knows the problem of different time zones. On a global earth, this is easy to understand: the sun shines on some parts of earth, producing daytime; while the other side of the globe is blocked from the sun so is at night.
    • Jesus affirmed different time zones when He said that His return would be instantaneous, but some people would be asleep at night, others working early in the morning, and still others late in the day.
    • Modern flat-earthers try to get around this by claiming that the sun is circling over a disk-earth about 3,000 miles above, but:
      • They must abandon any pretense of taking the Bible straightforwardly, because this has numerous passages about the sun rising and setting. A global geokinetic model can affirm that the sun rises and sets in the earth’s reference frame.
      • They must ignore simple observations: the sun’s apparent size is almost constant, not getting smaller and smaller as it gets further away, and you can see it disappearing piecemeal over the horizon, just as ships do.
  • Constellations are very different for the southern and northern hemisphere. On a flat earth, why shouldn’t southern hemisphere dwellers all see Polaris (the ‘North Star‘), but on a globe, the earth gets in the way! Similarly, most northern hemisphere dwellers can’t see the Southern Cross, which is on the flag of several southern countries.
    • Also, northern hemisphere dwellers observe stars in the north apparently rotating counterclockwise (anticlockwise) around the north celestial pole, while southern hemisphere dwellers sees different constellations rotating clockwise around the south. A flat earth model with the north pole at the centre just doesn’t have any south celestial pole at all!

Conclusions

Every major creationist organization rejects the flat earth idea, and always has. We are all about science, good observational science. Science is not ruled by the majority (or we would still believe in phlogiston!), yet one must walk carefully when they decide to reject common views in science.

CMI absolutely rejects the theory of evolution, but we have done so after carefully scrutinizing both the biblical and scientific records. We did not do this lightly. After critically examining what we can learn through operational science and comparing that to the historical philosophy called evolution, too many lines of evidence point away from evolution and toward biblical creation for us to not accept the latter. In this case, however, the sphericity of the earth is one of the simplest aspects of operational science one could wish for.

References and notes

  1. O’Neill, T., The New Atheist Bad History—Great Myths 1: The Medieval Flat Earth, historyforatheists.blogspot.com, 31 May 2016. We acknowledge this paper for the medieval writers cited here. For an original translation of one source, see The Sphere of Sacrobosco: An early 13th century treatise on astronomy, by Iohannes de Sacrobosco, translated by Lynn Thorndike, 1949, esotericarchives.com. Return to text.
  2. A merism is a figure of speech where two opposites are used to refer to a whole, e.g. ‘open day and night’ meaning open for the whole time, including dawn and dusk; ‘searched high and low’ means ‘searched everywhere’. Return to text.
  3. Hannam, J. God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science, ch. 4, Icon Books, London, UK, 2009.
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