Tag Archives: Flat earth

When an Atheist Gets EVERYTHING Wrong

An A for learning what your teacher said in history class???!!! Adapted from https://www.geeksaresexy.net/2011/02/12/bad-grades-1960-vs-2010-cartoon/

There is an atheist out there on the internet who should hang his head in shame and disgrace. In 26 minutes of presentation in a debate with an apologist the video record shows he took up 3 whole minutes (667 words) repeating what he had read in books at school and had heard from science writers not realizing he was repeating a popular misconception, a misconception he had almost certainly been taught in school as fact. He dared to say that people in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat. That’s as good as getting EVERYTHING about history wrong, we learn from the author of History for Atheists (“ARON RA” GETS EVERYTHING WRONG), earning nothing less than a blistering 6,280-word response which included the following excoriation of both mind and character:

his profound ignorance of history

burst of pseudo historical gibberish

smug self-assurance

virtually everything he said was wrong.

When he turns to history, however, the results are truly woeful,

I make no apologies for coming down hard on crappy pseudo history like this. Nelson may be a well-meaning fool, but he is a fool nonetheless.

no excuse for peddling the lazy nonsense he spouts about history

doing it with such blithe pomposity

is terrible at history and believes many stupid and erroneous things.

someone with little to no grasp of the relevant material

he swaggers and bloviates

boneheaded fanaticism

We all have our bad days when we get a bit cranky.

Oh yes, here are some choice criticisms of our atheist’s presumed sources:

relying on bungled online rehashing of nineteenth century myths and confused nonsense by fellow polemicists.

has read some stuff that he likes from fellow historically illiterate polemicists and decides to present it as fact.

One thing I learned in my educational psychology classes was that the best way to correct facts and gaps in knowledge is to do exactly what the chair of the debate said at the beginning:

And we just ask that you be respectful.

I like that approach.

Yes, Aaron Ra or Nelson, you were guilty of repeating a popular misconception, not only among atheists but even among many Christians. Gosh, I believed what you said for years when I was a God-fearing Protestant. And I am sure I was even taught the same erroneous information in school at some point.

So let’s take a step back and see what has gone wrong. How did this piece of fiction come to be so widely accepted as a fact of history? This will be a slice of History for Atheists and Theists.

Jeffrey Burton Russell (Wikipedia)

The rest of this post consists of notes from Russell’s book, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians. Russell does nothing to hide his view that faith and science are not really incompatible but we can live with that (up to a point).

You Are Not Alone

To begin, let’s try to reassure any of you who have believed this little datum that you are not alone. A 1991 book by Jeffrey Burton Russell contains the following

This Flat Error remains popular. It is still found in many textbooks and encyclopedias. . . .

By the 1980s, a large number of textbooks and encyclopedias had corrected the story, but the Flat Error was restated in a widely read book by the former Librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, The Discoverers (1983). Boorstin wrote :

A Europe-wide phenomenon of scholarly amnesia . . . afflicted the continent from A.D. 300 to at least 1300. During those centuries Christian faith and dogma suppressed the useful image of the world that had been so slowly, so painfully, and so scrupulously drawn by ancient geographers.

He called this alleged hiatus the “Great Interruption.” His fourteenth chapter, “A Flat Earth Returns,” derided the “legion of Christian geographers” who followed the geographical path marked out by a sixth-century eccentric. In fact the eccentric Cosmas Indicopleustes had no followers whatever: his works were ignored or dismissed with derision throughout the Middle Ages.

Daniel J. Boorstin (Wikipedia)

How could Boorstin disseminate the Flat Error and the public accept it uncritically?

Those damned librarians! (But he was also a historian.)

So what went wrong? Russell takes us on a journey through the literature that led us astray. It had much to do with the evolution debate of the nineteenth century inflaming passions over reason, and with the centuries-old Protestant distrust of Catholics.

An early culprit was Andrew Dickson White who wrote in 1896 . . .

Many a bold navigator, who was quite ready to brave pirates and tempests, trembled at the thought of tumbling with his ship into one of the openings into hell which a widespread belief placed in the Atlantic at some unknown distance from Europe. This terror among sailors was one of the main obstacles in the great voyage of Columbus.

But the voyage towards wholesale acceptance of error was not a smooth one: read more »

The Myth of the Flat Earth Myth

The idea that the earth was flat was never part of medieval Christian doctrine.

Men and women of any education around AD1000 were perfectly well aware that the earth was a sphere.

I never knew that till I read God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam. The only thing I know about James Hannam is from the dust jacket blurb that says he is a graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge where he gained a PhD in the history of science, and that he has written a very interesting book.

So where did the idea that medieval folk believed the earth was flat come from?

James Hannan attributes this understanding to Sir Francis Bacon:

The myth that a flat earth was part of Christian doctrine in the Middle Ages appears to have arisen with Sir Francis Bacon (1562-1626), who wrongly claimed that geographers had been put on trial for impiety after asserting the contrary. (Hannam’s citation for this is John Henry, Knowledge is Power: How Magic, the Government and an Apocalyptic Vision Inspired Francis Bacon to Create Modern Science, 2003. p.85)

Hannan does add that “there were a few authentic flat-earthers in antiquity, but none among the scholars of the Middle Ages proper.”

So why have some historians fallen for the idea of the flat earth idea?

One of the main reasons that some historians have previously fallen for the flat earth idea is because of the existence of mappae mundi (Latin for ‘maps of the world’) like the famous example at Hereford Cathedral.

Hannan illustrates with the map depicted here. Known as the T-O map, the O represents the ocean that encircles the inhabitable land mass, while the T represents the Mediterranean Sea, the River Nile and either the River Volga or Don. This T sea/river pattern split the landmass into the continents of Europe, Africa and Asia. Jerusalem was usually placed near the centre.

It is easy to assume from such a map that those who drew it thought the earth was flat. But in fact the map was only intended to show the area of the earth that is inhabited.

Francis Bacon, From a Painting
Image via Wikipedia


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