Flat Earthers

"It's about time someone stood up to the Flat-Earthers who want to push their beliefs in the schools." The comment came from "Kansas City Star" columnist Mike Hendricks, and he was letting the world know what he thought about the decision by the Kansas State School Board to let local public schools decide how much to teach of Darwinian evolution. It wasn't the first time Christians have been called Flat Earthers, and it won't be the last. The phrase is intended to suggest that Christian beliefs are behind the times, out of touch with modern science and rationality. After all, didn't medieval Christians cling to the idea that the Earth was flat? Didn't it take the voyage of Christopher Columbus to convince backward Christians that the earth is spherical? Actually, the answer is "no"—and the history of this phrase reveals how far secularists will go to discredit Christianity. Consider Augustine, perhaps the greatest of the church fathers who lived about a thousand years before Columbus. Augustine knew that the earth was round, not flat. And in the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas, the most profound and prolific of the medieval theologians, observed that the spherical shape of the earth can be emperically demonstrated. His proofs were both mathematical and physical. For example, he suggested that the spherical shape of the earth could be inferred from lunar eclipses. Aquinas gave us classic examples of the scientific method as he understood it. And the findings of modern science confirm that he understood it exceptionally well! Throughout the centuries, many other Church Fathers taught that the earth is spherical, and not flat. So where do people get the idea that Christians were "Flat-Earthers?" It turns out it was a fable cooked up by Enlightenment propagandists. In a book entitled Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and the Modern Historians, Jeffrey Burton Russell explains that the myth that medieval Christians taught a flat earth was invented in the early 19th century by Enlightenment thinkers bent on discrediting the church. It was essentially a calumny—indeed, a libel—designed to discredit the Christian heritage of the Middle Ages. Of course, medieval Christians did not have all the vast information that has since been revealed by modern science. But these men were not fools, and they were certainly not anti-intellectual. On the contrary, men like Augustine and Aquinas helped put into place the tradition of careful, dispassionate inquiry in the quest for truth—a tradition that is one of the great glories of Western civilization. Modern scholarship—including modern science—would not have emerged without them. Today the term "Flat Earthers" is still in vogue. Hundreds of years after the Enlightenment, it seems that our opponents still prefer to fight with insults instead of facts. As we observe Columbus Day today, we need to make sure our children and friends know the truth about why Columbus believed the Earth was round—he was following in the tradition of Christians like Augustine and Aquinas. And the next time you hear people dismissing the arguments of Christians by calling us "Flat Earthers," make sure your kids understand that the phrase was invented by the elites hundreds of years ago—people who were just as afraid of Christian arguments as the elites of today.


Chuck Colson


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