I’m almost afraid to ask the question. It seems whenever I do, something comes along to produce an affirmative answer.
Lately I’ve been seeing things on Facebook (or have had those who follow my work sending me items) that ask if I believe the earth is flat. That’s a question I never thought I’d get, and I’ve gotten hundreds. Why the surprise? It’s difficult for me to believe anyone is so gullible and, yes, stupid, to believe the earth is flat. But as with so many other nuggets of nonsense, social media has brought forth its exhibits to demonstrate that reality.
Those of in the sane world might wonder where the question comes from. The answer is my work (not mine, really — just those ancient writers in the Bible whose worldview knew nothing of modern cosmology, space flight, celestial mechanics, etc.). I and other OT scholars (e.g., John Walton; see below) have written articles about the pre-modern cosmology of the biblical writers — about how the biblical text describes a round, flat earth, complete with a covering dome, to which were affixed the stars (which in turn were thought to be divine beings, or under the power of divine beings). That work is being used by leaders in the flat earth camp (yes, it exists — in the same neighborhood as ancient astronaut theorists) as proof of this view. My picture and links to my writings or lectures have been touted on Facebook and other hallowed learning communities creating the impression that I believe the earth is flat, not round.
What Mike Thinks
I’m appalled that people who follow Christ are this dumb (or so easily led astray into embracing beliefs that are demonstrably contrary to reality). This level of willful ignorance dishonors God. The stupidity of modern flat earth belief is transparent in today’s world. Space flight (really, flight between hemispheres), satellite communications, space photography (any photography showing the earth’s curvature), etc. show the idea to be utter nonsense. And that’s before getting into the nuts-and-bolts science. Yet some people think they need to believe it to have a “true” Bible. This is mindless, simplistic literalism at its worst. (Well, maybe it can get worse … keep reading).
My position is straightforward. The biblical writers do indeed describe a flat round earth (with other features the flat earthers skip; see below). They wrote about the world this way because they lived at a time before knowledge of the natural world was sufficient to demonstrate otherwise. But I don’t believe the earth is really flat “because the Bible tells me so.” The knowledge the biblical writers had of their physical surroundings isn’t a truth proposition for biblical theology. Anyone who uses my work to prop up this idea without providing a disclaimer that I reject modern flat earth thinking is unprincipled and deliberately dishonest.
I can already hear the comeback. “Let God be true and every man a liar!” Let me just say God isn’t a liar. He knows (and knew) the earth is a globe. It just happens that the people he chose to produce this thing we call the Bible didn’t know that. And God couldn’t have cared less. The writers God used to produce the Bible were not inspired to write about things of the natural world that were beyond their own worldview and knowledge base. And to argue (as normal 24-hour day creationists do) that God gave them advanced scientific knowledge, or that such advanced knowledge is encrypted in the biblical text, means that what they wrote could never have communicated that important knowledge to their original audience (or any audience prior to recent centuries). These approaches are absurd and undermine the communicative purpose of the Bible. What we read in Genesis (and elsewhere) reflects a common ancient Near Eastern perspective about cosmology with one crucial difference: the credit for creation is given exclusively to the God of Israel against all other gods. that is its truth claim with respect to creation. That Israelite cosmology is quite consistent with wider ancient Near Eastern cosmology is easy to demonstrate.1 That God chose people of a certain time, a certain place, with a certain (limited) knowledge base was up to him. We dishonor His choices when we impose our questions and our context on the biblical writers. Precisely the same limitations would be in place if God chose a scientist today to write Genesis. 1000 years from now people would chuckle at how primitive he/she was (“Can you believe this is what they thought?”). This is why the Bible intentionally transcends science discourse — science always changes with new discovery and knowledge. Who the creator was never changes.
So I have a better comeback line: “Let God’s decisions for inspiration be honored, and every flat earther be ashamed for dishonoring God’s decisions.”
For a short essay I wrote on Israelite cosmology for the lay person, see this link:
Or you can watch my lecture on this topic:
I want having to talk about this drivel to actually be a teachable moment — in this case, one about logic and consistency in interpretation. (In other words, let’s talk about how dishonest flat earth teaching is). I have some questions for the flat earthers:
- If the earth is round and flat, where are the edges? (where is its rim?) Can you give us the latitude and longitude for that … pardon, we wouldn’t need latitude and longitude if the earth were round, but you get the point.
- If we are to take Israelite cosmology as literal scientific reality, where is the dome over the earth? If earth were basically one gargantuan snow globe, how is it we can launch satellites? Why doesn’t the space shuttle crash into or through the dome? Where are the “dome shards” from such impacts? (Oh, let me guess — they were taken by the government and are now in the Smithsonian’s secret cellars). How are meteors possible? What about asteroids? Are both of those space debris items just made up?
- If we are to take Israelite cosmology as literal scientific reality, why don’t you take other items of “biblical science” literally? Here are some examples:
- Do whole human persons really reside in the loins of males before they are conceived, much less born? That’s what a literalist reading of Hebrews 7:4-10 says (vv. 9-10 – “. . . Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him”). Sorry, but we really do know where babies come from — better, whole human persons. Whole persons are a fusion of body and soul (material and immaterial nature). Every human person is the result of a combination of genetic material from a man and woman (or a male and female donor). That union of material can only reside in a woman (in the natural world) or a petri dish in our scientific world. Artificial insemination and “test tube babies” are realities because Hebrews 7 isn’t accurate science. If it was, then the “science” of Hebrews 7 has us committing murder with every use of a condom, or every ejaculation outside the womb, deliberate or otherwise (so you “natural birth control” folks are just as guilty). This is perverse on so many levels. But I ask again, if the Bible’s flat earth teaching corresponds to literal scientific reality, why aren’t you embracing the argument of Hebrews 7? (This, and with respect to what follows, is the part where things really can get dumber, per this post’s title).
- Is the hair on a woman’s head really part of her genitalia that assists in drawing a man’s semen to her uterus so she can conceive? That’s what people in Paul’s day believed about hair. And based on what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11 about hair and covering the head, he believed it, too. So I guess we need to in order to “believe the Bible.” Why not? You believe the earth is really flat, so why are you omitting this “Bible reality”? Don’t think that what I’m saying about first century people connecting hair to fertility and procreation is correct? Listen to this episode of my Naked Bible podcast. I quote ancient Greco-Roman philosophers (ever heard of Aristotle?) and physicians (how about Hippocrates?) to show this is indeed the case.2 (That’s called using primary sources for tapping into the worldview of the biblical writers — same thing I did for the flat earth stuff … so are you going to be consistent or not?) Again … we know today how procreation really works, scientifically. The hair on a woman’s head isn’t part of conception.
- Does the brain play no role in thought (oh, the jokes I could insert here for this whole topic) or emotion? The Bible attributes those things to the kidneys, heart, and general innards (Gen 6:5; Psa 16:7; 26:2; Jer 11:20; etc.). Biblical Hebrew has no word for brain. So, the Bible tells us that our brain must be useless with respect to those things. But those are poetic expressions, Mike! Why? How is that consistent with your flat-earth literalism (no poetic expressions allowed)? So, dear flat earther, is mental illness really something a cardiologist should be addressing? When you have heart problems do you visit a psychiatrist or psychologist? If you don’t, you’re dishonest with your hermeneutics.
I could on. I trust my clear-thinking readers get the point. I only hope flat earthers will as well. Not only is modern flat earth belief irrational, the alleged honor it pays to the Bible is disingenuous without consistency. My guess is that flat earth theory leaders won’t care. They seek to build their own little fiefdoms of faithful, deluded followers. They want to be looked upon as gatekeepers of the truth. But they are self-deluded attention seekers. No allegiance should be given to them by followers of Christ.
- See for example: John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible Luist Stadelmann, The Hebrew Conception of the World: A Philological and Literary Study. ↩
- The excerpts are drawn from a wider mass of material put forth by the work of NT scholar Troy Martin, whose academic focus is Greco-Roman medical texts; see the podcast link for the source. To quote part of Martin’s conclusion: “This ancient physiological conception of hair indicates that Pauls argument from nature in 1 Cor 11:13-15 contrasts long hair in women with testicles in men. Paul states that appropriate to her nature, a woman is not given an external testicle (περιβόλαιον, 1 Cor 11:15b) but rather hair instead. Paul states that long hollow hair on a woman’s head is her glory (δόξα, 1 Cor 11:15) because it enhances her female φύσις, which is to draw in and retain semen. Since female hair is part of the female genitalia, Paul asks the Corinthians to judge for themselves whether it is proper for a woman to display her genitalia when praying to God ( 1 Cor 11:13)”. ↩