Flat Earth Society: A Cautionary Tale

United Nations UN Flag

For so many it is a given that the world is round.  We know that the earth rotates on its axis which causes the sun to appear to rise and set.  We know that the moon moves around the earth and that during a lunar eclipse it is the shadow of the earth on the moon that makes it seemingly disappear.  We know that we can take a cruise literally around the world and not fear falling off the edge.

Once upon a time that was not such a firm belief for some.  Stepping outside your front door in the desert with its intense lack of vegetation, it may be easy to assume that the distance you can see could bring about a belief that the world is indeed flat.  Relying on personal observation, however, is widely accepted with limited value because there are far more “worlds” beyond our ability to see or touch.

Believe it or not, as recently as the past 60 years people were still convinced that the world was flat.  It was in 1956 that the Flat Earth Society was founded by Charles K. Johnson on this very idea. Johnson claims that he shared this belief in the “truth” along with an extensive list of people throughout history who were “flat-earthers.”

Among them was George Washington who Johnson claimed to have separated from England because of the belief that the world was indeed flat.  He says that the story of Christopher Columbus was altered to try to say that he believed that the world was round, but in truth he believed that the world was flat and that it was his crew who, thinking the world was round, feared that they would slip off its edge.

Johnson described how at the end of World War II the leaders of the Allies including Winston Churchill believed that the earth was the shape of a pancake and upon forming the United Nations chose the true world map, a flat representation, as its symbol to be displayed prominently on the organization’s flag.

Wait, it’s in the Bible!

Not only did the Flat Earth Society have a series of historical cover-up theories, but much of the reason for the concern was taken directly from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  A crux of the theory was to defend the story of Christ and Johnson saw the flat earth as a requirement to make the Christ story true.

After his resurrection, the story in the Gospels says that Jesus ascended “up” into heaven.  According to Johnson, the earth as a ball meant that there really was no actual “up” for Jesus to ascend to.  “The whole point of the Copernican theory is to get rid of Jesus by saying there is no up and no down.  The spinning ball thing just makes the whole Bible a big joke.”

What does this mean to me?

No doubt you had a reaction to this story.  It is not fabricated!  There really is a Flat Earth Society, though it did take quite a hit when we began to get pictures of the earth from space (said to have been fabricated).

It is this reaction that people have who see evidence for evolution and then look to others who are stoic about their belief in the story of creation from Genesis as a scientific account.  I am not advocating for evolution in this post, rather I am attempting to show that the perceptions do have credence.  We accept physical evidence that the earth is round and dismiss the so-called biblical affirmations of the flat earth, however numerous people reject the physical evidence for evolution but embrace the biblical account.

The increasing world-wide fallout

I have written about increasing numbers of people who are being “de-baptized” as a way to break free from what they perceive as archaic belief systems.  People are more and more likely to leave the faith, not only because of what are perceived as contradictions between talk and action, but also because of this issue: how can a belief system be true if it rejects physical evidence?  Is the story of creation so fundamental to the cause of salvation that we would slam the door on people who are in need of God’s grace?

Again, I am not advocating for one side or another, I am merely encouraging open dialogue (meaning setting aside our own beliefs to hear those of others) and reaching out to people with whom we disagree.  If it is intimidating to talk about these issues or if it is difficult for you to listen to these ideas, I would encourage you to take some time to read or listen to interviews with people who argue both sides of the issue.

As a suggestion, you may want to begin with this series of videos (7 parts at about 10 minutes each) which together comprise an interview between Richard Dawkins, world renowned atheist and evolutionist, and Wendy Wright who is an American who advocates for the teaching of creation in public schools.

Listen for where they agree.  Listen for where they are open to discussion.  Listen for where God can have a hand in both sides of the issue.  Listen with compassion and understand that both parties have reasons for their position.  Mostly listen with the understanding and full knowledge that you are listening to two human beings who are both in need of God’s mercy and grace.

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About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

4 responses to “Flat Earth Society: A Cautionary Tale

  • Ian

    Aaron,

    Followed your link from Sabio’s blog.

    Interesting post. Thanks.

    I’m curious though, why *aren’t* you advocating for one side or the other?

    The choice of your analogy with the Flat Earth suggests strongly where your understanding lies. (Particularly US) Christendom is depressingly devoid of people with the guts to stand up and call a spade a spade on this. Mostly, it seems to me, because of the way that the opposition has twisted the debate so you can’t be a ‘real’ Christian without being anti-reality. A twist that most mainline churches seem to have been at least partially buffeted by.

    Of course, I haven’t read your entire post-history, but it seemed a curious statement to place at the end of so clear a post.

    Ian.

  • Aaron

    Thanks for the feedback! I am really trying to walk a fine line here in deference to many who may be reading my blog. I don’t want to advocate for one side or the other because my main goal is to challenge Christians to think through both sides of “the issue” with open minds and consider the basis for their belief. It bothers me that many Christians say that they believe the creation story in the Bible and that the Bible says that the Bible is true… that is not a valid argument and since it is the whole basis of theirs, it really needs some work.

  • Ian

    Thanks for the response.

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