Questions & AnswersBible Answers to your Questions | Vol. 29 No. 1 |Nov-Dec 2018
Q: I have a friend who insists that the Bible teaches that the earth is flat and is not revolving around the sun; instead, the sun is hovering above the earth. She claims that because science has it all wrong with evolution and the big bang, you can’t trust them on this either. How do I evaluate these claims?
The flat earth theory has lately gained acceptance with some people—both atheists and Christians. The internet is the main medium by which flat earth theories circulate in different variations.
The reasons why people take up far-fetched theories and ideas are varied. One such reason seems to be the need to make sense of our times. This is because we live in a world where dark forces are at work—where fake news abound, governments lie to their citizens, big corporations are out for profit at any cost, media giants such as Google and Facebook are accused of unscrupulously selling private information, conspiracy theories offering seemingly simple answers that may be hard to prove, but are easy to grasp.
Another reason is the feeling of enlightenment that these theories give to those who adopt them a sense of being set apart from the uninformed masses, a mark of independence as compared to the naïve sheep who are being indoctrinated from childhood without knowing it. Yet another reason is probably the thirst for something new and sensational.
Christian flat-earthers give their own motives for adopting the theory. If you believe in the globe earth, the reasoning goes, you must also accept the big bang and evolution as taught by today’s science. Adopting the flat-earth theory would be a “no-brainer” when we clump together views rejected by many Bible-believers who believe in the globe-earth. But the most concerning issue is that Christian flat-earthers portray their theory as a return to the original view of the Bible. They cite hundreds of texts (many of them repeat the same idea) in support.
These texts are used almost always by employing a literalist mode of interpretation. For example, Psalm 93:1 says “the world is established, so that it cannot be moved.” A literalist reading takes this to the meaning that the world is stationary. Yet Psalm 99:1 says just the opposite: “let the earth be moved,” while other texts also describe shaking, trembling and reeling. 2 Sam. 22:8, Psalm 18:7; Isa. 24:19–20; Jer 50:46. So both opinions cannot be literally true. The above texts clearly employ metaphors, just as Psalm 15:5 (also Psalm 16:8; 55:22; 62:6) says the righteous man “shall never be moved”. Countless other texts use metaphors: the “shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1), God being our “fortress” (Psalm 91:2), God covering us with His “feathers and under His wings” (Psalm 91:4), Jesus being “the true vine” (John 15:1) and “the door” (John 10:9). All of these texts use figurative speech, and reading the Bible in a strict literalist sense would make it contradictory and ridiculous.
A literalist reading should not be confused with the literal sense (also called historical or grammatical), as defended by the Protestant reformers. The literal sense calls for the plain reading of Scripture, but allows it to be interpreted symbolically, such as in the parables of Jesus or the prophecies of Revelation. It also allows for figures of speech, metaphors and hyperboles, just like our everyday speech does.
Christian flat-earthers’ wish to return to origins is praise-worthy. Yet ironically, what they are really going back to is the ideas of ancient pagan philosophers such as Aristotle and Ptolemy. Both were supporting the geocentric model, which was so entrenched by the time of the Reformation, that the Catholic Church treated it as a dogma. Flat-earthers also tend to despise the calculations and theories of scientists, relying instead on intuition, common sense and their own physical senses (like seeing). However, that was precisely the Greek philosopher, Aristostle’s mentality that held back the progress of science and kept humanity in the dark ages for over a thousand years!
For further reading, see Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011, chapter 4.
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