In A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Andrew Dickson White, president and founder of Cornell University, decries the regrettable reality that two hundred years after Ferdinand Magellan had empirically* proven that the earth was round (1519), Christian fundamentalists persisted in perpetuating flat earth mythology. This, however, hardly corresponds to reality.
First, the moniker “flat earth” is propaganda. Some reading these words may well remember exactly where they were when they first heard the tale of Columbus’ raw courage in face of mutinous sailors in mortal terror of sailing over the edge of a flat earth. What we are largely unfamiliar with is that far from fanatics clinging to flat earth mythology, unanimous scholarly opinion from Augustine to Aquinas pronounced the earth spherical.
Furthermore, the notion that evolutionary man is more enlightened than early man is but the vestigial* prejudice of Darwinist dogma. While modern man has an accumulation of knowledge that has produced innovations such as iPods, the genius that produced pyramids did not suddenly become benighted* when gazing at an ancient sky. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that a lunar eclipse is not produced by a flat earth. The problem is that postmodern man does science well but has become increasingly unsophisticated in the art and science of biblical interpretation. As such, poetic language is being forced to “walk on all fours.” Isaiah 40:22 immediately springs to mind: “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in” (NASB). Some employ this passage as evidence for sphericity (“circle of the earth”); others for Big Bang cosmology (“spreads out”); still others for the notion that the Bible teaches a flat earth (“tent”). As Augustine made clear, however, Isaiah’s language is self-evidently metaphorical. To read Isaiah in any other way would lead to the further absurdity that God lives in a physical mansion and drives an exotic chariot.
Finally, the notion that the enlightenment of the Greco-Roman world was divorced from the Renaissance by the deliberate obscurity of medieval churchmen of the Dark Ages is revisionist history at its worst. The millennium that encompassed Greek and Roman history is more correctly characterized by irrational superstition than rational thinking—Greco-Roman thought shackled to the irrational assumption of an eternal universe ministered by moody gods. Little wonder, then, that almost a thousand years after Aristotle, aristocrats spoon-fed at the table of Greek enlightenment dwelled in drafty domains never dreaming of a coming Christian era in which the invention of chimneys, clocks, and capitalism would revolutionize Western civilization.
In sum, flat earth mentality is more appropriately attached to evolutionists like Darwin who claimed that man can attain a higher importance in whatever he takes up than can woman. Or Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, who rendered blacks “naturally inferior” to whites.
For further study, see Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2005).