Traditionalists live in confusing times, and how can it be otherwise without a pope? There will be controversies that cannot be settled definitively, and we should allow divergence in opinion where possible. That divergence in opinions is to be expected, given the circumstances. I find it more than unsettling, however, when certain Traditionalists advance strange ideas that have nothing to do with the Faith, and only serve to make us look bonkers. Case in point: I read where one Traditionalist claimed that we are being "brainwashed" to believe the Earth is round, dinosaurs existed, the moon landing took place, and the Titanic was sunk. Unfortunately, these ideas are almost always linked back to our Faith, as if they were necessary to be a true Catholic.
Two things need to be made clear: (1) conspiracies do exist, and (2) the government and powers-that-be do tell lies. There's no way the Alzheimer's patient in the White House won the 2020 election--to give but one example of lies and conspiracy. There is even a crime of conspiracy, and each year thousands are convicted. A problem arises when people see conspiracies and lies everywhere, and/or attempt to tie ideas to the Faith which are not at all connected. I know someone who believes in "Bigfoot," an ape-like creature alleged to live in the Northwestern states here in America. This creature has been "sighted" since the 1960s, so it stands to reason that there are multiple Bigfoots ("Bigfeet"?) as only one such being couldn't possibly survive so long. I do not believe in Bigfoot. However, Bigfoot has nothing to do with maintaining the Traditional Catholic Faith. Whether or not you believe in Bigfoot does not make you either a heretic or a sinner. If you want to debate the issue, please don't drag the Faith into it.
So why am I writing a post about the Earth not being flat? There is a Flat Earth Society that's been around since 1956 (See theflatearthsociety.org) and the term "flat-earther" has become a pejorative label for anyone not towing "modern thought" no matter how wrong and/or immoral. I'll be using the term descriptively--those who honestly believe the Earth is flat. Within the last fifteen years or so, flat-earthers have gained followers on the Internet, and there is a wide diversity of theological beliefs within the flat-earth movement — conservative Protestants, New Agers, deists, pantheists, and now even some Traditionalists. The object of my post is to show the scientific, theological, and historical errors of the flat-earth ideology. While conspiracies do exist, let this be a pertinent reminder of the old axiom, In medio stat veritas ("In the middle lies the truth")--and not to see them where none exist.
What Flat-Earthers Believe
In the flat-earth cosmology, the earth is flat and round. The North Pole is at the center of the earth. There is no South Pole. The edge of the explored earth consists of an ice wall that we call Antarctica. This ice wall not only limits the earth as we know it, but it also keeps the oceans contained. There is disagreement among flat-earthers how far Antarctica extends. Above the earth is a dome in which the stars are embedded. The dome rests on Antarctica beyond the ice wall. The dimensions and exact shape of the dome are debated among flat-earthers. In many versions, the dome is a hemisphere, while others prefer a dome with greater radius at the center (over the North Pole) than at its edges, so that it resembles the roof of a sports arena.
Each day, the dome spins around an axis passing through the earth’s North Pole. This causes the stars to move in the sky. The North Star is located almost directly over the North Pole, so it remains nearly motionless while the other stars go in loops around it. In most flat-earth models, the sun and moon are above the earth but generally below the dome. They also orbit around the axis of the North Pole each day, which accounts for their daily motion. The sun and moon move at a slightly different rate from the dome, which accounts for their motion with respect to the stars. Since the sun and moon are always above the earth, they never rise or set. The sun and moon merely appear to rise and set due to perspective. The sun is like a spotlight shining down on the earth. When locations are under the spotlight, it is day; when the spotlight passes a location, it is night. There are variations on this theme, but I trust I have accurately portrayed the basics of the flat-earth cosmology.
Next ensues various conspiratorial stories about how everyone knew the Earth was flat, and it wasn't until 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered that the Earth, despite the beliefs of the Catholic Church and Spanish royalty, was round. However, the Earth wasn't really round, and the powers that be (Jews, secret societies, pick your bugbear) somehow convinced the Church and society of this fantasy. Why would they do that? Once more, many whacky theories abound; to weaken belief in the authority of the Church and the Bible, to brainwash the masses to accept other falsehoods, etc. (Of course, I am here only dealing with Traditionalists who fall for this nonsense, not New Agers and others who accept the flat Earth cosmology, but have different stories as to why this "lie of a round Earth" was propagated---Introibo).
Ironically, those who believe that a flat-Earth was common knowledge prior to Columbus, have accepted a lie themselves; one devised and disseminated by Protestants, and which is vehemently anti-Catholic.
The idea that Columbus discovered a round Earth, and prior to that people thought the world was flat (like I was taught in middle school and high school) is wrong. According to Dr. Jeffrey Burton Russell, Professor of History, Emeritus, at the University of California, Santa Barbara:
It must first be reiterated that with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat.
A round earth appears at least as early as the sixth century BC with Pythagoras, who was followed by Aristotle, Euclid, and Aristarchus, among others in observing that the earth was a sphere. Although there were a few dissenters--Leukippos and Demokritos for example--by the time of Eratosthenes (3 c. BC), followed by Crates(2 c. BC), Strabo (3 c. BC), and Ptolemy (first c. AD), the sphericity of the earth was accepted by all educated Greeks and Romans.
Nor did this situation change with the advent of Christianity. A few--at least two and at most five--early Christian fathers denied the sphericity of earth by mistakenly taking passages such as Ps. 104:2-3 as geographical rather than metaphorical statements. On the other side tens of thousands of Christian theologians, poets, artists, and scientists took the spherical view throughout the early, medieval, and modern church. The point is that no educated person believed otherwise.
Venerable Bede (who lived circa 673-735 A.D.) refers to the Earth as an “orb” and says that “it is not merely circular like a shield or spread out like a wheel, but resembles more a ball.” This idea was repeated by philosophers, mathematicians, and astronomers throughout the Middle Ages. (See books.google.com/books?id=yFsw-Vaup6sC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA91#v=onepage&q&f=false). St. Thomas Aquinas in the very first page of the Summa Theologica writes, "...the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion: that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e., abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself.”
Back to Dr. Russell:
No one before the 1830s believed that medieval people thought that the earth was flat.
The idea was established, almost contemporaneously, by a Frenchman and an American, between whom I have not been able to establish a connection, though they were both in Paris at the same time. One was Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848), an academic of strong antireligious prejudices who had studied both geography and patristics and who cleverly drew upon both to misrepresent the church fathers and their medieval successors as believing in a flat earth, in his On the Cosmographical Ideas of the Church Fathers (1834). The American was no other than our beloved storyteller Washington Irving (1783-1859), who loved to write historical fiction under the guise of history. His misrepresentations of the history of early New York City and of the life of Washington were topped by his history of Christopher Columbus (1828). It was he who invented the indelible picture of the young Columbus, a "simple mariner," appearing before a dark crowd of benighted inquisitors and hooded theologians at a council of Salamanca, all of whom believed, according to Irving, that the earth was flat like a plate. Well, yes, there was a meeting at Salamanca in 1491, but Irving's version of it, to quote a distinguished modern historian of Columbus, was "pure moonshine. Washington Irving, scenting his opportunity for a picturesque and moving scene," created a fictitious account of this "nonexistent university council" and "let his imagination go completely...the whole story is misleading and mischievous nonsense."(Ibid).
Letronne was adamantly anti-Catholic:
The myth of Middle Age belief in a flat Earth, originating during the 19th century, has two individuals to blame, acting almost concurrently yet independently. Frenchman Antoine-Jean Letronne sought to disparage the Catholic Church in his 1834 study “On the Cosmographical Ideas of the Church Fathers“, seeking to depict the clergy as anti-science and ignorant. Meanwhile, American essayist Washington Irving, in an effort to embolden the myth of Columbus, introduced to the United States the erroneous concept that Europeans thought the folk figure was acting in defiance of popular opinion; Irving’s work has become a staple of the American education system, even after it has been widely debunked as incorrect. (See historycollection.com/20-things-everybody-gets-wrong-about-the-middle-ages/21; Emphasis mine).
Washington Irving also has ties to the anti-Catholic movement. According to sociologist Rodney Stark:
By the fifteenth century (and for many centuries before) every educated European, including Roman Catholic prelates, knew the earth was round. The opposition Columbus encountered was not about the shape of the earth, but about the fact that he was wildly wrong about the circumference of the globe. He estimated it was about 2,800 miles from the Canary Islands to Japan. In reality it is about 14,000 miles. His clerical opponents knew about how far it really was and opposed his voyage on grounds that Columbus and his men would all die at sea. Had the Western Hemisphere not been there, and no one knew it existed, the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria might as well have fallen off the earth, for everyone aboard would have died of thirst and starvation.
Amazingly enough, there was no hint about Columbus having to prove that the earth was round in his own journal or in his son's book, History of the Admiral. The story was unknown until more than three hundred years later when it appeared in a biography of Columbus published in 1828. The author, Washington Irving (1783–1859), best known for his fiction — in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow he introduced the Headless Horseman. Although the tale about Columbus and the flat earth was equally fictional, Irving presented it as fact. Almost at once the story was eagerly embraced by historians who were so certain of the wickedness and stupidity of the Roman Catholic Church that they felt no need to seek any additional confirmation, although some of them must have realized that the story had appeared out of nowhere. Anyway, that's how the tradition that Columbus proved the world was round got into all the textbooks.
(See catholiceducation.org/en/controversy/common-misconceptions/introduction-confronting-distinguished-bigots.html; N.B. Stark [d. 2022] was a self-described "independent Christian" who was never Catholic or V2 sect).
There were two other influential men who made sure the false story about Columbus and alleged medieval belief in a flat Earth made it into the history books. Once more, I cite Dr. Russell:
But now, why did the false accounts of Letronne and Irving become melded and then, as early as the 1860s, begin to be served up in schools and in schoolbooks as the solemn truth?
The answer is that the falsehood about the spherical earth became a colorful and unforgettable part of a larger falsehood: the falsehood of the eternal war between science (good) and religion (bad) throughout Western history. This vast web of falsehood was invented and propagated by the influential historian John Draper (1811-1882) and many prestigious followers, such as Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the president of Cornell University, who made sure that the false account was perpetrated in texts, encyclopedias, and even allegedly serious scholarship, down to the present day. A lively current version of the lie can be found in Daniel Boorstin's The Discoverers, found in any bookshop or library. (Ibid).
It should be no surprise to learn that both Draper and White were anti-Catholic bigots. According to scholar Ronald Numbers:
Scholars have long debated how best to characterize the historical relationship between science and religion and no generalization has been more seductive than that of conflict. Indeed the two most widely-read books in the history of science and Christianity bear the title “conflict” or “warfare”. The first of the books to appear, in one sense, was John William Draper’s book The History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. This appeared in the mid-1870s and was in fact less of a dispassionate history, which it wasn’t, than a screed against Roman Catholics and what they had done to inhibit scientific progress. Draper argued that the Vatican’s antipathy towards science had left its hands steeped in blood. (See web.archive.org/web/20171011022345/https://www.faraday.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/CIS/Numbers/Numbers_Lecture.pdf; Emphasis mine).
As to White, Co-Founder of Cornell University, we discover the following:
Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918) was an American historian, who in 1865 co-founded Cornell University, the first purely secular institution of higher learning in the United States. This led to strong criticism of him for separating learning from religion — criticism that came mostly from competitors at Protestant institutions of higher education. In response, White decided to write a book showing that both religion and science would be better off once “dogmatic theology,” a subject not included in the curriculum at Cornell, was fully overcome. “I will give them a lesson which they will remember,” he wrote to his friend Ezra Cornell in 1869.
White delivered this “lesson” to his opponents over the next 27 years, during which he published 27 articles, which he finally brought together in 1896 in a two-volume work called History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. He begins the book by praising Draper for “his work of great ability” and then goes on to repeat many of Draper’s errors, including one that is widely believed to this day: the flat-earth “dogma.” White claims that until Christopher Columbus’s time the majority of Christian thinkers had insisted on biblical grounds that the earth was flat, and that the flatness of the earth was practically a dogma of the Church. In reality, only two Christian authors of record, the early Christian writer Lactantius and the relatively obscure 6th-century Greek traveler and monk Cosmas Indicopleustes, had ever argued that the earth was flat. Whereas, by contrast, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Albert the Great and many other ancient and medieval Christian theologians testified to the rotundity of the earth, as did such major popular writers as Dante and Chaucer. (See catholicscientists.org/articles/faith-science-war-debunked; Emphasis mine).
Traditionalists who believe that the flat Earth was taught or supported by the Church prior to Columbus are themselves buying into a conspiratorial twisting of history by anti-Catholic bigots to discredit the Church.
Does the Church Teach a Flat Earth?
Never has the One True Church issued any infallible or authoritative decree regarding the shape of the Earth. The only theological "proof" is in the form of Bible verses used originally by a nineteenth century Protestant Fundamentalist, biblically literal interpretation of the world—that the Earth is flat, was created in six literal days, is only 6,000 years old, and is headed rapidly toward the apocalypse. Here are some of the texts used:
- The "Four Corners." Apocalypse 7:1, Apocalypse 20:8, and Isaiah 11:12 speak of the "four corners" of the Earth. Two problems: Flat-Earthers see the world as flat and ROUND so it has no corners. Second, it is an expression, an idiom of the time, meaning "all of the Earth."
- Heights recorded teach a flat Earth. Daniel 4:11 says, "The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth." Flat-Earthers reason that on a spherical earth it would not be possible for a tree to be visible from the entire Earth, but such a tree could be visible anywhere on a flat Earth. For those who read the context, this takes place in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and therefore does not need to correspond to reality. In St. Matthew 4:8 allegedly teaches a flat Earth, because when Christ was tempted by Satan, "Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory." Those who wish to argue for a Biblical flat Earth point out that all the kingdoms of the Earth would be visible from a tall mountain only if the Earth is flat. According to theologian Haydock, "We cannot comprehend how this could be done from any mountain or seen with the human eye. Therefore, many [theologians] think it was by some kind of representation..." (See A Comprehensive Commentary on the New Testament, , pg. 1253).
For Traditionalists there is absolutely no Biblical or theological proof for a flat Earth.
Does Science Show a Flat Earth?
There are many scientific proofs that the earth is round which I cannot possibly cover in a single post. If you were to ask the average person on the street, "How do we know the Earth is round?" most would answer, "We have pictures from space." Sounds totally reasonable, and I agree it is proof.
However, in most Flat Earth cosmologies, the Earth is a flat disk covered by a dome that contains all astronomical bodies. Therefore, there are no satellites. There are no astronauts. We haven’t been to the moon. Then what about all those images from space, such as the International Space Station (ISS) and the photos and videos of astronauts on the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s? Obviously, they all were faked. NASA is a sham organization that has lied about everything it supposedly has done. Flat-earthers spend considerable time and effort attempting to debunk all things from NASA and arguing against NASA.
1. NASA means "deception." Allegedly, NASA is not the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, but a derivation of the Hebrew word nasha’ meaning "to deceive." This sounds like a clue from a bad science-fiction movie. If this counts as "evidence" is it any wonder flat-Earthers aren't taken seriously?
2. The Thermosphere. Flat-Earthers argue that satellites must pass through the thermosphere with a temperature above 2,000 degrees Celsius, which would cause them to melt. As a former science teacher, they obviously don't know the difference between heat and temperature, which would take too long to explain here. More obviously, how do they know the thermosphere exists and what the temperature is? Ans. From the same scientists who conspire to make them believe satellites are real. Why would they tell the truth about something that would destroy their deception? Super-smart and super-stupid simultaneously?
3. Van Allen Belts Would Kill the Astronauts. The Van Allen belts are fast-moving charged particles (mostly protons, electrons, and helium nuclei) trapped by the Earth’s magnetic field. Exposure to fast-moving charged particles pose a risk to living things, but how significant is the risk? Contrary to the misconception of flat-Earthers, the risk is cumulative, so a single exposure to the belts is not deadly.
4. Freemasons. Of course, no Traditionalist whacky conspiracy theory would be complete without invoking Jews and/or Freemasons. It's true that some astronauts were Freemasons, such as Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin (b. 1930), the second man on the moon. Yet, these flat-Earthers claim all astronauts are Freemasons. There's no evidence to support Neil Armstrong (d. 2012), the first man on the moon, was a Freemason. Some flat-Earthers respond with the claim that some astronauts choose to keep their Freemason membership secret. So no evidence of Freemasonry, is just as much proof of belonging to the Lodge as openly claiming such--at least in "flat-Earthdom." Why would Freemasons want to fake the Earth being round when a flat Earth is not Catholic belief? Good question.
Traditionalists have enough real problems and plots going on without being made to look like weirdos by those who defend strange and false ideas under the guise of our Faith. If you want to believe the Earth is flat, the Titanic never sunk, and Elvis is alive at the local supermarket, go right ahead. Just please don't try to make these ideas--like a flat Earth---square with the Faith.