The Evolution of "Bible-Science"
Young Earth Creationists, Geocentrists, and Flat Earthers The Evolution of "Bible-Science" : Young Earthers, Geocentrists, and Flat Earthers
adapted from the chapter by Robert J. Schadewald in Scientists Confront Creationism, edited by Laurie R. Godfrey (Norton paperback, 1984)
For two thousand years, various groups of biblical dogmatists have tried to force the universe to fit their interpretation of Scripture. They have judged and rejected scientific evidence and explanations according to the standard of their own religious beliefs. On scriptural grounds, some have rejected (and continue to reject) the sphericity of the earth, the Copernican system, and the evolution of life on an ancient earth (c. 4.5 billion years old). In the last two centuries, flat-earthers, geocentrists, and young-earth creationists have adopted a label for their dogmas: "Bible-science." This term was embraced in nineteenth-century England, for example, by the flat-earth "Bible-Science Defence Association" and in twentienth-century America by the creationist "Bible-Science Association."
Bible-scientists have waged war on mainstream science. By the early nineteenth century, most Bible-scientists had resigned themselves to living on a spherical earth that orbits the sun. Then they were confronted with a triple threat. First, a mass of evidence had convinced most geologists that the earth was very old and that various forms of life had appeared (and most became extinct and disappeared) on it sequentially over a long period of time. Secondly, geologists could find no evidence of a world-wide Deluge (the universal Flood of Noah). And finally, in 1859, Charles Darwin presented a huge amount of evidence that life on earth had indeed evolved, and he proposed a theory that accounted for the proliferation of life on earth in terms of natural processes. Such ideas directly contradicted a literal interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis. The alarmed Bible-scientists launched an attack on conventional science that continues to this day.
The Origins of "Bible-Science"
"Scientific creationism" is the watchword of Bible-science. Its ambitious aim is to reestablish Genesis as the ultimate authority in geology, biology, and cosmology. Since scientific creationism represents a continuation of a long tradition, it is difficult to assign a date to its genesis. Some trace its origin to the publication of The Genesis Flood by theologian John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and engineer Henry M. Morris in 1961. This book argues that the Noachian Deluge accounts for the geological evidence better than conventional geology. In it and subsequent books, the creationists have offered arguments to show that the earth is only six to ten thousand years old and that all forms of life were separately created.
Soon after The Genesis Flood was published, two of the major creationist organizations, the Bible-Science Association and the Creation Research Society, were formed. The third major group, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), was organized in 1970 with Henry M. Morris as director. Individually and collectively, through books, pamphlets, public lectures and debates, these creationists took their message to their constituents.
In public, modern creationists march under the banner of science itself. In books and lectures intended for the skeptical public, they avoid mention of God and the Bible and make a great pother about science. Addressing fundamentalist Christian believers, they tell a different story. They insist that modern geology and the theory of evolution are affronts to the Bible. In place of them they offer a complex pseudo-science they call "scientific creationism," of which "Flood Geology" is the central dogma. Flood Geology is totally rejected by conventional geologists. As Whitcomb and Morris write,
"Many thousands of trained geologists, most of them sincere and honest in their conviction of the correctness of their interpretation of the geologic data, present an almost unanimous verdict against the Biblical accounts of creation and the Flood...."
Nonetheless, they insisted that such professional opinions must be misguided, since
"the instructed Christian knows that the evidences for full divine inspiration of Scripture are far weightier than the evidences for any fact of science. When confronted with the consistent Biblical testimony to a universal Flood, the believer must certainly accept it as unquestionably true." (1961, p. 118)
Why would all but a handful of fundamentalist geologists reject what is "unquestionably true" ? Henry Morris suggested that the answer might be found in the Tower of Babel:
"Its top was a great temple shrine, emblazoned with zodiacal signs representing the host of heaven, Satan and his 'principalities and powers, rulers of the darkness of this world' (Eph 6:12). These evil spirits there perhaps met with Nimrod and his priests, to plan their long-range strategy against God and His redemptive purposes for the post-diluvian world. This included especially the development of a non-theistic cosmology, one which could explain the origin and meaning of the universe and man without acknowledging the true God of creation. Denial of God's power and sovereignty in creation is of course foundational in the rejection of His authority in every other sphere.
"The solid evidence for the above sequence of events is admittedly tenuous....If something like this really happened, early in post-diluvian history, then Satan himself is the originator of the concept of evolution." (Morris 1975, p. 74-75)
"Solid evidence" or not, Morris's books repeatedly make the accusation that evolution is satanic. Though skeptics may question his story of the Revelation to Nimrod on Mount Babel, it is true that the idea of a changing, developing earth goes back to antiquity. It only became popular in Western thought, however, in the last few centuries.
The Old Earth, Catastrophism, and Uniformitarianism
The roots of modern geology go back to Nicolaus Steno, a Danish cleric who in 1669 published a treatise on fossils that spelled out several principles of the formation of rock strata. Steno maintained that the fossils found in sedimentary rocks are the remains of animals killed in the Noachian Deluge. This opinion prevailed among geologists for another 150 years. In England, it was supported by Thomas Burnet in A Sacred Theory of the Earth (1681), by John Woodward in An Essay Toward a Natural Theory of the Earth (1695), and by William Whiston, who suggested in A New Theory of the Earth (1696) that the Deluge was caused by a comet.
Meanwhile, some were speculating on the origin of animal species. In the mid-1700s, Comte Buffon, the eminent French naturalist, hit upon the idea of evolution by the variation of species and published it in his monumental Natural History. Buffon was promptly slapped down by the theologians at the Sorbonne University in Paris, who forced him to publish the following recantation:
"I declare that I had no intention to contradict the text of Scripture, that I believe most firmly all therein related about creation, both as to order of time and matter of fact. I abandon everything in my book respecting the formation of the earth, and generally all which may be contrary to the narrative of Moses." (White 1955, p. 215)
The seeds of the geological revolution were planted by Scottish geologist James Hutton in 1785, but it was Charles Lyell who made them grow. Lyell's Principles of Geology (1830) is considered by many the foundation of modern geology. By his time, few serious geologists accepted the idea of a universal Deluge. Indeed, Baron Cuvier, a French naturalist who was Lyell's principal adversary, suggested that the earth had endured many catastrophic floods, and his followers were called catastrophists. Cuvier did as much to destroy the concept of a single major and world-wide flood as did Lyell, who rejected catastrophism. Building on Hutton's ideas, Lyell argued that most of the earth's rocks were formed over a long period of time by natural processes observable to this day. Lyell's geology was called uniformitarianism
The rocks of the earth's crust typically lie in layers that are or once were essentially horizontal. Clearly, these layers form a time sequence, with younger rocks above older. Most of the rocks are sedimentary, formed of particles that settled out of water or were carried by the winds. Such rock-forming processes are still going on, and their rates, though variable, can be estimated. Calculations based on these rates alone made it obvious that the rocks of our planet's surface required millions of years to form. (Much more reliable methods are available today to estimate the age of the rocks). Furthermore, the fossilized remains of plants and animals found in the rocks had changed systematically with age. How could this have happened?
In 1843, Robert Chambers, a publisher with no formal scientific background, anonymously published Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Chambers tried to reconcile the Bible with uniformitarian geology, and the mechanism he suggested to account for the various forms of life on earth was essentially "evolution tempered by miracle" (White 1955, p. 65). The book was extremely popular, but the Bible-scientists attacked it as atheistic. Another attempt at limited compromise was Hugh Miller's The Testimony of the Rocks (1857). Noting the absence of evidence for a universal Flood, Miller suggested that the Noachian Deluge was a local event in the Middle East.
It was into this atmosphere that Charles Darwin launched his theory of evolution by natural selection in 1859. A decidedly non-combative man who suffered from chronic illness, Darwin knew too well how the Bible-scientists had greeted books much less revolutionary than The Origin of Species. Indeed, he had nurtured the theory for nearly 20 years before he published it. His worst fears were justified; outraged theologians descended on him with fire and brimstone.
Few men have ever been so denounced, yet few men's works have ever won such rapid acclaim within the scientific community. Within a decade, most naturalists had accepted evolution. Outside the scientific community, it took longer. Still, by the turn of the century, most scholars and liberal theologians had made their peace with Darwin and with evolution (White 1955).
Among the conservatives, it was different. A flood of anti-evolution books appeared during the century following publication of The Origin of Species. The most noteworthy output came from Seventh Day Adventist George McCready Price, who, beginning in 1913, turned out some 25 major anti-evolutionary works. Ironically, Darwinian evolution caused a regression among Bible-scientists. By about 1830 many conservatives were prepared to tolerate an ancient earth and a "day-age" theory of creation in which the Genesis "days" represent geologic ages. Now that the concept of an old earth was tied to a concept of changing life forms, Bible-scientists tried to jerk the rug out from under Darwin by throwing out the ancient earth along with evolution. As the evidence for evolution and the great age of the earth continued to accumulate, a quirky conservatism evolved into a strident pseudo-science.
See the detailed article Radiometric Dating, a Christian Perspective by Dr. Roger Wiens
The Global Flood Theorists
The Great Deluge is the grand delusion of young-earth creationism, an albatross hung about their necks by the ancient Hebrew scribes who adapted an already-ancient Middle Eastern flood myth and recorded it in Genesis. The Deluge is for creationists the explanation for essentially all of the fossil-bearing rock now found on earth. On average, fossil-bearing rock strata cover the continents to a depth of about a mile. Among the difficulties that defy scientific treatment for the Deluge theory are:
(1) the source of the Flood waters
(2) Explanation for the layering of different kinds of fossils in the rock strata
(3) The sheer quantity of fossils
(4) Structures obviously formed on land and now buried deep in the rock strata
For more detail see the TalkOrigins Problems with a Global Flood
To account for the Deluge waters, some creationists propose that before the Flood the earth was surrounded by a canopy of water vapor. This basic idea was proposed in 1874 by Isaac Newton Vail, a Quaker Bible-scientist. Vail suggested that planets evolve through a ringed stage (like Saturn) to a canopied stage (like Jupiter) to a final earthlike condition. Modern creationists throw out Vail's evolution and keep his canopy hypothesis. But none has ever shown how a canopy containing enough water to flood an entire planet could be stable or how the earth's creatures could survive the incredible atmospheric pressure it would cause.
The earth's fossils are known to occur in an almost completely exceptionless sequence or order (the few exceptions are easily explained by geological disturbance, which can be detected without reference to the fossils). That is, specific fossils are found only in rocks of a certain age. Trilobites, for instance, an ancient form of shelled sea animal, became extinct about 300 million years ago, so they are only found in older, generally deeper rocks. Other forms of shellfish are more modern and only appear in younger rocks, higher in the geologic column.
Morris has argued the upwelling waters of the Flood sorted them by "hydraulic drag" (Whitcomb and Morris 1961; Morris 1974b). For objects of similar shape and density, however, the hydraulic drag force is proportional to cross-sectional area, while the gravitational force is proportional to volume. A rational creationist would therefore expect trilobites to be sorted according to size, with the large ones always deeper than the small ones. This is decidedly not the case, and one wonders how Morris, who has a Ph.D. in hydraulic engineering and a background in geology, could seriously advance an explanation based on hydraulic drag. In fact, if the great majority of the world's fossils were buried in the span of a single worldwide flood, as the young-earth creationists maintain, the mixing of life forms would have been absolutely phenomenal, and no orderly pattern could hope to emerge!
Beginning in 1961 with The Genesis Flood, numerous creationist books mention a huge rock body in Africa, the Karoo Formation (sometimes misspelled Karroo) that contains the fossil remains of about 800 billion animals. Ironically, this formation alone totally refutes Flood geology. The animals of the Karoo range from the size of a small lizard to the size of a cow, the average being approximately fox-sized (Sloan 1980). Creationists claim they all died in the Flood, so they must have been alive at its beginning. If 800 billion animals could be resurrected, doing a simple calculation, that would mean there would be twenty-one of them for every acre of land on earth. Suppose we assume (conservatively) that the Karoo Formation contains 1 percent of the vertebrate (land) fossils on earth. Then when the Flood began, there must have been at least 2100 living animals per acre of land, ranging from tiny shrews to immense dinosaurs! That seems a bit overcrowded to say the least. Numerous features -- wind-blown sand dunes, rain spatters, dinosaur nests, animal tracks, etc -- commonly found in the earth's rocks were clearly formed at the earth's surface. Yet they are found in rock strata creationists attribute to the Flood and with more such strata covering them.
Surely the present evidence against Flood geology is roughly equivalent to that which opposed the flat-earth theory when it flowered and flourished in the nineteenth century. Indeed, to understand Bible-science it helps to go back and examine its historic roots.
History of the Flat-Earthers
The first great battle between Christianity and science involved the shape of the earth. The sphericity of the earth was well known in the Hellenistic culture in which Christianity developed. Long before, Aristotle had offered three proofs that the earth is a globe: (1) ships leaving port disappear over the horizon; (2) as one travels to the south, stars that are not visible in Greece appear above the southern horizon; and (3) during an eclipse, the earth's shadow on the moon is visibly curved. Unfortunately, this spherical model conflicts with the way the earth is depicted in the Bible.
The ancient Hebrews, like their older and more powerful neighbors, the Babylonians and the Egyptians, were flat-earthers. The Hebrew cosmology is never actually spelled out in the Bible but, even without knowledge of the Babylonian system upon which it is patterned, it can be read between the lines of the Old Testament. The Genesis creation story itself suggests the relative size and importance of the earth and the celestial bodies by specifying their order of creation. The earth was created on the first day, and it was "without form and void" (Gen 1:2). On the second day a vault -- the "firmament" of the King James Bible -- was created to divide the waters, some being above and some below the vault (Gen 1:6-8). Not until the fourth day were the sun, moon, and stars created, and they were placed "in," not "above," the vault (Gen 1:14-17). The sizes of these bodies are not specified, but they had to be small, as Joshua later commanded the sun to stand still "in Gibeon" and the moon "in the Vale of Aijalon" (Josh 10:12)
The Bible repeatedly speaks of the "ends" of the earth. Sometimes the word in Hebrew is ephes, which means "end, extreme limits, nothingness." Other times it is qatsah or qetsev, which means, again, "end, extremity." Deuteronomy 13:7, for instance, uses the expression "from one end of the earth to the other end." The same expression, or a reference to the "end of the earth," occurs in Deuteronomy 28:49, 64; 33:17; 1 Samuel 2:10; Psalm 19:4; 22:27; 46:9; 48:10; 59:13; 65:5; 67:7; 98:3; 135:7; Proverbs 17:24; 30:4; Job 28:24; 37:3; Isaiah 5:26; 24:16; 40:28; 41:5; 42:10; 45:22; 48:20; 49:6; 52:10; 62:11; Jeremiah 10:13; 16:19; 25:33; Micah 5:4. Moreover, not only does the Bible indicate that the earth is flat and has ends, but it also teaches that the earth is square and has corners. Isaiah 11:12 says that God will "gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth." Ezekiel 7:2 says that "the end is coming on the four corners of the earth." See also Revelation 7:1; 20:8, etc.
Other passages complete the picture. God "sits enthroned on the vaulted roof of earth, whose inhabitants are like grasshoppers" (Isa 40:21-22; cf. 45:12; 48:13). He also "walks to and fro on the vault of heaven" (Job 22:12-14), which vault is "hard as a mirror of cast metal" (Job 37:18; cf. 9:8). The roof of the sky has "windows" that God can open to let the waters above fall to the surface as rain. The Bible clearly speaks of the "windows" of heaven (Gen 7:10f; 8:2; 2 Kings 7:2, 19; Isa 24:18f; Jer 51:15f; Mal 3:10); the "doors" in heaven that are "shut up" (1 Kings 8:35; 2 Chron 6:26; 7:13; Psalm 78:23; Rev 4:1; 11:6; 19:11); heaven has "gates" (Gen 28:17; Lev 26:19) and stories of stairs (Amos 9:6). A study of these passages will indicate that rain and food come through heaven's windows, etc. (Of course this is probably symbolic or "phenomological" language as most modern biblical scholars and exegetes would conclude, and such language is not meant to be taken literally).
The topography of the earth isn't specified, but Daniel "saw a tree of great height at the center of the earth....reaching with its top to the sky and visible to the earth's farthest bounds" or "to the end of the whole earth" (Dan 4:10-11). Such visibility would not be possible on a spherical earth, but might be expected if the earth were flat.
Here is Fr. Stanley Jaki, O.S.B., a distinguished Hungarian physicist and Benedictine theologian, on the flat and fixed earth of the Bible:
"If asked about his physical surroundings or about the physical world at large, the typical Israelite would have given a reply very irritating to the modern mind. It is irritating to say the least to hear that the earth is a flat disk, the sky an inverted hard bowl, and that the two form a vast tent-like structure. Of course, other inhabitants of the ancient Near-East would have given similar answers....To be sure, much the same would have been done by a typical ancient Egyptian and Babylonian....The hardness of the sky, but especially the immobility of the earth, had to appear all the more a divinely ordained physical fact as, according to the Bible, a mere man, Joshua, could be authorized by God to stop the sun and the moon in their tracks and, apparently, for a whole day....Obviously, to modern eyes dazzled by space rockets cruising along 'world lines' set by Einstein's four-dimensional cosmology nothing could seem more jarring than the Bible's physical world, which is little more than a glorified tent. To that tent the Bible assigns the sky as its cover and the earth as its floor, though hardly in a consistent way. In Genesis 1 the sky is a firmament, that is, a hard metal bowl, whereas in Psalm 104 and Isaiah 45:24 it is more like a canvas that can be stretched out....Herein lies one of the non-trivially unscientific aspects of the world as described in the Bible....Well before the advent of modern science, and indeed of heliocentrism, the contrast between that biblical world-tent and the world of Aristotelian-Ptolemaic geocentrism had to appear enormous." (Stanley Jaki, Bible and Science, pages 19-25)
A biblical text suggested by some "Bible-science" creationists to teach the earth is actually a sphere is Isaiah 40:22
It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in. (KJV)
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth [or is enthroned above the vault 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)
An analysis of the Hebrew was made by Robert J. Schneider, in an article for the Christian organization, the American Scientific Affiliation (www.asa3.org) --
"The critical line in Hebrew [of Isaiah 40:22] reads (transliterated and omitting vowels): hyshb 'l hwg h'rtz, which my colleague Dr. Robert Suder translates: 'the one dwelling on the circle/horizon of the land.' A survey of Hebrew lexica and theological wordbooks yields much information about the key word hwg (chûgh)....All but one of these contexts [where the Hebrew word appears] are cosmological, and in fact four of the five uses of chûgh occur in creation hymns. Isaiah 40:22a describes God as sitting/ dwelling above 'the circle of the earth' which God laid out -- with a compass, as Job 26:10 and Proverbs 8:27 suggest, for the latter verses describe the act of inscribing the circle that fixes the boundary between the earth and the deep....Looking at these usages together, I am hard put to see how anyone could justify rendering chûgh in Isaiah 40:22a as 'sphericity.'....if the translators [of the LXX] were familiar with the concept of a spherical earth taught at the Museon of Alexandria, then the center of Greek science, they give no hint of it in their translation of chûgh..."
"....a circle is no more a sphere in Scripture than it is in geometry. The preponderance of philological evidence and the translations of ancient scholars and modern experts alike provide overwhelming testimony that Isaiah 40:22a does not refer to a spherical earth. There is simply no warrant for Eastman, Sarfati, and Morris [prominent young-earth creationists] to declare, contrary to its plain sense and in violation of its semantic domain, that chûgh literally means sphericity. They have read the earth's sphericity into the text, not out of it." (Robert J. Schneider, essay for the [Christian] American Scientific Affiliation, September 2001)
See Does the Bible Teach a Spherical Earth? by Robert J. Schneide
These passages, plus the slightly more explicit astronomical section in the non-canonical Book of Enoch (e.g. 1 Enoch chapters 33-34, Charles 1913), led the more literal-minded early Christians to reject the idea of a spherical earth as heresy. Thus flat-earthism has been associated with Christianity since the beginning. A few of the early Fathers of the Church were flat-earthers, including Lactantius, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria (White 1955, p. 92). Gradually they developed a "scientific" flat-earth system with which to oppose the Ptolemaic astronomy then becoming popular.
Jeffrey Burton Russell, historian and author of Inventing the Flat Earth, clarifies these points:
"It must first be reiterated that with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century BC 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 (3rd century BC), followed by Crates (2nd century BC), Strabo (3rd century BC), and Ptolemy (first century 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." (Russell, essay for the [Christian] American Scientific Affiliation, August 1997)
See The Myth of the Flat Earth by Jeffrey Burton Russell
Cladius Ptolemy's Almagest, written in about 140 AD, was the culmination of more than six centuries of Greek astronomy. It wasn't until about 550 AD that Cosmas Indicopleustes published the alternate flat-earth system in his book Christian Topography. Cosmas, an Egyptian monk, offered many of the same arguments used by flat-earthers today, but he came to a different conclusion about the shape of the earth. Using a barrage of quotations from Scripture and from the Fathers of the Church, Cosmas tried to show that the earth is a rectangular plane with its east-west dimension twice the north-south dimension. Sunrise and sunset, he suggested, were caused by a huge mountain in the far north (Cosmas 550 AD).
Cosmas fought a losing battle, and the ancient idea of a flat earth quickly lost ground. The Ptolemaic system of astronomy, based on a spherical earth, worked reasonably well. By the twelfth century, flat-earthism was essentially a dead letter in the West.
While the Bible does not flat state the shape of the earth, it repeatedly says in plain Hebrew that the earth is immovable:
Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved. -- 1 Chron 16:30
The LORD reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved. -- Psalm 93:1
Say among the heathen that the LORD reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously. -- Psalm 96:10
Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. -- Psalm 104:5
(see also Psalm 8:4; 19:4-7; 104:19; 119:90; Ecclesiastes 1:5; 2 Kings 20:9-11; 2 Chron 32:24; Isaiah 38:7-8; 45:18; Joshua 10:12-14; Judges 5:31; Job 9:7; Habakkuk 3:11; James 1:11-12; and in the deuterocanon Sirach 43:1-10; 46:3-4; Wisdom 7:18-19)
Thus churchmen who found it easy to ignore its flat implications and adopt the geocentric but spherical system of Ptolemy were rudely shaken by Copernicus and Galileo. The Catholic Church's reaction to Galileo is well known. It is less well known that most of the Protestant Reformers -- Luther, Calvin, Wesley -- also rejected the Copernican system on scriptural grounds (White 1955, p. 125ff). A few Protestant Bible-scientists have been fighting a rearguard action against heliocentricity ever since.
See Geocentrism: Flogging a Pink Unicorn by Alec MacAndrew
The modern flat-earth movement was launched in England, in 1849, with the publication of a sixteen-page pamphlet, Zetetic Astronomy: A Description of Several Experiments which Prove that the Surface of the Sea is a Perfect Plane and that the Earth is Not a Globe! by "Parallax." For the next 35 years, Parallax -- his real name was Samuel Birley Rowbotham -- toured England, attacking the spherical system in public lectures. His completely original system, still known to its adherents as "zetetic astronomy," is best described in his 430-page second edition of Earth Not a Globe, published in 1873 also under the pseudonym of Parallax (1873a).
The essence of zetetic astronomy is as follows: the known world is a vast circular plane, with the north pole at the center and 150 foot wall of ice at the "southern limit." The equator is a circle roughly halfway in-between. The sun, moon, and planets circle above the earth in the region of the equator at an altitude of perhaps 600 miles. Their apparent rising and setting is an optical illusion caused by atmospheric refraction and the zetetic law of perspective. The latter law also explains why ships apparently vanish over the horizon when sailing out to sea. The moon is self-luminous, and it is occasionally eclipsed by an unseen dark body passing in front of it. The entire known universe is literally covered by the "firmament" (vault) so often referred to in the King James Bible.
Rowbotham (Parallax) and his followers were sowing fertile ground, for the flat-earth movement really caught on about 1860, just after Darwin's The Origin of Species was published. Conservative churchmen were excoriating geology, and those who believed geologists were misleading them had little problem believing the same of astronomers. As the most outspoken Bible-scientists of the day, the flat-earthers made "Zetetic Astronomy" a household word in Victorian England. Before the end of the nineteenth century, the movement spread to America and the rest of the English-speaking world. Few professional academics embraced it, though there were exceptions. Alexander McInnes of Glasgow University was a vehement flat-earther, as was Arthur V. White of the University of Toronto. Most of the flat-earthers who could boast "credentials" were clerics or engineers.
In America flat-earthism became a central doctrine of Wilbur Glenn Voliva's Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion, Illinois. During the 1920s and 1930s, thousands of residents of Zion were at least nominally flat-earthers. In some families three generations learned the flat-earth doctrine in Zion parochial schools. From his 100,000 watt radio station, Voliva used to thunder against "the Devil's triplets, Evolution, Higher Criticism, and Modern Astronomy." The popularity of flat-earthism declined in America after Voliva's death in 1942, but the movement is alive and well and headquartered in Lancaster, California.
Liberal, Moderate, Conservative Branches: Young Earthers, Geocentrists, Flat Earthers
Though flat-earthism is as well-supported scripturally and scientifically as creationism, the creationists plainly do not want to be associated with flat-earthers. In a public debate with Duane T. Gish, associate director of the Institute for Creation Research, paleontologist Michael Voorhies suggested that the Creation Research Society resembles the Flat Earth Society. According to a report of the debate published in the May 1979 issue of the ICR newsletter Acts and Facts, Gish replied "that not a single member of the Creation Research Society was a member of the Flat Earth Society and that Voorhies' linking of the two was nothing more than a smear." Gish's remarks brought a rejoinder in the September 1979 issue of The Flat Earth News from an outraged letter writer (identified only as "G.J.D.") who had read the Acts and Facts report. G.J.D. contested Gish's claim that no members of the Flat Earth Society belong to the Creation Research Society, concluding, "He doesn't know what he's talking about, as I belong to both, and I am writing to him to let him know that he is wrong." Ironically, Gish may have created a fact. To protest this attack on the flat-earthers, G.J.D. dropped out of the Creation Research Society.
Picture to the right: The Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) aboard NASA's Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft currently orbiting the red planet photographed Earth, the moon and Jupiter, as seen in the evening sky of Mars, at 9 am EDT, May 8, 2003. This is the first image of Earth ever taken from another planet that actually shows our home as a planetary disk. Because Earth and the Moon are closer to the Sun than Mars, they exhibit phases, just as the Moon, Venus, and Mercury do when viewed from Earth. The MOC Earth/Moon image has been specially processed to allow both Earth (with an apparent magnitude of -2.5) and the much darker Moon (with an apparent magnitude of +0.9) to be visible together. The bright area at the top of the image of Earth is cloud cover over central and eastern North America. Below that, a darker area includes Central America and the Gulf of Mexico. The bright feature near the center-right of the crescent Earth consists of clouds over northern South America.
Whether or not there are still flat-earthers in the Creation Research Society, young-earth creationism closely resembles the flat-earth movement. In fact, young-earth creationism, geocentrism, and flat-earthism are respectively the liberal, moderate, and conservative branches of the Bible-science tree. The intense hostility expressed by the scientific creationists toward the flat-earthers does not extend to modern geocentrists, who hover on the edge of respectability among creationists. Indeed though the Bible is, from Genesis to Revelation, a flat-earth book, the geocentrists have combined forces with "liberal" creationists to cast the flat-earthers into outer darkness.
Despite their internecine warfare, Bible-scientists are in broad agreement on a number of scientific issues. They agree on the usefulness of the Bible as a scientific text, on the weakness of mere "theories," and on the duplicity of conventional scientists and failure of mainstream science. The term "Bible-science" is meant in the most literal sense. To join the Creation Research Society, one must sign a statement of belief that begins:
"The Bible is the written Word of God, and because we believe it to be inspired throughout, all of its assertions are historically and scientifically true in all of the original autographs. To the student of nature, this means that the account of origins in Genesis is a factual presentation of simple historical truths."
Henry M. Morris puts it even more strongly:
"The real truth of the matter is that the Bible is indeed verbally inspired and literally true throughout. Whenever it deals with scientific or historical matters of fact, it means exactly what it says and is completely accurate. When figures of speech are used, their meaning is always evident in context, just as in other books. There is no scientific fallacy in the Bible at all. 'Science' is knowledge, and the Bible is a book of true and factual knowledge throughout, on every subject with which it deals. The Bible is a book of science!" (1974a, p. 229)
Samuel Birley Rowbotham, founder of the modern flat-earth movement, totally agreed with Morris:
"To say that the Scriptures were not intended to teach science truthfully is, in substance, to declare that God himself has stated, and commissioned his prophets to teach, things which are utterly false." (Parallax 1873a, p. 357)
Similar sentiments were expressed by flat-earther David Wardlaw Scott, who wrote,
"It [Scripture] never contradicts facts, and, to the true Christian student, it teaches more real science than all the schools and colleges in the world." (1901, p. 284)
Elsewhere, Scott said of his book,
"It may be that these pages will meet the need of some, who have not altogether been misled by unprovable fancies, and who will rejoice to find that the Biblical account of Creation is, after all, the only one which can be depended upon, and that Modern Astronomy, like its kindred theory of Evolution....is nothing but 'a mockery, a delusion, and a snare'." (1901, p. iii)
While theories are the backbone of mainstream science, Scott's phrase "unprovable fancies" seems to epitomize what Bible-scientists think of them. They want nothing but the "facts." As Duane Gish once told an audience,
"I have yet to find a scientific fact which contradicts the Bible, the Word of God. Now you and I are both aware of many scientific theories and opinions of scientific people that contradict the Scriptures. When we separate that which is merely opinion or theory or ideas from that which is established fact, there are no contradictions." (1978)
Other creationists have expressed the same idea. In his preface to the creationist textbook Biology: A Search for Order in Complexity, John N. Moore says that "true science" requires that the data "simply be presented as it is," and that "a philosophic viewpoint regarding origins" cannot be science (Moore and Slusher 1974).
Any flat-earther would agree. Indeed, in his lectures and writings, Samuel Birley Rowbotham repeatedly emphasized the importance of sticking to the facts. He called his system "zetetic astronomy" (zetetic from the Greek verb vetetikos, meaning to seek or inquire) because he sought only facts and left mere theories to the likes of Copernicus and Newton. Rowbotham devoted the entire first chapter of his magnum opus to praising facts at the expense of theories, concluding,
"Let the practice of theorizing be abandoned as one oppressive to the reasoning powers, fatal to the full development of truth, and, in every sense, inimical to the solid progress of sound philosophy." (Parallax 1873a, p. 8)
The fact is that Bible-scientists suspect theoretical scientists of duplicity. Scientific creationists rarely express their suspicions in plain English, but they strongly imply that much of modern science -- radiometric dating, for instance -- is a fraud. One prominent geocentrist, astronomer and computer scientist James N. Hanson, shows more candor. In a public lecture, he said of non-geocentric astronomers, "They lie a lot" (Hanson 1979). Charles K. Johnson, president of the Flat Earth Society, is absolutely vehement about scientific dishonesty. In the pages of The Flat Earth News, he regularly calls scientists "liars" and "demented dope fiends" and claims that the entire space program is a "carnie game."
Besides their agreement on scientific principles, many Bible-scientists share certain theological ideas. These are
(1) evolution (spherical theory) cannot be reconciled with the Bible;
(2) evolution (spherical theory) denies a personal God, leading to moral degeneration;
(3) it was for these reasons that Satan invented evolution (spherical theory).
Many Christians accept evolution as God's method of creation, a concept called "theistic evolution." Duane Gish has explicitly rejected that idea.
"Not for a moment do I believe that the theory of evolution can be reconciled with the Bible. Theistic evolution is bankrupt both Biblically and scientifically. It's bad science and it's bad theology." And, "You really cannot believe the Bible and the theory of evolution both." (Gish 1978)
Rowbotham said the same of spherical theory: "Those Newtonian philosophers who still hold that the Sacred Volume is the Word of God, are....in a fearful dilemma. How can the two systems so directly opposite in character be reconciled?" (Parallax 1873a, p. 357) John Hampden put it more plainly: "No one can believe a single doctrine or dogma of modern astronomy, and accept Scriptures as divine revelation" (quoted by Rectangle 1899). Like all flat-earthers, Hampden also accepted the doctrine of creation in six solar days, and he extended the above opinion to the latter, writing, "If he can prove....that days do not mean days, then is the infidel fully justified in laughing to scorn every other phrase and every other statement, from the first verse to the last in the Bible" (Rectangle 1899).
Bible-scientists typically feel that orthodox science threatens the doctrine of a personal God. As Duane Gish put it, "If they [conventional scientists] believe God exists, He's way out there somewhere, and has no real part in the origin of the universe" (1978). Henry Morris put it differently: "A great many people, particularly intellectuals, simply prefer an evolutionary theory of origins, because this device consciously or subconsciously relegates the Creator to a far-off, indefinite, or even illusory, role in the universe and in the lives of men who are in moral rebellion against him" (Morris 1963, p. 92-93). Albert Smith, once editor of the Earth -- Not a Globe -- Review, expressed the same insecurity as that felt by modern creationists:
"On the astronomical hypothesis, the world is like an uncared-for orphan, or a desolate wanderer: God is removed too far from us to be of any practical use; and the idea of Heaven is so vague, that such a place, if it exists at all, may be anywhere or nowhere." (quoted in Rectangle 1899, p. 161)
Who Could it Beeeee.........SATAN?
Earlier, Henry M. Morris was quoted suggesting that Satan revealed evolution to Nimrod at the Tower of Babel. Elsewhere, he has repeatedly claimed that evolutionists are guided by the hand of Satan, whose concept of evolution is even older than Babel.
"Behind both groups of evolutionists [theistic and nontheistic] one can discern the malignant influence of 'that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world' (Rev 12:9). As we have seen, it must have been essentially the deception of evolution which prompted Satan himself to rebel against God, and it was essentially the same great lie with which he deceived Eve, and with which he has continued to 'deceive the whole world'." (Morris, 1963, p. 93)
Morris's words would sound familiar to flat-earthers. "I believe the real source of Modern Astronomy to have been SATAN," wrote flat-earther David Wardlaw Scott (1901, p. 287). "From his first temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden until now, his great object has been to throw discredit on the Truth of God." John Hampden agreed, calling the spherical theory "that Satanic device of a round and revolving globe, which sets Scripture, reason, and facts at defiance" (1886, p. 60).
In their impassioned battle against Satan, creationists have adopted exactly the same tactics British flat-earthers used a century ago. These are essentially political tactics, aimed directly at the grassroots by way of the churches. Local activists sell books and pamphlets and write letters-to-the-editor. A corps of skilled lecturers criss-crosses the country speaking in churches, before religious organizations, or wherever they can get a hall and a crowd. In both the literature and the lectures the message is the same: the scientists are trying to destroy religion. Like England's Universal Zetetic Society, the Institute for Creation Research acts as publisher, lecture bureau, and communications clearing house for all these activities.
In the early 1970s members of the Institute for Creation Research began debating evolutionists whenever possible. In these debates, creationists take their text from flat-earther John Hampden, who once told a spherical critic,
"We do not come before the public offering a kind of novelty and appealing for patronage. Nothing of the kind. You and the public are on the defence. We are your accusers. The novelty was introduced by you, and you are bound to justify your interference with what was perfect before." (1886, p. 64)
Creationists expect their opponents to defend evolution while they throw rocks at it, and frequently opponents comply. The poor evolutionist, up against an experienced creationist debater, often looks like an unarmed man assaulting a fortress. Many flat-earthers were also effective debaters. George Bernard Shaw described a public forum in which a flat-earther laid waste to the spherical opposition (Gardner 1957). Rowbotham was a tiger on the platform, and he was seldom bested. The good citizens of Leeds, England, once ran him out of town, being unable to make a more effective reply to his flat-earth arguments (Parallax 1873b). In Brockport, New York, in March 1887, two scientific gentlemen defended the sphericity of the earth against flat-earther M.C. Flanders on three consecutive nights. When the "great debate" was over, five townsmen chosen to judge the matter issued a unanimous verdict. Their report, published in the Brockport Democrat, stated clearly and emphatically their opinion that the balance of the evidence pointed to a flat-earth (Hampden 1887).
Cash challenges are another way Bible-scientists taunt opponents. At the turn of the century, Koresh (Cyrus Reed Teed), a Chicago Bible-scientist, had a standing offer of $5,000 to anyone who could disprove his theory that the earth is hollow and we live on the inside of it. No one ever collected. In the 1920s and 1930s, Wilbur Glenn Voliva had a standing offer of $5,000 to anyone who could prove to him that the earth is not flat. No one ever collected. At the time of this writing (1982), creationist engineer R.G. Elmendorf offers $5,000 to anyone who can prove to him that evolution is possible (1976). Since Elmendorf is also something of a geocentrist, he offers $1,000 to anyone who can prove that the earth moves (1980).
In some respects, young-earth creationists differ from most other Bible-scientists of the past century. Their doctrine has an emotional appeal not found in flat-earthism and geocentricity. Though scientifically hollow, it cannot be obviously falsified by something as simple as a shot into space. Most importantly, creationists have significant political power, which they are eager to use. At this writing, Louisiana has a law on the books that would require that the scientific creationists' doctrines be taught in public schools whenever the theory of evolution is taught. (On November 22, 1982, the Louisiana equal-time for "creation science" law was over-turned on the grounds that the state legislature does not have the authority to determine school curricula). Significant agitation is going on in other states.
Thus the doctrines of Bible-science have evolved, but other aspects of the movement have gone full circle, and some have tried to give their biblical doctrines the force of law.
Charles, R.H. 1913. The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, vol 2, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Cosmas Indicopleustes, c. 550 AD Topographia Christiana. Trans by J.W. McCrindle, London: Hakluty Society (1897).
Elmendorf, R.G. 1976. $5,000 reward and a challenge to evolution. (Flyer dated 1 Sept 1976).
_____ 1980. $1,000 reward for scientific proof-positive that the earth moves. (Flyer dated 10 March 1980).
Gardner, Martin. 1957. Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. NY: Dover.
Gish, Duane T. 1978. Tape of a lecture to the Lutheran Evangelistic Conference in Minneapolis, 23 Jan 1978.
Hampden, John. 1886. The Earth: Scripturally, rationally, and practically described. A geographical, philosophical, and educational review, nautical guide, and general student's manual, #8. 11 December.
_____ 1887. ibid, #17, 1 November.
Hanson, James N. 1979. Tape of geocentric lecture delivered in Texas.
Moore, John N. and Slusher, Harold S. 1974. Biology: a search for order in complexity. Rev ed, Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Morris, Henry M. 1963. The Twilight of Evolution. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.
_____ 1974a. Many Infallible Proofs. San Diego: Creation-Life Pub.
_____ 1974b. Scientific Creationism. San Diego: Creation-Life Pub.
_____ 1975. The Troubled Waters of Evolution. San Diego: Creation-Life Pub.
Parallax (Samuel Birley Rowbotham). 1949. Zetetic Astronomy: a description of several experiments which prove that the surface of the sea is a perfect plane and that the earth is not a globe! Birm, England: W. Cornish.
_____ 1873a. Earth Not a Globe. London: John B. Day.
_____ 1873b. The Zetetic. vol 2, no 2, p. 39.
Rectangle (Thomas Winship). 1899. Zetetic Cosmogony; or conclusive evidence that the world is not a rotating, revolving globe, but a stationary plane circle, 2nd ed. Durban, South Africa: T.L. Cullingworth.
Scott, David Wardlaw. 1901. Terra Firma: The Earth not a Planet. London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co.
Sloan, Robert. 1980. Personal communication.
Whitcomb, John C. and Morris, Henry M. 1961. The Genesis Flood. NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub.
White, Andrew D. 1955. A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, vol 1. NY: George Braziller (orig 1900).
adapted from the chapter by Robert J. Schadewald in Scientists Confront Creationism, edited by Laurie R. Godfrey (Norton paperback, 1984)