The Flat Earth Theory: Fact or Fiction?
Jeff A. Benner
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In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people who have come to the conclusion that the earth is flat and not a globe. When I first began getting emails from people who were promoting the Flat Earth Theory, I initially ignored the subject, believing it to be another fringe theory held by a few people. But then, as I got more and more emails from people asking about the Globe Earth vs. the Flat Earth, I felt that it was time to dig into the subject and examine the Flat Earth Theory for myself.
Part 1 - The Biblical Evidence
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 like a tent to dwell in; (RSV, Isaiah 40:22)
When interpreting scripture, it is very important to interpret it from an Ancient Hebrew perspective and not from our own modern Western viewpoint. As an example, let's look at the last part of this verse which states: "and spreads [the heavens] like a tent to dwell in." The Ancient Hebrews lived a nomadic lifestyle, dwelling in goat hair tents. The fibers of the goat hair allowed pinholes of light to pass through the tent and from inside the tent the roof looked similar to the night sky. So, when the Ancient Hebrews looked at the night sky, they didn't perceive the stars as giant balls of gas billions of miles away as we do; they saw the night sky as God's tent over them.
When we read a passage like "the circle of the earth," we need to interpret this from their cultural perspective. The Hebrew word
עולם (olam, Strong's #5769) is frequently translated as forever, everlasting and world (Hebrew words related to time are also used for space). These translations imply vast spans of space and time, far beyond any perceptions the Hebrews would have of space and time. However, the literal meaning of this Hebrew word is "beyond the horizon." This could be a time in the far distant past or future or a place beyond one's perception. The Hebrews did not attempt to define or speculate on what was "beyond the horizon." It was just "hidden," another meaning of this Hebrew word from their viewpoint.
Because the Ancient Hebrews only concerned themselves with what they could perceive around them, the whole world was what was within their sight. If you stand in the middle of a plain and look all around you, you will see a 360-degree view of the horizon and this horizon will be in the shape of a circle.
The Hebrew word for "circle" in Isaiah 40:22 is the word
חוג (hhug, Strong's #2329), which means a "circle," such as is drawn with a compass, and refers to the perceivable "world" around the individual.
I should also point out that the Hebrew word ארץ (erets, Strong's #776) is frequently translated as "earth" and implies the entire planet in the English language. However, in Biblical Hebrew this word means an area of land, such as a region.
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. (RSV, Joshua 10:13)
According to modern science, the earth revolves around the sun, and, therefore, the sun cannot "stand still." So, this verse is used to support the Flat Earth Theory, because in this theory the earth is stationary and the sun moves around the earth.
But again, it is important to understand this passage from the perspective of the Ancient Hebrews, who simply saw the sun pass from one horizon to the other each day.
And God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, (RSV, Genesis 1:14 )
This verse, along with many other verses in the Bible, has been used to create the following Flat Earth model of the heavens and earth.
As I have demonstrated, the Ancient Hebrews do not perceive the world in the same way that we do and we can also see that their style of writing is very different from our own as well.
Our modern form of writing history uses prose and step logic, but the Ancient Hebrews used poetry and block logic. These two styles of writing are very different, and if we attempt to interpret the Bible as if it were written with prose and step logic, then misinterpretations and mistranslations will abound.
Our misunderstanding of the poetry of Genesis Chapter 1 can easily be demonstrated by comparing the verse above with Genesis 1:4. In Genesis 1:14 it states that God created the lights (the sun and moon) to "separate the day from the night." How is this possible if God already separated the light from the darkness in Genesis 1:4? The answer lies in the style of writing. This chapter is not written as an historical account, but rather as a poem with a chiastic structure, and days one and four are speaking about the same event, not different events on different days.
If we compare the first three days of creation with the last three days of creation, we discover that the author has divided the six days into two separate blocks. The first block of three days describes the act of separating the heavens and the earth, while the second block of three days describes the act of filling the heavens and the earth.
Day 1 - Separating light and darkness|
Day 2 - Separating water and sky
Day 3 - Separating the land from water
Day 4 - Filling the light with the sun and the darkness with the moon.
Day 5 - Filling water with fish and the skies with birds
Day 6 - Filling the land with plants and animals
Day 1 is about the separating of the light and darkness, and day 4, its parallel, is about the filling of the light and darkness with the sun, moon and stars. Day 2 is about the separating of the water and the sky, and day 5 is about the filling of the water with fish and the sky with birds. Day 3 is about the separating of the land from the water, and day 6 is about the filling of the land with plants and animals. The first chapter of Genesis, and the rest of the Bible for that matter, must be interpreted according to the Ancient Hebrews' style of writing (poetry and block logic) and not from our own modern style of writing (prose and step logic).
To summarize, the Ancient Hebrews did not believe in a Flat Earth or a Globe Earth. From their perspective, the earth was what they could see from horizon to horizon and their philosophy of the Cosmos was interpreted from this perspective. But let me also add that nothing that I have stated above either proves or disproves the Flat Earth Theory. All I have done is provide some background to these passages, but they in no way settle this debate.
Part 2 - Evidence apparently supporting a Flat Earth
In recent years the number of people holding to the Flat Earth Theory is staggering and the number grows more and more each day. To get an idea of how popular this theory is, if you put "Flat Earth" in Google you will be told that there are almost a half a billion web pages that mention "Flat Earth."
In order for this many people to accept this theory, there must be some evidence to support it. Some of the evidence presented by the Flat Earthers is, to put it bluntly, ridiculous. For example, some claim that if the earth were a spinning globe, then if you jump up you should land in another spot as the earth moves under your feet, but this is as ridiculous as thinking that if you were standing inside a moving train and jump, you would land in another spot as the train moves under your feet. But there is other evidence presented by Flat Earthers that cannot be dismissed as easily. What I will be presenting here is the observable evidence that I have found that seems to support the Flat Earth Theory.
The Bedford Level Experiment
Beginning in 1838 Samuel Birley Rowbotham performed a series of observations along a six-mile length of the Old Bedford River in the United Kingdom to measure the curvature of the earth.
"He waded into the river and used a telescope held eight inches (20 cm) above the water to watch a boat, with a flag on its mast three feet (0.91 m) above the water, row slowly away from him. He reported that the vessel remained constantly in his view for the full six miles (9.7 km) to Welney bridge, whereas, had the water surface been curved with the accepted circumference of a spherical earth, the top of the mast should have been some 11 feet (3.4 m) below his line of sight. He published this observation using the pseudonym Parallax in 1849 and subsequently expanded it into a book, Earth Not a Globe, published in 1865" (Wikipedia - Bedford Level experiment, retrieved 6/24/2018)
"In a second experiment Dr. Rowbotham placed seven flags along the edge of the water each one mile distant from the next with their tops positioned 5 feet above the surface and stood with his telescope behind the first. If the Earth was a globe 25,000 miles in circumference, each successive flag would have to decline a definite and determined amount below the last. The first and second flags establish the line of sight, then the third should fall 8 inches below the second, the fourth flag 32 inches below, the fifth 6 feet, the sixth 10 feet 8 inches, and the seventh flag should be a clear 16 feet 8 inches below the line of sight! Even if the Earth was a globe of a hundred thousand miles, an amount of easily measurable curvature should and would still be evident in this experiment. But the reality is not a single inch of curvature was detected and the flags all lined up perfectly as consistent with a flat plane." (The Flat Earth Conspiracy, By Eric Dubay, 2014)
I have to admit that these experiments are intriguing and similar experiments, performed to this day (such as can be seen in this YouTube Video as an example), show the same results. However, according to mathematicians, there is much more to this experiment than meets the eye. Their explanations (such as we see in this YouTube Video), which involve geometry, trigonometry and calculus, go far beyond my comprehension, so I am unable to refute or confirm these Flat Earth claims.
Commercial Airline Flight Paths
Another interesting piece of evidence submitted by Flat Earthers is the flight path of international flights. When we look at the flight paths of commercial airlines we see, what appears to be, some connecting flights that seem to be far out of the way, such as this one below.
However, when these flight paths are placed on a flat earth map we find something very interesting; the flight path is in an almost straight line.
I personally do not know why the flight paths are the way they are. It could be an economic issue, as connecting flights might be determined based on the number of passengers available at each airport and not the most direct route. Or the spherical geometry, an area of field that I am not very well versed in, of a globe dictates the flight path. In any case I am not qualified to answer why the flight paths are the way they are.
Also note in the image above, the circle of ice around the flat earth. Flat Earthers claim that the Antarctic is not a continent at the "bottom" of the globe, but instead a circle of ice that surrounds the earth. In 1959 the Antarctic Treaty was signed by many nations, including the US and Russia during the height of the Cold War, forbidding nations from claiming and developing the continent and restricting civilian travel to the continent. Flat Earthers claim that this is due to the nations knowing about the Flat Earth and this treaty prevents anyone from finding the truth.
The Van Allen Belt and the Moon Missions
If the earth is inside some kind of "dome," as Flat Earthers claim, then part of the Flat Earth theory is that we have never traveled into space and never landed on the moon. Astronaut Chris Hadfield, onboard the International Space Station (ISS), had this to say on the subject.
"The plan that NASA has is to build a rocket called SLS... and it will be able to launch the Orion Capsule with humans onboard... to destinations beyond Earth orbit. Right now, we only can fly in Earth orbit, that's the farthest we can go. And this new system we are building is going to allow us go beyond, and hopefully take humans into the Solar System to explore. So the Moon, Mars, asteroids, there are lot of destinations we could go." (Video Clip)
The reason for Astronaut Hadfield's comment above is because of the Van Allen Belt, a band of dangerous radiation that surrounds the earth. NASA Engineer Kelly Smith explained the problems with passing through the Van Allen Belt and that "we must solve these challenges before we send people through this region of space." (Video Clip)
Another NASA official has said; "We've been trying to grind out all of the lessons that will eventually let us go to the moon." (Video Clip)
Are these NASA astronauts and engineers telling us that we have never gone to the moon, which is about 230,000 miles beyond the Earth and far beyond the Van Allen Belt?
Part 3 - Evidence refutting a Flat Earth
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