Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Falling Flat

I was reading the comments over at the Dilbert Blog, and once again, someone said, "We used to believe that the earth was flat!" And I started to wonder where the heck the flat earth meme came from. I mean, Plato knew the Earth was round, they did an experiment with showing how the sun's light entered wells at different angles depending how far south you went. Ptolemy, the go-to guy for Medieval astronomy, in his Almagest, knew that the stars were light years away (in Book I, Chapter 5 he says that the earth could be considered as a point in comparison to the distances involved), and his diagrams of the geocentric universe all depict a round earth. In Columbus' day, everyone knew the earth was round, it was just that Columbus had dramatically miscalculated the distances, so he set off on a journey that was a suicide mission, and would have been had he not hit an unknown continent.

I figured that Answers in Genesis has probably taken more "flat earth" flak than just about anyone, so I searched their site for the flat earth. They have an article called, "Who Invented the Flat Earth" which answers my questions. While they have lists of heretical "church fathers" who believed the earth was flat, and were denounced for it, and some later writers who were attacking the Roman Church, it seems, from the article, that the most likely source is Washington Irving's historical fiction "The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus." It had an appeal broad enough, which an academic work would not, to implant the flat earth meme into our society.

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