There is a myth that when Columbus set out on his famous voyage, people believed he would sail off the edge of the Earth. According to the myth, only the voyage of Columbus convinced people that the Earth was not flat. That myth is not true, and Earth is not flat.
The myth came from an early historical fiction work by Washington Irving in 1828. At the time of Columbus in 1492, educated Europeans knew that our planet is a sphere. The Greek philosopher Aristotle recognized that fact in 330 B.C. He observed that when lunar eclipses occurred, the shadow Earth cast on the Moon was always a semicircle. That could only happen every time if the Earth were a sphere. Also, it was easy to observe that when a ship came into shore over the ocean, the first part to be visible was the top of the sail. As it came closer, the lower part could be seen. That shows the curvature of the ocean surface.
In the early Church period, the view of a spherical Earth was widely accepted. The Christian theologian and philosopher Augustine (354-430) recognized that Earth was spherical. Theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) acknowledged that physics, astronomy, and mathematics had proven that Earth is a sphere.
However, the Quran (609-632) says that the Earth was “laid out,” “spread out,” or “made flat” depending on how it’s translated. In the sixteenth century, a Sunni commentary stated that most Muslim scholars took those words to mean the Earth is flat. Chinese society did not let go of the concept of a flat Earth until the seventeenth century when Jesuit scholars brought their teaching to that country.
Most of our readers seem to be pretty well convinced that the Earth is round. When I mention flat Earth believers, I get mail indicating that most of our readers believe that the flat Earth subject is a joke. Most of our readers also believe that the Earth orbits the Sun and not the other way around. As an earth science teacher in the public schools for 41 years, my students did simple lab exercises to show that the Earth orbits the Sun. However, these simple facts seem to have escaped significant numbers of people in our twenty-first century world as you can see by a web search for flat Earth believers.
The Does God Exist? ministry was founded on the belief that good science and good biblical study produce a conclusion that science and faith support each other. The problem is that there is a great deal of bad science and biblical misunderstanding out there, and the web has made it available to large numbers of people. People ascribe many beliefs to the Bible that are not actually in the Bible. Also, many scientists have allowed their anti-religious antagonism to cause them to see science and faith as enemies.
The answer to the science-faith conflict is education. We need people with a scientific understanding to clarify what science actually says when it appears to conflict with faith. We also need people with some biblical understanding to present what the Bible actually says, not what denominational views teach.
A Newsweek article for November 30, 2017, reported that more Americans scoured the internet looking for proof that the Earth is flat in the past 12 months than ever before. The first “Flat Earth International Conference” in September drew 500 “believers.” I put the word believers in quotes because there is no way to tell how many of these folks view the whole thing as a joke, and how many people truly believe in a flat Earth.
Atheist and popularizer of secular humanism Neil DeGrasse Tyson got into the act by “sharing a photoshopped image of the moon on Twitter to undermine Flat-Earthers.” The image shows what a lunar eclipse would look like with a flat Earth. Tyson frequently equates belief in God with the flat Earth mentality. We may shake our heads in wonderment at this whole scenario, but it brings to mind the old proverb, “If people don’t believe in something, they will believe anything.”
While the Bible doesn’t discuss this issue directly, there are passages like Isaiah 40:22, Proverbs 8:27, and Luke 17:30-35 which infer that the Earth is round with daytime and nighttime activities taking place simultaneously. Unfortunately, we see some Christians taking positions on scientific issues that are similar to the Flat-Earthers. When the Bible is put in the same arena with flat Earth believers the Bible’s credibility suffers.