By Vexen Crabtree 2017
Copernicus (1473-1543)1,2, Kepler (1571-1630), Galileo (1564-1642)3,4,5, Newton (1643-1727)6 and Laplace (1749-1827)7 all fought battles against the Church when they published scientific papers that enraged the Church by writing that the Earth might orbit the sun, rather than the idea that it sat at a central position in the Universe. These and other scientists suffered torture, imprisonment, forced recantations and death at the hands of Christians5,8. The source of the Church's confidence was the Bible. Joshua 10:12-13, 2 Kings 20:11, Psalms 93:1, 104:5, Ecclesiastes 1:5, Isaiah 30:26, Isaiah 38:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 and Habakkuk 3:10-11 all contradicted the astronomers. It was not until 1979 that the Vatican "officially concede[d] that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and not vica-versa"4.
Without interference from theists, science would have been a thousand years more advanced than it is now. Aristarchus of Samos taught that the earth moves, in the 3rd century BCE1. But Greek astronomical knowledge was condemned and hidden by Christians (Ptolemy et al) in the second century. The Ionians discovered the truth about the Sun, the Earth and the stars9, but their era ended when their last great scientist, Hypatia, was attacked by a mob of Christians and burnt in 415CE. The center of science, the Alexandrian Library, was also burnt and destroyed. Although the Church did eventually lose the battle against astronomy, it still went on to violently impose dogmatic errors in other arenas of knowledge, such as biology. Thankfully, today, most mainstream Christians accept scientific facts in many matters and Christian organisations have much reduced power to hinder research.
Science advanced through such observational means as the measurement of the Earth, of shadows cast by the sun on the Earth's globular surface in different locations, measurements of line of sight, and of the movements of heavenly bodies. Theories were formed to explain discovered facts, and, it was clear that the idea that the Earth was flat, or stationary, did not fit the evidence. The Church fought against this not on the basis of evidence, but on the basis of Scripture. Here is a quick summary of the major battles fought, one after another, by the Church:
That the Earth is motionless and at the centre of the Universe (physically and ideologically), despite rising evidence to the contrary. Scientists found the Universe to be utterly vast, that the Earth orbits the Sun, and quickly theorised that it was not important in the grand scheme of the Universe.
That orbits are perfectly circular. Observations had never found this to be true, but, any systematic approach to lay down the facts that orbits were often irregular, and never circular, were heavily suppressed by the Church.
That the Earth was flat, with Hell below it, and Heaven above it resting on the sky. Many observations, from the clearly globular shadow cast by the Earth on the Moon, the lack of direct line of sight of the whole Earth, the different angles of shadows in different places at the same time, and eventually, the circumnavigation of the whole Earth, did not convince the Church to change its stance until well after nearly everyone else had.
That the Earth is only some thousands of years old, despite continually increasing geological and physical evidence that it was much more ancient. Those who presented geographical evidence such as the slow movements of glaciers and changes in the courses of rivers, or, sociological evidence such as the discovery of relics from ancient civilisations the vast Human population, were declared dangerous heretics, and their writings burnt.
That all stellar bodies move in perfect orbits "regulated by providential intervention; the 'Principia' of Newton demonstrated that they are due to irresistible law"12. It turns out that no body moves in a perfect circular orbit; all are ellipsis with various wobbles, cycles and quirks as a result of the haphazard nature of the solar system.
Most of these arguments had begun against Greek and Babylonian astronomers, and the Church effectively and barbarically suppressed scientific and astronomical knowledge for the best part of 1,400 years. Bertrand Russell says the most significant battles started with Copernicus1, but overall it started over a thousand years before him, against the first schools of astronomy.
If you wish to get a feel for some of the ignorance that emanated from Church officials, attempt to read the exhortations of Lucius Lactantius (250-325CE) and Cosmas Indicopleustes (6th century) according to historian John Draper:
“Thus Lactantius, referring to the heretical doctrine of the globular form of the earth, remarks: 'Is it possible that men can be so absurd as to believe that the crops and the trees on the other side of the earth hang downward, and that men have their feet higher than their heads? If you ask them how they defend these monstrosities, how things do not fall away from the earth on that side, they reply that the nature of things is such that heavy bodies tend toward the centre, like the spokes of a wheel, while light bodies, as clouds, smoke, fire, tend from the centre to the heavens on all sides. Now, I am really at a loss what to say of those who, when they have once gone wrong, steadily persevere in their folly, and defend one absurd opinion by another.' On the question of the antipodes, St. Augustine asserts that 'it is impossible there should be inhabitants on the opposite side of the earth, since no such race is recorded by Scripture among the descendants of Adam.' Perhaps, however, the most unanswerable argument against the sphericity of the earth was this, that 'in the day of judgment, men on the other side of a globe could not see the Lord descending through the air.' [...]
Cosmas Indicopleustes [...] wrote a work entitled 'Christian Topography,' the chief intent of which was to confute the heretical opinion of the globular form of the earth, and the pagan assertion that there is a temperate zone on the southern side of the torrid. He affirms that, according to the true orthodox system of geography, the earth is a quadrangular plane, extending four hundred days' journey east and west, and exactly half as much north and south; that it is inclosed by mountains, on which the sky rests; that one on the north side, huger than the others, by intercepting the rays of the sun, produces night; and that the plane of the earth is not set exactly horizontally, but with a little inclination from the north: hence the Euphrates, Tigris, and other rivers, running southward, are rapid; but the Nile, having to run up-hill, has necessarily a very slow current. The Venerable Bede, writing in the seventh century, tells us that 'the creation was accomplished in six days, and that the earth is its centre and its primary object. The heaven is of a fiery and subtile nature, round, and equidistant in every part, as a canopy from the centre of the earth. It turns round every day with ineffable rapidity, only moderated by the resistance of the seven planets, three above the sun--Saturn, Jupiter, Mars-- then the sun; three below--Venus, Mercury, the moon. The stars go round in their fixed courses, the northern perform the shortest circle.'”
In the 17th century, Bible-based cosmology became challenged on multiple fronts. Observational evidence and astronomical investigations all supported the Copernican view that the Earth orbitted the Sun.14
The stubborn stance against science and real-world knowledge in Christianity stems from the very founders of that religion. Take Tertullian, one of the great and powerful Christian speakers of very early Christianity, who in 200CE was defending Christianity against its critics. 'Before he closes his defense, Tertullian renews an assertion which, carried into practice, as it subsequently was, affected the intellectual development of all Europe. He declares that the Holy Scriptures are a treasure from which all the true wisdom in the world has been drawn; that every philosopher and every poet is indebted to them. He labors to show that they are the standard and measure of all truth, and that whatever is inconsistent with them must necessarily be false'15. And what a terrible legacy became of that mode of thought: it is only true if it says so in the Bible. The hallmark of ignorant, dangerous barbarianism and fundamentalism.
Thankfully for the study of truth, the process of secularisation has diminished the strength of religion across the West, and since the Enlightenment, when religious institutions started to lose control of public life, education continues to act as an anti-religion force in the world: the more educated a person is, the less likely they are to be religious. Education is the key to leading successful, happy and above all, a meaningful life devoid of nonsense. The future looks bright for many. Although Europe excels (in a patchy way) in all-faiths education where religions cannot stamp their particular dogmas over science education, this is not the case in much of the rest of the world, so there is much work yet to do in combatting anti-science religiosity.
We all know we divide time into 60 seconds, 60 minutes, 24 hours, 7 days, 4 weeks and 12 months. But in antiquity there have been many ways of recording the passage of time, and many ways to divide up the year into seasons and months. Although the Egyptians may have first divided the day into 24 hours over 5500 years ago16, it was the Babylonians in their star-gazing, moon-charting enthusiasm who divided time into divisions based on the movements of the moon and sun. They divided weeks into 7 days to correspond to phases of the moon, and hours and minutes into divisions of 60 because they had a base-60 numbering system17, and gave us the Zodiac.18. Moon-based and sun-based system became the foundation of Jewish and Christian calendars, and has remained in place as the world's most common system of time-telling. In Qur'an 9:3619 it even says that God itself, not us humans, ordained the division of the year into 12 months.
The Babylonians were not ideological in their approach and their astronomers spent lifetimes making careful measurements of the stars and stellar bodies. Aristotle was amazed when he attained 1,903 years' worth of astronomical observations from Babylon, and Ptolemy, the Egyptian scientist, had a Babylonian record of eclipses that dated back to 747BCE. They "fixed the length of a tropical year within twenty-five seconds of the truth; their estimate of the sidereal year was barely two minutes in excess. They had detected the precession of the equinoxes. They knew the causes of eclipses, and, by the aid of their cycle called Saros, could predict them. Their estimate of the value of that cycle, which is more than 6,585 days, was within nineteen and a half minutes of the truth". They measured exactly how the moon covered up stars, and, correctly knew how the solar system was arranged and the order of the planets.20.
This methodical, consistent and careful approach informed their views about the world: because they adapted their descriptions of reality in accordance with the evidence they discovered, they were becoming increasingly accurate. However Babylon was given a very bad name by the religions of Judaism and Christianity which both rejected evidence-based approaches in favour of religious inspiration and ideology, and studying Babylonian knowledge became anathema throughout much of the Judeo-Christian influenced world.
Two thousand five hundred years ago, from as long ago as 600BCE, the Ionians discovered a new way of thinking. They devoted their time to rational study backed up by physical experimentation and logical critical thinking based on known facts. Now we call their ways the scientific method. They believed that the Earth was a planet that orbited the sun, and that the stars were very far away.
For more, read: "What is Science and the Scientific Method?" by Vexen Crabtree (2014)
The city of Alexandria was the greatest in the ancient world. Its famous Library of Alexandria was constructed in the third century BCE by the Greek Kings, the Ptolemys. It became a scientific research centre and publishing capital of the world. Ionians forged ahead in many arenas of knowledge. "Eratosthenes accurately calculated the size of the Earth [...], Hipparchus anticipated that the stars come into being, slowly move during the course of centuries, and eventually perish, it was he who first catalogued the positions and magnitudes of the stars to detect such changes. Euclid produced a textbook on geometry from which humans learned for twenty-three centuries"21. Such astounding wisdom backed up by studious thinking and experimentation could have launched the world into the modern era. But it didn't.
Rising superstition, the taking of slaves and the growth of monotheistic religion led to the demise of scientific enterprise. The culture changed. The last great scientist of Alexandria, Hypatia, was born in 370CE at a time when the "growing Christian Church was consolidating its power and attempting to eradicate pagan influence and culture". Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria, considered Hypatia to be a symbol of the learning and science which he considered to be pagan. "In the year 415, on her way to work she was set upon by a fanatical mob of Cyril's parishioners. They dragged her from her chariot, tore off her clothes, and, armed with abalone shells, flayed her flesh from her bones. Her remains were burned, her works obliterated, her name forgotten. Cyril was made a saint"21.
The last remains of the Alexandrian Library were destroyed not long after Hypatia's death. Nearly all the books and documents were completely destroyed. The Western Dark Ages had begun, and all knowledge and science was forgotten in the West for over a thousand years.
The scientist Carl Sagan's has written comprehensively and authoritively on the history of the correct knowledge about the cosmos, and here are two excerpts from his book Cosmos22 which describe the rise efforts of Eratosthenes who measured the Earth and found it to be globular, and using very simple tools and deduction, found that Sun must be large and far away:
“The discovery that the Earth is a little world was made [...] in the ancient Near East, in a time some humans call the third century B.C., in the greatest metropolis of the age, the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Here there lived a man named Eratosthenes. [...] He was also the director of the great library of Alexandria, where one day he read in a papyrus book that in the southern frontier outpost of Syene, near the first cataract of the Nile, at noon on June 21 vertical sticks cast no shadows. [...] A reflection of the Sun could then be seen in the water at the bottom of a deep well. The Sun was directly overhead. [...] Eratosthenes was a scientist, and his musings on these commonplaces changed the world [because] he had the presence of mind to do an experiment, actually to observe whether in Alexandria vertical sticks cast shadows near noon on June 21. And, he discovered, sticks do.
The only possible [explanation], he saw, was that the surface of the Earth is curved. Not only that: the greater the curvature, the greater the difference in the shadow lengths. [...] Sticks placed at different angles to the Sun's rays cast shadows of different lengths. For the observed difference in the shadow lengths, the distance between Alexandria and Syene had to be about seven degrees along the surface of the Earth. [...] Eratosthenes knew that the distance between Alexandria and Syene was approximately 800 kilometers, because he hired a man to pace it out. Eight hundred kilometers times 50 is 40,000 kilometers: so that must be the circumference of the Earth. [He multiplied by 50 because 360 degrees divided by 7 is about 50]
This is the right answer. Eratosthenes' only tools were sticks, eyes, feet and brains, plus a taste for experiment. With them he deduced the circumference of the Earth with an error of only a few percent, a remarkable achievement for 2,200 years ago. He was the first person to accurately measure the size of a planet.”
But as we have seen, this evidence-based and correct line of thinking was to be wiped out by the Christian Church as it rose to power within the Roman Empire. Because education and science disagreed with Christian ideas about the Universe, such endeavours were pagan, and to be annihilated. Unfortunately for all, they were often successful, and the Dark Ages began.
“The Platonists and their Christian successors held the peculiar notion that the Earth was tainted and somehow nasty, while the heavens were perfect and divine. The fundamental idea that the Earth is a planet, that we are citizens of the Universe, was rejected and forgotten. [...] Aristarchus was once of the last of the Ionian scientists. [He] was the first person to hold that the Sun rather than the Earth is at the center of the planetary system, that all the planets go around the Sun rather than the Earth. [...] From the size of the Earth's shadow on the Moon during a lunar eclipse, he deduced that the Sun had to be much larger than the Earth, as well as very far away. [...] It is the same idea we associate with the name of Copernicus, whom Galileo described as 'the restorer and confirmer', not the inventor, of the heliocentric hypothesis. For most of the 1,800 years between Aristarchus and Copernicus nobody knew the correct disposition of the planets, even though it had been laid out perfectly clearly around 280 B.C..”
Thankfully four scientists endeavoured to once again place human affairs in their proper place in the universe.
“According to the new theory, the Copernican, the earth, so far from being at rest, has a twofold motion: it rotates on its axis once a day, and it revolves round the sun once a year. [It] had in fact been invented by the Greeks, whose competence in astronomy was very great. It was advocated by the Pythagorean school [...]. The first astronomer who is known definitely to have taught that the earth moves was Aristarchus of Samos, who lived in the third century B.C.. [...] Ptolemy, about the year A.D. 130, rejected the view of Aristarchus, and restored the earth to its privileged position at the center of the universe. Throughout later antiquity and the Middle Ages, his view remained unquestioned."”
“The first blow to the homocentricity of classical religion came with the realisation that the Universe did not revolve around the Earth”
The Church forbade, and forcefully prevented, the teaching of Copernicus' astronomical theory2. After Copernicus (1473-1543) came some of the most prominent and insightful scientists that there have ever been, and they continued the battle using a mixture of clever politics, careful phrasing and physical evasion. Explorers and sailors joined their ranks, echoing ancient knowledge that the seas were spherical rather than flat. Science continued to advance, often bloodied and injured by the Church. Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) had already set off to sail around the world despite warnings from Spanish ecclesiastics. Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) championed Copernicus' decentralization of the Earth. Copernicus's ideas were more widely known despite continual resistance from the Church and the Inquisition. The inquisition captured, imprisoned, tortured and silenced scientists who challenged orthodox opinions8, and the theory that the earth moved, and that the Sun was the center of the solar system, was a serious challenge. The biblical basis of their ignorance is examined later on this page.
“The circular visible horizon and its dip at sea, the gradual appearance and disappearance of ships in the offing, cannot fail to incline intelligent sailors to a belief in the globular figure of the earth. The writings of the Mohammedan astronomers and philosophers had given currency to that doctrine throughout Western Europe, but, as might be expected, it was received with disfavor by theologians. [...]
Among the Genoese sailors who entertained these views was Christopher Columbus. [...] In Genoa itself Columbus met with but little encouragement. He then spent many years in trying to interest different princes in his proposed attempt. Its irreligious tendency was pointed out by the Spanish ecclesiastics, and condemned by the Council of Salamanca; its orthodoxy was confuted from the Pentateuch, the Psalms, the Prophecies, the Gospels, the Epistles, and the writings of the Fathers - St. Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Gregory, St. Basil, St Ambrose. At length, however, encouraged by the Spanish Queen Isabella, and substantially aided by a wealthy seafaring family, the Pinzons of Palos, some of whom joined him personally, he sailed on August 3, 1492, with three small ships, from Palos.”
Despite the threats, explorers ventured forth into the world to find out in practical reality what the shape of the Earth was. This search for the evidence was the thing that continually separated the religious from those who would push mankind ever forwards. Religious movements came and went, but the theme remained in the Church that the egotistical notion that Humankind was at the centre of creation was so important, that not even The Truth would get in the way of their clinging to that prideful doctrine.
“At first, the Protestants were almost more bitter against [Copernicus] than the Catholics. Luther said that "People give ear to an upstart astrologer who strove show that the earth revolves [...]. This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth." Melanchthon was equally emphatic; so was Calvin, who, after quoting the text: "The world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved" (Ps. xciii, I), triumphantly concluded: "Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?" Even Wesley, so late as the eighteenth century, while not daring to be quite so emphatic, nevertheless stated that the new doctrines in astronomy "tend toward infidelity".”
Giordano Bruno next spoke out that the sun is the center of the solar system, and, also imagined that there were infinite worlds out there in space, many with intelligent life on them; but such things wreak havoc with the idea that God had one son, who lived and died on one planet to be salvation to one species, etc. See: When Human Religions Meet Intelligent Alien Life: 2. Saviour Religions Will be Challenged. He was burned at the stake in 1600CE.
“On the demand of the spiritual authorities, Bruno was removed from Venice to Rome, and confined in the prison of the Inquisition, accused not only of being a heretic, but also a heresiarch, who had written things unseemly concerning religion; the special charge against him being that he had taught the plurality of worlds, a doctrine repugnant to the whole tenor of Scripture and inimical to revealed religion, especially as regards the plan of salvation. After an imprisonment of two years he was brought before his judges, declared guilty of the acts alleged, excommunicated, and, on his nobly refusing to recant, was delivered over to the secular authorities to be punished 'as mercifully as possible, and without the shedding of his blood,' the horrible formula for burning a prisoner at the stake.”
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian mathematician, scientist and astronomer4. He acquired the design of Dutch inventor Hans Lippershey's telescope (invented in 1608), and Galileo improved on the design. He discovered that multiple stellar bodies have their own moons, and that the Earth orbits the sun. But this so alarmed the Catholic Church that in 1616 CE they issued an injunction against Galileo to force him not to discuss these findings14. Clare Gibson tells this part of the story:
“Galileo Galilei... in 1609 constructed a refracting telescope whose lenses gave it a magnification of around 8x, which he later improved to 30x. [...] Galileo reported seeing ... four 'stars' orbiting the planet Jupiter, which he eventually concluded must be satellites or moons. [...] Galileo was convinced that he had now seen proof of the Copernican view of the universe with his own eyes, but mindful of the Church's implacable opposition to the heliocentric theory, delayed publishing his cosmological work Dialogue on the Two Great World Systems until 1632. Horrified by its contents, the Church banned the book, subjected its author to house arrest and eventually 'persuaded' Galileo to recant his allegedly heretical, Copernican views.”
After finally publishing his findings in 1632, the Church subjected him to house arrest for the rest of his life26, preventing him from teaching or publishing any further material.
“[Galileo] was summoned before the Holy Inquisition, under an accusation of having taught that the earth moves round the sun, a doctrine 'utterly contrary to the Scriptures.' He was ordered to renounce that heresy, on pain of being imprisoned. He was directed to desist from teaching and advocating the Copernican theory, and pledge himself that he would neither publish nor defend it for the future. Knowing well that Truth has no need of martyrs, he assented to the required recantation, and gave the promise demanded. For sixteen years the Church had rest.
But in 1632 Galileo ventured on the publication of his work entitled 'The System of the World,' its object being the vindication of the Copernican doctrine. He was again summoned before the Inquisition at Rome, accused of having asserted that the earth moves round the sun. He was declared to have brought upon himself the penalties of heresy. On his knees, with his hand on the Bible, he was compelled to abjure and curse the doctrine of the movement of the earth. What a spectacle! This venerable man, the most illustrious of his age, forced by the threat of death to deny facts which his judges as well as himself knew to be true! He was then committed to prison, treated with remorseless severity during the remaining ten years of his life, and was denied burial in consecrated ground.”
Newton and Laplace: Once Newton had worked out his laws of gravitation; the most accurate and comprehensive laws so far on the subject, and confirmed the orbits of the planets (and predicted others, that were later found), Pierre Simon de Laplace (1749-1827) could publish his five-volume book, Celestial Mechanics (finished in 1825). In one oft-quoted moment, Napolean noted that Laplace's book did not talk about God, and Laplace replied "I have no need of that hypothesis"27.
It was not until 1979 that the Vatican "officially concede[d] that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and not vica-versa"4. Although the Church eventually retreated, after many scientists fled and published works from safer shores (i.e., Denmark), this was only the first of a series of battles with the basic facts of science. Having seen the science progress, we should examine what it is that made Christians so adamantly oppose free thought! Many answers are to be found in the text of the bible.
“The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church.”
Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521)
Discoverer of the Straits of Magellan and the Philippines
Christian beliefs have led some people into insanity. Religions tend to be anti-science, and in addition to denying that the Earth orbits the Sun, one of the anti-science avenues down which Christianity has often fled is the one to deny that the Earth is spherical. I don't know the psychological mechanics of how you become so ignorant, but I do know that the arguments stated above are also ones Christians have employed to 'prove' that the Earth is, actually, flat.
The Earth is Flat:
The end of the world starts with the rapture, when approximately half us will be taken into heaven, suddenly, by God (Matthew 24:40-41). 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 says that first, the dead will rise to meet Jesus in the sky ('the air'). Then, the living will also float up to be with him forever. Mark 13:26-27 says the elect will be gathered from the four winds. St Augustine and Martin Luther both argued that no-one lived on the bottom side of the flat Earth because when Jesus appears in the sky, they wouldn't be able to see him and couldn't float up to be with him28.
Heaven is frequently described as being "above" the Earth, the stars "covering" it. The "heavens" are sometimes used to describe the sky, sometimes used to describe where God and the angels live. I.e., Psalms 104:2 has the (flat) Earth "covered" in light; whereas in reality only half the Earth is illuminated by the sun at a time because it is spherical, not flat!
The Earth is at the Center of the Solar System and it Doesn't Move:
M. Luther, the founder of Protestant Christianity, commented on Copernicus' theory that the Earth orbits the sun:
“This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth (Psa xciii. I). [...] Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?”
In Joshua 10:12-13 we see God making 'the sun stand still'. The authors of the Bible frequently asked for, and got, God's help in war against their numerous neighbours and enemies. But confusion abounds: we now know that it is the Earth's movement that creates the cycle of day and night, not the sun's. Christians, however, could not accept this because if the Earth orbited the sun, how could Jehovah have granted the request to make the sun stand still? Because they couldn't question the Bible, they lost their sanity!
2 Kings 20:11 provides another example of scientific nonsense, when Isaiah called on the obedient Jehovah to move the sun backwards. This would have upset all the sundials and timekeepers of the world; yet no-one else notices apart from Hezekiah! The writer of Kings clearly didn't understand astronomy; and I rather suspect that if the story is at all true, it was Hezekiah who was tricked rather than that the whole world didn't notice such a miraculous event as the direction of the Earth's spin changing and the passage of the day reversing itself for a while! Isaiah 38:8 tells a strangely familiar tale with slightly different details.
Psalms 93:1 and Psalms 104:5 both state that the Earth is "firm" and "cannot move", and this was much quoted by anti-science Christians before the overwhelming evidence gradually embarrassed them into silence..
Ecclesiastes 1:5 explains that "The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose". The sun, of course, does perform no such acrobatics.
Isaiah 30:26 tells us that one day the light of the moon shall 'be as' the light of the sun. But we now know that the moon reflects the sun's light, so it has always been the same! Likewise, Mark 13:24 states that the moon "gives its light" not "reflects" it.
Habakkuk 3:10-11 describes an amazing and miraculous scene, where the sun and the moon stand still "in their habitation". The sun is always standing still, of course, at the center of the solar system.
And one final error which doesn't fall into the above categories:
In addition to these verses that were used as actual evidence that the Earth wasn't spherical, other indirect sources instructed (some) Christians simply not to enquire about complicated matters that were beyond scripture: Origen, instrumental in founding many of Christianity's formal beliefs, argued from Ecclesiasticus 3:22 that Christians should not pursue avenues of knowledge that are not sourced directly from scripture alone30.
“Seek not the things that are too high for thee, and search not into the things that are above thy ability: but the things that God hath commanded thee, think of them always and in many of his works be not curious.”
Some modern Christian groups continue to argue that the Earth is the center of the Universe. The Skeptical Inquirer (2007)32, mentions three of them - there are doubtless many more just in the English-speaking world alone:
The Geocentric Bible Foundation of Hugoton, Texas who have taken to sending thousands of leaflets in Southern California.
The Tychonian Society, founded in 1971, who say that "we believe [...] the Bible teaches us of an earth that neither rotates daily nor revolves yearly about the sun; that it is at rest with respect to throne of him who called it into existence; and that hence it is absolutely at rest in the universe".
The Catholic Apologetics International who proclaim "Galileo was Wrong" on their website, "The earth revolves around the sun? Think again! ... Can You Handle the Truth?"
Martin Gardner, the ground-breaking mathematician and skeptical thinker, writes (in 1957) of one Christian flat-Earth group which has since folded:
“It is hard to believe that any literate American, living in the [...] Atomic Age, would doubt that the earth is round; yet there are several thousand such persons. Most of them live in a drab little town called Zion, Illinois, on the shore of Lake Michigan about forty miles north of Chicago. They are the remnant of what at one time was a flourishing religious sect called The Christian Apostolic Church in Zion, founded in 1895 by a Scottish faith-healer named John Alexander Dowie.
Rev. Dowie was forcibly expelled from office as "General Overseer" of Zion in 1905. For the next thirty years, the community of 6,000 was ruled by the iron hand of Wilbur Glenn Voliva. [...] Motorists along the Lake front soon learned to avoid stopping in the village; they were likely to be arrested and fined for smoking cigarettes, or whistling on Sunday. [...]
According to Voliva, a huge wall of snow and ice prevents ships from sailing off the edge and falling into Hades. [...] The stars are much smaller than the earth and rotate around it. The moon is self-luminous. [...] "The idea of a sun millions of miles in diameter and 91,000,000 miles away is silly. The sun is only 32 miles across and not more than 3,000 miles from the earth. [...] God made the sun to light the earth, and therefore must have placed it close to the task it was designed to do. What would you think of a man who built a house in Zion and put the lamp to light it in Kenosha, Wisconsin?".”
Other arguments of Voliva's based on wind speed and other basic experiences of everyday life demonstrated an astounding ignorance of basic science. His counter-arguments against those who pointed out his basic science errors, were based on a mixture of complete misunderstanding and scriptural verse. The latter prevented him from questioning his beliefs. He also predicted the end of the world - and I don't think I need to tell you that his 1923, 1927, 1930 and 1935 predictions were all somewhat wrong. Thankfully it was Voliva's domination of this town which eventually came to an end, and as early as 1957 it was returning to normal there.
“Other churches have moved in. The Blue Laws have been repealed. Girls are wearing lipstick and nail polish, and in the summer, even shorts on Enoch Avenue will not cause their arrest.”
The violent assertions of Christians that the Earth is the centre of the universe was partially a result of pride.z\
Which indicates more pride: to believe that the vast and ancient universe has no purpose, or to believe that a universe of 100 billion galaxies was created 14 billion years ago just so that one could grace it with one's presence?
Which indicates more pride: to believe that no higher power cares about humanity, or to believe that the Creator of 100 billion galaxies came to Earth and suffered just for the benefit of its human inhabitants?
Which indicates more pride: to believe the universe rigidly follows natural laws, or to believe that the laws governing 100 billion galaxies are sometimes suspended because the Creator listens to one's prayers?
The Bible isn't the only holy book that was written by those with erroneous views about the cosmos. William Draper, a critic of religion's negative effects on the development of human knowledge, notes that the Muslim world did much better than the Christian one in cultivating science after their capture of Alexandria in 638CE: "This was only six years after the death of the Prophet. In less than two centuries they had not only become acquainted with, but correctly appreciated, the Greek scientific writers"34. However despite that, the Islamic world would later fall into a dark ages that is deeper and has lasted longer than the one that Christianity wallowed in, and, it continues to this very day. The Qur'an too contains statements that are irreconcilable with basic science. My gathering of notes on Islam is not yet complete, but, here are some of the things you can find in the Qur'an:
Qur'an 13:2, 31:10: "Allah is He Who raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see". At first glance this may be read as simple mythology; it isn't saying there are really pillars holding up the heavens. Hence, the correct doctrine that the Earth is a planet orbiting the sun with no particular place "above" the earth, is compatible. However, it says without pillars that you can see. This means there are pillars you can't see. Perhaps, a force such as gravity? There is no such force - the heavens aren't held up in any way at all; gravity formed the Earth - "the heavens" is simply our view of the universe's stars. Although this verse is not a direct contradiction of science, it was surely written by someone who didn't know what the structure of the Universe really was, or, by someone who writes poor analogies!
Qur'an 7:54, 13:3, 91:1-4: "He brings the night as a cover over the day". This is simply wrong; darkness is the absence of light. The sun isn't 'concealed' - it is still there, burning brightly, but at night we are simply facing away from it on the Earth. Light is composed of photons with a frequency that our eyes are receptive to; there is no "cover" for the day, it is simply a period where light from the sun can't get around the far side of the Earth. The light is blocked by the Earth but in exactly the opposite way to a "cover", which goes above, for if you draw a line from the sun to the dark side of the Earth, the light-block is underneath our feet, not a cover. It is simply a bad analogy. This verse was written by someone who did not understand the physical properties of light and dark nor the positioning and motions of the sun and the Earth.
Qur'an 6:96-97 says that (1) God created the stars so that Humans could navigate at night time, (2) created night so humans could rest and (3) made the moon in order to calculate the months (also 10:5). Most of the logic here is backwards. Criticisms are: (1) The stars were always an incredibly confusing and poor method of navigation; us human beings have invented many better ways than the one God purportedly made! And it seems ridiculous that an entire universe of stars was created so that a fledgling species for a while could use them to steer boats. (2) We evolved to rest at night alongside all other animals - we adapted to night, rather than night being designed for us (consider animals that live at the poles, with completely different circadian patterns). (3) The months could be divided up according to star rhythms, or even just be counts of numbers of days; the division is arbitrary and not important. To state that the moon fulfils a non-existent requirement shows, like the other things mentioned in these verses, an intellectual shallowness and scientific ignorance on behalf of the author of those verses.
Comets chase devils away: The Qur'an contains dozens of verses that explain that devils sometimes sneak close to the earth to steal things, or, to listen in on things; such devils/jinn/evil spirits, are then chased away by bright flaming fires in the sky (sometimes translated as 'missiles'). The stars are also positioned in the 'near heavens' as guards, ready to be turned into such missiles. See Qur'an 15:16-18, 21:32, 37:10, 41:12, 67:5 and 72:8-9. In Arabian mythology it was commonly said that comets are fiery missiles chasing away devils; so the Quran's text on this matter merely results from the influence of local culture from the time of the founding of Islam. In reality, comets are not stars, and they're certainly not protectors of the Earth given the devastation that can be caused when large ones hit the ground.
The Earth Does Not Move: 35:41 says God holds the Earth and the Heavens still, so that they do not move. But this verse is simply completely wrong; the Earth orbits the sun, and the sun and all other stars are themselves moving in mobile galaxies. Nothing is fixed.
The Sun orbits the Earth: "And He it is Who has created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon, each in an orbit floating" (Qur'an 21:33). This is affirmed in 14:33 and 36:38-40. Less directly, 91:1-2 says that the moon follows the sun. This only makes sense if you think that the sun and moon both orbit the Earth.
Stars are in the "near" heaven: See 37:6-8 and 41:12. The visible stars are not in any "near heaven" but spread throughout the whole universe, near and far. The author of this verse did not appreciate the true scale of the universe, nor knew where stars are.
The Earth is Flat:
18:84-86,89-90 tells the story of a traveller who first travels to the extreme West, where he finds the sun setting in a muddy spring, and then, he travels to the extreme East to the point where it rises from, and it rises upon a particular people who are stationed there. Needless to say, this story is quite confused. The sun wouldn't fit in a muddy pool, and certainly doesn't set into one! Nor is there any special people above whom the sun rises because it stays put, and we all take turns to face it as the Earth spins. A story in the Hadiths confirms this; Sahih Bukhari, vol. 4, book 54:421 has Muhammad explain that the sun may one day not get permission to rise in the East, and darkness will fall over the whole Earth. This is rubbish; the only way for the sun not to rise is for the Earth to stop spinning. In which case, only half the Earth will be without sunlight - the other half will be in permanent daytime. It seems lucky for Muhammad, when he dictated the Qur'an, that God also thought the Earth was flat!
To pray facing Mecca only makes true sense if the command was written by those who think the world is flat. On the surface of a sphere, only those in the immediate vicinity can really "face" a location. Everyone else is staring out to space or must angle themselves downwards in a very strange manner which no Muslims hold to be the correct way. See: How to Pray in Islam, According to the Qur'an: 6. Quran 2:144-9: Facing Mecca - A Nonsensical Instruction That Only Makes Practical Sense on a Flat Earth.
Qur'an 78:6 says the world is a "wide" expanse. It fails to mention that it is actually more like a spherical one. Likewise many verses like 15:19 are often translated as saying the world is "spread out" or "flat".
Things go 'up' into heaven - 57:4. Things actually go "up" into space.
36:40 warns us that the sun and moon both float in orbits; however, rather than spread confusion and error, the Qur'an could have explained to people the truth that the moon orbits the Earth, and the Earth orbits the sun. It comes nowhere near making such statements. But in the verse just mentioned... it does console all those who believe we on Earth are looking up at a sun and a moon in orbit around us, and tells us they can't overtake each other, and the daytime will not be overtaken by permanent night. Well, it seems the Qur'an has done as much as the Bible to harm our understanding of astronomy.
Current edition: 2017 Oct 03
Originally published 2006 Dec 03
Parent page: Christianity
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Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Published by Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, NY, USA. Pro-science magazine published bimonthly.
The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. Book Review.
(2003) "Homocentricity or Anthropocentrism: Why Do Religions Think Humanity Is Central to God and Creation?" (2003). Accessed 2018 Apr 06.
Gardner, Martin. Died 2010 May 22 aged 95.
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(1915) Myths of Babylonia and Assyria. Amazon Kindle digital edition produced by Sami Sieranoja, Tapio Riikonen and PG Distributed Proofreaders. E-book.
(2002) Religion, Science and the New Age. This essay is chapter 5 of "Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002)1 (pages p173-224).
(2002, Ed.) Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age. Published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Aldershot, UK, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. Paperback book.
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(1935) Religion and Science. 1997 edition. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. Introduction by Michael Ruse. Paperback book.
(1946) History of Western Philosophy. 2000 edition. Published by Routledge, London, UK. Paperback book.