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7000 Years of Thinking Regarding Earth's Shape

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Author Topic: 7000 Years of Thinking Regarding Earth's Shape  (Read 607 times)
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« on: June 26, 2007, 12:20:45 am »

408 CE Severian, Bishop of Gabala - Depended upon Scriptures for view of the earth.  "The earth is flat and the sun does not pass under it in the night, but travels through the northern parts as if hidden by a wall"  [15]  He shared John Chrysostom's fundamentalism and opposition to pagan learning.  His view of the earth and its flat shape seems to indicate that this opposition to pagans also extended to a certain ignorance of it as well.


Some argue that he was not influential and note that his view did not prevail.  (Also see discussion on "Influential or Fringe Writers?" in Chapter 3.)
430 CE St. Augustine - For scriptural reasons, Augustine was opposed to inhabited antipodes, not a spherical earth.
Wrote De Genesi ad Litteram (The Literal Meaning of Genesis).  Like Saint Basil, when he diverted questions of the earth as Dreyer [15] states of Augustine, "The authority of Scripture is greater than the capacity of the human mind.".  However, he also seemed concerned that Christians would be laughed at for the Scriptural beliefs and urged them not to discuss the earth or the heavens: "Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances,...  and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience.  It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture.  We should do all that we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, lest the unbeliever see only ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn." (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim [50]) This quote has been used and abused by many writers trying to prove all manner of arguments.  It is likely that all he meant by this is that Christians should not speak on scientific topics for which they are uneducated.  Augustine was probably just concerned that Christians argue back with unbelievers and make incorrect statements, thus giving unbelievers more ammunition to be used against themselves.

"Though he seemed inclined to yield a little in regard to the sphericity of the earth, he fought the idea that men exist on the other side of it, saying that "Scripture speaks of no such descendants of Adam."  He insists that men could not be allowed by the Almighty to live there, since if they did they could not see Christ at His second coming descending through the air.  But his most cogent appeal, one which we find echoed from theologian to theologian during a thousand years afterward, is to the nineteenth Psalm, and to its confirmation in the Epistle to the Romans; to the words, "Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." He dwells with great force on the fact that St.  Paul based one of his most powerful arguments upon this declaration regarding the preachers of the gospel, and that he declared even more explicitly that "Verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world." Thenceforth we find it constantly declared that, as those preachers did not go to the antipodes, no antipodes can exist; and hence that the supporters of this geographical doctrine 'give the lie direct to King David and to St.  Paul, and therefore to the Holy Ghost.' Thus the great Bishop of Hippo taught the whole world for over a thousand years that, as there was no preaching of the gospel on the opposite side of the earth, there could be no human beings there."  [14]

"There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger.  This is the disease of curiosity. ... It is this which drives us to try to discover the secrets of nature, those secrets that are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which men should not wish to learn..." (St. Augustine of Hippo d. 430 CE)

St. Augustine stated, "As to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets on us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours, there is no reason for believing it.  Those who affirm it do not claim to possess any actual information; they merely conjecture that, since the earth is suspended within the concavity of the heavens, and there is as much room on the one side of it as on the other, therefore the part which is beneath cannot be void of human inhabitants.  They fail to notice that, even should it be believed or demonstrated that the world is round or spherical in form, it does not follow that the part of the earth opposite to us is not completely covered with water, or that any conjectured dry land there should be inhabited by men.  For Scripture, which confirms the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, teaches not falsehood; and it is too absurd to say that some men might have set sail from this side and, traversing the immense expanse of ocean, have propagated there a race of human beings descended from that one first man." (De Civitate Dei, xvi, 9):   [36]


** Included here only as a reference to works cited in the flat earth debates of contemporary authors.  Opposition to inhabited antipodes does NOT necessary mean opposition to a spherical earth or prove flat earth thinking.  (See Antipodes discussion in Chapter 3). In St. Augustine's case however, it seems clear that he was NOT a flat earther.  He definitely opposed inhabited antipodes, but gives other indications, as shown in the quotes above, that he believed the earth to be spherical (or at least was not in opposition to it).
A good example of the errors in interpreting the meaning of Antipodes by some modern authors of flat earth works is demonstrated in the following quote.  This author correctly states Augustine's view regarding the Antipodes, but then proceeds to elaborate based on his incorrect interpretation:

"St. Augustine reasoned that since the Bible contains no references to people living on the other side of the earth, that therefore there was no other side. The world must be flat."  [1]
As stated already, opposing the idea of people living on the other side of the world is NOT the same as promoting a flat earth.  These types of misinterpretations have caused much confusion in the flat earth debate.  (We made this mistake initially too!)
420 CE Orosius, Paulus - Spanish historian and priest who wrote famous encyclopedia Historiae Adversum Paganoslibri septem (Seven Books of History Against the Pagans), 418  A.D.  Accepts a threefold division of the world into Europe, Asia and Africa - thus no Antipodes or people living anywhere on the other side of the earth.  [64]


** Included here only as a reference to works cited in the flat earth debates of contemporary authors.  Opposition to inhabited antipodes does NOT necessary mean opposition to a spherical earth or prove flat earth thinking.  (See Antipodes discussion in Chapter 3)
394 CE Diodorus of Tarsus (Diodore) - In his book "Against Fatalism", he criticizes atheists who believe in the geocentric system.  His view was based on various Scriptures of the Bible and the common belief then that Heaven was a tent or vault over a presumably flat earth.  However, Diodorus' opinion on the matter is known to us only by a criticism of it by Photius.  [15]
439 CE Martianus Capella - wrote De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii (Marriage of Philology and Mercury) which presented proofs of the spherical earth as part of his popular poem.  {We have not found a good quote from this material yet.  What we have found is the concept of the celestial sphere presented, but in depicting the celestial sphere, the earth is shown as also being a sphere at the center of the rings.} [100]  (Referenced in David Lindberg's The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious and Institutional Context, 600 BC to 1450.)
518 CE Father Procopius of Gaza - Procopius believes that according to a text of Luke, antipodes are theologically impossible. "If there be men on the other side of the earth, Christ must have gone there and suffered a second time to save them; and therefore there must have been, as necessary preliminaries to his coming, a duplicate Adam, Eden, serpent, and Deluge!" We see again, how the Christian "plan of salvation" depends confessedly and utterly upon Adam, the garden, and the talking snake!"  [33]


** Included here only as a reference to works cited in the flat earth debates of contemporary authors.  Opposition to inhabited antipodes does NOT necessary mean opposition to a spherical earth or prove flat earth thinking.  (See Antipodes discussion in Chapter 3)
480 -
526 CE Boethius, Ancius Manlius Severinus - In commenting on the love of fame and reputation in The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius provides the following to explain how trivial these are in the grand scale of the universe: "As you have learnt from astronomers' shewing, the whole circumference of the earth is but as a point compared with the size of the heavens.  That is, if you compare the earth with the circle of the universe, it must be reckoned as of no size at all.  And of this tiny portion of the universe there is but a fourth part, as you have learnt from the demonstration of PtolemŠus, which is inhabited by living beings known to us. If from this fourth part you imagine subtracted all that is covered by sea and marsh, and all the vast regions of thirsty desert, you will find but the narrowest space left for human habitation." (Book II, p.49)  [111]   From this quote, one could argue both sides: spherical or flat disk; for both have a circumference.  But, then he refers to the 'circle of the universe' which leads us to believe he is speaking of spheres in both cases.   Though he uses the term 'circle', even the most primitive views of the universe were at least that it had the shape of a sphere or dome around the earth.  But, later in Book IV, we find "Yea, airy wings are mine to scale the heights of heaven; when these the mind has donned, swiftly she loathes and spurns this earth. She soars above the sphere of this vast atmosphere,...". (Book IV p.103)  [111]   This, combined with the previous quote, may be argued as evidence that both earth and the universe were viewed as spheres.  Finally, we have the following quote which appears to put the spherical view strongly in the forefront: "Homer with his honeyed lips sang of the bright sun's clear light; yet the sun cannot burst with his feeble rays the bowels of the earth or the depths of the sea. Not so with the Creator of this great sphere.  No masses of earth can block His vision as He looks over all. " (Book V, p.144) [111]
547 CE Cosmas Indicopleustes of Alexandria -  The Egyptian monk prepared a "complete and detailed system of the universe" in a book called "Topographia Christiana (Christian Topography)".  Based on Hebrews 9 and other passages, 1 he concluded that "the earth is a parallelogram, flat, and surrounded by four seas. It is four hundred days' journey long and two hundred broad. At the outer edges of these four seas arise massive walls closing in the whole structure and supporting the firmament or vault of the heavens, whose edges are cemented to the walls. These walls inclose [sic] the earth and all the heavenly bodies.". 
Some contemporary authors claim, "This theory held for some 600 years..." [1,2]  We haven't found any flat earth material to support this conclusion.

Cosmas states in his book that he learned his system from the man who later became Bishop Catholic of all of Persia (head of the Nestorian Church).

Cosmos' Christian Topography was meant to address the "wave of infidelity sweeping over the land" concerning the flatness of the earth and said it was "intended to denounce the false and heathen doctrine of the rotundity of the earth."  Let's examine the last statement:  It gives the impression that spherical thinking was, in fact, widely held in Cosmas' time.  Otherwise, why would he have felt compelled to oppose this 'wave of infidelity'?  Doesn't a 'wave ... sweeping across the country' imply that lots of people hold that view?)

Another quotation from "Christian Topography": "Although the figure of a man is upright, somehow it happens that those four are not standing upright at the same time; but wherever you turn them, those four never appear at once; so how can it be that we entertain these empty and false hypotheses? So how can it be that the rain falls on all four of them at once? So why do you vainly propose what neither our nature nor our mind can accept?" [13]

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