I knew it would happen eventually. Flat Earth is on the docket.
Ok. Here’s what I can’t do. I can’t address every scientific question or law or fact because here’s the bottom line. I’m not a scientist. I like science, I’m a fan of it, but I’m the equivalent of a ten year old trying to fly a fighter jet. I may know about flying fighter jets in video games, but a real life fighter pilot I am not. So in the spirit of full disclosure, I won’t be diving into the science. I definitely have opinions and thoughts about the sciences involved with flat earth versus globe earth, but if I begin addressing them here, it won’t be adequate.
[Also, I will not engage in debate or argument about this on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments section of this blog. I’ve learned my lesson on this too many times. I think it’s finally stuck.]
Here’s what I can do. Let’s look to the Scripture and see if God has given us any clear scientific insights about the shape of the earth.
Nearly without fail, as I’ve spoken to Flat Earthers and read from them online, if they are Christians they will claim that the Bible teaches a flat earth. In fact they will claim that a literal interpretation of the Bible can lead to nothing else except a flat earth. Is this true? Here’s what is true. The ancient Israelites, along with every other ancient near east culture, believed the earth was flat. This is undisputedly true. Secular and religious scholarship agrees that the ancients generally believed in a flat earth. As far as I know, the first evidence for a spherical earth didn’t come until a man in Ancient Greece, Eratosthenes, did experiments that helped him calculate the circumference of the earth’s sphere. But even with that, it took a long time for the flat earth model to be firmly displaced by a spherical model in science and in religious belief.
So, with the embrace of a spherical earth, the question arises: how should Christians understand what the Bible has to say about the earth’s shape?
Let me first say this. Flat Earthers are technically correct in their assertions about literal interpretations of the Bible. If you take a word for word, extremely literal interpretation of the Bible – in the original languages – you can be led to believe that the earth is indeed flat. Is there a teaching in the original languages that definitively says the earth is flat? No, not to my knowledge. But there are definitely things said in the Hebrew of the Old Testament which fit nicely into the ancient near east flat earth cosmology. Look at Genesis 1:6-8 in the Lexham English Bible – possibly the most literal word for word English translation available to us at this moment in time.
And God said, “Let there be a vaulted dome in the midst of the waters, and let it cause a separation between the waters.” So God made the vaulted dome, and he caused a separation between the waters which were under the vaulted dome and between the waters which were over the vaulted dome. And it was so. And God called the vaulted dome “heaven.” And there was evening, and there was morning, a second day. (The Lexham English Bible (Ge 1:6–8). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)
The vaulted dome is part of the flat earth cosmology of ancient Israel and the nations that surrounded her. King James renders it firmament. Most modern English translations say an expanse. But the Israelites of antiquity understood it to be a vaulted dome that covered the earth, and contained the atmosphere, sun, moon and stars. So let me draw out something here. If you insist on pure literalism when interpreting the Bible, then this is the cosmology you have to embrace.
Now, let’s address the non-scientific problems with embracing that cosmology. To embrace the ancient near east cosmology, you have to embrace multiple levels of global conspiracies that have been operating for centuries, even between nations who are bent on mutually assured destruction. If you are conspiracy minded, you’re already primed to embrace this. And let me be clear about myself. I have room in my worldview for the existence of conspiracies. So you have to decided whether you believe a conspiracy of this size and scale is possible to pull off for centuries.
Assuming you can believe that, then you have to embrace the idea that every satellite image you’ve ever seen of the globe earth is faked. In fact, you have to embrace the idea that every close up picture you’ve ever seen of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and the other planets of our solar system are fabrications. All videos of astronauts in the international space station are staged here on earth in a green room. The moon landings would have been staged as well. Essentially, NASA, the European Space Agency, and any other space program on the planet are part of the global conspiracy to hide the fact that the earth is flat and propagate the lie of a globe earth.
Another non-scientific problem is actually a trust issue. Flat Earthers tend to be people who already have major trust issues with institutions, be they government, academic, or religious. You can boil it down to having a problem with human authority, but that might over-simplify things. I have a very close friend who is a Flat Earther. He and I have gone round and round on this issue – in a very good spirited way. And the more I hear his position, the more I hear what I already knew about him. He doesn’t trust the worldly authorities that are in place. He’s a devout Christian. He believes – as do I, but we land in very different places on this particular topic – that the world system is out to deceive the masses in a way that leads them away from faith in Jesus Christ. To him, spherical earth is just one of the lies. And here is where I believe his belief in a flat earth hinges: he’s a pure literalist when he reads the Bible.
Let me call time-out to say this. The only reason I respect his belief is because it springs from a desire to reconcile the Scripture with reality. I can respect that because it comes from his love for the Lord.
Now there are probably other non-scientific reasons I could deal with, but for the sake of keeping this under three thousand words, I’m going to move along.
Let me show you why you don’t have to embrace a Flat Earth cosmology to be Biblical and still embrace all of what God says as unchanging truth. I need to give credit where it is due before I say what I’m about to say. Dr. Michael Heiser has helped me understand and articulate what follows. You can believe everything that Genesis 1-3 says as true without embracing ancient cosmologies. The emphasis of the creation story isn’t so much about what happened or how it happened, but who did it. Notice the repeating theme: and God said… and God said… and God said… six times, once for each day. If you notice, it’s not and God made or and God did, but and God said. That is, creation happened by God’s Word. God’s Word… if you’ve been a believer for long, that will hopefully ring a bell.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Creation, everything we see, was made by Jesus Christ. In the beginning, the only begotten Son of Yahweh, the Word, created everything. This is a strong correction offered against many of the creation stories in the surrounding nations around ancient Israel. In fact, when you lay them side by side, many of them have similar elements. That leads me to this.
What if the creation story we have wasn’t given as a literal play by play, but instead to correct the understanding of every culture that surrounded Israel? Hang with me. I know that’s a little too liberal for some of you, but I’m going to bring it back around. If you know your biblical history, you know that the Old Testament as we know it wasn’t assembled until the time between the Old and New Testaments. That was a time where Israel wasn’t her own nation. It was a time of Babylonian, Syrian, Persian, Greek and Roman conquest. It was a time where Israel was under military and cultural domination from multiple nations. When God led Israel’s priests and scribes to assemble the canon of the Old Testament, there was a passion for preserving belief in Yahweh while in captivity and to ensure that their Scripture stood as a stark correction to the pagan teachings that were being constantly thrown at them.
In that vein, let me offer this. When God spoke to the human authors of the Old Testament (and later the New Testament) he didn’t speak to them in ways that they couldn’t understand. He took the pagan cosmologies of the surrounding nations, which ancient Israel was already familiar with, and gave them a correct version of what they were already exposed to. In other words, God didn’t speak to the authors about physics and chemistry. He didn’t give them the creation story in microbiological and astronomical terms. He didn’t explain gravity, he didn’t explain the orbital motions of the other planets. Instead, God told them how he created the heavens and the earth in a narrative that they could understand and embrace. Put simply, he dumbed it down. And make no mistake, if he chose to retell creation to us 21st century folks today, he’d still be dumbing it down. This isn’t a slight against the intelligence of the ancients. They did their best with what they knew and understood. It’s actually embracing the simple idea that God’s creative genius and power is beyond human comprehension, both then and today.
Clearly, our knowledge has increased. Even the prophet Daniel predicted that as the end draws near, human knowledge will increase greatly (Daniel 12:4). Does our increased understanding of the world make anything God said in Genesis 1-3 untrue? Not for a minute! Just because he explained it in simple terms doesn’t make it untrue. A four year old can ask me how the lights in his room turn on. I can start all the way back at the coal mine, and work my way to the power plant, then explain the electromagnetic turbines that spin to create a charge of electrons that travel through miles of copper wire, through substations, through transformers, then through the breaker box at the house where it is split into two 110 volt circuits of electricity that travel to through the house wires to the light bulb and heat up a small filament inside the bulb that creates light for his room. I can overwhelm him with the complexities of the actual process and the science behind turbines, and how we mine for the coal…
Or I can tell him that when I flip this switch, the light turns on.
Both tellings are true. Only one is relatable to the four year old mind.
Don’t fool yourself. Even as technologically advanced as we are, we are still four year olds who won’t understand the complexities and mysteries behind how God created everything by the power of his Word.
Allow me to sum up. You don’t have to reject science or embrace deep conspiracies to believe in a biblical understanding of creation. You don’t have to embrace a flat earth like the ancient Israelites did and believe that NASA has faked every picture and video they’ve ever released to the public. You don’t have to, because the Bible doesn’t ask you to. God never asks us to treat the Bible as a science text. For one, it wasn’t written to scientific people, but more importantly the Bible was written so that even a child could have faith. Is the Bible deep? Absolutely! But it was given to us in a form that if a child was taught its teachings, they could embrace it and believe, and then go deeper as they mature.
Let me close by clearing the air. I believe that God created the heavens and the earth. I believe in a literal Adam and Eve who were divinely created, not divinely evolved from lower primates. I believe they were tempted by the Serpent, sinned, and brought death to creation. I believe the curse that fell on creation corrupted everything with death, and that ever since the curse fell, everything we can learn about creation as it is today will tell us nothing of how it was before the Fall. What we measure today is broken. If you attempt to measure a broken universe, you’ll get results that are accurate for a broken universe. Billions of years? Why not? If the world is broken, so are my answers when I measure it. Faith is required to believe what God has said, not measurements. If faith has led you to a flat earth, you won’t hear me judging you, even if I disagree. If faith hasn’t challenged your globe earth beliefs, don’t go looking for an argument that faith hasn’t led you to. So, Christian, whether you’re flat or globe make sure that what you believe comes from faith, not YouTube videos, not Flat Earth conferences, not NASA, not your science teachers in school, not even from trusted friends and family. The Word doesn’t say without measurement or evidence it is impossible to please God. It says:
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)