The Flat Earth Slur

Tired of being called a Flat Earther because you disagee with climate change proponents?  Flat Earth: that is the typical charge made to anyone, particularly Christians, who dares question the status of anyone who disagrees with the scientific trends upheld by the current scientific "consensus" -- whatever that actually means.  When the charge is made against Christians, the charge gets a two-for-one by belittling Christianity and throwing an age-old charge against the faithful.

The current heat wave in the US has brought out the usual claims about the undisputed truth of global warming/climate change/whatever term is in fashion.  Imagine -- a heat wave in July.  And, of course, if you disagree with this conclusion, you must be a Flat Earther.

The Flat Earth charge has been debunked from several angles before, and rather well.  I won't elaborate about the Biblical passages that suggest a round planet, or the ones that talk about half the Earth being in daylight while the other half is in night.  I also don't want to talk about how Washington Irving popularized the Flat Earth myth in the 1820s.  While these are all great ways to show that the Flat Earth accusation is not true, to my mind, they lack something that makes the case against the myth fully tangible, namely visual evidence.  Visual evidence?  Yes.  I will admit it is circumstantial, but very strong circumstantial evidence.

I am a history buff.  Okay, maybe a little more than that, as I do have a degree in history, although I haven't used it professionally.  Still, I read history books for pleasure (and lots of them).  I was scanning through a book on medieval English history when I noticed something in a photograph of a portrait of Richard II.  He was sitting on his throne, wearing his crown, and holding an orb and scepter.  It was the orb that caught my attention, especially since this one had such a tall cross on it.  Also, it was during a time when such an item supposedly should not have existed.

The orb was (and still is) a major element in the crown jewels.  It was a sphere with a cross attached to its northern pole.  While the scepter was a symbol of the king's power, the orb was a symbol that, while the king ruled over his kingdom, Christ reigned over the Earth.  These symbols of monarchy were given to the king at his coronation; one was to acknowledge his right to rule, and the other was to remind him that his power was not without limit.

As I looked at this picture, it dawned on me that what I was seeing wasn't supposed to be true; after all, medieval Christian Europe didn't believe the world was round, did it?  If Christians at this time believed that the world was flat, why would such an important symbol of the realm be round?  Why didn't the king hold a cross on a plate?

I did some more looking for pictures of orbs prior to Christopher Columbus and found quite a few.  The English weren't the only ones in Europe to know the truth about a round planet (examples here, here and here; the phenomenon was common and even went back to Roman coinage (albeit without the cross).  Actually, the Roman globe is more likely to be believed than any medieval Christian reference; after all, Eratosthenes, the ancient Greek geographer, came close to calculating the circumference of the Earth.  His feat is acknowledged, but then the Flat Earth accusers will claim that the truth known about a round Earth was lost by the superstitious Christians.

The Flat Earth accusation is simply a sham.  A few outliers have existed through history (you can find examples of people believing almost anything if you look hard enough) but belief in a round Earth has always been common, if not the majority opinion, among those who had any reason to actually think about it.

The textual arguments against the Flat Earth libel are still the strongest, but in a very visual world, I think the pictures of the orb add a powerful additional argument.  I am also not suggesting that Christians are the only ones to know that the Earth was round -- merely that the evidence I found (besides the Roman coin) was in a Christian context.

Debunking the Flat Earth libel doesn't mean that every charge it is made against is true, for just because a counter-argument is false doesn't automatically give one carte blanche to say whatever one wishes is true.  It does, however, do what it sets out to do -- dispel a terrible lie made about medieval Christians and defeat the guilt by association of anyone who disagrees with any current "scientific" view that cannot stand on its own merit.  Though most of history, people knew the world was round; whether by empirical evidence or scripture is irrelevant.  No such large-scale culture of Flat Earth believers existed.  Those who actually do believe the earth is flat are crackpots now and they were crackpots then.

It is hot outside because it is summer.  Some summers are hotter than others and some are cooler.  This year's heat does not anecdotally prove the climate change nonsense.  Stop the inane accusation and let real inquiry and debate run its course.  We'll all benefit.

Matthew Ruley is a graduate student in arts administration and resides in Palm Harbor, FL.