Talk:Flat Earth

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Former good article Flat Earth was one of the Philosophy and religion good articles, but it has been removed from the list. There are suggestions below for improving the article to meet the good article criteria. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
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The deniers deny the deniers' denial[edit]

The idea that there was not a common belief in a flat earth is absurd, and the people here denying a flat earth consciousness existed are even more vehement and arrogant than those who propagated the 'flat earth myth' in the 18th century and those who believed there was a flat earth in the 14th century. The following, taken from the article here, is proof there was a flat earth theory, and yet the editors revert any changes that show a more expanded view. This paragraph proves there was a flat earth theory and it was well known, therefore the whole tenor of this article proves it's own over-arching premise to be wrong: The following, taken from the article, shows that there most definitely were people who believed the Earth was flat, and Copernicus even has to make a point of it, because he knows that theory exists in society.

"The only denial published at the time came from Zacharia Lilio, a canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome ::in 1496. In a section entitled "That the earth is not round" he argues that "when they assert that the earth is round, ::Ptolemy and Pliny do not add to the evidence, collected on the spot, they simply make a conjecture based solely on ::reasoning".[125] It is notable that Copernicus, writing only twenty years after Columbus in 1514, dismisses the idea ::of a flat Earth in two sentences and has to go back to the early Greeks to find a supporter, though he expends more ::effort on showing that other current ideas were fallacious and demonstrating the sphericity of the earth.[126] In ::reality, the issue in the 1490s was not the shape but the size of the Earth, as well as the position of the east coast ::of Asia.""

In addition, recent research shows that the brain and body treat the world as if it is flat, and so the spherical Earth notion IS NOT intrinsic to your mind, it is a learned and contrived concept for you. You are a flat earthier and you don't even know it.

There isn't historical evidence for a widespread educated belief in the flat earth. What we see here is people trying to cobble together evidence that some scholar in the past said the earth was flat. It's difficult to do. Of course, as we experience it, the surface is not spherical, nor is it flat. However, observing the horizon of the ocean (which is relatively even) does suggest that the earth is curved.--Jack Upland (talk) 09:36, 2 September 2015 (UTC)
If this is true why does the article say the Chinese did not figure out the earth was a sphere until the 17th century, did they not have boats? I am 100% sure they have a coastline of the Pacific ocean. Most of the "Myth of the flat earth" stuff here, applied only to Europeans, is garbage to promote a religious agenda. Lipsquid (talk) 20:56, 2 November 2015 (UTC)
The mistaken notion that medieval Christians thought the Earth is flat has been referred to as the myth of the flat Earth is what the article says. What do medieval Christians have to do with the Chinese? As a matter of fact, the whole notion of the Middle Ages only applies to Europe (or at least the ex-Roman Empire areas), so there is no claim being made that the myth of the Flat Earth is relevant to other civilizations, so what's your point? LjL (talk) 21:42, 2 November 2015 (UTC)
I was responding to "However, observing the horizon of the ocean (which is relatively even) does suggest that the earth is curved." which while allegedly obvious to Europeans, was not obvious to Chinese for some reason. Again, to say that most Europeans (living in deer skins in their twig houses) during the Middle Ages knew the earth was a sphere, while literacy in 1400 was less than 1% is some really funny stuff. Lipsquid (talk) 22:10, 2 November 2015 (UTC)
I would strengthen Jack Upland's comment that "There isn't historical evidence for a widespread educated belief in the flat earth." In fact, there is abundant historical evidence for a widespread educated belief in a spherical earth. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 23:28, 2 November 2015 (UTC)
"Most Europeans" likely never asked themselves or anyone that question, and were content with carrying on with their daily lives without thinking about the shape of the Earth. This is not about these people, though, it's about whether when you asked an educated person who actually cared at all, they'd explain to you that the Earth is flat. LjL (talk) 00:10, 3 November 2015 (UTC)

I like denier's deny the denier's denial. I couldn't agree more as the article reeks of the truthiness found in Teach the Controversy arguments. Lipsquid (talk) 04:30, 12 October 2015 (UTC)

This isn't a forum for personal musings. If you have reliable sources for improving the article or suggestions to improve editorial cohesion, by all means let's discuss them. Otherwise please refrain. Some of us monitor a lot of articles and have lives outside of Wikipedia. This sort of baseless, insistent contrarianism is a distraction that encourages some of us to start talking about rules. Strebe (talk) 02:27, 3 November 2015 (UTC)

Leo Ferrari as a reliable source?[edit]

I was planning to get a copy of Ferrari's article on Augustine's Cosmography and also checked to see who had cited him and I found the following:

If you follow the link to the Wikipedia article on Ferrari, and the subsequent link to the Flat Earth Society of Canada, you will find that in 1970 he was one of the founding members of the society. Given this background and the criticism of his work by other scholars, there are serious questions of whether his work on Augustine's Cosmography, written after he organized the society, is a reliable source. I propose removing material based on Ferrari's writings from the article. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 20:25, 23 August 2015 (UTC)

Here's the edit deleting the material based on Ferrari. Feel free to restore copyedits as appropriate, but the presentation of Augustine as a proponent of the flat earth seems unsupportable. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 20:38, 23 August 2015 (UTC)
That issue was already raised, 8 years ago (by you) ... [1]... and answered "The whole thing was nothing more than an elaborate joke" (User:David J Wilson). Also, the Leo Ferrari page clarifies the point:

In 2005 Ferrari was interviewed for a documentary which advanced the Flat Earth model, "In Search of the Edge" (2005). In the accompanying study guide, Ferrari was outed as a "globularist," someone who believes the earth is spherical. It was explained that the intent of the film was to promote critical thinking about media by "[attempting] to prove in convincing fashion, something everyone knew to be false.

If other scholars have refuted his opinion, this could be added, but the existence of a dispute among expert scholars doesn't indicate that he's not an RS. Criticism of his work is only to be expected. The article only presented Augustine as a flat earther in the opinion of Ferrari - after stating the opposing traditional view. Feel free to further balance Ferrari's view with the crticism in the source you linked above (I don't have access to it). I have reverted your edit. zzz (talk) 21:38, 23 August 2015 (UTC)
I'd totally forgotten that old exchange with David Wilson. I'll let things stand till I read the articles by Nothaft and Ferrari (they're coming interlibrary loan) but at most his view is a fringe view and it should be clearly described as such. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 21:54, 23 August 2015 (UTC)
I would certainly expect that Ferrari's views were anathema to many/most academics in that field. I'd assume that his level of scholarship must have been formidable or he would never have been able to get away with it. zzz (talk) 22:29, 23 August 2015 (UTC)
No matter how "formidable" he may (or may not) be, the view of a single person still does not overweigh the position of multiple persons of formidable weight. Even the old language was not entirely suitable. Labeling the still-current general view "traditional" means something to me, who understands better than some that traditions are living things, not dead, but I think that's a term others use to denigrate such views as "old-fashioned" (also as though that were a bad thing). Fashion has little to do with scholarship itself, and newer always means less-tested (or untested). Both are poor types of measure. Signedzzz's recent removals of material from the first paragraph of the section as resulted in undue weight to a theory that neither stands alone, nor measures up to the general view. This editor's insistent editing still has the earmarks of WP:SOAPBOX, and the pushing of a personally-held opinion that Ferrari should be held in higher esteem than he warrants. By all means, mention Ferrari and his theory in the paragraph (if he's truly not WP:FRINGE, which may yet need to be demonstrated), but in any case get the wording and balance right. Until then, the preceding wording of the article is better in balance. Evensteven (talk) 01:04, 24 August 2015 (UTC)
Once again, Signedzzz has insisted on his own way with a revert, without responding on talk. I think I've said just about all I will say. Farewell. Evensteven (talk) 07:56, 24 August 2015 (UTC)

Ferrari's view and its reception[edit]

I have obtained copies of the following articles, which are not freely available on the web, and am providing a detailed review.

Here is a brief summary:

Neither I nor Nothaft find Ferrari's argument that Augustine maintained a Flat Earth Cosmography to be convincing. As Nothaft concluded his critique:

"Ferrari is certainly correct in insisting that Augustine does not go out of his way to defend [the spherical conception of heaven and earth]. But neither is he able to show conclusively that Augustine committed himself to any other cosmological model. The important point to make is that Augustine's works were written for purposes other than furthering insight into the structure of the natural world. Any attempt to construct a single unified “cosmography” from these works is thus open to serious criticism."

From my reading, Nothaft's summary seems too restrained.

--SteveMcCluskey (talk) 21:36, 25 August 2015 (UTC)

Ferrari and Nothaft[edit]

Ferrari spent many years publishing stuff about Augustine's cosmology. So your comment that 20 years ago he published "an article" is misleading. I haven't read the entire collapse box yet, but I should point out, it seems telling that Philipp Nothaft of UCL (the poor relation of Imperial) waited until after Ferrari's death in 2010 before mustering the courage to publish his criticism, in 2011. zzz (talk) 04:12, 26 August 2015 (UTC)
Thanks for providing the above. Nothaft's assumption of Ferrari's ideological subscription to the long-since publicly-discredited warfare thesis, a century late, rings hollow. Does it not occur to him that this would have been thoroughly and repeatedly exposed long before Ferrari had managed to complete his highly successful academic career? Apparently not... Since by his own admission, Nothalf frames his arguments on this facile assertion, it is impossible to take his (non-expert) views seriously. For Wikipedia's purposes, the fact that Ferrari's conclusions "provide the basis for the corresponding entry in the standard encyclopedia for Augustinian studies", is, by far, the most pertinent part of the thesis. Thanks once again for providing the above commendably thorough summary, apologies for yet again seeming to use your words against you, and I can only urge strongly that Nothalf does give up his day job. Although, UCL does certainly seem to have settled on a business model of employing third-rate academics who are willing to cynically claim to believe provocative ideas, safe in the knowledge that serious academics won't give their "theories" the time of day. I wonder how common this particular "wait 'til the guy's dead" variation is. zzz (talk) 11:45, 26 August 2015 (UTC)
The snarky tone of your comments about Philipp Nothaft and UCL push the limits of civility. The Warburg Institute, which is Nothaft's academic home, has long been the premier place for studying the many expressions of Ancient and Renaissance cosmology. If the Warburg isn't considered an adequate home, he has recently received a post-doctoral research fellowship at All Souls, Oxford. Nothaft's publications are very impressive for a younger (PhD Munich, 2011) scholar (2 books, 37 articles, 14 book reviews). Scan his publication list and you can see the range of his expertise in ancient and medieval astronomy and calendars. The assertion that Nothaft is a "third-rate academic" who waited until Ferrari died in 2010 is not only uncalled for but is totally belied by a casual look at Nothaft's academic career, which was barely underway in 2010. I should also note that Nothaft's rebuttal to Ferrari has already gained the acceptance of his peers, having been reprinted within two years of its first publication in Augustine and Science, edited by John Doody, Adam Goldstein, and Kim Paffenroth (Lexington, Md: Lexington Books, 2013), 99-113.
Unlike Nothaft, Ferrari was an expert in the narrow field of Augustinian studies, teaching at a provincial Catholic university. He is certainly an expert on Augustine, having published extensively on him, including three early articles on the astronomical influences on Augustine's abandonment of Manichaeism:
  • Ferrari, Leo Charles, "Astronomy and Augustine’s Break with the Manichees", Revue d' Etudes Augustiniennes Et Patristiques, 19(1973):263-276
  • Ferrari, Leo Charles, "Halley's Comet of 374 AD: new Light upon Augustine's Conversion to Manicheism", Augustiniana, 27(1977):139-150
  • Ferrari, Leo Charles, "Augustine and Astrology", Laval théologique et philosophique, 33(1977): 241-251.
These early articles present a very different picture of Augustine's understanding of the heavens than in Ferrari's later "flat earth" cosmography; the first pages of "Augustine and Astrology" quote this passage from Augustine:
"God ... by whose laws the poles revolve, the stars fulfill their courses, the sun vivifies the day, the moon tempers the night: and all the framework of things, day after day by vicissitude of light and gloom, month after month by waxings and wanings of the moon, year after year by orderly successions of spring and summer and fall and winter, cycle after cycle by accomplished concurrence of the solar course, and through the mighty orbs of time, folding and refolding upon themselves, as the stars still recur to their first conjunctions, maintains, so far as this merely visible matter allows, the mighty constancy of things."
Augustine's praise of the ordered cosmos is typical of Early Latin Christian attitudes to astronomy, most famously reflected later by Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy.
Some twenty years later Ferrari published the article and two encyclopedia pieces in which he sought to demonstrate that Augustine's religious writing -- some of them written not that long after his move to Christianity -- embodied a flat earth cosmography that totally abandoned the astronomical principles that had led him from Manicheanism. The intellectual inconsistency of these two phases of Ferrari's career is striking; at one point he sees Augustine employing astronomy to understand the created order and to motivate his spiritual move form Manicheanism to Christianity, in his later works Ferrari sees Augustine (even in his early commentary on Genesis) condemning secular learning and advancing a literal interpretation of scripture.
In sum, Nothaft's view of Augustine as using his commentary to "show that whatever [the philosophers] have been able to demonstrate from reliable sources about the world of nature is not contrary to our literature" (Ferrari, p. 40, citing Augustine, De Gen. lit. l.21.41) is much more consistent than Ferrari's and reflects Nothaft's broad familiarity with the relations between natural philosophy and religion around the time of Augustine. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 18:07, 26 August 2015 (UTC)
  • What does "civility" have to do with this?
  • You like Nothalft's arguments - no problem. The fact therefore remains, that, in Nothalft's own words, Ferrari's conclusions "provide the basis for the corresponding entry in the standard encyclopedia for Augustinian studies"
  • You can't therefore claim that "The accepted view by scholars of Augustine's work is that he shared the common view of his contemporaries that the Earth is spherical"
  • Finally,Nothalft himself claims that Augustine was not endorsing any particular model, (as per your previous edit.) zzz (talk) 18:56, 26 August 2015 (UTC)

Note that I was not "snarky" ("disparaging or derisive in an insinuative way.") I can't see how you could have got that impression. I think I stated my opinions in a perfectly clear and blatant way. I'm certain that anyone reading my comments would agree - please look again. zzz (talk) 19:41, 26 August 2015 (UTC)

I have restored my sourced statement regarding the accepted view that Augustine held the earth to be spherical. Nothaft says in the text cited: "This situation is all the more remarkable [the appearance of Ferrari's claim in a standard encyclopedia] considering that other recent writers on the subject treat Augustine’s acceptance of the earth’s spherical shape as a well-established fact." Nothaft considers Ferrari an exception to the accepted view of scholars. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 20:41, 26 August 2015 (UTC)
The statement "The accepted view by scholars of Augustine's work is that he shared the common view of his contemporaries that the Earth is spherical" is contradicted by the views of both Ferrari and Nothalf, whose views immediately follow the statement. zzz (talk) 21:00, 26 August 2015 (UTC)
I suggest "The view of most scholars ..." since that is the fact of the matter (apparently). zzz (talk) 21:04, 26 August 2015 (UTC)
It's impossible for me to say what the best wording is - a little while ago I decided that Nothalft was some kind of fraud, now it seems he's a bona fide expert. However, we're back where we started with a clear contradiction. Although, it doesn't look as bad. zzz (talk) 21:45, 26 August 2015 (UTC)
Signedzzz: Strange that you thought Nothaft was a fraud; what made you think that? I had much the same suspicion of Ferarri some years back. Things became more complicated recently when I read his insightful early papers about Augustine and astronomy. My current guess is that in old age he became increasingly influenced by his flat earth society work, especially its philosophical focus against abstract scientific constructs, and tended to read that into Augustine. The Alzheimers which eventually took his life may also have played some role. But long-distance psychoanalysis is hazardous. Best, Steve --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 23:45, 26 August 2015 (UTC)
Yes, I can't explain it. I guess all the abuse I've had directed at me (still continuing below) may have had something to do with it. It is strange, indeed. Anyway, I've made an edit to resolve the contradiction without altering the intended meaning: "The view generally accepted by scholars of Augustine's work ..." zzz (talk) 22:46, 27 August 2015 (UTC)
Signedzzz: Are you back to that silly "contradiction" thing? Rubbish! See above. Evensteven (talk) 21:54, 27 August 2015 (UTC)

Q:"Is Ferrari a Reliable Source?" A:Yes[edit]

In case there's still any doubt about Ferrari's credentials, see his TV obituary: "... philosophy professor and world-renowned authority on St. Augustine. He is the author of many scholarly books ..." zzz (talk) 07:58, 26 August 2015 (UTC)

I'm willing to grant that Ferrari's publications are Wikipedia:Reliable sources; however citing a obituary on a local TV station( Fredericton News Channel) as a source that he is a "world-renowned authority on St. Augustine" leaves much to be desired. I'd place greater reliance on an evaluation from his academic peers in a scholarly journal. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 13:40, 26 August 2015 (UTC)
Point well taken. But also, there's the highlighted quote above, about the encyclopaedia, confirming it. zzz (talk) 14:03, 26 August 2015 (UTC)
Yes, I wouldn't argue now that Ferrari is not a WP:RS. I will argue that his most notable point currently under discussion is neither well accepted among other scholars, nor is it particularly prominent within the scholarly community, nor is it gaining currency over time and likely to achieve especial prominence. As such, promoting that view by giving it equal prominence with the prevailing and overwhelming scholarly view would be a violation of undue weight. The alternate (Ferrari) view deserves to be relegated to a more footnote-like presentation later, and it is then fine to start qualifying views of Augustine in text. Anything beyond that results in imbalance in the article. Evensteven (talk) 22:21, 27 August 2015 (UTC)
"Ferrari’s views are in a good position to become received wisdom, seeing how they provide the basis for the corresponding entry in the standard encyclopedia for Augustinian studies." - Nothaft, C.P.E. (2011) (repeating here for clarity) zzz (talk) 23:28, 27 August 2015 (UTC)
Ok, good point wrt Augustine. The article section, though, is mostly treating of the composite views of multiple early fathers, so the prominence of one scholar's view of one father still recedes in context behind the larger generalizations. Evensteven (talk) 00:02, 28 August 2015 (UTC)
I'm frankly amazed that the article (and this section in particular) has been allowed to languish in the state it was - which is why I've been working on it. There's still plenty of work required (eg, the last paragraph of the section). Larger generalizations and composite views are generally, in my view, completely worthless here. zzz (talk) 02:11, 28 August 2015 (UTC)

Balance in the "Early Christian Church" section[edit]

I would like to propose that one of the problems in this section is that it is getting its perspective of the early church fathers backwards. In the discussion section about Ferrari and Nothaft above, SteveMcCluskey presents a quote from Augustine with the preface "These early articles present a very different picture of Augustine's understanding of the heavens ...". The Augustine quote again is:

"God ... by whose laws the poles revolve, the stars fulfill their courses, the sun vivifies the day, the moon tempers the night: and all the framework of things, day after day by vicissitude of light and gloom, month after month by waxings and wanings of the moon, year after year by orderly successions of spring and summer and fall and winter, cycle after cycle by accomplished concurrence of the solar course, and through the mighty orbs of time, folding and refolding upon themselves, as the stars still recur to their first conjunctions, maintains, so far as this merely visible matter allows, the mighty constancy of things."

I think it is more correct to say that the church fathers in general, and Augustine in particular here, are not writing about their own understanding of cosmology. Generally speaking, their attitude towards astronomy (as opposed to astrology, not an insignificant distinction at the time) was quite accepting of the science and of inquiry into its questions. But the fathers' concern was not directed towards furthering human understanding of the cosmos, but of furthering knowledge of God. The praise of the ordered cosmos found in this passage in Augustine is in effect a praise directed towards God as its creator, and directs the readers' attention to how God Himself is manifest in that creation. God's orderliness is reflected in the orderliness of the cosmos. And if astronomical science said that the Earth was spherical, for most of them, that neither conflicted with the Bible, nor with the Christian faith, nor with the cosmos' reflection of God. The creation was itself a revelation (or confirmation) of some of God's properties: His power, His infinitude, His constancy within varieties of cycles, His governance and direction of all things in His care (and one can go on from there). In short, the church fathers were writing theology, and pointing to the universe as reflective of theology. Most important, the universe did not govern theology, in all or in part, but what people might learn about physical cosmology would not cause the cosmos to be less reflective of theology, for the particulars of cosmology were left largely to those who knew it best and investigated it. If some church fathers, then, embraced more of a "flat earth" view of the cosmos, well, that view also had some currency then, but the fathers' theology did not necessarily conflict with itself, for that was not based on cosmology. Note that this is a rather different view within Christianity from the one that confronted Galileo in his time. But Christendom was split by that time, and from there one has to deal with matters of conflicting theologies as well. The Orthodox are about the same today as the early church in their views of cosmological science, and I think Catholicism has moved considerably back towards that as well. As always, Protestantism remains a mixed set. Evensteven (talk) 22:53, 27 August 2015 (UTC)

One of the things I noted above from Nothaft was his discussion of two different exegetical traditions. The Greek speaking Antioch school, typified by Diodore of Tarsus (fl. ca. 378), Theodore of Mopsuestia (ca. 350 - 428/9), John Chrysostom (ca. 345 - 407), Severianus of Gabala (d after 408), and much later Cosmas Indicopleustes (ca. 550). Members of the Antioch school "professed a literal reading of Genesis, tied to a strong skepticism towards the explanations of the structure of the cosmos offered by pagan philosophers" (Nothaft, p. 37).
An alternative tradition, more open to the use of Greek natural philosophy in interpreting scripture, was represented by the Greek Basil of Caesarea (329-379) and the Latins Ambrose of Milan (339-397) and Augustine.
The Antioch tradition is already mentioned in the article. Perhaps structuring the discussion of the Early Christian Church around these (and other?) exegetical traditions would make the article more coherent and less of a disjointed catalog of individuals and their opinions. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 02:32, 28 August 2015 (UTC)
My recent reorganising of the section, was aimed largely the restructuring you describe, into the two traditions. Previously, the section was indeed a "disjointed catalog of individuals", with no structure, and no mention of the School of Antioch, or of the Western/Eastern churches. Now, it begins with the Latins - (the Western church) - and then moves on to cover the School of Antioch - (the Eastern church). (All these terms are wikilinked in the article). I suppose adding section headings would make this even clearer, but I'm generally opposed to adding headers above every other paragraph. The reader should be prepared to read the paragraph to find out what's in it, without being distracted by unnecessary tabloid-style sub-headings, in my opinion. zzz (talk) 03:12, 28 August 2015 (UTC)
"Schools" may be a little strong to describe the differences in opinion, as they were not quite as concentrated or uniform as that, neither at Antioch nor among the Latins. At the same time, it might be a little weak also, as more or less literal readings are to be found even today, so the fundamental approaches apply to more than views of cosmology, and have followings across the centuries. It would also be confusing to call them different "traditions", as all of them would resolutely insist they were joined within one tradition: the Church's. And that would also be correct, as all of them held to the same faith and theology. The best one can do is to mention them as "viewpoints", or something like, because the other words have different meanings within Church history. It may be surprising to westerners, but Orthodoxy has never been uniform or lacking in opinion as regarding details such as these, and they all expect to find such differences when reading the fathers, early or not. There's plenty of room for such within the Church, and its faith. The Church itself interprets most strictly those things in which it finds the strictest agreements among all its saints, and interprets more loosely where it finds discrepancies or difference, for all persons have opinions, but uniformity among those who have all shown themselves faithful speaks of something stronger than individuals, and of the Church's unity with God.
So, the basic structure you mention works fine, but the language you couch it in has considerable significance, and care is required not to overreach or characterize inappropriately. The context remains within a faith shared and demonstrated in the living, not simply in writings or individual beliefs. And at the same time, one must remember that cosmology itself, as physical/scientific description, was not the focus of the writings, and not central to the theology. Evensteven (talk) 03:37, 28 August 2015 (UTC)
Cosmology is of course the (only) focus of this article, though. Broader Christian theological discussions belong on a different page. zzz (talk) 03:49, 28 August 2015 (UTC)
Oh, certainly - which makes both precise and concise wording highly valuable here, so as not to misstate about matters that are not relevant to this topic.
Another thing we should be aware of here, however, is a bit more of church history. The second century saw the rise of the various Gnostic philosophies, along with some infiltrations into Christian theology that developed into heresies that had to be dealt with. These were most prevalent in the east, closer to the origin points of Greek culture, and were probably one of the reasons that Greek-speaking and Greek-aware Christians of the later centuries were less disposed to embrace anything coming from Greek science of the time. Both cosmological viewpoints had things in them that spoke to manifestations of God as understood within the Church, and so the differences in professions about cosmology may well have been simply conscious choices about which cosmology was more useful to explaining the theology.
This whole business can also easily get tied up into inappropriate modernizations of aspect with regard to how literally current-day Protestants want to interpret the Bible, but of course, those actual differences of theology and faith had not yet come into existence at the time. We also want to avoid saying anything touchy in that arena, so as not to get more people coming into this article to argue more points about Christianity irrelevant to this topic. Whatever we say, there's plenty of potential for someone out there to see an opportunity to get on a soapbox, so I say "caution". Evensteven (talk) 04:15, 28 August 2015 (UTC)
Food for thought. The Gnostic influence particularly sounds interesting. zzz (talk) 04:34, 28 August 2015 (UTC)
I thought so too. And in fact, it's one of the reasons I found Ferrari's theories questionable. Augustine spoke Latin and came from the west. It doesn't fit that pattern. But then again, it wouldn't necessarily have to. And I myself may have overstepped if I left too strong an impression about conscious choices of cosmology, even in the east. We have no actual evidence one way or another, after all (as far as I'm aware). It was just a thought. But perhaps some scholar other than Ferrari has looked at that avenue. Evensteven (talk) 04:58, 28 August 2015 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────You've raised some standard issues in writing the History of ancient and medieval science -- and this article is a classic example of the history of how a scientific idea unfolds in religious and cultural contexts.

One is that of identifying schools or traditions of thought, which is a very useful way to organize groups of scholars who shared similar approaches. Sometimes a school or tradition is associated with a place, hence the Antioch school of exegesis or the Merton College school of physics, or an individual who provides the paradigm for the approach, hence the Augustinian tradition in theology or the Bohr tradition in physics (both of which continue to the present). These schools or traditions may be embodied in other, overarching traditions of Christian or scientific thought, but they're valuable explanatory tools.

The other is the importance of reading what other scholars have to say on the subject. Nothaft cites much recent literature, placing Jeffrey Russel's Inventing the Flat Earth as the standard monograph but citing more recent literature, much of it in German. If you have interlibrary loan Nothaft's study is well worth reading.

One cautionary note. For the Early Church section we don't want to anachronistically drag in later developments. The early church was much less unified than any modern churches; the core doctrines were controversial and took time to be sorted out. More peripheral issues, like the relation of scientific and religious ideas, were especially varied. The classic study here is David C. Lindberg, "Science and the Early Church", which first appeared in Isis 74(1983): 509-530; was reprinted in Michael Shank (ed), The Scientific Enterprise in Antiquity and the Middle Ages Chicago, 2000; and was revised in Lindberg and Numbers, God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science, Berkeley, 1986.

I do question this idea of an "Antioch" school, though. It seems to be an artificial concoction based on the idea that the early church fathers took positions over cosmology. It's true they were sorting out articulations of Christian doctrine, but cosmology was just not a central item, not even an element of the theology itself. Augustine's quote above works fine (for theological purposes) whether one believes the Earth is flat or spherical, the points being about God's manifestation of power, glory, constancy, orderliness, etc. Some of the fathers (like John Chrysostom) are not so much associated with Antioch as with Constantinople (as so many of the most prominent were), so why Antioch? Antioch was closest of the other major centers to Jerusalem, and is often the scene of issues between Christians of Hebrew origin and Gentile origin, not anything especially related to cosmology.
A note re: "The early church was much less unified than any modern churches". Perhaps it depends on how you look at it. What was the essential element in all the doctrinal formulation going on in these early times was the express effort to keep the faith intact, that same faith handed down from the apostles, and the deciding factors hinged on whether doctrines reflected that same faith or not. So, doctrines were articulations of faith, not definitions of faith, as is so often stated today. Doctrinal definition is an important anachronistic viewpoint often brought into discussions of the early church when we see them today, but a viewpoint that has its origins in the Reformation. There's no question the early church had to struggle to maintain unity, but it's the struggle itself that points that out to us so clearly. Today, the tendency is just to split and go one's own way (schism), an idea the ancients regarded as horrific, but something which we have become so accustomed to that we think it's normal. So in many ways, the early church might correctly be said to have been more unified than modern churches, despite their doctrinal questions and struggles. Are these writers on science and the Church aware enough of the Church to understand these things? I seldom find such awareness at all in the west, even among church "scholars", and even about just Church matters themselves. One finds it instead in the east.
While I have given cautions above, that's about current viewpoints held by people who may have an axe to grind and may want to grind it here. My essential point about cosmology is that it is easy, because of western thought, to give undue prominence to the notion of cosmological thought within the early church fathers. It's not truly so prominent, because those thoughts being expressed are theological, not cosmological. And the undue prominence derives from the anachronistic views in the west, especially those from the Reformation. There was a search then for connections with the early church, which sometimes ended up seeking justifications or foundations for ideas that seemed to match later interpretations of the Bible, ideas about how literally one must interpret it, and additionally specific areas related to the Creation. A great many flat earthers today are holding to their views (not necessarily Reformation views) because of their Biblical interpretations: Genesis descriptions of the firmament, six days for Creation, six thousand years from Adam to the present, that kind of thing. That's why those issues keep showing up here on this article or its talk page, and that's one reason why these people have developed an antipathy for modern science (the other main one being the over-generalization that "scientists are atheists", as though that is not more common among the general population today also). Evensteven (talk) 16:47, 28 August 2015 (UTC)
I find the need to clarify about the Antioch school. I originally had the impression that you were referring not to the theological School of Antioch but to some "school" of thought based on cosmology. May I point out how the theological schools of Antioch and Alexandria had different theological emphases, particularly in Christology and Biblical interpretation, but without theological partition, and also without any clear uniformity of distinction in relation to cosmology. For example, the Alexandrian father Athanasius supposedly "backs" the flat earth model, as the Antiochene school supposedly does. But follow this article's sources to Athenasius' quotes, and you find that in one the flat-earth cosmology is blended with earth-bound observations of nature, and all in refutation of pagan beliefs in the worship of nature, which is the point of that passage. In the other the cosmology is cited as the uniting of things in a manner that is contrary by nature, but that it is the power of God who binds them in balance and provides both stability and variety, thus showing his supremacy over nature and cosmology. That one is quite similar in some ways to the quote of Augustine above, theologically. Knowing today what we do about the universe, theologians will point to different details of cosmology, but would draw the same observations about God and creation, and the same rejection of nature worship is quite universal in Christianity, although we still see today that some people continue in pantheistic or pagan beliefs. I hope this makes it clearer how the theology is not dependent upon the cosmology, except in details of description. And that can help one understand that early Christian theologians were not dabbling in scholarship about cosmology, but were simply making use of what was at hand, in order to communicate ideas. Evensteven (talk) 22:23, 2 September 2015 (UTC)


The way this article is written suggests that it should be proved that various scholars did not believe in the Flat Earth. On the contrary, it should be proved that they do. (For example, the description of the "Earth" as flat, floating on water, doesn't prove a belief that the planet was flat.)--Jack Upland (talk) 09:58, 2 September 2015 (UTC)

Azimuthal equidistant projection not liked to related wiki page[edit]

In the "flat earth society" the map isn't linked to that page. Shouldn't it be? — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2604:2000:2180:E100:FDFB:9C73:965:B55C (talk) 02:07, 13 September 2015 (UTC)

Information from Intelligent Design Advocacy group in the lede[edit]

I guess I should not be surprised that the flat earth article is caught up in Intelligent Design, but since the American Scientific Affiliation is an advocacy group for the pseudoscience of intelligent design and not a credible source, can we please keep the "Myth of the Flat Earth" garbage just out of the lede? Lipsquid (talk) 16:26, 10 October 2015 (UTC)

Our platform of faith has four important planks:
We accept the divine inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible in matters of faith and conduct.
We confess the Triune God affirmed in the Nicene and Apostles' creeds, which we accept as brief, faithful statements of Christian doctrine based upon Scripture.
We believe that in creating and preserving the universe God has endowed it with contingent order and intelligibility, the basis of scientific investigation.
We recognize our responsibility, as stewards of God's creation, to use science and technology for the good of humanity and the whole world.
These four statements of faith spell out the distinctive character of the ASA, and we uphold them in every activity and publication of the Affiliation.
Look, remove the reference to that group if you want. The lede doesn't really need to have references. But the thing is, the Myth of the flat Earth is its own article with plenty of references to the fact that most Medieval sources did not believe the Earth was flat but there existed a recent historical belief that they did, and if the separate article is not enough, this article has a section about the very issue, which has many references. So, by all means, let's do away with the "religious publication", but not with the well-corroborated fact in itself. LjL (talk) 17:14, 10 October 2015 (UTC)
The source is Russell, not ASA. The fact that Russell delivered a talk to the organization does not constitute advocacy for the organization, and in particular, there is nothing in Russell’s talk about the topic of intelligent design and nothing on the page that indicates anything or even has links back into ASA. There are other sources for the same text, such as [[3]], but rather than productive research and editing, you seem bent on proclaiming evil by association and extirpating it. This is abusive editing, Lipsquid. Please stop. Or are you claiming that Russell never delivered this speech? Or that the site has misrepresented the speech? Or what, exactly, beyond your disgust for intelligent design? Strebe (talk) 17:33, 10 October 2015 (UTC)
Then fix the source at the very least to use something credible. It is pretty obvious who has a personal rant issue. Lipsquid (talk) 17:50, 10 October 2015 (UTC)

Why would a group clarifying or modifying the possible past stance of one religion belong in the lede? Should Muslims get to refute that they ever believed in a flat earth in the lede? How about Chinese? The fact that the group refuting the position is an advocacy group just makes it more obvious as not belonging in the lede. Regardless of whether Christians did or did not believe in a flat earth at some point during the Middle Ages is of little importance to a "Flat Earth" article that states that as various times, various people have believed, or still do believe, that the Earth is flat. I have no disgust for anyone, ID is psuedoscience. I accept it for what it is. Lipsquid (talk) 17:47, 10 October 2015 (UTC)

Are you even reading what's being told you? You are saying non sequiturs. The position is not an advocacy group's, it's just that the specific reference that someone had provided came from a website belonging to an advocacy group. There are plenty other non-advocacy references and they are provided within the article where they belong. LjL (talk) 17:51, 10 October 2015 (UTC)
Yes and Strebe just changed the source. I guess someone is reading what is being written as I have much less of an issue now. Lipsquid (talk) 17:57, 10 October 2015 (UTC)
So when you have an issue with a source, you don't just remove the source, but you remove the statement, even when it's indepentently sourced in the article in a number of ways? Do you realize that's not an acceptable way to edit?

That is the perfect way to edit, it is not my job to fix the sources of the logically challenged. Lipsquid (talk) 18:23, 10 October 2015 (UTC)

That's verging on the personal insult. Yours here is the logic that is lacking: the referece that is provided now is the same one that was provided before, only, taken from a different website. But it's the same speech. The specific URL where a reference is quoted from is obviously NOT alone a determiner of whether the source is reliable, and its reliability clearly cannot change once you provide the same source through a different URL. This is all so patently obvious it hurts to have to type. --LjL (talk) 18:42, 10 October 2015 (UTC)
Not worthy of a response. A blog link is not equal to a CNN link and never will be even if they source the same information. Lipsquid (talk) 19:22, 10 October 2015 (UTC)
That was a response. LjL (talk) 19:30, 10 October 2015 (UTC)
Here to help :) Lipsquid (talk) 19:40, 10 October 2015 (UTC)

Grammar of tenses[edit]

On the issue of which of "The mistaken notion that medieval Christians thought the Earth is flat ..." or "The mistaken notion that medieval Christians thought the Earth was flat ... " is correct, I strongly agree with LjL that it is the latter. In fact I find the former quite grating.

Since the notion that the Earth is flat is not a "general truth", Strebe's citation of that rule as justifying the use of the present tense is irrelevant. In fact, here is a site which illustrates the failure of the rule with precisely this example:

"There are no tense changes in indirect speech if:
  • the reported words express a general truth:
Copernicus: The planets revolve around the sun.
Copernicus stated that the planets revolve around the sun (it is a general truth)
Once, people believed that the earth was flat. (the reported words are no longer true; people do not believe that the earth is flat)"

P.S. The final parenthetical comment leads me to have some doubts about this site's reliabity. The "reported words"—whose truth or falsehood is what matters for the application of the rule—are not those stating that people believed the Earth to be flat but those expressing that belief— i.e. that the Earth was [supposedly] flat.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 01:08, 12 October 2015 (UTC)

Though I find past tense grating there, I don’t care enough to say more about it than this. Grammarians themselves don’t agree on the nuances (although I suspect they would agree here). The “general truth” principle is not about whether the statement is, in fact, true in this universe. That’s a red herring. It’s about whether the dependent clause expresses a durable proposition independent of the independent clause, and, more generally, whether the dependent clause has anything to do with the action given by the independent clause’s verb. If that were not the case, then the grammar of such statements would have to change based on the changing knowledge of humans (consensus of scientists? of the literate? of the populace?), and many statements would have no correct grammar because the “truth” is debatable. Also, when writing about hypothetical or fictitious universes, dependent clauses could use only the past tense. None of that makes sense, of course.
Thus, for example, “Medieval Christians thought the earth is flat,” clearly conveys that medieval Christians believed in a flat earth, whereas, “Medieval Christians thought the earth was flat,” is ambiguous. We cannot tell (on its own) if the statement intends to convey the same thing, or if instead it intends to convey that they thought the earth used to be flat but then (in their own time) it no longer was. Most philologists don’t like reducing expressiveness, and so they prefer to distinguish tenses at times when doing so eliminates ambiguities. By collapsing verbs in these situations to always match the independent clause’s past tense, you cannot distinguish whether the dependent clause is, in fact, a durable proposition or if instead it might have changed even in the time the sentence refers to. Strebe (talk) 05:09, 12 October 2015 (UTC)
To be fair, the very source that Strebe gave in an edit summary has two examples out of three that are arguably general falsehoods:
In the 1950s, English teachers still believed that a background in Latin is essential for an understanding of English.
Slaveowners widely understood that literacy among oppressed people is a dangerous thing.
So I agree that the concept of "general truth" that is being put forward is not necessarily about whether the fact is true, but whether the belief is about something unchanging.
Myself, I don't feel strongly enough about the issue to pursue it further either way. --LjL (talk) 11:37, 12 October 2015 (UTC)

Edit of Lede paragraph of Myth of the Flat Earth.[edit]

I reverted the change by Strebe I think the Myth of the Flat Earth paragraph in the lede without any historical context makes no sense. I added back the historical context, which was not my edit, because I believe it makes more sense with a brief history. The statement also says when beliefs changed which provides additional support for the Myth of the Flat Earth. I have previously stated that this whole paragraph should be moved below into a section where other religions are located, but that wasn't going anywhere. Good luck with trying to move it, I would very much support the change. Lipsquid (talk) 20:12, 30 November 2015 (UTC)

And I have reverted this. Random details about ancient Israelites or any other culture do not belong in the lede when they’re already in the body along with myriad other cultures. The Greek revolution is already noted in the lede. Therefore the text is both redundant in that sense and randomly, pointlessly detailed in the other sense. Meanwhile the reason Myth of the Flat Earth is mentioned in the lede is so that people who arrive at this article have the context at a glance, which is what the lede is for. People coming to read about how people in Columbus’s time believed in a flat earth need to know where to go. Strebe (talk) 22:39, 30 November 2015 (UTC)
I agree. The only point I can see for singling the Israelites out from the other "Bronze Age and Iron Age civilizations of the Near East", already mentioned in the first paragraph, would be to suggest an explanation for why Medieval Christians might have been thought to have believed in a flat Earth. But if that is the point, then it's not at all clear, and the lead isn't the proper place for making it anyway.
There are a couple of other problems with the text Lipsquid added to the lead. First, it contains a citation, "Aune 2003", to a reference whose reliability is tagged as dubious in Lipsquid's latest version. Now if the source cited is of doubtful reliability, material sourced from it doesn't belong anywhere in the article until it has been verified from a source whose reliability is not open to doubt. Second, apart from "Aune 2003, p.119", no other details of the source are provided. The source would in fact appear to be p.119 of The Westminster Dictionary of New Testament & Early Christian Literature & Rhetoric by David Aune. For what it's worth, I have no doubts about the reliability of that source for the material cited, but I still don't consider that material appropriate for the lead.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 01:33, 1 December 2015 (UTC)
Agreed, Israelite specifics can go in the body, while a mention of the myth of the flat Earth can be made in the lede. The two are indirectly related at best. LjL (talk) 02:30, 1 December 2015 (UTC)
For clarity it was not my original edit, but I did put it back. I already said, I have no idea why anyone thinks the Myth of the flat earth belongs in the lede anyway, but I am cool with majorities. Lipsquid (talk) 02:34, 1 December 2015 (UTC)
I tend to agree that reference to the flat Earth myth doesn't belong in the lead either, though I'm not particularly fussed about the presence of the current brief paragraph. Strebe's point about people coming to read about Columbus's supposed struggle against flat-earthers needing to be told where to go is certainly correct, but this is already partly achieved by the hatnote at the top of the article directing them to the disambiguation page. If this is regarded as insufficient, I would prefer the direction to be provided by an expanded hatnote along the lines of:
This page is about ancient cosmologies in which the Earth was regarded as flat. For the erroneous modern notion that belief in a flat Earth was responsible for a major source of opposition to Christopher Columbus, see Myth of the flat Earth. For other uses, see Flat Earth (disambiguation).
rather than by the current paragraph at the end of the lead. However, I'm not sufficiently bothered by the current version of the lead to get involved in tedious and pointless arguments about whether my suggestion is an improvement or not.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 07:54, 1 December 2015 (UTC)
That suggestion takes care of the concern in a better way. Thanks. Strebe (talk) 08:31, 1 December 2015 (UTC)