Talk:Myth of the flat Earth/Archive 1

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"Historical Illusion" reference invalid

This article, the "Flat Earth" article, and many other websites assert that this myth "has been listed by the Historical Society of Britain as No. 1 in its compendium of the ten most common historical illusions". Every time this assertion is made, the source given is Jeffery B. Russell's book. I was unable to find the true original source after a fair amount of searching so I contacted Dr. Russell directly. He responded that a full citation is not given in his book because he was unable to find the original article which he believes originates from a pamphlet between around 1962 and 1965 put out by the "Historical Society". Many Google searches on many, many variations of historical societies, historical illusions, compendiums, etc yielded no leads. I do not see how Russell's book can be called a reliable source for this assertion. I have therefore removed the assertion that this myth was listed as number 1 on a Historical Society compendium of historical illusions. Bjp716 (talk) 03:41, 4 January 2008 (UTC)

I'm not sure it's appropriate to write off a fragment of a source as unreliable and unquotable, purely on the basis of a single editor's private correspondence with its author. --McGeddon (talk) 12:35, 16 January 2008 (UTC)
Russell may be referring to one or other of two pamphlets, Common errors in history and Common errors in history (second series), published by the Historical Association (not "Society") of Great Britain in 1945 and 1947 respectively. The Australian National Library has copies, which I will try and get a look at tomorrow. The US Library of Congress also has copies.
Russell's writings pose a bit of a problem. I have come across many instances where, in my opinion, he has interpreted his sources far from accurately, and one of these (concerning Washington Irving's The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus) has in fact affected this article. Judged by the WP criteria for reliable sources, however, anything Russell writes on the Flat Earth Myth would appear to have impeccable credentials, so it's going to be difficult to challenge it without the support of another good secondary source.
Anyone interested in comparing what Irving actually wrote about the council of Salamanca with Russell's description of it (as quoted in the article) can find a copy of Irving's account starting here.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 08:09, 28 January 2008 (UTC)
It looks like the History Association's 1945 pamphlet is probably could well have been the reference Russell had in mind. He just got a few of the details wrong. However, it differs in several ways from the description he gives: It was published in 1945 (not between around 1962 and 1965), by the Historical Association (not the Historical Society of Britain) and listed the flat earth myth as the second out of 20 (not the first out of 10). At any rate, since this pamphlet is at least traceable, I have reinstated a corrected version of the original note with a citation to this pamphlet.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 06:01, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
Nice work! Is the text available online somewhere or did you have to go to a library? Bjp716 (talk) 23:05, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
I couldn't find any details about the pamphlet on-line, except those in the two library catalogues I cited. I consulted the Australian National Library's copy and took a photocopy of it (24 pages). I also tried poking around the Historical Association's website without finding anything relevant.
I have withdrawn my suggestion that Russell's description of the pamphlet was inaccurate. The Historical Association apparently updates some of its older pamphlets occasionally, and it could well have done so with its Common Errors in History (although I have no evidence for that, other than Russell's description itself). I did try browsing through the Australian National Library's collection of the Historical Association's later pamphlets without finding anything else relevant. But since the National Library's collection is incomplete, that doesn't mean very much.
It might be worth contacting the Historical Association itself to see if they can provide any further information.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 00:02, 31 January 2008 (UTC)

I am new to this so I do not know if I am doing this right but I feel this article is in error and the "Myth" claim false! While they say that "Every Educated Person" believed the Earth was round and that "Flat Earth" belief is a myth- "Something such as "The Heresy of the Antipodes" would prove that claim false! The church at the time of Columbus obviously still believed that there was "another side" to the Earth and there was great debate over whether or not "Antipodeans" exist and could live there. Father St. Augustine (scripture) "speaks of no such descendants of Adam as the Antipodeans. 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" Father Procopious "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 the necessary preliminaries to his coming a duplicate Adam, Eden, serpent and deluge!" St. Augustine said "If there were any antipodes the Bible would have said so" Please see -'s+word&source=bl&ots=mT-DP5UW0d&sig=QrNQcG5GsAqL9rWxNPQAuuLihyQ&hl=en&ei=dfhhSsOOLYWEtge1s_H8Dw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2 Thank you —Preceding unsigned comment added by BibleAlsoSays (talkcontribs) 16:57, 18 July 2009 (UTC)

You are mistaken. See Antipodes#Historical significance. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 23:45, 12 January 2011 (UTC)

"First Appearance" in 19th Century is incorrect

The article as written is wholly incorrect. Many Medieval artists depicted the earth as flat; I have included a link to one such depiction (by Bosch) as reference.

FellGleaming (talk) 22:55, 19 April 2008 (UTC)

Bosch is a renaissance artist and does not represent medieval views. The extensive deletion of well-supported material is in error; see the extensive discussion of medieval belief in a spherical earth at Flat Earth. I am reverting your changes. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 00:27, 21 April 2008 (UTC)
Bosch painted this in 1504, the Middle Ages end in 1517 (Luther's Theses). More importantly, the theologians mentioned are from the 4th-7th Century. These **are** clearly and indisputably Medieval views. I am reverting your edits. FellGleaming (talk) 01:05, 21 April 2008 (UTC)

The Renaissance started in Italy over a century before Luther, in the late 13th century. Luther's Theses started the Protestant Reformation. Luther was influenced by the humanism of the Renaissance, not vice versa. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:48, 18 January 2009 (UTC)

Boniface and Cosmas

I have restored the {{fact}} template on the claim that Saint Boniface "expressed firm belief in a flat earth" and a {{Dubious}} template on the use of Cosmas Indicopleustes in a sentence claiming to provide a list of "theologians".

The only credible sources I have seen on the dispute between Boniface and Vergilius both say that the only extant primary source about it is a letter of Pope St. Zachary's to Boniface, which, though not at all clear on the precise nature of the dispute, suggests that it was about the existence of antipodean "worlds" rather than the sphericity of the earth.

Cosmas Indicopleustes seems to have been a rather obscure Egyptian monk who is known for only a single work, Christian Topography, which would hardly be sufficient for him to merit the title of "theologian". As far as I can tell, that characterisation of him is inaccurate, so unless a decent source can be provided to support it, I believe he should be removed from the list of flat-earth "theologians" (or replaced by a more appropriate personage—Athanasius or Lactantius would do). —David Wilson (talk · cont) 16:34, 21 April 2008 (UTC)

This online source confirms that not only did Boniface believe in a flat earth, but it was official doctrine of the Church at the time. "Later on, St. Boniface accused Vergilius of teaching a doctrine in regard to the rotundity of the earth, which was "contrary to the Scriptures". Pope Zachary's decision in this case was that "if it be proved that he held the said doctrine, a council be held, and Vergilius expelled from the Church " (Catholic Encyclopedia, v. XV, pub. 1912)
As for Cosmas Indicopleustes, his life is significant enough to have a full-page Wiki, 14 centuries after his death. I don't think that qualifies as "obscure". In the Sixth Century -- a period of widespread illiteracy-- anyone who wrote a religious thesis still being widely discussed today, should certainly be termed a theologian, though I certainly welcome debate on the subject.

FellGleaming (talk) 16:43, 21 April 2008 (UTC)

FellGleaming wrote:
"This online source confirms that not only did Boniface believe in a flat earth, but it was official doctrine of the Church at the time."
No it doesn't.
First, "doctrine in regard to the rotundity of the earth" is infuriatingly vague, but the wording strongly suggests that the doctrine in question (at least as understood by William Turner, the article's author) involved either something more or perhaps something less than the simple assertion that the earth was spherical. Otherwise why not say straight out that Vergilius taught the doctrine that the earth was spherical, rather than indulge in such a vague circumlocution. Here are a few possibilities for what Vergilius's doctrine could have been, based merely on its description as being "in regard to the rotundity of the earth":
  • that the sphericity of the earth is consistent with scripture (without actually asserting it as an established fact);
  • that certain passages of scripture imply that the earth is spherical (an implausible claim, but one which is has nevertheless been adopted by some modern Christian apologists);
  • that since the earth is spherical it is possible (or even likely) that the antipodes are inhabited.
Every one of these possibilities could be appropriately described as a "doctrine in regard to the rotundity of the earth". As I said above, the only credible sources I have seen (including the one you have cited, in my opinion) consider something like the third of the above three possibilities to be the most likely nature of the doctrine which Boniface was objecting to.
—This is part of a comment by David J Wilson (of 00:09, 23 April 2008 (UTC)), which was interrupted by the following:
There are several problems with the above. First of all, phrasing such as "doctrine in regard to the rotundity of the earth" was not "a vague circumlocution"-- by the standards of the time, it was standard prose form. As to the idea that a spherical earth would be consistent with scripture, yet not established fact, you have to again remember the standard of the 8th century. Scripture was infallible, especially to the clergy (essentially the only literate people alive at the time). If a statement was in contradiction with Scripture, the statement was incorrect...this is basic fact, establshed through countless sources.
As to the idea that "doctrine of rotundity" refers to an inhabitanted antipodes, again that seems like a severe stretch. In the absence of any other evidence to the contrary, Occam's Razor tells us to use the simplest explanation-- the phrase means exactly what it says.
Still further, if the "rotundity of the earth" was well-established at the time, why would an author even use the phrase? If the argument really was simply over inhabited antipodes, why even refer to the question of roundness at all? FellGleaming (talk) 01:41, 23 April 2008 (UTC)
Second, even considering the phrase " ... doctrine in regard to the rotundity of the earth, which was "contrary to the Scriptures"" in complete isolation, it is not at all clear whether Turner would have intended "rotundity of the earth" or "doctrine" to be the antecedent of the pronoun "which". Strictly speaking, proper grammar would require the former, but the latter is nervertheless still a very common type of error. In the absence of any conflicting information, we should of course assume that the interpretation required by correct grammar is the one Turner most likely intended. But in this case, we do have conflicting information.
Further on in the article we find Turner writing the following:
"Unfortunately we no longer possess the treatise in which Vergilius expounded his doctrine. Two things, however, are certain: first, that there was involved the problem of original sin and the universality of redemption; secondly, that Vergilius succeeded in freeing himself from the charge of teaching a doctrine contrary to Scripture. It is likely that Boniface misunderstood him, taking it for granted, perhaps, that if there are antipodes, the "other race of men" are not descendants of Adam and were not redeemed by Christ. Vergilius, no doubt, had little difficulty in showing that his doctrine did not involve consequences of that kind."
If Turner thought that the sphericity of the earth was the objectionable part of the doctrine which Vergilius had been accused of teaching, then it simply doesn't make any sense for him to turn around and claim that Vergilius could have successfully defended himself by merely showing that the doctrine didn't have consequences of the kind listed in the above quotation.
Thus it seems to me likely that Turner could only have intended the first sentence you have quoted to mean something like the following:
St. Boniface made an accusation that a doctrine taught by Vergilius in connection with the rotundity of the earth was contrary to scripture.
At any rate, I believe your interpretation of the article is mistaken.
Nor is this article the only source we have to rely on. The same Catholic Encyclopedia, in a separate article on the antipodes, gives a more detailed and clearer account of the affair, with a direct quotation from Zachary's letter, describing the precise words of the doctrine for which he would have required Vergilius to be "expelled from the Church"—namely:
"that beneath the earth there was another world and other men, another sun and moon"
In view of this I don't see much evidence here to support the claim that Boniface believed in a flat earth or that this was official doctrine of the Church at the time.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 00:09, 23 April 2008 (UTC)
The point you're missing is the reason *why* a spherical earth was thought to violate scripture at the time. A round earth implied (it was thought) dry land below, identical to
Take a look at the beginning of the article you cited: the passage by St. Augustine, "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 [snip]t...". See what this passage tells us? First of all, it clearly demonstrates that belief in a spherical earth wasn't universal at the time ("even SHOULD it be believed..."). But more importantly, it shows us Augustine's attempts to argue that a spherical earth, in itself, does NOT contradict Scripture....because even if the earth was round, it didn't imply dry land below, inhabited by humans. And thus, a spherical earth was consistent with Scripture...a view that eventually became well-established (though it took a great deal of time).FellGleaming (talk) 01:41, 23 April 2008 (UTC)
Furthermore, consider the final phrase of that article, "It is likely that Boniface misunderstood him, taking it for granted, perhaps, that if there are antipodes, the "other race of men" are not descendants of Adam and were not redeemed by Christ. Vergilius, no doubt, had little difficulty in showing that his doctrine did not involve consequences of that kind." This is saying that Boniface held to the original belief that a doctrine of a "rotund" earth implied antipodes, and that implied another race of men. Whereas Vergilius held to the new belief that antipodes could certainly exist without contradicting Scipture.
In fact, the single word "if" in "if there are antipodes" by itself demonstrates this. After all, a flat earth may or may not have antipodes, but a round earth MUST have them. If there is any question over whether or not antipodes exist, then there's also a question of whether the earth is round.FellGleaming (talk) 01:57, 23 April 2008 (UTC)
One final point that may not be apparent to contemporary readers. We have a hard time understanding today why anyone would think a spherical earth implies habitation on the far side...after all, the entire backside could be endless ocean, right? Or barren desert? But to the early Medievalist, the earth was created by God, for the purpose of providing home to mankind. It seemed incomprehensible to such men that God would create an entire "second world", below and unreachable from the first...and leave it wholly empty. In their anthropocentric viewpoint, this was outrageous. And this is much of the justification for the tacit linkage between "rotundity" and "inhabited antipodes" in many early MA sources. FellGleaming (talk) 02:06, 23 April 2008 (UTC)

Convenience Break

FellGleaming wrote:
First of all, phrasing such as "doctrine in regard to the rotundity of the earth" was not "a vague circumlocution" ...
Thank you for the English lesson. Unfortunately, if you think that "doctrine in regard to the rotundity of the earth" was not vague, or that it was not a circumlocution, then we are speaking different dialects. If you would like to learn more about mine, I refer you to Sir Ernest Gowers's The Complete Plain Words and Henry Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. At the end of a paragraph which opens with the admonition
"Use words with precise meanings rather than vague ones."
on page 34 of my Pelican paperback edition of The Complete Plain Words, Gowers writes:
"... rack upon rack of simple prepositions are left untouched because before them are kept the blunderbusses of vague phrases such as in relation to, in regard to, in connexion with and in the case of. [italics used in the original]
Also, such uses of "in regard to" as occurs in the expression "doctrine in regard to the rotundity of the earth" is called "periphrasis" by Fowler in the entry on regard in his Modern English Usage. In my dialect, "periphrasis" happens to be a synonym of "circumlocution".
While the these references are now rather ancient (as too am I myself), I can't say I've noticed much change in the meanings of any of the words "vague", "periphrasis", "circumlocution", or in the expression "in regard to", over the 30 or 40 years since my copies of the references were published.
"-- by the standards of the time, it was standard prose form."
Well Fowler certainly thought it was far too common while he was writing Modern English Usage, during the decade and a half immediately following the appearance of Turner's article. Nevertheless, since he strongly deprecated it, I doubt he would have agreed that it was "standard prose form". But even if it were, that would not prevent it from also being either vague or a circumlocution.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 17:26, 24 April 2008 (UTC)
The Catholic Encyclopedia article you cite was written in 1907, by (most likely) an elderly member of the clergy writing in standard Victorian prose form. I'm sure you realize how quickly standards of prose mutated during the beginning of the 20th century. In any case, whether or not that particular phrase is vague is rather meaningless, and vagueness itself certainly is no reason to presuppose an entirely different meaning for the passage. And, as I said above, the simple appearance of the statement "if there are antipodes" indicates dissent over the shape of the earth...a flat earth may or may not have antipodes, but a spherical earth *must* have them.
In any case, while I agree you've made some interesting points, I (obviously) feel mine are stronger...and I'd like to hear some opinion from the other editors on the subject. Again, there seems to be little dissent over the late MA; the issue seems to center around contemporary thought during the very early MA, a time when (I submit) learned scholars retained knowledge of the earth's sphericity, but many theologians, and a large amount of the uneducated public believed it to be contrary to the teachings of Scripture, and thus incorrect. FellGleaming (talk) 02:08, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
FullGleaming seems to have misunderstood much of what I wrote above about William Turner's article on Vergilius (or perhaps I have misunderstood his replies). Trying to clarify the matter by responding to all the points of apparent misunderstanding runs the risk of getting this discussion featured on a Lamest discussions page. I may try to clarify some of my main points later, but for the time being, let me try a different tack.
FullGleaming wrote above:
"The point you're missing is the reason *why* a spherical earth was thought to violate scripture at the time."
No. You are presuming facts not in evidence, and one fact in particular which is in dispute —namely, that Boniface and Zachary are known to have considered the sphericity of the earth to be contrary to scripture. Moreover, your more general assertion that "a spherical earth was thought to violate scripture at the time" appears to me to be inconsistent with what you have written elsewhere:
"And I would certainly agree that from Bede onward, it became very hard to find flat earth views expressed among the learned."
on Steve McCluskey's talk page, and:
By the 8th century (the time of Bede), it [i.e. the sphericity of the earth] was again firmly established though.
on the Flat Earth talk page. You would appear not to have noticed that the letter of Pope Zachary's referring to Vergilius was dated 748, some 13 years after Bede's death. On the one hand you say that "a spherical earth was thought to violate scripture at the time" (i.e. of Zachary's letter), but on the other you say that the sphericity of the earth had been "again firmly established" by then. Well, which is it? These statements appear to me to be inconsistent, so please clarify.
Of course, even if the notion that the earth was spherical had been firmly reestablished by the 8th century, it does not follow that Boniface or Zachary necessarily subscribed to it—it is certainly possible that they might have been late hold-outs, fighting a rear-guard action against new-fangled ideas which they found objectionable, but I'm not aware of any evidence at all that they were.
On Steve McCluskey's talk page you also seem to imply here that you have seen other sources which confirm your claims about Boniface, but which you no longer have access to. Since I have never found such a source (excluding some of the rubbish one can always find on the internet), I would be very interested in seeing any. I have convenient access to several good libraries and am willing to look up any sources you can cite. So if you can remember the authors or titles of any of the sources you had in mind, please post the details.
This morning I visited the library of the Australian National University to check a few sources and found none which claimed the dispute to be about the sphericity of the earth. Before reading the following quotations, however, you should be made aware (if you weren't already) of an ambiguity in the word "antipodes" which appears to have caused no end of confusion over this issue. "Antipodes" can mean, among other things, either a place on the earth opposite to another, or the people who dwell there. It is very commonly used in the latter sense by those who have written on the Church's opposition to the existence of "antipodes". In the following quotations it is certain that J.L.E. Dreyer, William Whewell and Jeffrey Burton Russell are using the term "antipodes" to refer to inhabitants on the opposite side of the earth, because they elsewhere explicitly say or imply that that is what they mean. In the quotation from de Morgan the term might be genuinely ambiguous (or it might not, depending on exactly how it was used in the latter half of the 19th century when de Morgan wrote).
"There may be paradox upon paradox [by "paradox" here, de Morgan meant "the isolated opinion of one or of few"]: and there is a good instance in the eighth century of Virgil, an Irishman, Bishop of Salzburg and afterwards Saint, and his quarrels with Boniface, an Englishman, Archbishop of Mentz, also afterwards Saint. All we know about the matter is, that there exists a letter of 748 from Pope Zachary, citing Virgil—then, it seems, at most a simple priest, though the Pope was not sure even of that—to Rome to answer the charge of maintaining that there is another world (mundus) under our earth (terra), with another sun and another moon. Nothing more is known: the letter contains threats in the event of the charge being true; and there history drops the matter."
And a couple of pages further on:
"To me the little information we have seems to indicate—but not with certainty—that Virgil maintained the antipodes: that his ignorant contemporaries travestied his theory into that of an underground cosmos; that the Pope cited him to Rome to explain his system, which, as reported, looked like what all would then have affirmed to be heretical; that he gave satisfactory explanations and was dismissed with honour."
"That it was worth while to be very cautious in speaking of antipodes appears from the ruin which threatened Fergil, an Irish ecclesiastic of the eighth century, better known as Virgilius of Salzburg. ...[skip some biographical details] ... In 748 he came into collision with Boniface, the head of the missionary Churches of Germany, about the validity of a baptism administered by a priest ignorant of Latin, and when Boniface reported this to the Pope (Zacharias) he took the opportunity to complain that Virgil in his lectures had taught that there was "another world and another people under the earth". Zacharias replied that Boniface should call a council and expel Vergil from the Church if he really had taught that. ...[skip speculation about subsequent proceedings]. .. No writings of his are extant, and nothing is known of his doctrines except the words quoted above from the Pope's reply, to which in one edition is added that the other world underneath ours had its own sun and moon. But this is only a marginal improvement made by some transcriber to emphasize the shocking heresy of Virgil, and we cannot doubt that Virgil merely taught the existence of antipodes."
"In Augustin (who flourished A.D. 400) the opinion [i.e. on the existence of "antipodes", in Whewell's sense of inhabitants of the opposite side of the earth] is treated on other grounds; and without denying the globular form of the earth, it is asserted that there are no inhabitants of the opposite side, because no such race is recorded by Scripture among the descendents of Adam. Considerations of the same kind operated in the well-known instance of Virgil, Bishop of Salzburg, in the eighth century. When he was reported to Boniface, Archbishop of Mentz, as holding the existence of Antipodes, the prelate was shocked at the assumption, as it seemed to him, of a world of human beings, out of reach of the conditions of salvation; and an application was made to Pope Zachary for a censure of this dangerous doctrine."
"Vergil of Salzburg, an Irish bishop in eighth-century Austria, was reprimanded for believing in the antipodes. This has led some modern writers to confuse the question of the antipodes with that of the sphericity of the earth, and this became an important element in the Flat Error. In the ancient and medieval world the term "antipodes" may mean lands on the opposite side of the planet or, more commonly, human inhabitants of lands on the other side of the planet. ... [skip discussion of Christian doctrine about antipodeans] ... At any rate, Vergil was reproved (not burnt, as some later historians have said) for believing in antipodeans, not for believing in sphericity."
I wouldn't set much store by either Whewell's or Russell's opinions, since I don't consider them to be reliable sources (note that Russell relates an apparently ahistorical factoid for which there is no evidence—namely that Vergil was reprimanded[1]). Nevertheless, they both agree with all the other sources that the issue was the existence of inhabitants of the antipodes, and not the sphericity of the earth.
To these sources I can also add the Catholic Encyclopedia articles on Antipodes, Geography and the Church, Science and the Church and Salzburg, which all say essentially the same thing. (And, in my opinion, so also does Turner's article on Vergilius).
A copy of Zachary's letter itself is available on-line. So if you can read medieval Latin, you can download it and read it for yourself. It's in Volume 89 of Migne's Patrologia Latina, available here [WARNING: the pdf file is very large, and over a dialup line will take several hours to download]. The part of the letter which deals with Vergilius is in column 946D. The only Latin I learnt as a schoolboy was from the classical period, and is now very rusty anyway, so I can only make out a few phrases here and there in Zachary's letter with some difficulty. However I know enough to recognise that the part of it dealing with Vergilius nowhere mentions anything about the sphericity of the earth. I challenge you to find such a mention anywhere else in it.
Finally, you shouid be made aware of Wikipedia's policy on neutral point of view (NPOV). Even if your interpretation of Turner's article were correct, the NPOV policy requires Wikipedia to represent "fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources"'. Therefore, even if you can obtain consensus that Boniface should be included as at least a possible opponent of the sphericity of the earth, the article must also indicate that, at least according to the preponderance of scholarly opinion, there is no evidence to support that view.
1.^ I withdraw this assertion. It is a reasonable inference that Vergilius was reprimanded by Boniface, which is all that Russell may have been referring to.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 14:46, 26 April 2008 (UTC)
(This comment was originally drafted while Wilson was drafting his, hence it repeats his points) The source for the controversy between Boniface and Virgil is a letter from Pope Zacharias to Boniface dated 1 May 748. It is discussed and translated in M.L.W.Laistner, Thought and Letters in Western Europe, A.D. 500 to 900, 2nd. rev. ed., 1957 (Cornell Univ. Pr.), pp. 184-5. The pope's letter says:
As for the perverse and sinful doctrine which he (Virgil) against God and his own soul has uttered--if it shall be clearly established that he professes belief in another world and other men existing beneath the earth, or in (another) sun and moon there, thou art to hold a council, deprive him of his sacerdotal rank, and expel him from the Church.
Laistner notes that despite this apparent threat, "Virgil survived his adversary by many years. He was highly respected for his probity and learning and ... is mentioned with approval by so orthodox a man as Alcuin." Laistner further maintains, citing the usual sources of Macrobius, Martianus Capella, Isidore, and Bede that "Contrary to what has often been maintained, belief in a flat earth was not the commonly accepted opinion in the early Middle Ages. Belief in the Antipodes [i.e., other men who lived on the opposite side of the earth] was more controversial."
Although I don't have the sources at my fingertips, a recent article attributed Virgil's belief to Irish mythology of little people living under the earth. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 15:06, 26 April 2008 (UTC)
If you want to exercise your Latin, a preferred edition of the original Latin source is on line in the Digital Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolae selectae 1, Die Briefe des Heiligen Bonifatius und Lullus, 80, pp. 178-9. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 17:21, 26 April 2008 (UTC)

Garden of Earthly Delights

It is a commonplace in Wikipedia that primary sources, including images, do not stand by themselves but must be supported by reliable scholarly interpretations. This seems to be especially the case for Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, which is full of unrealistic and symbolic imagery. If there are art-historical sources that support the idea that the exterior panels are intended to present a realistic portrayal of a flat earth inside a spherical container, please quote them.

A further issue is that to the extent that it might be realistic, is it intended as reflecting Bosch's view of the world (extremely doubtful in the 16th c. Netherlands) or is it intended to represent his view of how he thought medieval people saw the world (in that case it's analogous to the Flammarion woodcut).

I'm not an art historian and don't have answers to these questions; I only raise them to point out the problematic nature of the primary source presented here. Without reliable secondary sources to present the present interpretation, this source should be removed. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 04:05, 27 April 2008 (UTC)

The same editor has discussed Bosh's Renaissance painting once again (in the lede this time), as an example of a supposed common tradition of medieval depictions of the flat earth. I've tagged it as needing citations, and will delete it if none are forthcoming. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 13:42, 25 September 2010 (UTC)
Well I've added a citation for the meaning of Bosch's painting, but I'm not an expert of medieval painting. However the painting below in the article is in my view another example - no I withdraw that having looked at William Caxton's Mirror of the World. The problem is to find any representations at all, flat or spherical. Even the "orb" can be interpreted as being of the "world" i.e. the universe, not the earth. Chris55 (talk) 08:09, 26 September 2010 (UTC)

removal of dubious assertions

As an uninvolved 3rd party here, I've read the above discussions, including on the user talk pages, and I see not only no evidence for the Church doctrine theory, but that this is only being argued by one person. So I have removed the dubious assertions. --C S (talk) 09:45, 9 May 2008 (UTC)

Once upon a time, the myth was true...

I'm seeing some attempts by Christian apologists to refer to the "Myth of the Flat Earth" when claiming that flat-Earthism has never been a mainstream belief within the Judeo-Christian tradition: which is not correct. The article does repeatedly state that it covers the medieval period (with one notable lapse: "The popularized version of the misconception that people before the age of exploration believed that Earth was flat persists in the popular imagination, and is even repeated in some widely read textbooks"), but maybe the introduction needs a note indicating that the "myth" refers only to the medieval period, not all of history: and certainly not the time when most of the Old Testament was written, which was before the Greeks figured out that the Earth was a sphere. Perhaps the following:

Note: this phrase refers specifically to claims that flat-Earth beliefs were prevalent during the medieval period. It does not address the issue of flat-Earth beliefs prior to the discovery of the Earth's sphericity by the Greeks, including references to such beliefs within the Bible and other ancient literature[1]. --Robert Stevens (talk) 12:44, 20 May 2008 (UTC)

Where do you justify the assertion that it was the Greeks that first discovered that the Earth was spherical? An American professor once remarked on UK TV "what do you think the Ancient Egyptians thought was the shape of the earth when they climbed to the tops of their early pyramids and could demonstrably see further than at ground level?" To me there does seem to be a terribly irresistable logic about that statement. Furthermore, there are remains from early sea trading civilisations in Cadiz which were contemporary with the Egyptians and predated the Greeks. To my mind, to sail that far and further you are forced to consider the shape of the Earth and you would hardly set out if you thought it was flat or somesuch. All circumstantial, I know, but just as valid as a simple assertion that the Greeks knew first. Drg40 (talk) 08:41, 8 September 2010 (UTC)

I agree with that aspect. Unless historians have collected strong evidence one way or the other, we simply can't know when this bit of scientific knowledge arose and should stay agnostic on that point. Hans Adler 16:31, 8 September 2010 (UTC)
The assertion is easy to support. Thales, Anaximander and other Greek philosophers of that time had studied mathematics (and presumably astronomy) in Egypt and Babylon. They posed theories about models of the earth that assumed it was flat under some sort of star canopy. Either Parmenides or the Pythagoreans were the first Greek philosophers to propose that the earth was round. This is all explained in "J. L. E. Dreyer's, A History of Astronomy from Thales to Kepler". By the time of Aristotle, it was a widespread idea. As to the statement: "what do you think the Ancient Egyptians thought was the shape of the earth when they climbed to the tops of their early pyramids and could demonstrably see further than at ground level?" that's easy to refute. While low on the ground other objects such as trees, other people and even bumps in the ground itself basically occlude everything behind them -- so going up just meant that you changed your viewing angle so that those occlusions went away and thus allowed you to see behind what you couldn't before. More importantly, you can't literally see the Earth's curvature, so you would not automatically give that as an explanation for the better view from on high. Even when the Greeks had settled on earth being round, there were still doubters as late as Lucretius. The idea that the earth was round had to be very carefully argued and assumed significant knowledge that not everyone had. Qed (talk) 18:44, 5 March 2012 (UTC)

I'm not sure |I buy the argument that rising up vertically enables you to see over trees etc. that obstructed your view in every direction at ground level. Further, do an approach to Majorca from the E coast of Spain on a fine day and find, if you can, an explanation as to why the mountains of Majorca ries out of the sea as you approach. They are so many clues to the contrary all around you if you, as an Ancient Egyptian, either have eyes to see or run into the issue every day, as a sailor, for example. It would be hard work to explain why the gleaming summit of a pyramid at dusk was illuminated by the dying rays of the sun while the earth and the lower levels of the pyramid where in shadow. On evenings where there was a blood red sunset that spectacle is going to be hard to ignore. I do not doubt your argument that as far as we can dertermine from the records open to us the Greeks took the concept of roundness and put some mathematical flesh on the bones. Finally, however, I would point out that the Minoans, bearing in mind the distancews they sailed, must have navigated by the stars in some way. Move any distance North or South (even up and down the Nile), and you are bound to notice that the constellations (which you are possible using to navigate and are therefore paying close attention) can be found in different places from their home position. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Drg40 (talkcontribs) 14:32, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

scope, title

this article isn't in fact about a "myth", but about an urban legend, or popular misconception. One that is already discussed in full at Flat Earth. --dab (𒁳) 13:49, 26 July 2008 (UTC)

Also, there were many (many!) "people before the age of exploration believed that Earth was flat". This was probably held by most cultures prior to the Modern period, just not by the medieval Christian and Islamic cultures. dab (𒁳) 13:59, 26 July 2008 (UTC)

Its really not clear to me why you presume that 'most' cultures 'probably' believed the earth was flat. I think it is far more likely that anybody who bothered to think about it all would have believed the earth were spherical (or at least in some way rounded) because it is extremely easy to know that the world is not flat. The curvature of the earth is obvious when watching ships sail over the horizon. It is obvious if you stand on mountains when there are many scattered cumulus clouds and your eyes are a 100m or so below the base of those cumulus clouds (the clouds can be seen to curve away on all sides). The roundness of the earth can be seen by watching the shadow of the earth across the moon. In other words working out that the earth is not-flat is so trivial that I think it is extremely unreasonable to presume that anybody except deliberately beligerent or crazy people would ever have believed the earth to be flat. 17:26, 28 December 2008 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

You are arguing as if significant numbers of cultures had access to "ships" and didn't think that "too small to see" wasn't the same as "going over the horizon". You also are implying that most cultures people understood how to reason and use empiricism. One need go no further than to examine what Anaximander and Lucretius (both notable philosophers of ancient Greece) said on the issue -- they all thought the earth was flat. Qed (talk) 22:26, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

I propose having an article on the history and historiography of nonspheroidal conceptualisations of the earth. Conveniently, an appropriate title for such an article would be "myth of the flat earth", so I'm suggesting structuring this article in two parts: The historiography part would deal generally with semi-modern claims pertaining to ancient worldviews (e.g., the impugning of "dark ages", catholic vs protestant vilification, imperfect historians, post darwinian reframing of the relation between science and religion) and contain a prominent subsection titled "christopher columbus urban legend", to deal with the origin and spread of the misconception that such a worldview was held by anyone of relevance at the time of columbus' voyage. Whereas the history part would present our most up to date assessment of what was really thought (e.g., separately by ancient natural philosophers, in major monasteries, among the ruling class, by ordinary sailors, and among the common uneducated public, across different regions and periods, right up to the history of any modern flat-earthers). It seems that such a scope is practically necessary for this article anyway, to address the questions that are invariably prompted by consideration of the legend about columbus. Cesiumfrog (talk) 00:00, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

Ah, what was I doing replying to a zombie thread. How about merging the content of this page into an expanded historiography part of the "flat earth" article? There seems to be recurring support and proposals for something equivalent to that (and for ditching the questionable title here), and the few oppose votes seem weak (i.e., actually not opposed to the articles being unified if done properly, and nobody benefits from the overlap/duplication in the meantime). Cesiumfrog (talk) 00:22, 27 March 2012 (UTC)
Early world mapsMachine Elf 1735 09:51, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

Another historical Error in the Article.

This statement, "and the biggest fear among Columbus' crew would have been that the ocean was too big to cross leading to starvation." (added emphasis) is almost certainly incorrect.

Before the widespread adoption of reverse osmosis desalinization in 1970's, the greatest limit on the length of an Ocean Voyage was water not food. Dried Food is light and easy and easy to store in quantity. While such a diet will eventually result in scurvy, that takes weeks to develop. Dehydration can kill a healthy person in as little as a few days, depending on ambient temperature and amount of physical exertion. At the longest, dehydration will kill in little a over a week. Long before scurvy would develop, dehydration would cause hallucinations and psychosis followed by death.

Columbus crew would have been well aware of this. Their fear not starvation, but dehydration. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Cadallin (talkcontribs) 23:42, 5 August 2008 (UTC)

ISTM that your argument has weakness. It would now seem that a number of people had landed on the American continent before Columbus by following a Northern route. On such a route dehydration is unlikely to be a problem since it rains quite regularly and I do promise you that it is easy to collect enough rainwater during an Atlantic storm to drown the crew, never mind keep dehydration at bay. If Columbus followed a route rather to the North of that portrayed in his log, his log recording the course he was authorised to follow which, AIUI is now open to question, he would probably have easily collected enough rainwater.

Granted a few centuries later, but using the smae technology, it was not at all unusual for Royal Navy vessels to stay at sea for years, and most complaints were with regard to the weevils in the biscuits and the rancidness of the salt meat, in other words, the food. Also bear in mind that after Christian lead the mutiny against Bligh - later Admiral Bligh - Bligh sailed something of the order of 6,000nm in an open boat in the tropics to find a ship sailing for England and not one of his crew died of dehydration. Drg40 (talk) 10:03, 14 September 2010 (UTC)

Incidentally someone has also pointed out to me another dreadful fallacy in a flat earth theory to a mariner's eyes. If I stand off to the W of Majorca by about ten nm in the evening when the sun just illuminates Soller Lighthouse and very roughly estimate the time until the peaks of the mountains go into shadow, then by the simplest of calculation, if the earth is flat I've already gone over the edge by some margin. The effect is quite startling if you watch it with a blood red sunset behind you as many a Minoan must have done.Drg40 (talk) 16:26, 7 April 2012 (UTC)

My understanding is that there was another serious problem: navigation. I recall reading that Columbus detected the anomalous reading of the magnetic compass but kept that secret from the crew, for they would have the reasonable fear that they could become lost in uncharted waters (remember that the problem of determining longitude was far from being solved). TomS TDotO (talk) 14:17, 14 September 2010 (UTC)

Yes, but, an alternative explanation is that the motive for Columbus' journey was to divide the wealth of S America up between Portugal and Spain. His journey was dictated and it's actual purpose was secret. Since he knew (how?) he could not follow this given course because of the prevailing currents, he had to keep this secret from the crew and part of the reason for their unrest was their growing awareness that they were not doing as they had been instructed. All the malarky about the "West Indies" and the flat earth was to deceive the English and French and divert attention away from the wealth of the "New World".

AIUI navigating an Atlantic crossing under normal circumstances, at the right time and in the right current pattern is a bit like "navigating" an escalator: keep your mouth shut and your toes tucked in and you end up at the top.Drg40 (talk) 10:24, 15 September 2010 (UTC)

User Drg40 please note: First, this article is about the modern misconception that an earliar age thought the world is flat, not the difficulties or ulterior purposes of Columbus' voyages or such. Second, the talk page is for discussions of how to improve the article; it is not a forum for discussing aspects of the topic (no matter how fascinating). Third, you should generally add comments to the bottom of a discussion, so that the thread proceeds straightforwardly, and other editors can immediately find the most recent comments (at the bottom!). Also [fourth], indenting successive comments (by starting the comment with one or more ":") makes it a lot easier to follow them. See WP:Talk page guidelines for a broader discussion. ~ J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 18:20, 8 April 2012 (UTC)

Thank you. I accept your third point entirely and can only apologise. As to your second point, I take it as the view of the purist (that is not meant to imply an insult, and i do not mean to suggest that you are being pedantic) but would point out that the page is heade 'talk' and whilst you may wish to restrict the use of the talk page to certain specific types of remark, such a rule is breached remarkably frequently throughout Wikipedia. Perhaps you should seek to argue for a third page type called 'discussion'? As to your first point I resist it strongly. I have tried to avoid criticising the nonsenses of religion directly because that only leads to extensive vandalism by the freaks, and it is not my responsibilty to excite their easy vitriol. In sum, Columbus did not 'discover' America, Columbus' crew were not of the opinion that the earth was flat, nor was the church (always excluding the over zealous, and if I poured through the writngs of a modern home for the intellectually challenged, sex starved old men I might find some odd comments there too, but i wouldn't take them as UN policy statements) and the underlying argument was about the division between Spain and Portugal of the riches of the new world and keeping them within the pockets true believers. In other words, there was no myth of the flat earth because even the church must have known that everyday observation showed it not to be so and the very fact that the propaganda put out to obscure the discovery of untold riches still holds sway says something about our modern world which I will leave in order to avoid attracting the interest of the religious vandals. In short, like carrots improving night vision to obscure the invention of radar - the story now has a life of its own even though it's rubbish.
Drg40 (talk) 09:19, 9 April 2012 (UTC)
  Thank re the third point. In the hope you will also see the advantage of the fourth point (successive indenting) I have also inserted the initial colon to indent your previous remark. In edit mode please note how I have prefaced this comment with two colons; your next comment, if any, should use three, and so forth. Note how the successive indentations makes it much easier to distinguish the various comments.
  As to my second point, I will quote from WP:Talk page guidelines:
The purpose of a Wikipedia talk page (accessible via the talk or discussion tab) is to provide space for editors to discuss changes to its associated article or project page. Article talk pages should not be used by editors as platforms for their personal views on a subject.
  Is that adequately clear? Yes, the rule is often stretched, but just because the tab is labelled "Talk" does not make this an open invitation to ramble on about matters only peripheral to the topic. (And you are rambling.) More particularly, Wikipedia is not (neither generally, nor in any particular page) a WP:SOAPBOX for your personal opinions. If you wish to debate those points, please seek an appropriate blog.
~ J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 21:06, 9 April 2012 (UTC)

Washington Irving's biography of Columbus

I have placed {{Dubious}} and {{fact}} tags on a few statements in the article about Washington Irving's book, History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Colmbus. The first is the following quotation from Jeffrey Burton Russell's web page:

"[Irving]...invented the indelible picture of the young Columbus, a 'simple mariner,' appearing before a dark crowd of benighted inquisitors and hooded theologians at a council of Salamanca, all of whom believed, according to Irving, that the earth was flat like a plate."

This is an egregious misinterpretation of what Irving wrote.

  • Nowhere did Irving claim or imply that any members of the supposed council had any connection with the Inquisition, or describe any of the alleged theologians on it as "hooded". He does introduce his account by gratuitously mentioning that the Inquisition had just been established in Spain, and falsely suggests that Columbus came close to having his religious orthodoxy questioned. But these claims play a fairly minor role in the account, and in no way justify Russell's above-quoted depiction of it.
  • While Irving did say explicitly that all the members of the council were clerics, nowhere did he say or imply that it consisted entirely of "inquisitors" and "theologians". In fact, he said (on p.87) "It was composed of professors of astronomy, geography, mathematics, and other branches of science, together with various dignitaries of the church, and learned friars." The context from which Russell has plucked the 'simple mariner' expression is the following (p.88): "What a striking spectacle must the hall of the old convent have presented at this memorable conference! A simple mariner, standing forth in the midst of an imposing array, of professors, friars, and dignitaries of the church; maintaining his theory with natural eloquence, and, as it were, pleading the cause of the new world." I see nothing there (or anywhere else in Irving's account for that matter) about "inquisitors" or "hooded theologians" being members of the council.
Irving does mention on page 93 that one of Columbus's strong supporters on the council, Diego de Deza, was a professor of theology. But the only (somewhat indirect) suggestion in the whole of his account that there were any other theologians on it is on page 92, where he attributes some of the more absurd objections allegedly raised against Coumbus's propositions to "persons immersed in theological studies, in cloistered retirement".
  • Irving did not claim that all of the men on the council (nor even that a majority of them) had argued against the earth's rotundity. In fact he said explicitly (on p.92) that the objections from scripture, including those against the Earth's rotundity, "were probably advanced by but a few, and those persons immersed in theological studies, in cloistered retirement". In his book Inventing the Flat Earth (on p.53) Russell himself gives a quotation from Irving which flatly contradicts this part of the above-quoted statement:
"Others more versed than [the scripture quoters] in science admitted the globular form of the earth ..." (Bracketed text is Russell's insertion).

This latter quotation can be found in context on page 91 of Irving's book.


"There was indeed a meeting in Salamanca, but Irving's account for what happened there was entirely fictional."

This is an exaggeration. While Irving certainly did embellish his account with a lot of codswallop, and badly garbled much of the rest of the story, he nevertheless did also get a few basic facts right. And even some of the more dubious details of his account were at least accurately reported from what Columbus's son Ferdinand had written in his biography of his father. Russell himself (Inventing the Flat Earth, p.9) seems to accept those details as credible, although he studiously avoids mentioning that Irving had reported them accurately. Instead, he gives Irving's citation of Ferdinand as a supposed example of his careless use of sources (Inventing the Flat Earth, p.54) on the grounds that Ferdinand says nothing about the council's raising any objections against the rotundity of the Earth. But since Irving never cited Ferdinand as support for that claim (in fact, he gives no source at all for it), it is Russell, not Irving, in this instance, who is being careless in his use of sources.

In view of all this I propose that the paragraph containing the quotation from Russell's website be replaced with something more accurate and worthy of Wikipedia, such as the following:

"The first accounts of the legend have been traced to the 1830s. In 1828, Washington Irving's highly romanticised and inaccurate biography, The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus,[1] was published and mistaken by many for a scholarly work.[2] In Book III, Chapter II of this biography, Irving gave a largely fictional account of the meetings of a commission established by the Spanish sovereigns to examine Columbus's proposals. One of his more fanciful embellishments was a highly unlikely tale that the more ignorant and bigoted members on the commission had raised scriptural objections to Columbus's assertions that the Earth was spherical.[3]"


"Ironically many modern historians have misread Irving."

This statement needs to be documented. Even if one regards Russell as having "misread" Irving (which I doubt), that's hardly enough to establish the claim that "many modern historians" have done so.


"Nowhere in his History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus does he state that Columbus argued for a spherical Earth against "flat Earth" academics."

Yes he does. On page 90 of his book he states that some of the commissioners raised scriptural objections to his assertion that the Earth is spherical, and on page 92 he states that Columbus replied to all the objections raised from Scripture.


"What Irving does report is a supposed debate in Salamanca in 1486 between Columbus and scholars appointed by the Spanish crown to assess his proposal to sail west to China. But nowhere does Irving state the topic of the debate."

But he does state the purpose of the commission—namely, to hold "a conference with Columbus, and examin[e] him as to the grounds on which he founded his proposition" (p.85), and "investigate the new theory of Columbus" (p.87). Subsequent pages give a detailed account of the issues that were allegedly raised during the supposed conference, including objections to the rotundity of the Earth, as indicated above.


1. Irving, Washington (2005). "The Works of Washington Irving". University of Michigan Library. Retrieved 2008-08-19. 
2. The inaccuracies in Irving's work have been described in detail by Russell, Jeffrey Burton (1991). Inventing the flat Earth. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. pp. 51–56. ISBN 0-275-95904-X. 

3. Irving, p.90.

David Wilson (talk · cont) 17:06, 19 August 2008 (UTC)

Proposed merger into Flat Earth

The following discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section.

About six weeks ago a template proposing that this article be merged into the Flat Earth article was placed on this article's main page. If no-one objects, the proposer is entitled to be bold and carry out the merger without further ado. Personally, I don't have any strong feelings one way or the other, though I am inclined to favour keeping the articles separate. I have created this section to try and stimulate some discussion on the proposal.

As far as I am aware the only argument offered by the proposer to support the proposed merger is the edit summary provided when the merger proposal template was added:

"there is nothing here that isn't already covered in the parent article."

David Wilson (talk · cont) 13:35, 14 September 2008 (UTC)

  • Agree with the merge. Go for it. Aunt Entropy (talk) 15:45, 14 September 2008 (UTC

Query, why does this article even exist?. Its only purpose seems to be to imply that

a) the concept of 'Earth as Flat Disc' is a myth, patently false. Denying that at various times and places, people thought that the earth was flat is akin to denying that at certain times people really didnt think demons cause disease.- Wake up wikipedia

b) to deny that christians in particular during the dark ages never thought or advocated that the earth is flat, is also patently and openly false. Christians , are and were flat earthers. One can debate , with little hope of resolution, to what *degree* these views were prevalent at certain points in history, but to deny the basic idea itself, is at best, self-delusion or at worst, blantant self-serving historical revisionism.

This article should be deleted. Its serves no purpose, and indeed its underlying premise is un-deniably false. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 16:01, November 3, 2008

The debate started by Russell about medieval cosmology does deserve an article. It falls in the context of "medivalism" and the way the modern world constructs the middle ages. The question is whether that should go on the same page as a more general report on flat earth theories (ranging from Bablonian cosmology to Pratchet's Diskworld). The answer seems to be that both things are becoming rather long. So let's separate them. --Doric Loon (talk) 09:20, 12 January 2009 (UTC)
  • Disagree - If anything, the Flat earth article should be merged into this. The myth of widespread belief in a flat earth is a far more notable topic than belief in a flat earth itself. - Crosbiesmith (talk) 21:49, 5 March 2009 (UTC)
  • Disagree - as per Crosbiesmith, but additionaly because of the difference in credibility and categories: one is pseudoscience, the other a myth; very different things. --Michael C. Price talk 18:27, 5 August 2009 (UTC)

The above discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section.

Flat Earth vs Myth of the Flat Earth

Shouldn't this article be titled "Myth of the Myth of the Flat Earth"? -- Ng F K (Singapore)

—Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:04, 4 August 2010 (UTC)

I'm a little uncertain about whether the Flat earth article should remain separate or be merged. There is certainly some overlap and even some confusion.

I just came from making a bold edit] there, reflecting the sense I found here that there was little to no support in the West for the notion of flat earth.

What I'd like to see is a different division of labor, consisting of two major themes:

  1. History of people who actually did embrace the concept of a flat earth (cultures, nations or specific individuals)
  2. Various accounts by authors such as serious historians, authors of light historical fiction, or writers with an axe to grind - who ascribed such belief to people of times and places like medieval Europe - along with the modern consensus on which of these accounts is historically accurate

We'd need to mention Washington Irving, author of such fictional works as the The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the better known Rip Van Winkle. He apparently embellished the history of Columbus with information which is not considered factual by modern scholars.

We might need to include Daniel Boorstin, whose book The Discoverers is cited as an example of misinformation in history.

  • Anti-clerical history of science writers have promulgated the myth so that even today, in his book The Discoverers, Daniel Boorstin manages to produce a totally misleading account (although he eventually gets Columbus right). His bias shows badly when he castigates Christians for thinking the world was flat when they did not and then praises the erudition of Chinese geographers who actually did believe it. [1]

Here is a lengthy quotation from Boorstin's book cited in a curriculum guide by The National Academies Press, which publishes the reports issued by the National Academy of Sciences.

In sum, I'd like to see the history of acceptance and rejection of the flat earth concept, along with any historically wrangling about who believed what (and when). I think it might be almost as hard to be accurate and fair (see WP:NPOV) about this as it would be to write about the Holocaust and about Holocaust denial - another topic which can't be merged into a single article. But I hope it will be easier, thanks to well-received books like Jeffrey Burton Russell's 1991 book, Inventing the Flat Earth. --Uncle Ed (talk) 19:12, 23 February 2010 (UTC)

The proposed merger discussion is now well and truly stale. The templates suggesting a merger were removed from the articles last August, on the grounds that there was insufficient support for it to be implemented. I have therefore archived the old discussion and created a new section for your comments.
On my understanding of the purposes of the two articles, Flat Earth would generally be the proper place for the material described under your item 1, and this article would generally be the proper place for the material described under your item 2.
In my opinion, the treatment of Washington Irving in the article is already reasonably adequate. There is an extensive discussion of his biography of Columbus above. Of course this doesn't mean that the article's treatment couldn't be improved, but I don't believe that it deserves any more space devoted to it than it already occupies.
David Wilson (talk · cont)`
  • According to the guidelines on the subject; we shouldn't be using the word "myth" in the informal sense to mean "false." So I support Flat earth. Auntie E. (talk) 18:38, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
Could you clarify; are you supporting merging the two articles into Flat Earth? --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 21:38, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
I support the merge. I see no reason for two separate articles. Auntie E. (talk) 01:51, 27 February 2010 (UTC)
I don't see why (and whether) we are reopening the old merge discussion, but I, for one, oppose the merge. The Flat Earth article can discuss the idea that the earth is flat, but the subject of this article, the (false) idea that medieval people held the idea that the earth is flat, is too much of an indirection to properly belong in that one. Those guidelines about "myth" don't directly apply here, BTW — if this article was about the false belief that the earth is flat, they would (the "myth" being described would be the flatness of the earth itself), but this article is just using a title that has been used in the literature. Shreevatsa (talk) 02:09, 27 February 2010 (UTC)
I see no reason to reopen the discussion. There is a certain logic in separating out the two aspects, and the issue has already been resolved in favor of keeping the two articles separate. SteveMcCluskey (talk) 19:34, 27 February 2010 (UTC)
  • Oppose the merge Issue already dealt with. See comments elsewhere. --Michael C. Price talk 21:49, 10 March 2010 (UTC)

About the title

This article should be renamed. Dbachmann made this point above, but it seems to have gone unnoticed. According to the Mythology article, folklorists define a myth as "a religious narrative explaining how the world and humankind came to be in their present form". The idea that medievals thought the earth was flat is definitely not a myth in this sense. The Mythology article also says that, in its broadest academic sense, "myth" can refer to any traditional story. Thus, the story that Columbus proved that the earth is round might qualify as a myth. However, the general belief or misconception that medievals thought the earth was flat is not a myth. As the Mythology article notes, many people do use "myth" to mean something false; however, it also notes that this is not currently the PC use of the term in academia. --Phatius McBluff (talk) 19:13, 10 March 2010 (UTC)

You're correct that "myth" has two meanings, but are not both correct usage here? --Michael C. Price talk 21:45, 10 March 2010 (UTC)
Checking an authoritative source for definitions, I went online to the Oxford English Dictionary. Under "myth" I found:
1. a. A traditional story, typically involving supernatural beings or forces, which embodies and provides an explanation, aetiology, or justification for something such as the early history of a society, a religious belief or ritual, or a natural phenomenon....
2. a. A widespread but untrue or erroneous story or belief; a widely held misconception; a misrepresentation of the truth....
"Myth" in sense 2.a clearly fits this article. Due to its various usages, "myth" may not be the ideal term, but I can't think of anything better than Myth of the Flat Earth to summarize "the modern misconception that the prevailing cosmological view during the Middle Ages saw the Earth as flat." --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 03:22, 11 March 2010 (UTC)
Does not "myth" in sense 1.a also fit this article? --Michael C. Price talk 05:45, 11 March 2010 (UTC)
Here are several scholarly sources which have used the term "myth" to refer to the misconception that for some period during the Middle Ages virtually all Europeans believed the Earth to be flat:
  • Louise M. Bishop, in Misconceptions about the Middle Ages, p.97;
  • Edward Grant, God and Reason in the Middle Ages, p.342; and
  • David Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science, p.161.
Unless someone can provide a good source where it is argued that this use the term "myth" is inappropriate, the assertion that it is would appear to me to be unjustified.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 14:19, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

There seems to be an idea that European Christians believed in the "myth" of the flat earth. But there is controversy about whether they really did or not believe in a flat earth. Some sources say those people really believed it. Other sources say those people never really believed it.

Moreover, the idea that that European Christians believed in the "myth" of the flat earth has been used in arguments about how smart religious people are, particularly whether they are intellectually capable of understanding scientific ideas like evolution.

  • "They are so stupid that they believe in a flat earth."

However, there seems to be a modern consensus that no one ever actually believed in a flat earth, but that some writers simply made up this idea, for one purpose or another.

  • Fiction writer Washington Irving seems to have merely been indulging his sense of whimsy with his Columbus bio.
  • In other cases, there seems to have been an anti-religious motive
    This view needs to be documented carefully and neutrally - we mustn't accuse authors of having anti-religious bias, but can only quote verifiable sources who make such accusations along with sources with opposite viewpoints on the "bias" isssue
  • At least one case concerns an otherwise careful and meticulous scholar who unquestioningly quoted previous sources.
    There's a "lesson" on this sort of sloppy (albeit rare) mistake in a historical society's curriculum suggestions.

I could use some help organizing all this material. I'm more of a "discoverer" (no pun intended) than a writer. --Uncle Ed (talk) 15:04, 16 April 2010 (UTC)

Uncle Ed I think you have confused the more recent "myth of the flat earth" for the actual historical belief in a flat earth. The "myth" described in the article is a modern belief that wrongly claims that in the Middle Ages people commonly thought the earth was flat when they in fact did not. In other words this is the popular usage of myth as simply a false belief. But it is a modern false belief not a Medieval false belief. Now I agree that this title is a very poor choice. We ought not use "myth" in this sense on Wikipedia. We should stick to its technical academic usage.Griswaldo (talk) 15:52, 19 April 2010 (UTC)
I think you're right. The term "myth" in the context of Flat Earth theory is confusing.
  1. People use myth to refer to a discredited idea, especially one that modern scientifically minded people have rejected. Back in March I was using myth that way.
  2. Recently I started digging into books by modern historians, which use myth in the special sense of the discredited claim that (as you say above) in the Middle Ages people commonly thought the earth was flat when they in fact did not.
I also agree that the title is a very poor choice. You cannot tell, simply by reading the 5 words of the title, what the article is going to be on. Is it going to tell us about people who believed (or still believe) in the discredited idea that the earth is flat? That's the impression I myself get, anyway.
Anyway, I've started Shape of the earth, hoping to make it the central article (eventually) for all the ideas people have ever had about the flatness or sphericity of the Earth, along with any historical claims (now debunked) that in certain times and places people believed in one idea when (it turns out) they actually believed in the other. Is this too ambitious? --Uncle Ed (talk) 19:44, 19 April 2010 (UTC)

I propose naming it "Myth of the Flat Earth view". That is, as it seems too cumbersome to call it article "Myth of the myth of the flat earth"! Cesiumfrog (talk) 22:08, 21 December 2010 (UTC)

Article organization

I propose the following scheme, to organize all our WP information about the "flat earth" idea. In no particular order:

  • Article on Inventing the Flat Earth - book by historian Jeffrey Burton Russell
    Russell says the flat earth mythology flourished most between 1870 and 1920, and had to do with the ideological setting created by struggles over evolution. [2]
  • External link: The Myth of the Flat Earth - a web page by James Hannam, author of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science
  • Article: Shape of the earth
    This currently redirects to Figure of the earth, but I'd like to reclaim the title for a comprehensive historical account of the flat earth and spherical views, i.e., who believed them, where and when.
  • Medieval views on the shape of the earth could be a standalone article, or a section of Shape of the earth

Proponents of the view that Medieval Christians or Europeans believed in flat earth:

  • "The myth that Christians in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat was given a massive boost by Andrew Dickson White's weighty tome [The Warfare of Science with Theology published in 1896. This book has become something of a running joke among historians of science and it is dutifully mentioned as a prime example of misinformation in the preface of most modern works on science and religion." [3]

This isn't the only place I've commented on the need for a reorganization. I hope we can find one place to discuss this matter. --Uncle Ed (talk) 15:10, 16 April 2010 (UTC)

=> I started Shape of the earth as an article on the historical development of mankind's ideas about the earth's shape. Basically, it was the ancient Greeks who first decided it was spherical. Other civilizations followed suit, either adopting the idea from the Greeks or figuring it out for themselves. Medieval Christianity did not revert to belief in a flat earth; that is a "myth" created and spread by some modern writers. --Uncle Ed (talk) 02:32, 18 April 2010 (UTC)

Where is the evidence?

The introduction to this article says it's about "modern misconception that the prevailing cosmological view during the Middle Ages saw the Earth as flat". Yet I don't see any cited evidence in the page for this belief.

It is asserted that J.B. Russell has asserted this, but it doesn't give any evidence and nor does the partisan website that is referenced. His published articles don't give any either. There is one quote from an unidentified edition of an American schoolbook - but it's about a rather different issue: the fallacious portrayal of few of Columbus' sailors. The "evidence" in cartoons and Walt Disney films doesn't contribute anything towards the assertion quoted above. They are just jokes.

If this myth is so widespread, why is not possible to give a few examples of this? Please dig up the schoolbooks, popular articles etc. which assert that the prevailing view was for a flat earth. It is not enough to quote scholars who refer to isolated medieval theologians who held flat earth views - they have a perfect right to do so, particularly if they are correct. We need evidence of people spreading a myth.

If this can't be presented, then I seriously question what this page is here for. If you think that the article is presenting evidence, can you please explain it to me? Chris55 (talk) 22:59, 18 July 2010 (UTC)

"Yet I don't see any cited evidence in the page for this belief."
The only evidence required for Wikipedia's purposes is a reliable secondary source which verifiably makes the claim for which it is cited, and which is not contradicted by any other similarly reliable source. Russell's book and the Historical Association's pamphlet both qualify as such sources by Wikipedia's standards, and I am not aware of any other authoritative source which contradicts them. I have therefore replaced the requested citation template with citations to the appropriate pages of those sources.
"It is asserted that J.B. Russell has asserted this, but it doesn't give any evidence and nor does the partisan website that is referenced. His published articles don't give any either. There is one quote from an unidentified edition of an American schoolbook - but it's about a rather different issue: the fallacious portrayal of few of Columbus' sailors."
I have no idea which "published articles" of Russell's you're talking about, but his book certainly provides much more evidence than "one quote from an unidentified edition of an American schoolbook". Page 80 contains full references to 15 examples of texts cited on page 3—including the 1947 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica—, and to one other cited on page 4, as (allegedly) peddling the myth .
Your request for other Wikipedia editors to dig up primary sources for you is misplaced. Even though this is easy enough to do, it's almost completely pointless for the purposes of sourcing a Wikipedia article, since Wikipedia's policy on original research prohibits editors' own conclusions based on synthesis of such source from being added to an article.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 08:19, 19 July 2010 (UTC)
Among the references cited in the article to the existence of the belief in the "Myth of the Flat Earth" are James Hannam, Louise Bishop, and the Historical Association (in addition to Russell). In addition to these secondary sources, there are several primary references which assert the "myth" as a fact. And how about the "Promulgation of the myth"? TomS TDotO (talk) 11:55, 19 July 2010 (UTC)
I'm agnostic on the "Common Errors" document. I bought a copy of the 1947 publication assuming it was a 2nd edition: it isn't, it's a totally new set of errors. The only copy I can find is in the British library which I'll have a look at next week. I suspect it will have more to do with Christopher Columbus than "prevailing views". (Hearsay is a fallible guide.)
As for Russell (I was referring to his ASA paper - note 5 on the Flat Earth page) and Wesley Stevens (which I've now also read), I think they're full of mistakes, probably more than the people they are criticizing, but if people want to believe them, then of course they will. But I haven't yet seen any examples of claims that most scholars even in the medieval times believed in a flat earth. I'm now even more convinced that Isidore's Etymolygies can only be read as a flat earth statement and it did have enormous influence. Wesley Stevens showed that, critically, King Sisebut used the word "globus" (which does mean a sphere) in a response to Isidore who didn't change the word "orbis" which he used, which of course means a circle or disk. I find it illogical that Stevens draws exactly the opposite conclusion (he suggests we must take the two together) but that's not the only illogicality in his piece.
But my point here is not whether they are right or wrong but whether the statement of the "Myth" is correct. Nothing in Stevens or Russell that I can see supports their assertions. Since no one can quote the Common Errors document I suppose we'll have to wait and see. Chris55 (talk) 18:00, 20 July 2010 (UTC)

Textbook examples

Am I being over-cautious about these examples from textbooks? The reports are second-hand, and I would feel more comfortable if someone could find the actual textbook to check whether the quotations are accurate and in context. I have also seen in Google a quotation from "Prentice Hall Earth Science" text which might be nice to add, if it could be verified. TomS TDotO (talk) 16:07, 22 July 2010 (UTC)

you'd believe 'em, huh?
May I quote your line above: "The only evidence required for Wikipedia's purposes is a reliable secondary source which verifiably makes the claim for which it is cited". WP:V includes "books published by respected publishing houses". Are you suggesting that Macmillan is not a respected publishing house? I copied the quote verbatim.
btw Prentice Hall also qualifies. Chris55 (talk) 16:58, 22 July 2010 (UTC)
"May I quote your line above? ... "
Certainly you may. But to be fair to TomS TDotO I should point out that that statement was written by me, not him. I have no problems with a reliable secondary source being used to obtain a quotation from a primary source, provided the citation makes it clear that this is what has been done (as is in fact the case for the two examples cited in the article).
That brings us to the vexed question of how to determine if the sources are reliable. In my opinion it's not sufficient merely for the source to have been published by a respected publishing house, even according to Wikipedia's rather lax standards. Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision was originally published by Macmillan. Does that make Worlds in Collision a reliable source for the claim that Venus collied with the Earth only a few thousand years ago?
Nevertheless, as far as I can tell, both the sources cited in the article would have to be regarded as eminently reliable. Besides being published by Macmillan, Garwood's book is well documented, well written, and seems to have received uniformly positive reviews. Garwood herself is an academic historian of science at the Open University and has a doctorate in that discipline. Judging from Wikipedia's article on its author, Lies My Teacher Told Me would have to be regarded as similarly impeccable.
Nevertheless, while I don't think it's strictly necessary for Wikipedia's purposes, I do think it's a good idea to check the primary sources themselves if you have convenient access to them. I'll have a little more to add on this score later, when I have returned from a pressing engagement.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 01:37, 23 July 2010 (UTC)
You're right, David. I apologize to Tom if I've caused offense. You're right too about Velikovsky of course, but what are we trying to document here? Something that's very close to being an urban legend. Not being an American I mercifully wasn't brought up with their schoolbooks which seem to be pitiful, tho maybe the H.A. will show we weren't far behind! Chris55 (talk) 09:01, 23 July 2010 (UTC)
(edit conflict) A propos of the final paragraph of my previous comment, I can't resist providing the following example to illustrate why it's a good idea to check up on your secondary sources, even if they appear to be reliable. As it happens, I share Chris55's disdain for Russell's work on the flat Earth myth. In my opinion his book is atrocious, and just two or three days ago I turned up another example of his extraordinarily sloppy work to confirm my prejudice against it. On page 49 of Inventing the Flat Earth Russell cites Geography in the Middle Ages by George Kimble as having made the following statement about the early Church:
"Any open confession of interest [in sphericity] would have invited excommunication"
The bracketed insertion here is Russell's addition to the cited text. However a fuller quotation from page 19 of the source shows that the insertion is completely unjustified:
"THE attitude of the early Church towards profane studies is of great moment in any appraisal of medieval learning. As we have already seen it was an attitude of tolerance rather than of interest, for any open interest would have invited excommunication. But the interest, veiled and suspect was there, and to it we owe a good deal of what is best in the Dark Ages—not least the transmission of classical knowledge."
It's clear from this that Kimble's "open interest" refers to open interest in profane studies, not to interest in the sphericity of the Earth. While he might be reasonably criticised for exaggerating the early Church's antagonism to such profane studies, I see no reason whatever to credit him with the ridiculous notion that belief (or "interest") in the sphericity of the Earth would have invited excommunication.
It's also possibly true that Kimble did exaggerate the extent to which the notion of a flat Earth was held by the Church Fathers (the relevant pages of his book are 34 to 37), but his assertion that none of Augustine, Ambrose or Isidore made an unequivocal affirmation that the Earth is a globe is at least accurate, as far as I can tell from consulting the relevant primary sources, whereas Russell's contention that Ambrose and Augustine (at least) had unequivocally declared it to be spherical is supported by nothing more than the same sort of sloppy sourcing that he used to vilify Kimble.
I'm not a fan of giving long lists of quotations from primary sources, so I'd say the two we've got are already enough. But if you want another, here is one from 1988 which Russell did get right. The relevant passage runs from the bottom of page 19 to the top of page 20.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 09:16, 23 July 2010 (UTC)
Odd you should mention Russell, because I was wondering whether his publisher (Greenwood Press) could be included in the "respectable publishing house" category. Certainly one comment on Amazon claims the digital reprint technology of the 77 pages is awful. Does anyone know if it is any more than a printing house? (It doesn't seem to have any connection with the British company with the same name.) Chris55 (talk) 14:24, 23 July 2010 (UTC)
I don't think that line of enquiry will lead anywhere. The book was published under Greenwood's Praeger imprint (at least that's the case for the copy I've borrowed from a local library), and I can't see any reason to suspect that Praeger (or Greenwood) is anything but a respectable publishing house. I can't see anything wrong with the printing either, except for the 26 figures appearing on 13 unnumbered leaves between pages 50 and 51. Most of those are of fairly poor quality.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 16:55, 23 July 2010 (UTC)
It wasn't me who started questioning publishing houses and I wasn't planning anything. But I should have thanked you for your earlier example, David. Gould, whose quote surprises me but is pretty accurate, does say that Russell gives a number of examples from nineteenth century school textbooks after 1880 and it might be interesting to see some of those. That seems to be the period when the idea became popular.
I wonder how many of the other sources are similarly inaccurate. I've just been looking at one of the other ones on the page: Louise Bishop, who in the passage cited starts by saying "Daniel Boorstin trot[s] out the story of Columbus proving the earth was round as proof of a medieval belief in a flat earth" (p97) Since I found that hard to believe, I've just checked every reference to Columbus in his book Discoverers (1983). Not only is her statement a complete lie, but his chapter on flat earth (14) doesn't mention Columbus; his discussion of the (Salamanca) commission doesn't mention a flat earth or anything similar. All I can imagine she is going on is the blurb on the dust jacket about "the illusions we held about the continents and the seas before Columbus and Balboa and Magellan" or perhaps an equally inaccurate book review. The rest of her essay seems mainly a summary of Russell. Chris55 (talk) 17:07, 23 July 2010 (UTC)
Another question on sources. There's a newspaper source that claims "A recent survey of eight-year-old schoolchildren found that 95 per cent believed that the Earth was flat, while 55 per cent of adult Americans were unaware that the Earth revolves around the Sun. According to psychologists, such beliefs reflect an innate struggle between what we are told about the natural world (that the Earth is a globe), and the direct experience of our senses (that the world is flat)." It's in the Daily Telegraph which is average on the newspaper level, and the author is Jerry Brotton, who I think is the professor of Renaissance Studies at London University's Queen Mary College. But I can't find any more direct source for the survey. Is it usable? Chris55 (talk) 10:41, 24 July 2010 (UTC)
Is there any investigation of what reasons people give for their belief in a round (or flat!) earth? How many people have good reasons for believing in a round earth? How many people believe in a round earth because they know that they will be laughed at if they say the earth is flat? TomS TDotO (talk) 13:22, 24 July 2010 (UTC)
"There's a newspaper source ... Daily Telegraph ... Is it usable?"
Doubtful. Surveys (Table 7-4 on page 7-19) Surveys sponsored by the US National Science Foundation show that the percentages of Americans who know that the Earth revolves around the sun have consistently been in the low 70s 80s for males and the low 70s for females. So the good Professor Brotton has either misremembered his figure of 55%, or the methodology of the survey on which it's based leaves a lot to be desired. Either way, I wouldn't place much confidence in the other figure until it can be confirmed by tracking down the survey in question.
—This is part of a comment by David J Wilson (of 17:43, 24 July 2010 (UTC)), which was interrupted by the following:
Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth? (Earth around Sun)
How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun? (One year)
Malea ....................................................................................................................................... 66 NA 66 58
Femalea ................................................................................................................................... 42 NA 46 44
TomS TDotO (talk) 18:28, 24 July 2010 (UTC)
Oops. Looks like I must have misread that table. Apologies for the error. Unfortunately, the only tables I could find in the NSF's report which gave the figures for the answers to the appropriate question were Microsoft Excel files. I have now inserted a link to one of them.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 11:15, 25 July 2010 (UTC)
Here's a paper which might contain some relevant information, and here's a blog which describes the results of an experiment in which the views of 60 6-11 year-olds on the shape of the Earth were examined. According to the blog 23 of the 60 knew the Earth to be spherical. The blog itself, of course, is not "reliable" by Wikipedia's standards, but the paper it cites looks like it would be.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 17:43, 24 July 2010 (UTC)
I found the alternative theories of the earth that the kids came up with very imaginative, and makes me cautious about interpreting theories of the earth. A couple of examples: There are two "earths", one which is a planet that is round, and the other is the flat one that we are on; The earth is round, but we are living inside that round earth on a flat surface. TomS TDotO (talk) 14:35, 25 July 2010 (UTC)
Interesting. I've had an answer from the author of the Telegraph article who suggested I look back at the book (Flat Earth) and indeed it is there and the survey has a perfectly good reference - on the last page but one of the book. It comes from an article in Science and Children, 25, 5, (1988), pp25-6, by A. Lightman and P. Sadler called "The Earth is Round? Who are you kidding". Haven't had a chance to look it up yet as it's an American publication.
As for the 55% claim, it certainly underlines the danger of second hand quotes. The text in the book is "up to 55% of adult Americans, some 94 million people, potentially do not know the earth revolves round the sun once a year" (my emphasis). So it actually agrees reasonably well with the NSF surveys that David quotes (you have to combine several answers to get the same information).
Looks like a bit more digging is required before putting anything in. Recent studies in a number of countries show that a very different proportion of 6 and 11 year-olds give the right answers "to the earth is flat" idea, so I'm doubtful of a study that uses such a wide range. Obviously these studies only give a glimpse into what adults in pre-scientific and pre-satellite societies would have thought, though they may be the only way of getting some clue what a "natural" view is, and how kids' answers improve with teaching, which is what I was looking for.
In answer to Tom, it's possibly only useful to measure the number of people who come up with approximately the "right" answer. Individual children may have very imaginative ideas but very few seem to be common to a large number. Chris55 (talk) 22:09, 25 July 2010 (UTC)

"error" vs. "myth"

In the term "myth of the Flat Earth", the term "myth" is used in its modern, colloquial sense, not in the sense of "mythology". We get enough confusion over this term, and in the case of the "flat earth", it is an exceptionally bad choice to use this word: because the actual conceptions of the earth as flat held before the 4th century BC or so, were themselves part of cosmological myths.

The term "flat earth error", attributed to a good reference, is therefore clearly preferable. --dab (𒁳) 12:23, 29 July 2010 (UTC)

Unfortunately I don't think you'll find the term attributed to a good reference. The whole "myth" bandwaggon is due to Russell and in turn leans on an article by Wesley Stevens. Neither of these were refereed papers - just correspondence and announcements. I haven't found any other historians who agree with the designation. (And see the critiques by David Wilson earlier on this talk page which are certainly in the right direction.) The Historical Association "common error" refers pretty much to a view of Columbus I believe (something went wrong with my request at the British Library this week so I don't yet have the exact words) not to the views of scholars in the fifteenth or preceding centuries. Who is responsible for the rubbish found in American schoolbooks hasn't yet been identified - it's certainly not Irving, Draper and White whatever the page currently says. But just to point out that it survives pretty late here is a quote from the 15th edition of Encyclopedia Britannica (1993) article on "globe": "The earliest surviving terrestrial globe was made in Nürnberg in 1492 by Martin Behaim, who almost undoubtedly influenced Christopher Columbus to sail west to the Orient.". In fact the influence was almost certainly the other way round and it shows how badly checked even published encyclopedias can be. Chris55 (talk) 17:23, 30 July 2010 (UTC)

To clarify, I am not saying that using the term "myth" in the sense it is used here is wrong, and I note David Wilson presented several scholarly sources which have used the term "myth" . This is fair enough, because these authors know what they are talking about, and they assume they are writing for an audience with some minimal clue or intelligence. Unfortunately, this is Wikipedia, and we get plenty of people who embark on "disputes" without such benefits, and the noise surrounding the term "myth" is a particularly bad case. I have a hard enough time explaining to people that "scholars" use "myth" in the sense of "sacred narrative", and it doesn't really help that here other scholars use "myth" in the popular sense. Obviously scholars talking about an entirely different field in an entirely different mode. I do not want to sacrifice encyclopedic clarity just to pacify the trolls, but where ambiguity can be reduced without sacrificing quality, we should definitely make the effort. The alternative is spending eternity explaining the nuances of the term "myth" individually to every bible-thumper with internet access. --dab (𒁳) 06:51, 2 August 2010 (UTC)

Style editing

Too many quotes. Long quotes should be formatted correctly (with indents). All internal citations should be removed and replaced by numbered footnote tags. Magicxcian (talk) 22:37, 17 December 2010 (UTC)

common perceptions

This article makes a convincing case that the round (not flat) earth model has been accepted by scholars, scientists and theologians (and probably also sailors) almost unanimously for the last couple thousand years. But since universal education is such a recent phenomena (and since the odd fundamentalist has apparently taken the flat earth view even recently) it raises the question: what did most of the common population believe? In particular, at the time of Columbus, what portion of the average uneducated men on the street would have thought the world to be flat (rather than round)? Cesiumfrog (talk) 22:20, 21 December 2010 (UTC)

That's a very pertinent question! I think the answer is that nobody has much idea and there isn't much source material investigating it. The article by Tattersall quoted on the Flat Earth page is a good study of French 12th and 13th C popular attitudes which shows a predominance of "round like a table" rather than "round like a ball". The fact that the works of Lactantius were published 3 times in the 15th C suggests that even his vitriolic reaction to the idea of a round earth had some credence in the run-up to Columbus. The content of Ludvig Holberg's comedy also suggests that common people even in 18th C Denmark still believed it was flat, but doesn't prove it.
But until there is some citable material drawing all this together it's hard to improve the article. There's a lot of psychological material studying modern children's perceptions but even that isn't directly relevant to what common people believed historically. Fundamentalists today deny the bible teaches a flat earth, yet that is the only model consistent with a large number of biblical statements and before the satellite era they were the only defenders of the idea. Chris55 (talk) 11:16, 22 December 2010 (UTC)
The Mesopotamians absolutely thought that the earth was flat. The Enuma Elis was an epic they made to explain what they thought the earth was (a flat land, in a bubble within water with an upper canopy called "the firmament" -- basically a snow globe with the water on the outside instead of inside). This thinking was carried forward to the Babylonians and Egyptians. The old testament finds its origins in that tradition which is where their numerous references to a flat earth, and earth on pillars, and earth with 4 corners and a "circle of the earth" come from. Qed (talk) 19:05, 5 March 2012 (UTC)

Well, the answer is that this is mostly impossible to tell, because these people left no records and are therefore for all practical purposes prehistoric. At least as long by "common population" we mean the remote rural people who basically lived in the Iron Age until 1800. In this sense I am sure you could have found "flat earth belief" in the remote valleys of the Alps or the Pyrenees, or out on the Russian steppe, even centuries after Columbus. --dab (𒁳) 17:08, 22 December 2010 (UTC)

I doubt that anything other than a tiny educated minority (with a few sailors and long-distance travellers) really understood the globular nature of the earth before the 16th century. The reality for most people in Europe was the three tier universe. Belief in a globe brought the danger of heresy because of the Antipodes and gravity wasn't understood so that it was a mystery how one could go round the globe without falling off and was simply a philosophical speculation. 1492 saw the first globe since classical times. Many Christians believed that at Christ's return "every eye will see him" - something only possible on a flat earth. Even today you find Emmy award winning talk show hosts who've never given a thought to whether the earth is flat or not. And that's after 10 years or more of compulsory schooling! Chris55 (talk) 07:27, 24 December 2010 (UTC)

I think the number who believed in a spherical Earth would be larger than that. Anyone living in a seaport town would see ships disappearing over the horizon. Also, anyone who climbed a hill would notice that he or she could see farther than at the base. And surely it occurred to even the uneducated that on a flat Earth all the oceans would drain away. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Hellbound Hound (talkcontribs) 15:01, 14 June 2011 (UTC)

I had the same thought myself. Rulers must be sensitive to the prevailing views of the population. If the vast majority of the population believed the earth to be flat, that fact would surely have affected the royalty's decision-making process regarding the Colombus expedition, regardless of what educated men of the time knew. So, knowing what the *majority* of the population believed is absolutely essential to the question of whether or not it is a myth that Christopher Columbus's efforts to obtain support for his voyages were hampered by such beliefs. — Preceding unsigned comment added by FreonP (talkcontribs) 05:41, 21 June 2011 (UTC)
What?? Sorry, but you're talking nonsense. Ruler's may sometimes feel constrained by the prejudices of the populace, but I am not aware of any indications that any rulers felt they had to consult the general population in regard of the shape or size of the earth. The latest (?) biography of Columbus (sorry, I don't have the reference at hand, and I don't see it at Christopher Columbus) described the situation; you might check that out.
In passing I notice that this article rather shorts good old Christopher. The only link I see is in the first quote, and only as "Columbus", which makes it rather obscure. I am going to add a link in "See also".. Which I realize some people object to, but when someone is seeking a link -- as opposed to merely tripping across it as they read the article -- that is where they will go. I will also see if can dig out that biography, as I think the discussion in it would be relevant here. - J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 23:28, 21 June 2011 (UTC)
The reason it "shorts" Columbus is that the evidence that a flat earth played any major part in the Spanish discussions has been comprehensively demolished by modern research. See the section on Irving's biography of Columbus and Flat Earth article. And as for Hellbound - I agreed that sailors knew about the effects at sea - but they were a small proportion of the population. There was little pleasure sailing in those days. Chris55 (talk) 13:26, 23 June 2011 (UTC)
It is a little confusing that the article is not really about what Columbus (or any of his contemporaries) thought, but what moderns thought he thought. As the main significance of the myth is in regard of Columbus' supposed heroism in going against the supposed conventional view (of a flat earth), I think it would be proper to note that linkage and its significance. - J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 21:30, 23 June 2011 (UTC)

To Chris55: I pointed out that anyone living in a seaport (even if they weren't sailors) would see ships disappearing over the horizon. And it doesn't take an education to realize that on a flat Earth all the oceans would drain away.Hellbound Hound (talk) 08:00, 23 November 2011 (UTC)

Unless there were rain-swollen rivers keeping them topped up.. We need solid sources on historical common wisdom; conjecture won't do it. Cesiumfrog (talk) 11:56, 23 November 2011 (UTC)
Hellbound Hound, for people in seaports, remember that they didn't have telescopes before the 17th century and that the horizon is often hazy so that you don't get a clear view. I've done a fair bit of sea sailing and it's not easy to see "half a boat" on the horizon, whether in the English Channel or the Mediterranean. There's plenty of room for debate!
As for what happened at the edge, nobody had ever been there to find out. Modern flat-earthers have come up with all sorts of theories, such as an ice-belt, or the earth could be saucer shaped. Some medieval philosophers had a curious belief in a double-sphere so that the earth could be above the waters. Chris55 (talk) 13:36, 24 November 2011 (UTC)
I am curious as to whether anyone in ancient times remarked that high watchtowers and lighthouses could see around the curvature of the Earth. TomS TDotO (talk) 14:35, 24 November 2011 (UTC)
Strabo said it in his Geography around 20 AD: "For instance, it is obviously the curvature of the sea that prevents sailors from seeing distant lights at an elevation equal to that of the eye; however, if they are at a higher elevation than that of the eye, they become visible, even though they be at a greater distance from the eyes; and similarly if the eyes themselves are elevated, they see what was before invisible." (quoted on the Spherical Earth page) Chris55 (talk) 15:22, 24 November 2011 (UTC)

Proposal to separate references from notes.

I like this article. But I feel it suffers a little bit from having the bibliographic references mixed in with the general notes. I propose separating them, including removing the citation templates from the text, and I offer to do so myself. The displayed text would remain essentially the same (i.e., numbered links to footnotes), but source references in the footnotes would have "Harvard" style links to the full citation in a References section. One of the reasons for doing this is it makes the text easier to edit (and errors more evident) by reducing the citation clutter. Another reason is that having the bibliographic details in a separate section makes it easier to see what sources have been used, and makes it easier to see that each citation record is complete, correct, and consistent. Any objections? - J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 20:04, 19 April 2011 (UTC)

Agree wholeheartedly. Another advantage of this is that multiple citations to a single reference can be handled much more cleanly.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 22:24, 19 April 2011 (UTC)
Absolutely. Harvard style is always the answer when the multiple citations thing comes up, and cuts some clutter in edit-mode even when cites are only used once. I wish it were the default WP reference style suggestion. So far as I'm concerned, I don't think an editor willing to do the work to convert ever needs to seek consensus permission on TALK to do it, as I've never seen anybody object. It probably comes under WP:BOLD. Please do it to the rest of Wikipedia. We'll give you till the end of the year. ;) SBHarris 22:43, 19 April 2011 (UTC)
It's a significant enough change to warrant warning, and some editors have strong feelings against Harvard style. Another consideration: would anyone object to converting from {{cite xxx}} templates to {{citation}}? - J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 18:56, 20 April 2011 (UTC)

The first draft (not yet perfect! but greatly improved) of the new References section is in place. I have augmented some of the citations, but there are several other bare urls which I am leaving to the original authors to document. No changes yet to the other sections. - J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 21:19, 21 April 2011 (UTC)

A great improvement! I've converted most of the references to harvard - and also the Cite template to Citation as suggested by Harris. The advantage is that you don't have to add the extra "ref=harv" tag to all the citations. They work much the same. Chris55 (talk) 11:29, 22 April 2011 (UTC)
Yikes, someone's running ahead of me! Well, I may do some tweaking, as there are three (?) places where details of the "author" or "date" field requires an explicit CITEREF.
Does {cite} really require "ref=harv"? I have used it before without (e.g., Newberry Volcano), and everything seems to have worked okay. - J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 21:27, 22 April 2011 (UTC)
According to the template documentation all the {{cite xxx}} templates require the ref parameter to be assigned a value if you want to generate an anchor, but the {{citation}} template doesn't. The "ref" parameter doesn't have to be assigned the value "harv", of course. If you use the assignation "ref=twiddlededum" (for instance) then the ID of the anchor generated will be "twiddlededum" (without the quotation marks), whereas if you use the assignation "ref=harv" the ID of the anchor generated will be of the form "CITEREFBloggs2056", with the "Bloggs" and "2056" fields being generated from the values of other parameters in the template.
The only cited reference in the Newberry Volcano article whose "ref" parameter has not been assigned a value is the first one, which cites the USFS: Newberry Volcano website. Examination of the html source generated for the article shows that no anchor has been generated for that reference:
<li><span class="citation web"><a href= ... url of cited site ... class="external text" rel="nofollow">''USFS: Newberry Volcano''</a>
(To have an anchor with ID "tweedledum", the "span" html tag needs to have its "id" parameter assigned that value— i.e. it has to include the code id="tweedledum").
David Wilson (talk · cont) 04:56, 23 April 2011 (UTC)
PS: Of course, if you don't want an anchor then you don't need to assign a value to the "ref" parameter, but it's the anchor at the reference which enables you to provide a link to it from the footnotes (for instance).
David Wilson (talk · cont) 05:11, 23 April 2011 (UTC)
I think the pertinent point is that the Newberry Volcano references do have "ref=" parameters. I thought I had left them off except for the ambiguous cases. My apologies for putting you to the trouble of an explanation.
I see you've fixed several other problems. But I would query one: is Gould properly 1995 or 1996? The publishers often slide on this (e.g.., Dec. 1995 -> "1996!"), and I haven't yet seen a publication date on a title page. Another problem: Russell 1997 appears to be a paper read at a conference, so (unlike books) it is properly given a complete date. And more details. I have used something like "|at = Presentation at USGS NSHMP (National Seismic Hazard Maps) Pacific Northwest Workshop March 28–29, 2006" to what I think is good effect, but I will defer to you.
I am going to make a few more tweaks. There are some other problems (urls as citations) which I leave for the original editors. - J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 19:49, 23 April 2011 (UTC)
"Is Gould properly 1995 or 1996?"
I have no idea. I checked the electronic image of the imprint at Amazon, which says "Copyright © 1995 Stephen Jay Gould". But further down it also says "Originally published by Harmony books in 1996", so which do you choose? In any case, the imprint image at Amazon appears to be from a different "edition" from the one cited in the article (the ISBNs are different), even though its publisher, Three Rivers Press, is a member of the Crown Publishing Group that's given as the publisher of the edition cited in the article. The reason I chose to go with 1996 was mostly laziness—to reconcile the date given in the reference section with those given in the two citations I only had to change the former rather than both of the latter. If anyone more familiar with proper bibliographic conventions than I am thinks the year should be given as 1995 they should by all means change it.
The same goes for any other bibliographic details in the references cited by the citations that I recently edited. The purpose of those edits was merely to fix links in the footnotes section which were not working. Apart from the year given for Dinosaur in a Haystack, I didn't change, or attempt to check, any of the bibliographic details given in the references section.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 00:54, 24 April 2011 (UTC)
Laziness is a bad excuse, but I can understand balking; I felt the same way. For the Gould reference I went with the ISBN and apparent date of the edition that seemed closest to what the original editor used; other editions often vary. It's the kind of thing where I want to step the fingers of those who don't precisely specify their sources — for which the ISBN is sufficient. In this instance it probably doesn't matter much, either way.
A major reason why I favor having the bibliographic references all in one section is so lapses and inconsistencies are more obvious. Of course, once that is done it becomes incumbent to to correct all those problems. I wish that could be tasked back to the original editors, but lots of them just move on. Or figure that WP has some magical process where someone else will clean-up after them, even presciently figure figure out what they meant, and find their sources. I am more inclined to delete what is not adequately sourced and cited. - J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 17:27, 24 April 2011 (UTC)
"Laziness is a bad excuse, ... "
Mea culpa. I agree it would have been more sensible to wait until I had done a little more digging before making the change. In partial mitigation, though, my statement "I have no idea" was a slight fib. I did have an inkling—although only a very vague one—that when the date of publication of a book differs from the date claimed for the establishment of copyright, standard bibliographic convention is to give the latter former in preference to the former latter (assuming only one date is given). A subsequent check of Ronald Hagler's The Bibliographic Record and Information Technology seems to have confirmed this, although, from the couple of National and University library catalogues I checked, it would appear that the convention—if it is such—may be honoured as much in the breach as in the observance. An acceptable solution here would appear to be to change the edition cited in the article to the one whose bibliographic details I have been able to categorically verify, which I have now done.
In the long run, I believe it would be better to replace the citations to Gould with citations to the appropriate pages of Russel's Inventing the Flat Earth and simply leave Gould's article as a supplementary reference. The latter appears to be mostly a tertiary source that relies almost exclusively—and somewhat uncritically, in my opinion—on Russel's account anyway.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 06:01, 25 April 2011 (UTC)
I was momentarily concerned about your changing the publisher, till I saw you had verified the new source. Good work. I eagerly await seeing how you handle footnotes 12 and 13.  :-)
A fine point of usage. I tend to put the page number(s) of a specific citation outside of the Harv template, using the internal parameter where it refers to the entire reference (such as a chapter in a book). Do you have any thoughts about that? - J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 21:23, 25 April 2011 (UTC)

Ovid, Metamorphoses - another source

A work well known throughout the middle ages, Ovid describes in his Metamorphoses the round earth with its different climates. -- (talk) 01:31, 24 July 2011 (UTC)

Book one

...He made it like a mighty ball, in compasse as we see.
And here and there he cast in seas, to whome he gave a lawe:
To swell with every blast of winde, and every stormie flawe.
And with their waves continually to beate upon the shore,
Of all the earth within their boundes enclosde by them afore.
Moreover, Springs and mighty Meeres and Lakes he did augment,
And flowing streames of crooked brookes in winding bankes he pent.
Of which the earth doth drinke up some, and some with restlesse race
Do seeke the sea: where finding scope of larger roume and space,
In steade of bankes, they beate on shores. He did commaund the plaine 
And champion groundes to stretch out wide: and valleys to remaine
Aye underneath: and eke the woods to hide them decently
With tender leaves: and stonie hilles to lift themselves on hie.
And as two Zones doe cut the Heaven upon the righter side,
And other twaine upon the left likewise the same devide, 
The middle in outragious heat exceeding all the rest:
Even so likewise through great foresight to God it seemed best,
The earth encluded in the same should so devided bee,
As with the number of the Heaven, hir Zones might full agree.
Of which the middle Zone in heate, the utmost twaine in colde 
Exceede so farre, that there to dwell no creature dare be bolde.
Betweene these two so great extremes, two other Zones are fixt,
Where temprature of heate and colde indifferently is mixt. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:22, 24 July 2011 (UTC) (And moved out of previous section by J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 20:27, 24 July 2011 (UTC) )

Which is a nice piece, but did you have any particular ideas on improving the article? - J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 20:30, 24 July 2011 (UTC)

Modern belief that the Earth is Flat and the Flat Earth Myth

I'm highly confused after finding out that medieval folk, at least medieval scholars and nobles, knew that the Earth wasn't flat because in modern times we have Modern flat-Earthers as the corresponding wikipedia article shows (from Samuel Rowbotham in England to Mohammed Yusuf among muslims and the Flath Earth society) and we can add sheik Abdel-Aziz Ibn Baaz from Saudi Arabia who in a Muslim religion edict in 1993 said "The earth is flat, and anyone who disputes this claim is an atheist who deserves to be killed". Islamism was far less extremist in the era previous to the middle ages and its through islamist scholars that European scholars got their hands in ancient Greek knowledge, thus early Islamists must have known the Earth was spherical before middle age Europeans. Where do modern flat Earthers among Christian and Islamist fundies come from? Undead Herle King (talk) 09:27, 4 September 2011 (UTC)

From the same place that idiots, fundamentalists, and performance artists (see trolls) come from. Some people are just stupid, is all. Others aren't stupid, but they need to have things in black and white. Others want to see your blood pressure go up, and they know how to twist you knobs, and they do so. My best advice is ignore all of them. Unless they threaten you with violence, then deal with that accordingly (as we are doing with certain fundie Muslims, right now, assisting them into paradise as rapidly as we can). SBHarris 21:16, 24 November 2011 (UTC)

I am confused.

If the prevailing view during the "middle ages" was that the earth was not flat that what do you call this:

Also, the middle ages after 1085 is very different from the middle ages before that point. I was always under the impression that the people between 500-1085 basically lost touch with the ancient Greek knowledge and thus simply reverted to a pre-Greek level of knowledge when people did think the earth was flat. This notion was only corrected with the re-infusion of Arabic versions of the Ptolemy's Almagest which would have first started appearing after the recapture of Toledo in 1058. In other words, I think in Byzantium during the early middle ages, people really did think the world was flat.

Indeed this whole article ignores the period of 500-1085, as does Stephen J. Gould's little essay. The intellectuals of the Byzantine Empire *after* 1085 where basically *explicitly told* and educated about the spherical nature of the world and other basic models of astronomy by the Arabs (through Jews living in Toledo through the transition from Islamic rule to Christian rule, as it turns out). This article is setting up a straw man as if the theory that Christopher Columbus trying to circumnavigate the earth to get to India the other way around was the only way in which the Byzantines could be ignorant of a spherical earth.

Can someone explain where I am wrong?

Qed (talk) 23:15, 13 January 2012 (UTC)

"what do you call this:" If you read the WP article on Beatus you'll know that it "is one of the oldest Christian world-maps, thought to represent the description given by Isidore of Seville"; if you'll study Isidore of Seville you'll know that he wrote about a 'rota terrarum'"[4]. With Isidore we are in the VI/VII century so well after the 500. Then Bede the Venerable (VIII century) wrote about "the roundness of the Earth, for not without reason is it called 'the orb of the world".[5] With Bede we are well before the recapture of Toledo. Let's remember tha the Medieval mappae mundi are only conventional representation of the Earth:"Though these T-O maps look like representations of a flat, disk-shaped Earth, they are not. The circular shape was merely a convention to represent the concept of the Earth, much as we think conventionally of our planet as a sphere or globe even though it is not."[6] Regarding Byzantine Empire: what do you think is the meaning of the Globus cruciger in the hand of the Byzantine emperors? [7]? --Domics (talk) 08:41, 2 April 2012 (UTC)
First of all, Etymologies was 20 books, and each volume was not read by everyone. Isidore does not give any explanation for why the world is round (this is very different from the Greeks who compiled a handful of independent explanations.) Isidore skipped Diophantus, Pythagoras, Archimedes and Aristotle in his fundamental book of everything -- those are shocking omissions considering what he was trying to cover. Most importantly, Ptolemy's "Geography" or any other cartography was not in Etymologies. Your link to the discussion of this point only gives the front page of some article, but already starts with a clear mistake: in the second footnote it claims that Mappa Mundi showed globe-like structures according to a collection covering 1200-1500. By 1200, the Medieval Europeans were given back all of the Greek analysis and proofs via the Arabs. If, on the other hand, you look at Mappa Mundi from 600 - 1085, you see a completely different picture. There are no European maps from that period which reveals any knowledge of the spherical nature of the earth. See for yourself. There are Arab maps which do show spherical and projective coordinate rendering.
Bede seems like a lone exception, in a history of no discussion of the spherical earth and a lot of very flat looking maps. By comparison, from the first notions of the spherical earth in Ancient Greece there was spawned intense, continuous and voluminous discussion (some people, like Lucretius still didn't believe it.) The geometry of the globe and Eratosthenes calculations informed them that the land mass they were aware of, at best, covered one quarter of the surface area of the earth. This lead them to suggest that there were three other regions of the earth, divided by something called the "Torrid Zone". The most opposite one being called Antipodes. For whatever reason Antipodes alone is what survived in the discussion of early Christian church fathers -- the reason being that it was theorized that people actually lived there (and they were right). The flat maps show antipodes, and a single torrid zone as an uncrossable river without the other two regions. In citing Bede, all you are saying is that there was one early Medieval Christian who knew this fact.
Ok, so what is this garbage: "Though these T-O maps look like representations of a flat, disk-shaped Earth, they are not. The circular shape was merely a convention to represent the concept of the Earth, much as we think conventionally of our planet as a sphere or globe even though it is not." No. This is a circular representation of a map. Fruit, round stones, and other spherical surfaces were available to them. The "circular convention" comes straight out of the bible: Isaiah 40:22 . Here's some more garbage: "It does not take a genius to see a ship sail over the horizon or to look down on a plain from a mountain and thereby realize the curvature of the Earth." Oh yes, and in fact proof of this appears in Europe after 1200 and never before. The problem, is that Medieval European were not just "not geniuses" they were downright idiots.
The nonsense about Columbus is a straw man. The Arabs knew the earth was spherical because they learned it from Ptolemy, Hipparchus and Pythagoras. The medieval Europeans were given all this information between 999 and 1250. So obviously, by this time, they were back on the right page regarding scientific knowledge. Nobody seriously argues that Columbus was explaining anything to anyone -- he was not a scientist of any sort. Qed (talk) 10:35, 11 April 2012 (UTC)
  1. ^ Catholic Encyclopaedia: "On this point as on many others, the Bible simply reflects the current cosmological ideas and language of the time" etc.