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Cosmology, the study of the origin & structure of the universe:

Greek Pagan cosmology (Continued).
Modern view of the solar system.
Church taught an Earth-centered system.
The big hoax: that the church taught
a flat Earth during the Middle Ages
.

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Part 3

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Replacement of the ancient Pagan cosmology with a newer Pagan cosmology (Cont'd):.

Cosmas Indicopleustes' main objection to the Greek cosmology was that he felt it came from Pagan origins. He commented:

"No man can serve two masters, (Matthew 6:24) as has well been said by the Lord, but if one will serve God, let him serve him, or if Mammon, then Mammon. And again he says through Paul: 'Ye cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord, and of the table of devils.' (1 Corinthians 10:21) And again: 'Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with lawlessness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?' (1I Cor. 6:14-16)." 1

He did not appear to realize that the cosmology in the Hebrew Scriptures which he did accept also appears to have come from a pagan source -- a much more ancient Middle Eastern myth that was devoid of any rational content.

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The modern view of cosmology:

Copernicus (1473-1543 CE) sounded the death knell of Greek cosmology in his most important book Revolution of the Heavenly Bodies. In it, he described a crude model of a sun-centered solar system with planets revolving around the sun in purely circular orbits. In order to escape imprisonment by the Catholic Church, the book was presented as a hypothesis -- a work of the imagination. Copernicus was in many ways lucky. He died on the day that the first edition of his book was published. The church did not have an opportunity to arrest, torture, find him guilty, and turn him over to secular authorities to be burned at the stake.

The Church retained the concept of a Sun and bunch of planets revolving around a stationary Earth. To defend the status-quo, Protestant and Catholic churches often quoted:

  • Two passages which clearly portray the Sun as rapidly moving:
    • Psalm 19:4-5: "Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race."

    • Ecclesiastes 1:4: "The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose."

  • Two passages which clearly portray the Earth as stationary:
    • Psalm 104:5: "Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever."

    • Job 38:4: "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?..."

Martin Luther also mentioned Joshua's command that the sun stand still:

  • Joshua 10:13: "And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day."

Seven additional passages are listed later in this section.

That would be meaningless unless the sun were moving around the Earth before he issued his command.

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was the first major supporter of Copernicus' theory; he was imprisoned by the Catholic Church's Inquisition in 1592. and later burned alive for heresy.

Early in the 17th century, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) invented the telescope which revolutionized astronomy. He observed that the planet Venus went through phases. That was absolute proof that Venus revolved around the sun. He also observed spots on the Sun. These violated the Church's teaching that everything beyond the Earth is pure and undefiled by sin. He also found that Jupiter had moons revolving around it. This violated the Church's teachings that all heavenly bodies revolved around the Earth.

The church arrested Galileo twice; the Inquisition showed him the instruments of torture that would be used to force his recantation if he didn't offer it willingly. He abandoned his teachings under pressure and retired under house arrest. It was not until the year 1835 that the teachings of Copernicus and Galileo were finally accepted by the Catholic Church. Another century and a half were to pass before Pope John Paul II issued an apology to Galileo. To our knowledge, the Catholic Church has never apologized for Bruno's execution.

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The Big Hoax:

There is massive documentary evidence that the Medieval Christian church generally accepted the Greek spherical earth cosmology. However, a false belief that the church taught a flat earth became near universal. The "Historical Society of Britain some years back listed [this belief] as number one in its short compendium of the ten most common historical illusions." 2

The hoax began in the early 19th century and has largely continued to the present day.

Washington Irving (1783-1859) widely recognized as America's first man of letters, popularized the mistaken idea in his 1828 history of Christopher Columbus. (One source incorrectly cites the novel Rip van Winkle.) 3 Irving's book includes:

"... a fictitious account of Columbus's defending a round earth against misinformed clerics and university professors"

at a meeting at Salamanca, Spain, in 1491. Presented as a historical documentary, it was largely a work of fiction.

A strongly anti-religious French author, Antoine-Jean "...Letronne falsely claimed that most of the Church Fathers, including Augustine, Ambrose and Basil, held to a flat Earth.2  In his book On the Cosmographical Ideas of the Church Fathers (1834), he misrepresented "the church fathers and their medieval successors as believing in a flat earth." 2 His work has been repeatedly cited as 'reputable' ever since." 3

This idea was repeated by two leading anti-religious writers, John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White, later in the 19th century. It became imbedded in school books as early as the 1860's.

Author Daniel Boorstin, wrote, in error, as late as 1985: "

"A Europe-wide phenomenon of scholarly amnesia...afflicted the continent from...300 to at least 1300 [CE]. During those centuries Christian faith and dogma suppressed the useful image of the world that had been so slowly, so painfully, and so scrupulously drawn by ancient geographers." 1

Jeffrey B Russell is a Professor of History Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In the forward to his 1997 book ""Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians," David Noble writes that Russell believes that the hoax:

"... became widespread conventional wisdom from 1870 to 1920 as a result of 'the war between science and religion.' when for many intellectuals in Europe and the United States all religion became synonymous with superstition and science became the only legitimate source of truth." 5

The review of Russel's book on the Amazon.com web site states, in part, that the book:

"... begins with a discussion of geographical knowledge in the Middle Ages, examining what Columbus and his contemporaries actually did believe, and then moves to a look at how the error was first propagated in the 1820s and 1830s. ... He shows how later-day historians followed these original mistakes, and how this snowball effect grew to outrageous proportions in the late nineteenth century, when Christians opposed to Darwinism were labelled as similar to Medieval Christians who (allegedly) thought the earth was flat. But perhaps the most intriguing focus of the book is the reason why we allow this error to persist. Do we prefer to languish in a comfortable and familiar error rather than exert the effort necessary to discover the truth? This uncomfortable question is engagingly answered, and includes a discussion about the implications of this for historical knowledge and scholarly honesty." 5

The hoax continues today, in ever diminishing strength. It is still found throughout the Internet, and even in some academic texts that were still in print in the early 21st century and may be still available today.

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RELATED FEATURE ESSAYS on Cosmology, the study of the origin & structure of the universe:

  • Part 1: Overview about cosmological beliefs. The Ancient Pagan view originating in Sumer.

  • Part 2: The revised Pagan view, as generally accepted within early Christianity.

  • Part 4: A modern-day return to the belief that the Earth is flat, and that there is a massive, false conspiracy teaching that the Earth is similar to a sphere

  • Part 5: Three more proofs that the Earth is more or less spherical and not flat.

  • Part 6: Five more proofs that the Earth is more or less spherical and not flat

  • Part 7: Arguments about the Earth's shape. A weak proof of a spherical Earth. More Old Testament passages about the Earth's shape.

  • Part 8: Passages from the New Testament about the Earth's shape. Additional proofs that the Earth is not flat.

  • Part 9: Proofs 15 to 21 that the Earth is not flat.

  • Part 10: Proof 22 that the Earth is not flat. Are Flat Earthers Hoaxters?

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. book cover Daniel Boorstin, "The Discoverers: A history of man's search to know his world and himself," Random House, (1985). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
  2. Jeffry B. Russell, "The myth of the flat Earth," American Scientific Affiliation Conference, 1997-AUG-4. at: http://www.id.ucsb.edu/fscf/library
  3. "Who invented the flat Earth?," ChristianAnswers.net, at: http://www.christiananswers.net
  4. "New American Bible, Saint Joseph Personal size Edition," Catholic Book Publishing Co. A diagram showing the cosmology of the ancient Israelites -- "The World of the Hebrews" -- is shown opposite Page 4.

  5. book cover Jeffrey Burton Russell, "Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians," Praeger Publishers, (1997).

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Copyright © 2002 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-JAN-28
Latest update and review: 2017-FEB-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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