Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor

Tanner: Right, But

2703 E. Kenwood St.
Mesa AZ 85213

From: PSCF 49 (September 1997): 210.

While Tanner's point in "`Planet Earth'? or `Land'?" (June 1997, pp. 111115) is right and relevant, he unfortunately repeats canards that seem to me to spring from the mistaken notion that only moderns are advanced enough to be right. Columbus may have been derided by the illiterate, but all educated persons for centuries had known that the earth is spherical. Probably first enunciated in the fifth century B.C. by Parmenides of Elea and Pythagoras,1 it was accepted by Plato, who had the earth revolving.2 Aristotle even gave two proofs for the sphericity of the earth: the circular shadow at all lunar eclipses and the change in the stars visible from different locations.3 He (fourth century B.C.), Archimedes (third century B.C.), Posidonius (second century B.C.),4 as well as Eratosthenes, estimated the size of the earth. Ptolemy (ca. A.D. 150) based his map on Posidonius' figure5 and his astronomy on Aristotle's view. Some Pythagoreans had the earth moving.6 Aristarchus of Samos (ca. 250 B.C.) and Seleukos (a century later) were Copernicans seventeen centuries early, an inspiration to Copernicus.7

The uneducated of every period probably thought the earth flat, along with some others. I have a pamphlet that rejects Copernicanism on biblical grounds. As with other brethren and other topics, dubious hermeneutics ousts science. Further, it seems that we had to wait till modern times for the silly theory that we live inside an 8000-mile-diameter sphere. Apparently the ancients were not that stupid.

1L. L. Laudan, "Geodesy," Encyclopedia Americana (1995), 12:432.

2Timaeus, 33b34c, 40bc.

3De caelo, II, 14, 297b25298a7.

4Laudan, loc. cit.; Gordon R. Lewthwaite, "Geography," ibid., 438.

5Lewthwaite, loc. cit.

6Aristotle, op. cit., II, 13, 293a20293b15.

7Edward Rosen, "Copernicus," Encyclopedia Americana (1995), 7:555.