7 more ways Christian thinking is like flat earth thinking

Is the earth flat? Did God create the universe? These two worldviews are surprisingly similar. Let’s add 7 more similarities to the list.

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Which is odder, the claim that the earth is a flat disk rather than a sphere or the claim that a god spoke our universe into existence? Given how many parallels there are, it looks like an even match.

Last time we found 8 parallels between flat earth (FE) thinking and either Christianity or Creationism (or both). This article will conclude the comparison by highlighting 7 more.

This series began with an imaginary argument from a flat earth proponent. I hope you observed that even if an argument is completely wrong, if someone has studied its intricacies and you haven’t, they will likely be able to outsmart you on a number of points.

Compare that with Christian thought, which has put infinitely more effort into shoring up its claims. Yes, those claims are from the Bronze Age, but unless you have put some effort in studying them from both sides, you should expect many Christian arguments to leave you scratching your head.

Let’s look for more parallels.

9. “God did it” resolves every problem

Flat earth thinkers and Christians rarely give a thought to the work of materials scientists, quantum physicists, or chemists. And they happily use the fruits of modern science like computers, electricity, and airplanes. They only lose sleep over those scientific fields that step on their theological toes such as geology which gives an old dating of the earth (and annoys young-earth Creationists), astronomy which gives round planets circling the sun (flat earthers), or biology which explains life through evolution (conservative Christians).

When faced with a tough problem, the scientist may admit, “I don’t know.” But flat earthers and Christians always have the God card that they can’t resist playing. They’ll point to science when they like its conclusions, and otherwise declare that God did it (or God is inscrutable, or God’s ways are not our ways, or some similar argument). It’s nice having a God that can be reshaped to fit any need, I guess.

Flat earthers demand, “What does it look like?” when they see a flat earth. And Creationists demand, “What does it look like?” when they see the God who must’ve made our world this complicated.

Atheists look at FE thinking and see pseudoscience, and at Christianity and see just one more manmade religion made of legend and myth.

Creationists, next time you get the urge to impose your religion on all school children, ask yourself if you’d also allow in flat earth theory.

10. Indoctrination

In the FE argument, those of us who remain skeptical were called indoctrinated. Apparently we can’t see the clarity of the FE worldview because we’ve marinated too long in a round-earth environment. We’re too devoted to authority figures who tell us what to think.

But the lady doth protest too much. The difference is that those of us who get our reality about nature from the scientific consensus can point to a remarkable track record. By contrast, FE thinking and Christianity have taught us zero new things about reality, and their disciplines’ track records show only failure.

Naturalist laypeople can accept the scientific consensus as the provisional truth, but we have no authority figures whose declarations we must embrace or which we refuse to challenge.

To those who place themselves as science’s ultimate authority and reserve for themselves the right to pick and choose the science they’ll accept, I have a challenge. They must fill in the blank in this declaration: “I reject the scientific consensus of field X, even though I’m an outsider to that field, because ___.”

11. Science is hard

The flat-earth argument is correct when it points out that science is hard, and that’s a weakness for the round-earth position. To those of us who care about which worldview is correct and nothing more, it can be frustrating to realize that some might embrace a worldview despite its not being correct.

This is the problem with the science-based approach. We’re subjected to a Gish gallop of our own making. Yes, you can explain the science, but it’s a slog that demands patience from our audience.

Consider some of the topics that may come up in a debate over the flat vs. round earth models. Defending a round earth might involve the Coriolis force, mirages, the green flash, tidal lock, rainbows and glories, the Big Bang, stellar spectroscopy, auroras (polar lights), magnetic poles and why they move, precession in both gyroscopes and the earth, and more. Each model must explain these.

Why does the moon look bigger at horizon, and why is the sky blue? Why are there two tide cycles per day, and why is an eclipsed moon red? What causes the seasons, and why is it colder at the north pole? Why can’t we walk through walls if atoms are almost all space, and why do long-distance airplane routes follow a great circle? Science has answers, but science has no obligation to be simple.

The Webb telescope was recently placed at Lagrange point L2. What is L2, and why is it a good place for a telescope? Where are the other Lagrange points, and why?

Want some physics closer to home? Buoyancy is a commonplace concept, but it can be trickier than you expect. Try the cannonball in the rowboat puzzle. For a tougher challenge, solve the dreaded balls and beakers puzzle.

Even deriving the simple calculation Eratosthenes made to compute the circumference of the earth over 2000 years ago is beyond most people.

The science explanation makes clear that the earth is round, but FE thinking is simple and intuitive. Science won’t always win this contest.

The Christian connection is that Christians might also consider more than just which worldview is correct. For example, apologist Greg Koukl asked, “Wouldn’t it be more satisfying” for God to ground morality? Many would respond, “Who cares? I want to be in harmony with the truth.” But to some, Koukl’s appeal has force.

A similar argument with equally flawed reasoning is the claim that atheism is depressing, so therefore you should adopt Christianity.

12. Conspiracy theories

You think the earth is a disk? Here’s the view of earth from the International Space Station. As you can see, the earth is round. Next question.

But of course that won’t satisfy a FE zealot. If inconvenient facts get in the way, they might explain them as a conspiracy.

Creationists, which includes most conservative Christians, have their own inconvenient facts. Evolution convulses their world, so it must be wrong. Again, apologist Greg Koukl is our example. He says that not only is evolution flawed but those within the field know it’s flawed. In other words, it’s a conspiracy.

But here’s an odd problem. Apologist and fellow evolution denier Jim Wallace comes at the question of conspiracy theories from another angle. He says an invented resurrection of Jesus is an incredible conspiracy.

So these apologists tell us that it’s plausible that tens of thousands of evolutionary biologists are part of a conspiracy today but implausible that a small group of people would invent and support the Resurrection claim centuries ago. I’ll let them fight it out.

13. Playing the skeptic

The FE proponent was just being skeptical. Who can complain about that since science welcomes challenges, right? If it’s correct, it can tolerate a few friendly questions.

But “friendly questions” of this nature have consequences. Remember how anti-vax media asked whether hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin or even bleach could be effective treatments for COVID. They were just asking questions—where’s the problem?

The problem was that inventing a worldview based on fake news undercut the credibility of the worldview that was based on real science.

Creationism is a far bigger industry than the FE, with researchers busily undermining the credibility of evolution with pseudoscience. They’ve been fairly successful, and 66 percent of white evangelical Protestants in the U.S. accept Creationism over evolution. The problem here is false stories that encourage people to reject the truth.

Do you remember the Ken Ham (Creationist) vs. Bill Nye (scientist) debate? They were asked what would change their minds. Nye quickly gave a couple of examples of potential new data that would change his mind. But what would change Ken Ham’s mind? Nothing, he admitted.

And that’s the problem with FE proponents and Creationists. Remember point #5: Always attack. They ask questions, but these are only meant to sow doubt. They don’t actually want them answered. It’s not like they have any intention of changing their minds because of new information.

14. Sweeping, unfalsifiable claims

FE proponents are usually Christian, and they’ll point to the obvious flat earth models in the Bible. This means that if an argument isn’t going the way they’d hoped, they have the option to fall back on an omnipotent God. They’ll say that if God’s actions are surprising, you can take it up with him. God moves in mysterious ways, we’re in no position to judge God, blah blah blah.

But it’s not possible to falsify “God did X” since God is always a dozen steps ahead of us. And by being unfalsifiable, this claim is unscientific.

The Creationist or Christian is hoist by the same petard. Perhaps if they see parallels with FE thinking, they’ll be less likely to make the FE proponent’s claims.

A Scientific American blog post makes the science/pseudoscience distinction clearer.

Scientific claims are falsifiable, … while pseudo-scientific claims fit with any imaginable set of observable outcomes. What this means is that you could do a test that shows a scientific claim to be false, but no conceivable test could show a pseudo-scientific claim to be false. Sciences are testable, pseudo-sciences are not.

15. Teach it in schools?

I haven’t seen any FE proponent demand that their alternate reality be taught in schools. I’m sure the average Christian would be as outraged at the suggestion as any atheist. But if that’s the case, Christians should help keep all pseudoscience, including Creationism, out of schools.

In 2011, then Texas governor Rick Perry put it this way, “In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools, because I figure you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.”

So which one is right, and how do you know? If you already know, why don’t we just teach that instead of wasting class time teaching both? Or is “figure out which one is right” a personal thing so that any answer is correct? That would certainly making grading tests in biology class easier if personal opinions count as correct answers.

We teach science in science class, not discarded theories like astrology, alchemy, or Creationism. Within biology, there is no controversy.

Creationists, next time you get the urge to impose your religion on all school children, ask yourself if you’d also allow in flat earth theory. Or is only your pseudoscience allowed in?

The science explanation makes clear that the earth is round, but flat earth thinking is simple and intuitive. Science won’t always win this contest.

Conclusion

Creationists and Christians have questions and arguments that the layperson can’t immediately answer, but the same is true for flat earthers. Assign a Christian apologist to develop a case for Bigfoot or alien visitors or that all world leaders are lizard people, and that would also take some effort to rebut. Christians have been working on their case for two thousand years. It’s not surprising that it initially sounds impressive.

Christian arguments are effective because they’re confusing, not because they’re sound. They’re weighty enough to convince someone who wants to be convinced, but the patient skeptic can eventually remove all the paint to see that there’s no wood underneath. Apologists raise a lot of dust, but at bottom all they have is, “Well, you haven’t proven there’s no God,” which counts for nothing since they have the burden of proof.

Christians, how can you accept Christianity but reject flat earth theory when these 15 parallels show how similar they are? Christianity is in present society only because it was in past society. It’s been grandfathered in. It didn’t earn its way in with evidence like science.

[The flat earth claim]
is ultimately lazy, childish, and self-indulgent,
resulting in a profound level of ignorance
drowning in motivated reasoning.
Steven Novella

CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware and is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...