Silver-Bullet Argument #29: Because Christianity is as plausible as a flat earth

Let’s cobble together the best defense possible for the flat earth model. How similar is it to arguments for Christianity and Creationism?

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Suppose you were curious about the flat earth model, the claim that the earth is a flat disk rather than a sphere. You wonder what the fuss is about, so you find an expert who can provide the highlights. Let’s consider that brief summary. I think you’ll find it stronger than you expect at first.

After that, we’ll look at parallels between the arguments for a flat earth and for Christianity. As I take the role of an imaginary flat earth theorist below (in blue), I’d like you to do two things. First, think how you’d respond. Are these childish claims to which you can respond with the math and physics that explains them much better, or must you admit that some arguments, at first glance, can’t be easily knocked down? And second, imagine the Christian parallel and how arguments of the same structure are used to defend Christianity.

(I’ve used “round” earth instead of the more precise “spherical” because that’s the word typically used.)

This article is part of an ongoing series of “silver bullet” arguments against Christianity. Part 1 is here.

The flat earth scholar takes the stage

Go outside and look around. Your horizon maybe be smooth with fields or bumpy with mountains, but it’s flat, not curved. Climb a mountain and look at the horizon, and it’s flat. Go to the beach—the ocean horizon is still flat. Look at a map of your town or your continent or at any scale in between—it’s flat! If flat earth theory is wrong, it’s got to be the rightest wrong theory ever.

But you still have the burden of proof.

When I have common sense on my side? Are my eyes lying to me? I’m happy to present my case in detail, but you’re the one with the extraordinary claims. At best, you can say that you’re comfortable with the round model, but that’s just a matter of familiarity or even indoctrination.

Go ahead then—what does the flat earth look like?

Just like the map in the United Nations logo [see above]. It rather makes me wonder if someone knows more than they’re letting on!

In round-earth terms, that’s an azimuthal projection. You should browse all the map projections out there—Mercator, Peters, Dymaxion, and a hundred more. It almost looks like you guys can’t get your own story straight!

You believe because you’ve been indoctrinated.

Spherical earth

We’ve known for centuries that the earth is spherical.

We’ve known for centuries that matter was solid, and then we found out we were wrong. Atoms are almost all space. Explanations get overturned sometimes—that’s science.

But Eratosthenes proved it more than 2000 years ago! He knew that on the summer solstice each year, in a city south of his home of Alexandria, the sides of a straight well would cast no shadow at noon. But on that day in Alexandria, a vertical pole would cast a shadow. Go further north, and that shadow would be longer. The geometry is simple, and he was even able to compute the circumference of the spherical earth with decent accuracy.

That doesn’t prove a round earth. It just means that a round earth is compatible with the data. With a flat earth and the sun a few thousand miles away, vertical poles would also cast shadows of different lengths.

And ask yourself how many people could derive his conclusions, given the data Eratosthenes started with—one person out of a hundred? There’s your problem. You say, “Give me half an hour and a truckload of patience, and I’ll explain it to you.” You’ve got one tedious explanation for how to manually compute the circumference of the earth, another for how tides work, another for eclipses, another for earthquakes, and yet another for why hurricanes are counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere (or is it clockwise?). You’re buried under complexity.

If it were up to me, I’d just take you outside and say, “Use your senses, including your common sense—what does it look like?”

And have you ever wondered, why a sphere? Why isn’t the earth a cube or an ellipsoid or a blob? But let’s just accept that it’s a sphere. What they’ll tell you is the earth’s 6 × 1024 kg was shaped into a sphere by gravity. Does no one stop to think about the consequences? There’s enough gravity at the surface to crush a million billion billion kilos of material into a sphere, and yet this is a safe environment for children to grow up in? It doesn’t add up.

Magellan circumnavigated the globe five centuries ago. We know it’s a sphere!

Magellan kept going west, and he arrived back in Spain. How is that proof of a round earth? Take that flat UN world map and draw his route on it. It’s a very rough circle. Where’s the puzzle?

Polar conditions and airline routes

Speaking of Magellan and exploration, what happens to the South Pole?

Have you ever been to Antarctica? How about to the South Pole? You believe the South Pole exists because you were told it. You believe on authority. How convenient that we can’t fly there to check. I don’t want to hear that “we all just know” or “the scientists tell us.” You need to give me an argument yourself and show your work.

Look at the flight routes between distant cities in the “northern hemisphere,” like Los Angeles to Moscow or New York to Beijing. They’re straight lines in a flat earth model, and they go across the Arctic.

But where are the equivalent southern hemisphere routes that go over Antarctica? Try Buenos Aires to Sydney or Johannesburg to Auckland. A flat earth map shows why those flight routes don’t exist—they’re not even close to being direct routes. If you actually want to make one of those trips on a commercial airline, you find instead a stopover somewhere in the northern “hemisphere.”

And think about aircraft navigation. Ignoring the takeoff and landing, pilots want to fly straight. That’s the quickest way. And to help them, they have a gyroscope guidance system. The axis of the spinning gyroscope always points in one direction, regardless of the orientation of the airplane. But a “straight path” as dictated by the gyroscope would be a line, not a curve that hugs a round earth! Again, a flat earth explains the facts.

The round model also says that the Arctic and Antarctic get the same amount of sun in a year. Why then does the South Pole have an average summer temperature 50 degrees colder than the North? South Georgia island in the South Atlantic has just 18 species of plants and little animal life. Iceland is more than ten degrees closer to the North Pole, and yet it supports 870 species of native plants and much animal life.  

Trustworthy photos?

There are photos of Antarctica.

Sure—at the edges.

There are photos of the South Pole.

There are Photoshoped photos of the South Pole.

And I suppose the photos of the earth from space, showing it to be round, are unreliable as well?

Let’s just say that I’m skeptical. Stalin was erasing his enemies from photos a century ago. The results were so convincing you wouldn’t know it without the before photo for comparison.

NASA had limitless resources during the Apollo program, and it would’ve been far easier and more reliable to invent the evidence than do it the hard way. How much easier is building a moon studio than a moon rocket? I’ve heard of examples where they’ve been caught passing off doctored photos as authentic.

Look more carefully at photos and videos from NASA, and you’ll often see them labeled “composite.” In other words, it doesn’t look like that, and they had to piece images together to create that image. Makes me suspicious—were they trying to cover up something?

I’m sure you’ve seen the Neil Armstrong man-on-the-moon video, but did you wonder why they it was so fuzzy? It’s harder to find flaws in a blurred video.

Browse nature photos online, and you often see beautiful, stark images of deserts or barren terrain that don’t look that different from images passed off as being the “moon” or “Mars.” Makes you wonder.

A photo of earth as a full disk or even as a crescent could be compatible with a flat earth. And keep in mind the distortion a wide-angle camera lens can add. A flat horizon can be made to curve down. It can just as easily be made to curve up!

So there’s a conspiracy here? People in back rooms know the truth but want to keep the little people in the dark for their own good?

I’m just saying it’s possible. Maybe it’s like the science fiction scenario where there’s a huge comet heading our way, and we can’t do anything about it, so what’s the use in worrying? Or maybe it’s just billionaires or high tech executives who find value in keeping some information to themselves. I honestly don’t know.

And let me not pound the table too hard here. I don’t know that NASA is deceiving us or that the round-earth arguments are all flawed. I’m being skeptical. I’m not blindly swallowing what an authority figure dictates, like I imagine you’d want me to be. I’m just the jester, asking questions and pointing out problems.

I’d just take you outside and say, “Use your senses, including your common sense—what does it look like?”

The moon

We get clues to the shape of the earth and moon by looking at other planets. They’re round.

If the moon were a sphere, rotating like the earth, wouldn’t we see the back side? But look at the moon. It goes through phases, but from our vantage point, it never rotates. If it’s round, where’s the back side? Somehow one orbit and one rotation are exactly the same? That’s a crazy coincidence. A flat moon is much simpler.

And where did the moon come from? In round-earth thinking, it orbits the earth at the right rate. Just the right rate. Any slower, and it would spiral in and crash into the earth. Faster, and it would fly away. How would such a just-so balance take place in your model?

The moon does explain the tides.

So the moon, with one percent the mass of the earth, pulls at the ocean and makes it bulge up on the moon side. So gravity is now a sucking force? Even if we grant that the moon reduces the earth’s gravity, why would the water bulge up, moving away from the earth? What’s the pushing force?

And why are there two pairs of tides (a high and a low) per day? If it’s a full moon and the moon and sun are on opposite sides of a round earth, I can imagine two high tides at once. But two weeks later it’s the new moon when the moon and sun are on the same side of the earth, and we still have two high tides!

If the tides work this way, shouldn’t we see tides in lakes, especially large ones? Go to a lake—do you see the water sloshing back and forth like in a bathtub? I certainly don’t.

Timekeeping

Think about how timekeeping works with the round model. The duration of a day is one rotation of the earth—24 hours. Simple, right? But don’t forget that the earth isn’t supposed to just rotate on its axis; it also orbits the sun once per year. So after that exactly-24-hour day, the sun is back to where it was in the sky, but the stars behind the sun appear to have moved slightly because of that small progression of the orbit.

Suppose you want to instead use the fixed background of stars as your time standard—one day is the time for a particular star to return to being overhead. Then your day is 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4.0905 seconds long. This is “sidereal time,” and things aren’t so simple anymore. What this means is that our noon-to-noon day is 24 hours long (using the sun’s position as our reference), but the earth rotates once in one sidereal day, 23:56:4.0905 hours long (using the fixed stars). Confused yet? And don’t get me started on leap seconds.

I applaud Kepler’s heliocentric, elliptical orbit model of the solar system—much simpler than the Ptolemaic epicycle model. You shouldn’t be surprised that I favor the flat earth model, which is simpler still.

So if it’s simple, it must be true?

You’re not far off. Scientists look for simple explanations and openly appeal to Occam’s Razor to evaluate competing hypotheses. I’ll emphasize again, I’m not saying that a flat earth model has all the answers. And cut us a little slack—we’re at a disadvantage in this game since we’re not the ones getting the funding.

Space, atmosphere, and a spinning globe

Have you thought about how space works? How can earth’s atmosphere exist next to the vacuum of space? Shouldn’t it be sucked away? If the International Space Station is floating in space, why doesn’t it float away? If the astronauts inside feel earth’s gravity, why aren’t they pulled to the earth-side of the ISS?

Or think about a spinning earth. Spin a sodden tennis ball, and watch the water fly off. That’s roughly analogous to us being on a rotating round earth. So I’m on a sphere spinning at 1000 miles per hour at the equator … and I feel nothing? Shouldn’t we fly off like the tennis ball sheds water?

Or think about a flying drone hovering over the earth. How does that work when the earth is supposedly rotating at 1000 mph? In that situation, drones could just hover and wait for their destination to rotate beneath them. Another analogy: shoot a bullet precisely straight up, and it should land well behind where it was shot.

Have you ever seen the Rays of Buddha? That’s just one name for when the sun is hidden by clouds but sunbeams (rays from the sun that illuminate dust or water vapor suspended by the atmosphere) are visible through breaks in the clouds. Did you ever wonder what it means that these sunbeams are not parallel? The sun is supposed to be 93 million miles away—from a parallax standpoint, effectively infinitely far away. The rays should be parallel, pointing back to an infinitely far-away sun. Why then do these sunbeams converge? Obviously they point to a sun that isn’t that far away!

If flat earth theory is wrong, it’s got to be the rightest wrong theory ever.

Christianity

How important is the Bible to your flat earth views?

For me, very. The Bible is what flat earth thinking is built on, though some flat earth proponents aren’t Christian. We read about the earth being immovable, with pillars and foundations. God surveys “the circle of the earth.”

One of the biggest embarrassments for modern Christians is that God created Man on an insignificant dust speck orbiting one star out of hundreds of billions in our galaxy, just one out of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. But with flat earth theory, that’s not true anymore, and Man is back at the center of God’s creation.

Some Christians say that “circle” means “sphere.”

No—in biblical Hebrew, circle and ball are two different words. “Circle” was used in the context of “perimeter,” like what a sentry would walk around a camp at night.

What about the New Testament?

We find more evidence. The devil tempted Jesus by taking him to a high mountain from which he could see all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus tells us that the end times will include the stars falling from the sky. The Bible is talking about a flat earth.

Christians who reserve the right to figure it out on their own and who don’t just accept what an authority tells them should by rights be flat earthers given the Bible’s clear support for that model. They’re in no position to criticize flat earthers for rejecting conventional science on the shape of the earth but then reject conventional science themselves when it comes to evolution, climate change, covid treatment, and so on.

The Christian backing of flat earth thinking is a handy backstop. If all else fails, the assumption of a Designer and “God works in mysterious ways” can answer just about any attack on the features of the flat earth model.

Let me leave you with some parting recommendations. You believe because you’ve been indoctrinated. Don’t ignore authorities like scientists, but don’t blindly accept what they say, either. Trust your eyes, your intuition, your common sense. Think for yourself.

Taking stock

And there’s more—whether up or down are absolute or relative, whether gravity is its own force or if buoyancy and density explain why some things are heavier than others, whether engineers need to accommodate the curvature of the earth when building large projects like railroads or tunnels, and so on. But this should be plenty to illustrate the ideas.

You’re welcome to rebut these claims and attack flat earth thinking in the comments, but debunking the flat earth isn’t the purpose. In the next article, I’ll pursue the two points that I do want to make. First, even a completely false worldview can make a semi-reasonable account of itself to someone who isn’t prepared. Second, an argument for Christianity shares many of the traits of this argument for the flat earth.

Continue: consider the parallels between flat-earth thinking and Christianity here.

People’s opinions are mainly designed
to make them feel comfortable;
truth, for most people,
is a secondary consideration.
— Bertrand Russell

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...