The Flammarion engraving (1888) depicts a traverler who arrives at the edge of a flat Earth and sticks his head through the firament, by Camille Flammarion
"The topic today is... Is the Earth Flat?"
That's what I heard yesterday surfing radio stations while driving home in rural Wisconsin. It was the hook for a national broadcast called the Brannon Howse Show, which airs weekdays on hundreds of religious radio stations across the country on a network called Worldview Radio. Not that the show’s content is religious—topics last year included "How Hillary Clinton and the United Nations Want to Destroy Parental Rights" and "Could it Be that Hillary is Suffering from Parkinson's Disease?" The show is really more of an alt-right, fake news channel (Howse even has his own page over at Right Wing Watch!)
In fairness, in this particular case Howse was attempting some solid journalism: He expressed skepticism that the Earth is actually flat. But he recently received a lot of emails and other push-back from so-called "flat Earthers”—Christians who believe that a literal reading of the Bible indicates that the Earth is indeed flat.
To sort out this pressing issue, he interviewed a guy named Jason Pratt, popular in Christian media circles because he is a former atheist rocket scientist who converted to an all-in, “the Bible is the word of God" Christian. He believes, among other things, that evolution never happened. (Pratt is also a legit rocket scientist: He has a degree in aerospace engineering and is considered an expert in rockets and satellites in the U.S. Navy.)
According to Pratt, flat Earthism is “actually a growing movement." He explained, “Flat Earthers would say that Earth is completely flat like a disk . . . a coin . . . a manhole cover."
"One thing that I appreciate what the flat Earthers are doing is starting with the word of God,” he said. “ I think that is the best and first place we should all start. But, unfortunately, if we start there with the wrong understanding or with presupposition, we're going to end up twisting the scripture."
Pratt said the flat Earthers "do make some good points," but then he went through a laundry list of reasons why he thinks the Earth is not flat. "I can personally vouch that I have put things into orbit and watched them circle the globe."
“All of your calculations to do that were all based on it being a globe and if it were flat, you guys would have had, I'm guessing, satellites off course . . . and even crashing?" Howse inquired.
"Yeah, all the mathematics would kind of collapse on us."
Howse pursued the story: "Some would say that the entire moon landing was faked and they have lots of detailed videos online . . . of the flags supposedly blowing in a breeze of the air conditioning on the sound stage to shadows not falling right—what would you say to that?"
"Sometimes you can't convince anybody with facts as much as you want. You know, I can relate to them to a point. As an atheist, I mocked Christians and said, 'If they didn't believe in science, they're flat Earthers'—they thought the Earth was flat, it was a pejorative . . . again, I kind of relate to some of their challenge . . . I want to be convinced first and foremost by the word of God, that's where I put my trust. I trust God over man, bottom line. The next question we need to ask, does the Bible teach flat Earth and I would say emphatically it does not."
"OK, well get's into some of that scripture—what about the 'four corners of the Earth, Earth as God's foot stool, ends of the Earth,' etc.?
Pratt went on and on explaining that all of those references in the Bible to a flat Earth are either taken out of context or misunderstood.
"The scriptures also say He stretches out to the corners of the Earth—I don't see proponents out there saying that the Earth is a square, like a loaf of bread or something. We have to understand the language and what God is trying to describe to us."
I guess an optimist would call that finding common ground. Whether or not the ground is flat, however, is still debatable in this world.
Lounsbury is a political reporter based in Madison, Wisconsin, and a regular contributor to The Progressive.