Are We Flat-Earthers?

The Flat Earth Society is real. The nearly 500 member society has as its mission “to promote and initiate discussion of Flat Earth theory as well as archive Flat Earth literature." It isn’t a parody or a hoax. People really believe that the earth is not a sphere. Globular theory, apparently, needs to be answered.

Then there’s the Galileo Was Wrong conference. From their website:

Galileo Was Wrong is a detailed and comprehensive treatment of the scientific evidence supporting Geocentrism, the academic belief that the Earth is immobile in the center of the universe. Garnering scientific information from physics, astrophysics, astronomy and other sciences, Galileo Was Wrong shows that the debate between Galileo and the Catholic Church was much more than a difference of opinion about the interpretation of Scripture. Scientific evidence available to us within the last 100 years that was not available during Galileo's confrontation shows that the Church's position on the immobility of the Earth is not only scientifically supportable, but it is the most stable model of the universe and the one which best answers all the evidence we see in the cosmos.

Their 2010 conference announcement advertises talks with titles like, “Geocentrism: They Know It But They’re Hiding It," and, “English Ideology, Newton & the Exploitation of Science," and advanced degrees are displayed liberally and conspicuously throughout their materials. They are not the only pro-geocentrism group out there. There are others.

These groups have become synonymous with kookery, with a kind of willful ignorance beyond that which is reasonably acceptable of a person with internet access or a library card. Flat-earther has become an insulting slur slung at those who stubbornly cling to silly, ignorant ideas despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary.

So are we Adventists flat-earthers when it comes to origins? No, of course not. Not in the sense I’ve just described. Such a characterization would be an unhelpful and distracting ad hominem attack masquerading as constructive conversation. So let us dispense right now with any attempts at rhetorical equivalents of, “Look how ridiculous you are!" If you cannot engage with the sincerely held beliefs of others with respect and compassion, please, move along to another article.

Still reading? Now I want to challenge you to take your commitment to respectful engagement with sincerely held beliefs and revisit the flat-earth and geocentrism folks I have described above. Click around their websites a little bit while holding in your mind the understanding that sincere people produced those pages. Can you do that?

With respect, I submit to you that we in fact do share quite a bit with the flat-earthers. Like the flat-earthers, Seventh-day Adventists in general believe many things about science that are nearly universally rejected by those in the scientific community, with the sharpest disagreements coming from precisely those scientists whose life’s work is the methodological study of that which is relevant to the subjects of those beliefs. Like the flat-earthers, we promote those among us with advanced degrees (and often without) who advocate our position regardless of whether or not the degrees are relevant. Like the flat-earthers, we advance our theories directly to the public rather than engaging in the mainstream scientific process. And like many of the flat-earthers and geocentrists, our opposition to mainstream science and advocacy for alternative theories is ultimately rooted in our theological commitments.

How can we justify such a radical departure from the scientific community on scientific issues? I don’t think we have thought enough about this issue to have a single developed justification, but several coping strategies come to mind.

Ignorance and misinformation. This is less a justification strategy as it is a lack of awareness that there is such strong consensus within the scientific community. There are those in the creationist camp who purposely prevaricate, mislead, and sometimes outright lie about science in order to further an agenda. Eager to have people argue our side, it is easy for us Adventists to latch on to such people and be duped. But I think most miseducation is perpetrated and perpetuated in good faith by well-meaning people. People whom we trust, who have shown themselves to be trustworthy in the past about other topics, whom we know to be intelligent, educated folks, they tell us that evolution is a “theory in crisis," that more and more scientists are doubting Darwinism, that there is plenty of uncertainty and debate going on within science. Why shouldn’t we believe them? Why shouldn’t we repeat their claims? And as for those trustworthy people, most of the time they really believe what they tell us. They are usually repeating information from sources they believe to be trustworthy. Within this kind of miseducation and misunderstanding projects like the “Teach the Controversy" campaign, spearheaded by the Discovery Institute and dishonestly portraying evolution as scientifically controversial, are able to thrive. Even President George W. Bush fell victim to this pitfall, suggesting that “both theories" be taught "so people can understand what the debate is about." But the fact is, there is no controversy. There is only overwhelming consensus. Only a small handful of scientists working in relevant fields dissent from the majority view, and none of them publish their dissent in peer reviewed journals. Conspiracy theory. This strategy suggests that there is a worldwide conspiracy among scientists spanning every scientific discipline, nation, and culture to suppress evidence of a recent creation, exaggerate and lie about evidence in favor of evolution, and blackball and censor any scientist who dissents from the mainstream view. Some versions of the theory have scientists as satanic agents working to stamp out religious belief and promote atheism. Sadly, this conspiracy theory is extraordinarily common—nearly ubiquitous. The truth is, for all the obsessing we religious people do over science, most scientists never think about religion in their day-to-day work—or ever. They are just interested in doing their science. Radical skepticism. When we watch science shows together, my mother likes to exclaim, “Now how could they possibly know that?!" The modern tools of science have extraordinary power to tell us about the world, enough to make even the most educated and intelligent among us gasp with incredulity. But there is a version of this kind of incredulity that doubts that science is able to tell us anything about the origins and evolution of life and the universe. This is quite a reasonable position to most folks off the street who don’t have formal scientific training. After all, hardly a day goes by without a story in the news about how scientists are overturning previous long-held theory. (I would argue that these news stories are more a symptom of the abysmal state of science reporting than a reflection of the fickleness of scientists.) As reasonable as this view may seem to most folks, the efficacy of science literally surrounds us every day. Modern scientific theories can sound quite strange (even to specialists!), but it’s these same theories, or more precisely their accuracy, that gives us iPhones, MRIs, and the internet. Scientific impotence. Perhaps our religious understanding of origins deals with an area of knowledge that is just inaccessible by science even in principle. Perhaps science comes up with different answers from our traditional theology on questions of origins because science, no matter how well executed, is inadequate to properly address those questions. (This strategy has actually been studied scientifically. Talk about meta!) If questions of origins really do lie beyond the purview of science, we should expect scientific understanding to conflict and even contradict our religious understanding. And if so, why should we feel any anxiety about these conflicts and contradictions? Why not let science say what it can, and let religion say what it can, and not concern ourselves with the messy business of justifying their disagreement? Acknowledgement without justification. But why stop there? We could just acknowledge that our traditional theology does indeed say something very different from what science tells us, and we could acknowledge also the efficacy of science to accurately tell us about the world. No breathless debates over half-understood evidence, no anxious need to invent an apologetic whenever a scientist digs something new from the ground, no catering to wearying headlines of war between scripture and science, no conspiracy theories. In short, no Flat Earth Society. Just a naked, sometimes uncomfortable contradiction and an honest admission that none of us really have a clue about what to do with it.

Do you see yourself in one or more of these strategies? Have I left an important strategy off of my list? Can you respectfully articulate other commonalities and differences between Adventism and flat-earthers or geocentrists? Please let us know in the comments.

____ Image Credit: A flat earth globe by John Krygier, Professor of Geography at Ohio Wesleyan University.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I was wondering why no one commented on this story . Have they all fallen of the edge of the earth?