May 05, 2005

Spherical Apologetics

Inspired by Tom Friedman's new book, I've been browsing "The Flat-Earth Bible" as a fun little diversion from work. The case for reading a flat-earth cosmology into the Bible has always been pretty strong, but that hasn't stopped a bunch of truly clever chaps known as "spherical apologetics" from arguing otherwise. Watch the contortions!
Those who claim Biblical support for a spherical earth typically ignore this forest of consistency and focus on one or two aberrant trees. Some take refuge in audacity. Henry Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research, cites one of the more explicitly flat-earth verses in the Old Testament Isaiah 40:22, the "grasshopper" verse quoted earlier as evidence for the sphericity of the earth. Quoting the King James version "he sitteth upon the circle of the earth" Morris ignores the context and the grasshoppers and claims "circle" should read "sphericity" or "roundness" [1956, 8]. This divide and conquer strategy is poor scholarship and worse logic...

Perhaps the scripture most frequently offered as evidence of the earth's sphericity is the King James version of Job 26:7, "He stretcheth out the north [tsaphon] over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing [beliymah]." (The New English Bible translates it, "God spreads the canopy of the sky over chaos and suspends earth in the void.") It is not clear what this means. The Hebrew tsaphon literally meant hidden or dark, and it was used in reference to the northern regions. Beliymah literally means "nothing." That would contradict all of the scriptures which say the earth rests on foundations...

Bouw's most interesting argument for sphericity is based on the gospel of Luke. He compares the King James version of Luke 17:31 and 17:34. The former says "In that day, he which shall be upon the house top..." and the latter "in that night there shall be two men in one bed..." (italics added). Bouw then cites 1 Corinthians 15:52 to argue that the events are simultaneous, claiming simultaneity is possible only on a spherical earth. First of all, the latter claim is wrong. The modern (though not the ancient) flat-earth model has day and night occurring simultaneously at different points on earth. Second, the Greek hemera was used much like the English "day." It could mean the daylight hours, a 24-hour day, or (figuratively) an epoch of unspecified length. Third, Luke appears to have been writing figuratively, and citing Paul to prove otherwise begs the question.
Hey, I'll definitely give this Bouw fellow points for effort, but come on, getting the modern flat-earth model wrong? What was he thinking? Oh, by the way, I've also heard a case made that all those references in the Bible to "the four corners of the earth" can be translated as "the four regions of the earth," which would attenuate the flat-earth reading somewhat. But it's a pretty weak case. Four regions? No.
-- Brad Plumer 8:24 PM || ||