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Volume 2, Number 6 November/December 1997
A bimonthly publication of the Creation Research Society.

This Web version of Creation Matters lacks the "Creation Calendar" as well as photos and special graphics found only in the print version. The latter is automatically sent to members of the CRS along with the peer-reviewed CRS Quarterly.

Creation and the Flat Earth
The Bible and Earth's Sphericity
Speaking of Science — Commentaries on recent news from science...
Delay of "Civilization"
Mitochondrial Eve Re-Dated?
Evolution of a Definition

Creation and the Flat Earth

by Danny R. Faulkner, Ph.D.

Danny Faulkner has a Ph.D. in astronomy and is an associate professor at the University of South Carolina’s Lancaster campus.

Perhaps the most common ridicule that creationists receive is that they advocate something akin to the idea of a flat earth. It is generally believed that for most of history, nearly everyone thought that the earth is flat. Only in the past few centuries of enlightenment, discovery, and science have people come to realize the true shape of the earth. Besides being a totally invalid attempt to smear by association, or being at least an ad hominem attack, just how correct is this "common knowledge" that the ancients believed in a flat earth? In reality, for at least two and a half millennia all learned people have known that the earth is spherical.

...for at least two and a half millennia all learned
people have known that the earth is spherical

What the ancients believed

Many are surprised to find that the ancients believed in a spherical earth, so how did the ancients determine this? Indeed, ask anyone you know to give a reason that we know that the world is round, and it is most likely that he or she will come up empty. Appeals to spacecraft photos must be rejected, because the ancients did not have access to these, nor do most people today have direct experience in space (photos can be faked). I have found that the smug superiority that most of us feel over ancient people begins to evaporate the more we think about this. The ancients actually gave two very good arguments for the earth's sphericity, and a few others not so good.

Probably the best argument that the ancients offered was the shape of the earth's shadow during a lunar eclipse. This indicates they had already figured out what causes a lunar eclipse. The earth's shadow is bigger than the moon, so that only a portion of the shadow can be seen at any moment. As the edge of the shadow moves across the moon, it is quite obvious that the shadow's shape is circular. This is true, no matter what the circumstances of the eclipse are. While a flat, round object, such as a pizza pan, may cast a circular shadow, it generally will not. If the earth were this shape, the shadow would appear round only near midnight, and would appear elliptical closer to sunset or sunrise. The only shape that always casts a round shadow regardless of orientation is a sphere, from which the ancients concluded that the earth is spherical.

A second argument involved the changing aspects of the sky as one travels northward and southward. The North Star is found very close to the north celestial pole, the point about which the entire sky seems to spin each day due to the earth's rotation. This special location allows the North Star to appear to be in the same part of the sky at all times, while the rest of the stars seems to orbit about it each night. Since this point lies directly over the northern horizon, the North Star can be used to find directions, as is commonly known. What is less known is that the angle that the north celestial pole (or approximately, the North Star) makes with the horizon is equal to one's latitude. As one travels north or south, this angle changes. If one travels a great distance in latitude, such as between Florida and the Midwest, the change can be quite noticeable. This demonstration of the earth's shape makes a good educational project for families on vacation.

A change in latitude also results in different stars becoming visible. In more southern locations there are stars visible in the southern part of the sky that are never seen at more northern locations. Conversely, there are stars near the northern horizon in northern locations that never set, but do set at southern locations. Modern transportation makes it possible to observe a similar effect with east or west motion. Lacking rapid travel and accurate time pieces, the ancients could not observe these changes as they traveled east or west, but the changes were quite noticeable as they traveled north or south. It was obvious to them that travel in the north-south direction must be along an arc, with the most obvious conclusion being that the earth is spherical.

Sometimes it is argued that the ancients realized that the earth is spherical because only the masts of ships were visible at some distance on a large body of water. I have never been convinced of this, because the large curvature of the earth makes it doubtful that this could be observed without optical aid, a relatively recent invention. Perhaps some ancients used this argument, even though they never actually observed it, because they already knew the earth's shape, and assumed that this phenomenon must occur, as subtle as it may be.

The moon’s shape

Another, but less rigorous, argument is one by analogy to the moon. The moon is obviously round, but is it round and flat, again like a pizza pan, or is it spherical? With a few months of observations it becomes very clear that the phases of the moon are caused by the changing amount of the moon that is illuminated by the sun and visible to us as the moon orbits around the earth. Lunar phases, as observed, can only occur if the moon is also curved in the direction of our line of sight; that is, if it is spherical. By analogy, perhaps the earth has the same shape as the moon.

A final argument attributed to Aristotle is spurious, but is one of my favorites. It was noted that elephants are found in western North Africa (recall the elephants that Hannibal of Carthage used). The troops of Alexander the Great encountered elephants far to the east in India. Because elephants were found far to the east and west of Greece, but not found near Greece, Aristotle concluded that east and west must be close to each other geographically!

The size of the earth

Even more impressive than the fact that the ancients knew the shape of the earth is that one of them was able to measure the size of the earth as well. Eritosthenes was born in Cyrene about BC 276, and was educated in Alexandria and Athens. He later settled in Alexandria, where he was the curator of the famous library there, generally considered to be the best of the ancient world. He also wrote poetry and studied philosophy and astronomy.

Eritosthenes noticed that at the location of modern Aswan in southern Egypt, objects cast no shadows at noon on the summer solstice. Obviously the sun is directly overhead at that time, and today we would say that that location is on the tropic of cancer. At noon on the summer solstice in Alexandria in northern Egypt, objects do cast shadows. Measurements of the lengths of the objects and their shadows revealed that the sun's rays made an angle of seven degrees with the perpendicular to the ground at noon on the summer solstice. This means that the difference in latitude between Alexandria and Aswan is seven degrees. Thus, the linear distance between those two sites is 7/360 of the circumference of the earth. A measurement of the distance between the two cities gave the size of the earth directly, though there is some question of the measurement units used, and hence the accuracy. The answer that Eritosthenes calculated was either within % or 17% of the modern value.

This information from the ancient world is well known. Through the influence of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, ancient Greek thought was brought into the church and became the philosophical basis of western thought. For instance, the Ptolemaic cosmology became the official position of the church, even though scripture does not espouse that system. When Galileo ran afoul of the authorities for teaching the heliocentric theory, the inquisition mostly quoted Ptolemy and other ancient sources, rather than scripture. While cosmological systems were in much dispute, the earth's shape did not seem to have been an issue. Such a dispute would have been quite strange, considering that Aristotelian thought was held in such high regard, and that Aristotle clearly taught the earth's sphericity.

Nor was the shape of the earth an issue at the time of Columbus. Columbus argued that it would be faster to get to the orient from Europe by sailing west. His critics responded that the earth was indeed round, but that it was far too big to sail westward to the orient in any reasonable time; no ship could carry the provisions necessary for such a long journey. The common impression that Columbus proved that the world is round is completely destroyed when one realizes that he probably never sailed farther west than Cuba, falling far short of circumnavigating the earth. A look at any globe demonstrates that Columbus was wrong! It is much shorter to travel from Europe to the Orient by going eastward than by going westward.

... the motivation of these two men and
others was to demonstrate how foolish
Christian leaders were to oppose evolution.

“Inventing the Flat Earth”

If the earth's shape was not an issue, then why is there the common perception that it was? Jeffrey Burton Russell has performed a great public service in writing Inventing the Flat Earth, first published in 1991. There were several people responsible for what Russell calls "the Flat Earth Error." Apparently, much of our cultural understanding of Christopher Columbus stems from an allegedly exhaustive biography written by Washington Irving. While many do not realize it today, early in the history of the United States there were no national heroes, given the recent break from England. In this vacuum an American fascination with Columbus developed, as attested by several capitals named at this time (e.g., Columbia, SC; Columbus, OH; and the District of Columbia). Given his reputation for embellishing good stories, Irving naturally improved upon the story of Columbus.

Unfortunately, in Irving's account it is often difficult to tell which parts are true and which are fictional. For instance, Irving's recorded discussion about the shape of the earth with the learned scholars at Salamanca was a complete fabrication. It is probably true that shortly before the sighting of land, Columbus' crew was uneasy, but not from fear of falling off the edge of the earth as Irving reported. Instead, they feared being so far from land. The entire tome has taken on a quality of history, and "The Error" reaches far beyond those who have actually read Irving's account, for it has entered the public culture. Russell has examined textbooks in the Stanford University collection and discovered that during the 1880's a tremendous change occurred. While texts prior to 1880 got the story of Columbus correct, very few after that decade did.

The original villains in this story include some of the Enlightenment, who desperately longed to discredit earlier centuries to prove the superiority of their age. As a specialist in medieval history, Russell has a vested interest in setting the record straight about the Middle Ages. They were not quite the "dark ages" as is generally thought, a name, by the way, that was coined to illustrate just how much better the Renaissance was than the Middle Ages. As the late Francis Shaeffer and others have shown, the attack on the Middle Ages during the Renaissance was motivated by humanism. This attack was of course against God, and continues today in the form of evolution. Russell makes it clear that the third episode in the propagation of "the Error" occurred when it was appropriated in the second half of the last century in a successful attempt to discredit creationists in the raging battle over origins.

The two people that Russell holds most accountable in accomplishing this are John W. Draper and Andrew Dickson White. While not indicating any sympathy with creationists, Russell very convincingly argues that the motivation of these two men and others was to demonstrate how foolish Christian leaders were to oppose evolution. The masterful lie was that earlier church leaders had also opposed the belief in the spherical earth, despite overwhelming evidence for it. By linking the earlier fictional event to the debate of the time, it gave the appearance that science, reason, and logic were on the side of evolution. The truly sad thing is that this totally fabricated history persists even today, as evidenced by the oft-stated comparison of creationists with flat-earthers. Given the exposure of the truth, it is nothing short of shameful when our critics attempt to tie that albatross around our necks.

It is imperative that all creationists know the true history of man's knowledge of the earth's shape, so that this lie can be refuted easily. It does not hurt to inform people that it was evolutionists who played a key role in establishing "the Error."


Russell, J. B. 1997. Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus & Modern Historians. Praeger Paperback, Westport, Conn. [A review of the earlier edition of this book was published in the Creation Research Society Quarterly (1994, volume 31, p. 77).]

The Bible and Earth's Sphericity

by Paul G. Humber, M.S.

Did the Holy Spirit, in moving men to inscripturate His precious Word, want to instruct us specifically about earth's sphericity? Perhaps in some secondary way, but the Bible's primary purpose is to record God's redemptive act in Christ. We are a people in deep trouble, and Jehovah Jesus is our only hope. Information about earth's shape is not critical for our lives. Radical heart surgery is. Deuteronomy 29:29 reads, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law."

Isaiah did report, however, that our Lord "sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers" (Isaiah 40:22). The reference to "the circle of the earth" here certainly does not clash with earth's sphericity, but was it the Holy Spirit's desire to affirm as much? I am not sure. I certainly allow for that possibility, but our Lord's sovereignty over all was and is the primary focus.

Elsewhere, Job said that our Lord "spreads out the northern [skies] over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing" (26:7). Perhaps Job, seeing the sun and moon suspended in space, was affirming something similar for the earth. In the same book, our Lord Himself said, "The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment" (Job 38:14). Could this be an oblique reference to the earth's rotation?

My father, before departing this life, used Acts 1:8 to support the concept of earth's sphericity: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (NIV). The Authorized Version translates "ends" with a singular, "to the uttermost part of the earth." From the point of view of one standing on the earth, a sphere would have only one uttermost part (at the other end of a diameter), and the Greek supports the singular translation. Is this forcing too much on Scripture?

Maybe, but consider the Lord's treatment of scriptural detail. He stressed the importance of jots and tittles (Mt. 5:18) and reminded people that God said, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Mt. 22:31-32). His point seems to hang on the present tense of the verb, to be ("am"). These patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), who physically died hundreds of years before, were alive in spirit when God spoke these words to Moses. If our Lord placed such weight on a single word, should not we follow that example?

May we all humble ourselves before His precious Word, study it in detail, believe and obey it, and may Creator Christ be praised.

Speaking of Science — Commentaries on recent news from science...

Delay of "Civilization"

by Asby L. Camp, J.D., M.Div.

Evolutionists generally date the beginning of human civilization (defined in terms of permanent settlements, use of worked metal, and plant and animal domestication) to around 8,000 - 10,000 B.C. See, e.g., Davis A. Young, "The Antiquity and Unity of the Human Race Revisited," Christian Scholar's Review vol. 24:4 (May 1995), 384-87. On the other hand, they claim that humans sailed to Australia across at least 60 miles of open ocean well over 40,000 years ago. As Ian Tattersall writes in The Human Odyssey (New York: Prentice Hall, 1993):

"People first arrived in Australia well over 40,000 years ago and must have crossed at least sixty miles of open ocean to do so." (p. 146)

"[E]ven when the sea level was at its lowest point (and at around 50,000 - 40,000 years ago it was up — or down — to four hundred feet below its present level), the single landmass formed by Australia and New Guinea was separated from the Asian continent by at least sixty miles of ocean, and seaworthy boats and navigational skills would have been necessary to reach it. Such things ... speak of a remarkable degree of technological sophistication among the ancestral Australians." (p. 148)

Some have dated the presence of humans in Australia at between 116,000 - 176,000 years ago, but even if one ignores these older dates (see "Doubts Over Spectacular Dates," Science, vol. 278 [Oct. 10, 1997], 220-222), the evolutionist still must explain how humans with the intelligence and technological sophistication to build seaworthy vessels and to navigate the open ocean could fail to leave any evidence of even rudimentary civilization for well over 30,000 years. The evolutionists' options for explaining this apparent delay in the onset of civilization seem to be: (a) these seafaring people did not develop any civilization over this long period of time or (b) they did indeed develop a civilization but the evidence either did not survive or has not been found.

As for option (a), I have a hard time believing mankind can go from rudimentary civilization to Mars in about 10,000 years (conventional dating) but not go from seafaring vessels to rudimentary civilization in well over 30,000 years. As for option (b), it is an admission that archaeology can tell us nothing definitive about the development of civilization. It can only address what has actually been found. If that be the case, then evolutionists should stop speaking as though the true story of civilization is known.

Of course, a third option, not open to the evolutionist, is that the time between the voyages to Australia and the rudimentary civilizations they have found is much less than 30,000 years. Think they'll consider that?

Mitochondrial Eve Re-Dated?

by David A. Plaisted, Ph.D.

One of the problems creationists face in arguing for a recent creation is the effects of the Biblical flood, which interfered with the regular operation of physical and chemical processes. However, we have no evidence that the Lord interfered in such a major way with the operation of biological processes since the Fall. Therefore, when attempting to reconstruct history, it is conceivable that biological processes may give us a more accurate clock than physical ones. In fact, there is so much information available in the genetic material of organisms alive today that it should yield a tremendous amount of knowledge about the past. Each living cell contains millions and often billions of bits of genetic information, many organisms have many cells, and there are a huge number of organisms alive on earth today. This tremendous storehouse of information is now being unlocked by gene sequencing techniques. From this information, we may even be able to obtain a good estimate of the date of the Creation. Unfortunately, the true import of these data is often obscured by evolutionary assumptions.

A recent study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutation rates is of interest in this respect [Parsons, et al., 1997. Nature Genetics 15(4):363-367]. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited almost exclusively from mother to children. Also, it is reasonable to expect that this DNA mutates at a constant rate. Therefore, one might expect mtDNA to provide a good estimate of the elapsed time since the common maternal ancestor of all human beings. Reasoning in this way, a few years ago biologists developed the controversial (even among evolutionists) "mitochondrial Eve" hypothesis, and estimated that this alleged common maternal ancestor of all humans lived 100,000-200,000 years ago.

However, as is often the case, the true mutation rate of mtDNA was not known, but was inferred based on evolutionary assumptions. Recently this rate of mutation was measured explicitly and found to be 20 times higher than expected. This changes the date of the "mitochondrial Eve" to about 6,500 years ago, a figure which is obviously in much better agreement with the Biblical record. Though these findings have yet to be confirmed, we should look for more data of this type as more mutation rates are measured directly.

This age of 6,500 years can be derived as follows. There is a region in the mtDNA that is known as the "control region," and appears to be largely without function. The recent study found that there is about one mutation every 33 generations in part of this region. Thus after 33 generations, two individuals would be expected to differ by about 2 mutations in this region, since mutations could occur along two lines of inheritance. After 300 generations, two individuals would be expected to differ by about 18 mutations, which is nearly the value that is observed. This puts the age of the human race at about 300 generations. Assuming a generation time of 20 years, this is about 6000 years. Of course, there is some uncertainty in the calculations because of random fluctuations in the mutation rate.

The authors of this Nature Genetics article do not believe that this “mitochondrial Eve” lived only 6,500 years ago. One biologist, in another forum, attempted to explain away this discrepancy by stating that the control region really has a function, and that the great majority of the mutations to this region are slightly harmful and are eventually eliminated from the population. However, this seems unlikely, since the mtDNA has been completely mapped, and is well understood. All the coding regions are known, and it is known for what proteins they code.

It is interesting that this new study has not been reported in the media. There have been no reports and cover story, for example, in Time magazine that “mitochondrial Eve” may have lived 6,500 years ago. Is this an indication of how readily the media reports discoveries that support evolution, but largely ignores those that support a recent creation?

Evolution of a Definition

by Glen W. Wolfrom, Ph.D.

[Note: This information was taken from various sources, including Religion News Service stories and an Internet special report from the NCSE.]

The National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) issued in 1995 their official "Statement on the Teaching of Evolution." Not surprisingly, it is blatantly anti-creation and pro-evolution in its message. One of the tenets was the following statement:

"The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments."

This definition of evolution in terms of an "unsupervised" and "impersonal" process has been seized upon by creationists as further evidence that evolution is purely naturalistic and materialistic (i.e., it is godless). UC-Berkely law professor Phillip E. Johnson has been particularly effective in the last few years (with major books published in 1991, 1995, and 1997) in documenting this fact.

This brings us to the NABT annual meeting held October 8-11 in Minneapolis. At the board of directors meeting on October 8, a letter was presented from two "scholars" (a Notre Dame philosophy professor and a Syracuse University religion professor) who argued against inclusion of the words "unsupervised" and "impersonal." They maintained that:

"Science presumably doesn't address such theological questions ... How could an empirical inquiry possibly show that God was not directing evolution?"

These theistic evolutionists were obviously not arguing against evolution; rather, they suggested that using these two words "gives aid and comfort to extremists in the religious right for whom it provides a legitimate target." Further, they said that eliminating these two words would "help defuse tensions which, as things stand, are causing problems in our collective life."

However, after a nine-hour meeting the board voted against altering the statement. The executive director noted that changing the statement would give the creationists just the aid and comfort the scholars had argued against. However, the story does not end here.

NABT member Eugenie Scott (who is also executive director of the National Center for Science Education, NCSE, a watchdog group of anti-creationists) apparently urged the directors to reconsider, saying in a later interview that the change in wording was "a matter of staying religiously neutral." Just before the annual meeting was adjourned on October 11, the board reconvened and reversed its earlier vote.

Ms. Scott admitted that "it's no more proper to present naturalistic philosophy as valid science than it is to present religiously based arguments." Unfortunately, eliminating a couple of words from one group's definition of evolution does not change the underlying fact that it remains, by default, an unguided and purposeless process, and that it is popularly presented and taught as such. Nonetheless, it is encouraging to learn that the efforts of creationists have had an impact.

ISSN 1094-6632
A publication of the Creation Research Society
Volume 2, Number 6
November/December 1997

Copyright 1997 Creation Research Society
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General Editor: Glen Wolfrom

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Articles published in Creation Matters represent the opinions and beliefs of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Creation Research Society.


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