Saint Augustine of Hippo, widely viewed as one of the most influential Christians in early patristic writing, had also been, at times, and outspoken skeptic toward various ideas. One of these, famously, had been what he referred to as the “Antipodes,” which were people who walked the face of the Earth opposite the world which he knew, which had been around northeastern Algeria as it is known in modern times.
“As to the fable that there are Antipodes,” Augustine wrote, “that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us… that is on no ground credible. And, indeed, it is not affirmed that this has been learned by historical knowledge, but by scientific conjecture, on the ground that the earth is suspended within the concavity of the sky, and that it has as much room on the one side of it as on the other: hence they say that the part which is beneath must also be inhabited. But they do not remark that, although it be supposed or scientifically demonstrated that the world is of a round and spherical form, yet it does not follow that the other side of the earth is bare of water; nor even, though it be bare, does it immediately follow that it is peopled.”
Augustine’s attitudes here appeared in City of God, a book-length offering he penned in the early part of the 5th century AD. In it, his logic had not been the kind of scientific rationale employed by the likes of Eratosthenes more than six centuries earlier; instead, he relied on the scriptures for his evidences of falsehood: “For Scripture, which proves the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, gives no false information; and it is too absurd to say, that some men might have taken ship and traversed the whole wide ocean, and crossed from this side of the world to the other, and that thus even the inhabitants of that distant region are descended from that one first man.”
Despite the document’s importance as far as religious history goes, today we are well past the need for making an argument against whether those “Antipodes” Augustine spoke of really exist, let alone whether the world is indeed “of a round and spherical form.”
Or are we?
Within the last few weeks, a few of my readers have brought to my attention that a new debate had been raging about whether enough proof really existed to show us that the Earth is round. With an apparent disregard for the aforementioned Eratosthenes and his grade-B mathematics that first proved to the world that we indeed rested upon a globe, modern “flat earthers”, instead of giving evidences through religious doctrines (though we see some of that too) rely on such things as NASA images, believed by some to be digital renderings and constructed simulations, rather than anything that genuinely frames views of Earth taken from space.
In fairness, I think I can understand where the misunderstanding may have arisen from… but this makes the notion that NASA images of Earth are “fabrications” no less fallacious. In a recent article I wrote at Mysterious Universe, I explained the difference between what are often called composite images and “synthesized” renderings produced from a collection of images. I also went into why NASA would do this, and how I think this has contributed to some people’s interpretation of satellite imagery as being purely CGI.
The article can be viewed here: Has the “Flat Earth Theory” Found A New Audience?
I also cover conspiratorial claims of visitors to Antarctica being “turned away at gunpoint”, and whether the thousands of people who will be visiting Earth’s coldest continent this year would agree with that statement.
While it may seem incredible that people could still believe such antiquated, unscientific things, it happens every day. As I note in the article linked above, “those who become proponents of ideas such as a “flat earth theory” have convinced themselves that their proof lies not in tangible facts or data, but within the evidences of a perceived conspiracy to conceal the “real truth” from the rest of us… which is nonsense. This is not “proof” at all, and such ideas have little — if any — reliance on real facts. On the other hand, a broad history of testable, repeatable data spanning more than 2,000 years proves for us, without a doubt, that our Earth is indeed a globe; just like our moon which we can see clearly on most nights, and several planets further away that are very much like our own, made visible with as little as a telescope one can purchase online.”
Sadly, logic the likes of what I offered here hasn’t been convincing enough for some people, and hence, even today we have groups like The Flat Earth Society that spread the good word of flatland to peoples all across the globe… er, disc.
It is my hope that more people who come across this will indeed take note and buy telescopes, especially those who might still be questioning the shape of our planet. I can assure you, however, that it doesn’t take a telescope to look up at night and see that the moon is indeed round, as is our sun. Logic would indeed seem to tell us that, in likelihood, Earth probably is too… but by now, we shouldn’t require satellites and telescopes to confirm that for us.
And come to think of it, Eratosthenes didn’t require them either!