Flat Earthism

Until his death in March 2001, Charles K. Johnson of Lancaster, California, was the head of the International Flat Earth Research Society, an organization with a claimed membership of 3,500 (Martin 2001) that may not long outlive its leader's demise. Johnson—and we assume the members of his society—were very serious about their contention that the shape of Earth is flat rather than spherical, because they are the most strict of biblical literalists. Few other biblical literalists hold to such stringent interpretations of the Bible. To flat earthers, many passages in the Bible imply that God created an Earth that is shaped like a coin, not a ball: flat and round at the edges. Earth's disklike (not spherical) shape reflects biblical passages referring to the "circle" of the Earth (Isaiah 40:22) and permits one to sail around the planet and return to one's starting point: one merely has to sail to the edge of Earth and make the circuit.

Because their theology requires the Bible to be read as literally true, flat earthers believe Earth must be flat (Schadewald 1991). The Englishman responsible for the nineteenth-century revival of flat earthism, Samuel Birley Rowbotham, "cited 76 scriptures in the last chapter of his monumental second edition of Earth Not a Globe" (Schadewald 1987: 27). Many of these refer to "ends of the Earth" (Deuteronomy 28:64, 33:17; Psalms 98:3, 135:7; Jeremiah 25:31) or "quadrants" (Revelation 20:8). For flat earthers—and other literalists—the Bible takes primacy over the information provided by science; thus, because modern geology, physics, biology, and astronomy contradict a strict biblical interpretation, these sciences are held to be in error.

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