The debate in Columbus’ day was not over whether the Earth was flat or round. Rather, the width of the ocean was the crucial factor; the distance between continents determined the cost and feasibility of an expedition. "The issue was the width of the ocean; and therein the opposition was right." Columbus had underestimated the circumference of the Earth and the width of the ocean by a significant number of miles.
The modern mind cannot bear the thought that people who lived far before the twentieth century could have gotten anything right about science. Even the Encyclopedia Britannica perpetuated the myth of a flat-earth cosmology: "Before Columbus proved the world was round, people thought the horizon marked its edge. Today we know better" (1961). The people of Columbus’ day knew better.
How and why did the flat-earth myth get started? The legend was popularized by Washington Irving in his three-volume History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828). Irving, best known for "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle," used his fiction-writing skills to fabricate a supposed confrontation that Columbus had with churchmen who maintained that the Bible taught that the Earth was flat. No such encounter ever took place.
The Bible does not engage in speculative scientific descriptions about the earth’s external foundations. It simply states that God "stretches out the north over empty space, and hangs the earth on nothing" (Job 26:7). Those who accuse the Bible of teaching a flat Earth point to how the Bible speaks of having "four corners" (Isa. 11:2 and Rev. 7:1) and "four winds" (Jer. 49:36 and Matt. 24:31).
Medieval science as practiced by Christians went astray when "the Bible was . . . read through `Greek’ spectacles." Certainly the Greeks were right in many of their observations, but it was an almost religious attachment to Greek cosmology that was the West’s greatest impediment to further discovery and scientific advance.
Daniel J. Boorstin, an accomplished historian, writes that "The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge."1 Early observers of earth’s landscape and the heavens that were beyond their grasp put forth theories of design that were picturesque but woefully inaccurate if taken literally.
Each and every Columbus Day, we are reminded by some misinformed historians who should know better, that the great navigator proved by his daring bravado that the Earth was more like a blue marble than a dinner plate.
In post-apocalyptic Australia, “Mad” Max Rockatansky, played by Mel Gibson in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), finds himself stranded in the desert after he is attacked by a father-and-son robbery team who patrol the skies in a pieced together airplane scavenging for anything of value that they can sell or trade.
Susan B. Anthony has been celebrated as a feminist icon by the modern feminist movement because of her tireless work in bringing women into the political mainstream. Feminists pushed hard to get her image on the almost-never-used Susan B. Anthony coin. Anthony got involved in the women’s rights movement when she joined a temperance society but was denied the right to speak at meetings because she was a woman. Temperance societies were the precursors to the prohibition movement (1920-1933).
USA Today wonders if the Republican Party has room for those who disagree with the party’s conservative platform. An August 31, 2004, front-page article asked whether Abraham Lincoln, women’s rights pioneer Susan B. Anthony, and New York governor Nelson Rockefeller would be welcomed into the Republican tent.
Mark J. Rozell, writing in USA Today (September 22, 2004), claims that more Christian conservatives voted for Bob Dole in 1996 than voted for George Bush in 2000. He attributes this voting downturn to the vanishing influence of the Christian Coalition. He has the tail wagging the dog.
The battle continues to rage over homosexuality. The good people of Missouri voted to ban same-sex marriage by an overwhelming majority (71% to 29%). Louisiana followed suit by an even larger margin. More than 81% of voters voted to ban same-sex marriages. These numbers are staggering and encouraging.
WE HAVE RECOILED in horror at the beheadings of innocent civilians by Muslim jihadists in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Americans Paul M. Johnson and Nicholas Berg and Korean Kim Sun-il were tortuously decapitated by Islamists, who shouted, “God is great!” while performing the gruesome deeds.
IN THE BUSINESS section of USA Today, a story appeared that described how businesses are returning to the inner city to set up shop.1 The article is encouraging. Real estate is plentiful and prices are low.
AS A YOUNG BOY, I loved science. On standardized tests, I always scored highest in the science category. Astronomy was a favorite interest, but it didn’t take me long to realize that astronomy is a spectator sport. While the moon is near enough, there was no way that I was ever going to hop scotch through the universe. I soon turned my scientific interests to electricity, short wave radio, and Morse Code. My lack of aptitude in math dashed any hopes I had of excelling in the field.