Are Creationists “Flat Earthers”?
While probably most creationists would answer with a resounding “NO” it must be admitted that there are Flat Earthers who are Creationists. These believers in the flat earth would argue that they reject evolution and the modern model of the solar system for the same reasons, and the central reason to some is the Bible.
But what is the relationship between the Flat Earth movement and Young Earth Creationism? Where did this movement come from? And are they right about what they think the Bible teaches?
A Little Background
The flat earth movement had enjoyed limited success in the 1800s, gaining more popularity as a slander against the church than as a scientific movement. The church had, in fact, taught a spherical earth as far back as it had existed due to Europe’s adoption of Aristotle’s cosmology, which taught a round earth. However, due to a few publications and a few sensationalized experiments, like the famous Bedford Level Experiment,
the belief that the earth is flat rose up in the 1800s, though it would be a fringe belief in western culture for much of the next century. The International Flat Earth Research Society was established in the 1950s and it would continue to exist until the 1990s with little growth or influence.
Following the rise of the internet came a resurgence of the Flat Earth Movement, but it was the emergence of social media which would result in the growth of the movement over the past decade. A combination of suspicion about government dishonesty, a belief that the moon landing was a lie, and youth culture’s continual delight in anti-establishment pop culture no doubt contributed as much as anything else. However, there are those in the movement who believe that the Bible teaches that the earth is flat, and that to accept the man-made scientific models in rejection of the Bible is folly.
But… isn’t that what WE say? Don’t creationists argue that we should stand on the word of God and reject man-made scientific models which clash with His unchanging word? ARE Creationists… flat earthers?
On the surface, this sounds very similar because, to an extent, it is similar. We do believe that our authority is the Bible. We do believe that scientific models which clash with the Bible should be rejected because the Bible is our authority (and ultimately they will be shown to be false). However, there is one very important KEY difference between how Young Earth Creationists and Flat Earthers treat the Bible: Flat Earthers insist we stand firm on what the Bible SAYS, but we Young Earth Creationists believe we should stand firm on what the Bible MEANS.
This may sound like pettifoggery or some kind of semantic game, but the distinction makes all the difference.
What the Bible SAYS vs what it MEANS
Consider the days of Creation. To merely accept what the Bible SAYS would be to look at the text and say, “It says six days, so it means six days.” And of course, we talk like this sometimes. However, while we are accused of merely being stubborn literalists, we have a more complex reason for choosing to believe that the days of Creation week were literal days in a literal week.
First, there is an understanding of the word for day in Hebrew- YOM. In Hebrew, it has several possible meanings, just as the English word DAY does. In order to understand the author’s intention for the word, we look at the context. We compare that to the contextual usage of the same word in similar sentences throughout the Old Testament. Just as the context informs us as to the meaning of the word DAY in English, the context- both in the first chapters of Genesis and throughout the Old Testament- informs us how to understand the word YOM. It SAYS Yom (day) but it MEANS a 24 hour period.
Second, we take into consideration the literary style of the passage. There are several different literary genres in the Bible, and even within a single book there can be different levels of meaning just as there are when we speak. For instance, in Matthew 23:33 we read Jesus address a group of Pharisees by saying, “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” We understand from the genre of the book of Matthew that this is a literal event, wherein the real historical Jesus addresses real people and actually says “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” However, we know that Jesus is using a literary convention called a metaphor- he is CALLING them snakes and vipers, but he is not actually talking to snakes and vipers. The genre informs us as to what is being said, and in this case, what Jesus SAYS is not literally what he MEANS, yet his meaning is very clear.
This brings us to arguments for the flat earth from scripture. In Revelation 7:1 and 20:8 the phrase “the four corners of the earth” is used. Therefore, it is argued, the earth MUST be flat like a sheet of paper because it has four corners! We are told that we should trust the Bible over the word of man and that we should, therefore, reject the model of the globe earth presented by NASA and embrace the flat earth as here taught in the Bible. However, this fails to consider the literary genre of the book of Revelation.
Revelation is a book of symbolic imagery. This is not to say there is NO literal imagery in it, but because of the genre (technically apocalyptic literature), it is not intended to be taken as a literal vision of actual events, people, and places. Since the book’s writing, there has been no consensus as to which parts are literal descriptions of actual things and events and which are metaphorical images. Furthermore, the phrase “the four corners of the earth” was a literary convention which, just as today, was known to be a non-literal statement, just as when Jesus calls a group of men “snakes.”
The most noticeable flaw in this argument from flat earthers is that the flat earth model is a disk- meaning it has NO corners. To argue that the earth is a disc, and at the same time to use scripture that says the earth has “corners” makes their argument self-defeating.
While there are too many examples to address individually here, the above distinction between insisting on the literal English words as opposed to understanding the meaning of the text (with respect to the original Greek or Hebrew, the context, and the literary genre) is where the two uses of scripture diverge. Creationists do say things like, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” and for some that may be the whole story. But for the mainstream Creationists organizations, what we MEAN can be seen by the way we craft arguments and explanations. We do not merely grasp at the simplest understanding of the English translation and call it a day. This is why we are confident that the Earth was made in six days, six thousand years ago, and that Jesus was not talking to a collection of snakes while his disciples looked on.
In short, we do not believe that the Bible teaches that the earth is flat. On the contrary, it has been well argued that the Bible actually assumes a round earth. Consider what would happen to all the water from the flood if the earth were flat. It would run off the edge of the earth until the flood waters were gone! But Genesis tells us the waters prevailed above the highest mountains for a full year. This perfectly with our understanding of a globe earth bound by gravitational forces.
What distinguishes us in terms of our use of the Bible from our friends who argue for a flat earth is that we build our understanding on what the Bible intends us to understand, which means using clues from language, culture, context, and literary genre to know what it is the Bible MEANS, not merely what the English translation happens to say. Taking a superficial meaning from the English translations without acknowledging these contextual clues is how many atheists make silly arguments against the Bible and often how cults use scripture to mislead their followers, so this error is not found only among the flat earth movement. Those who are arguing from the authority of scripture are being wise, but they need to apply that wisdom more diligently in their quest to understand what scripture means. We all need to seek the scriptures with wisdom to know what it is God intended us to know, and not merely what we want to hear.
Creationists such as Danny Falkner of Answers in Genesis have written extensively about this topic, and we recommend you see what he has to say if you are interested in learning more.