FLAT EARTH: The History of an Infamous Idea

Christopher Hart on Christine Garwood’s book, in the Sunday Times:

U_flatearthUp until 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, everyone believed the earth was flat. Since then, everyone has known better. In fact, as Christine Garwood demonstrates in this quirky and highly entertaining slice of intellectual history, both these statements are false. The Ancient Greeks knew very well that they lived on a globe, while the Flat Earth News ceased publication only in 1988.

Not the least attractive thing about Garwood’s study is her criticism of modern scientists whose arrogant assumption that the present always trumps the past only flatters their self-esteem. She dismisses “supposed Christian closed-mindedness” as a post-Enlightenment myth. The Church was at the forefront of intellectual and scientific discovery for centuries. Indeed, it’s really quite stupid and credulous of us now to believe that most medieval people thought Columbus would fall off the edge of the world. They could see as well as you or I that a ship disappears over the horizon after a few miles, or that during a lunar eclipse, the shadow of the earth on the moon is round. Duh. There was “no mutiny of flat-earth sailors on the Santa Maria”.

Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, Ptolemy, St Augustine and Bede were all firm “globularists”, in Garwood’s pleasing neologism, while Newton refined things still further by showing that we really lived on an “oblate spheroid” (the earth bulges in the middle, to you and me). As with scientology, belief in alien abduction, or wildly overpriced face creams containing such bogus substances as “micro-oils”, for real stupidity you need a dash of dodgy modern science.

More here.