Congressman Asks NASA Panel about Ancient Martian Civilization; Plus: Creationists Chide Flat-Earthers for Taking the Wrong Parts of the Bible Literally
In Congress, another depressing scene took place yesterday when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) stopped a House Science Committee hearing cold by asking a NASA representative if Mars had an ancient alien civilization. Rohrabacher seemed to think that Mars was capable of supporting humanlike life within the past few thousand years (i.e. during the “ancient astronaut” timeframe) and at one point started to speak of “some people” who believed in a lost Martian civilization, but the NASA representative cut him off before he could offer a complete thought allowing us to judge how deep Rohrabacher’s involvement with the ancient astronaut theory really goes.
I posted a transcript here.
Meanwhile, after years of telling us that science and history are lies because we need to take the Bible literally, Answers in Genesis, the group behind the Noah’s Ark theme park and the Creation Museum, admitted that the Bible can’t be taken literally. In a video making the rounds on the internet, Danny Faulkner, a creationist astronomer, mocked Flat Earth believers for taking the Bible literally in believing that the Earth was actually flat.
“Some people, they accuse us of believing everything in the Bible is literal,” Faulkner said. “Well, we don’t believe everything in the Bible is literal. There are many idioms, there are figures of speech. There (is) also imagery, particularly in the poetic and the prophetic passages. For instance, Jesus said, ‘I am the door.’ Well, did he have hinges? Did he have a latch on it? Did he have a handle? Of course not. We understand that it’s not a literal door. So nobody really believes that the Bible’s completely literal.”
This is a remarkable statement since it essentially concedes that even fundamentalists pick and choose what lines to take literally and therefore fundamentalism, like every other hierarchy, uses its ideology as a way to create, hoard, and exercise power. If some things are literal and some are not, someone needs to decide which are which, and it is of course the elite who hold that power.
I’m betting that part of the Bible they consider open to interpretation is when Jesus told his followers to render under Caesar. We learned this week that after promising its host town that it would continue paying property taxes on the Ark Encounter in exchange for tax breaks and sweetheart financing deals, the Answers in Genesis for-profit shell company that owns the Ark sold the land on which it sits to the Answers in Genesis non-profit arm for $10 and declared that it would no longer pay property taxes on the property. Amazing the way that line about the love of money being the root of all evil is somehow negotiable for fundamentalists.
But what is more interesting for our immediate purpose is that Answers in Genesis ridicules the idea that the Bible supports a flat Earth, claiming that this is propaganda invented by Victorian atheists. Here is how Faulkner put it:
I want to point out that these arguments that people put forth today for the flat earth, supposedly from the Bible, don’t come, historically, [from] positions of the church. The church never argued these points from scripture. This all arose in the 19th century. Surprisingly enough, these arguments that Flat Earthers are using, supposedly from the Bible to support Flat Earth, are ones that were put forth from the skeptics and the atheists in the 19th century, trying to bring disrepute upon the scripture, showing it’s not authoritative.
The weasel word in that explanation is “church.” While a flat Earth was never an article of faith for the Catholic or Orthodox churches, churchmen have argued off and on that Scripture proves the Earth to be flat, often to the ridicule of those outside the church. Most famously, perhaps, the sixth century Byzantine monk Cosmas Indicopleustes wrote a treatise called Christian Topography in which he argued that the Earth was flat and that all previous scholars had been deceived about its sphericity:
But those on the other hand who prank themselves out in the wisdom of this world, and are self-confident that by scholastic reasonings they can comprehend its figure and position, scoff at all divine scripture as a mass of fables, stigmatising Moses and the prophets, the Lord Christ and the Apostles as idle babblers, and given over to vain delusions; while with supercilious airs, as if they far surpassed in wisdom the rest of mankind, they attribute to the heavens a spherical figure and a circular motion, and by geometrical methods and calculations applied to the heavenly bodies, as well as by the abuse of words and by worldly craft, endeavour to grasp the position and figure of the world by means of the solar and lunar eclipses, leading others into error while they are in error themselves in maintaining that such phenomena could not present themselves if the figure was other than spherical. (Christian Topography 1, trans. J. W. McCrindle)
His argument is very, very long and quite dull, but if you are interested, you can read a complete translation of his defense of a flat Earth here. Or, you can just look at the picture from a manuscript of his Topography.
Cosmas’s contemporaries thought he was nutty, but it just goes to show you that Christian flat Earth beliefs were not created from whole cloth by Victorian atheists to humiliate creationists.
Faulkner further misrepresents Victorian scholarship. While it is true that atheists like Robert Ingersoll claimed that the Bible showed that the Earth was flat, this was also a mainstream view among Victorian scholars of every stripe. Books like Protestant theologian Philip Schaff’s Dictionary of the Bible proclaimed that “The heavens were conceived of as an inverted bowl, which rested on the flat earth at its edges, holding up the snow and rain, which came through when a window was opened. Gen. 7:11; Isa. 24: 18.” It just wasn’t a controversial idea except among fundamentalists, who saw non-fundamentalist theology as tantamount to atheism.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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