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.
7/19/2017 09:47:03 am
Considering some of the things I've heard from the lips of other members of Congress from California, this was just a goofy question. Unfortunately, the more conspiracy-minded among the fringe will take the NASA statement as more proof of a government cover-up.
7/19/2017 10:52:46 am
And we know it takes little to stoke the paranoia of the conspiracy- mongers.
7/19/2017 11:57:37 am
I'm not so sure you can judge Rohrabacher's intent by that clip. He may very well have been posturing against the Ancient Aliens belief culture with an appeal to NASA to contradict them. So in my view, it is most unfair of our host to color it otherwise, unless there is other evidence that the congressman supports and/or believes in the ancient alien concept.
7/19/2017 12:10:31 pm
He's said many crazy things over the years, so I wouldn't put it past him. In this case, it isn't clear what his intent was, but the fact that he doesn't understand the massive timescales involved is quite evident.
7/20/2017 11:56:25 am
According to your transcript, what the congressman asked was, "You have indicated that Mars had, was totally different thousands of years ago. Is it possible that there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago?" So the only thing evident by that line of questioning is that either he misheard the NASA rep or said rep misspoke in regard to the timeline. Your interpretation remains unfair in my view.
8/12/2017 07:20:54 pm
You must be a Republican. If a Democrat said the same thing we wouldn't even be talking about this. Stop enabling and defending these nutty people.
7/19/2017 03:05:36 pm
Top 3 reasons to vacate California;
7/19/2017 10:50:25 am
The irony of creationists chiding flat earthers for taking parts of the Bible too seriously is so thick you could literally build an ancient Martian civilization on top of it.
7/19/2017 12:29:20 pm
We had a congressman a few years ago who was worried that putting additional Marines on Guam might cause the island to tip over.
7/19/2017 01:10:14 pm
7/19/2017 03:16:09 pm
I think it was Mark Twain who said something about the criminal class in the US of A and congress was at the top of that gang.
7/19/2017 09:47:15 pm
Regarding the Guam story, Snopes covered the whole thing, with a transcript back in 2010.
7/19/2017 09:52:00 pm
Snopes can suck me because Snopes is usually wrong and I saw the guy on TV.
7/19/2017 12:21:57 pm
Its rare to find a politican with a hard science or egineering degrer and/or critical thinking, that said NASA played fast snd loose with the supposed microbial life on the mars meteorite to boost interest and funding. So far there is zero evidence of life outside if earth
7/19/2017 12:31:00 pm
Makes drinky-drinky gesture in Titus's direction.
7/19/2017 01:29:27 pm
I live at the top of a hill - therefor the Earth is not flat.
7/19/2017 02:00:24 pm
Well said! The view from a mountaintop is one of the classical non-technical demonstrations, as is a ship disappearing over the horizon.
7/19/2017 03:18:24 pm
Oh poo on that sir! Everybody knows when a ship disappears over the horizon it means the ship fell OFF the earth. Yes, that WAS meant to be 100% pure snark/sarcasm.
7/19/2017 03:09:47 pm
I am planning, within the next couple of years to go senile. As such, it would appear that I would be totally qualified to run for Congress as a Republican from the State of California.
7/19/2017 09:20:45 pm
7/19/2017 09:54:41 pm
I guess Marines really are stupid. McCain crashed at least four aircraft. He was almost a Vietnamese ace.
7/20/2017 04:49:12 am
it's kind of a pussy move to mock Republicans exclusively, especially in California where Nancy Pelosi keeps talking about "President Bush".
8/12/2017 07:27:08 pm
Please stop. You are fully aware Republicans are crazy so stop with "but the democrats!" Last time I checked the republican platform is actively denying women's rights, LBGT rights, education, minority rights, evolution, sex education, and the list goes on.
7/19/2017 04:47:40 pm
One millennium's understanding of what was to them just everyday knowledge becomes another millennium's 'metaphorical language'. This is just a natural process that happens if any work of literature somehow has influence across millennia. Claiming that the flat earth principles that the Biblical text clearly assumes are poetic language equivalent to metaphors is pretty much just an extension of the presentism any conservative movement obsessed with 'timeless values' has to subconsciously indulge in.
7/19/2017 10:03:55 pm
That's quite a boner.
7/19/2017 10:35:04 pm
Jason, Dana is on the case to find 'collusion'. He's your best hope; discrediting him is just shooting yourself in your priveledged foot.
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