Re: Hyers' Article - Cods Wallop

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Wed Feb 25 2004 - 08:31:00 EST

>>> "Jim Armstrong" <> 02/24/04 11:19PM >>>writes:

It was only a couple of weeks ago when I stood at the Hotel del
Coronado (just visiting!) and looked as small boats partially
disappeared over the horizon. In light of that, it's a little hard to
believe that at least some of the folks familiar with the seas (even the
big inland ones) might not have some sense of curvature. Curvature of
the heavens above would be an easier conjecture, but I'll bet that a
curved earth was not a hard sell to some mariners and other sea-savvy
folks. It might be a harder leap to a spherical Earth. I don't think it
is a slam dunk that a flat earth was the universal holding. Admittedly
just a speculation, though. But, have you been to the seashore lately?

Ted responds:
This is one of the pieces of evidence that led the Greeks, ca. 400 BC, to
conclude that the earth is in fact a sphere. Other evidence from their
travels included the fact that different stars become visible/invisible as
one moves significantly north/south. The earth's shadow is round when the
moon passes through it, and that was decisive for Aristotle and others.

It is unclear (at least to me) when the Hebrews and other cultures drew
similar conclusions. But for the whole period of Christian history,
educated western minds have known not only that the earth is spherical, but
that it is roughly 18-25K miles in circumference (Ptolemy took the lower
value, Eratosthenes the upper value). Columbus liked the lower value also;
his argument with Spanish scholars concerned this particular detail rather
than the legendary (and false) claim that the earth is round rather than

One can find hardly any exceptions to what I wrote in the first sentence of
the previous paragraph, perhaps half a dozen in two millenia. Two of them
(one is Kosmas) have been much celebrated by advocates of the "warfare"
thesis of science and religion, as if two out of several thousand writers
are representative of a religious tradition.

But (again) I don't know precisely when the Hebrews came to view the earth
as spherical, though I imagine it was during the intertestamental period.

Received on Wed Feb 25 08:34:24 2004

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