A Debate About the Shape of the Earth

 

Good evening, and welcome to this debate about the shape of the Earth. We will begin with opening statements from each of the debaters. Then each side will present its principal evidence, with that evidence followed by rebuttal from the opposition. The debate will end with closing summaries from each side. We now begin with the opening statements.

Good evening. I'm here this evening to make a claim with which almost every educated person agrees - that the earth is round. I will outline the evidence that has led to this fundamental observation learned by every schoolchild. In doing so, I will be doing what any scientist does in addressing any issue - considering all the available physical evidence to reach a conclusion supprted by that evidence. My opponent may try to divert you from that evidence, so I encourage to observe the credo of every scientist - don't trust the person, trust the evidence.  
  Good evening. I'm here this evening to point out the obvious - that the earth is flat. My learned opponent will try to befuddle with you fancy theories and and elaborate explanations. I will instead just dwell on what any plain citizen can see - that the world around them looks flat and has no evidence of being round. I appreciate that many of you have been led astray by the kind of dogma my learned opponent will present, but I hope to bring you back down to earth, so to speak, to get back to the fundamental facts.
   
 

We will now hear the evidence for a round earth, any rebuttal thereof, and subsequent discussion to elaborate on those points.

The idea of a round earth was established well before the voyages of Christopher Columbus. For example, the observation that the sails of ships remain visible to the last as sailing ships disappear over the horizon was recognized early on as evidence of a round earth. Columbus's voyages presupposed a round earth. More significantly, Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe proved that the earth was round, for how else could his crew have returned to their home port?

More recently, we have unquestionable evidence of the roundess of Earth. Images of Earth from space prove that the Earth is round. Those images were generated from orbital spacecraft, by satellites, from vessels traveling to the moon, and from the moon itself. As these examples show, they all indisputably show a round earth.

Earth Image

Earth Image

The evidence speaks for itself.

 
  My learned opponent claims to value physical evidence, but the available physical evidence clearly supports my case and disproves hers. First, I encourage any of you to step outside and look at the world around you - it looks flat. Whether one stands in the middle of the Great Plains, or on the highest mountain, or on the deck of a ship at sea, the world looks flat. Isn't that evidence enough to refute this claim of a round world?

If we indulge my learned opponent for a moment, consider her claim to a round world. You and I are on the upper half of that world, and so we stand on the earth beneath our feet. My learned opponent proposes that, on the other side of her round world, people in Australia are upside down, and must hang onto the earth by their toes. If any of you take that seriously, let me assure you that I have spoken to people who have visited Australia, and they unanimously report that they were not up-side-down, they did not have to hang onto the earth by their toes, their blood did not rush to their heads, and in general they suffered none of the effects that would be required by my opponent's theory.

My learned opponent points to the appearance of ships at sea as evidence of a round earth, failing to acknowledge that waves and sea spray obscure the lower reaches of ships while their sails remain visible. She points to the so-called "circumavigation" by Magellan as evidence of a round earth, but fails to acknowledge that this standard map of the flat earth allows the same voyage.

Polar Projection

My learned opponent goes on to cite pictures allegedly taken from the moon and from vessels orbiting the earth. I appreciate that many of you may be fond of those pictures, but you should ask yourselves - how do you know they are real? It has long been known that the purported lunar landings were a hoax filmed on a soundstage. That hoax was perpetrated to make America appear to have won the "Space-race" of the 1960s, but surely we can now set that fabrication aside. More recently, NASA has similarly constructed the myth of space shuttles and a space station. Think for a second, folks - all you ever see of those shuttles is their launch and landings in Florida and California. Do you think it's an accident that you only see those shuttles near the motion picture studios and Disney facilities? The whole thing has been fabricated for you, and this round earth is just a part of the hoax.

Now, I know many of you will tell me that you've "seen" the space shuttle in space, and you've seen the round earth from space. You've seen them on videotape. You've also seen Captain Kirk land on alien worlds, you've seen Luke Skywalker fight the spaceships commanded by Darth Vader, and you've seen a host of other space explorers visit distant worlds and meet strange aliens. Were those all real? No - they were videotape creations of the motion picture industry. Do you really think the trips to the moon were any different?

To purport that billions of dollars have been spent just to mislead the public is preposterous. Thousands of scientists wouldn't waste their careers, and the world's governments wouldn't waste their money, constructing a hoax in which lunar landings were faked, space shuttle flights were faked, and the International Space Station is faked. It's preposterous.  
  My learned opponent just cited the work of "thousands of scientists" to support the contention that the world is round. "Round", "round", "round", she says. However, some of the scientists she venerates would disagree. Let me read what one of them - a very conventional scientist - has to say about the shape of the Earth: "The Earth is not truly round - not a perfect spheroid - but is instead a prolate spheroid with its maximum circumference at the equator. It can thus be modeled as an ellipsoid of revolution due to greater centripetal acceleration further from the poles".

I hope haven't lost you too much in this technical jargon, but this scientist says the world isn't round. When my learned opponent tells you to "trust scientists", she fails to admit that there is disagreement among those scientists, and that in fact a great many of the experts in this area says the world is not round.

My opponent has taken the usual anti-scientific approach of trying to confuse us with the details. In fact, no geophysist thinks the world is a perfect spheroid. Technically, it is an oblate spheroid - a spheroid that deviates just slightly by being larger around the equator. However, that's quibbling about the very fine details. Any geophysicist will agree that the world is almost perfectly round, and certainly not flat.  
  You may need to help us non-specialists. What exactly is a "prolate spheroid"?
It's a nearly-spherical form with maximum radius in the plain perpendicular to its axis of rotation.  
  So that the equatorial regions are further from the center than the polar regions?
Yes  
  So that it's kind of -well - flattened?
It's a flattened spheroid - but a spheroid, not a flat object.  
  There you have it, ladies and gentlemen - my learned opponent just conceded that the world is flat!
   
 

We will now hear the evidence for a flat earth, any rebuttal thereof, and subsequent discussion to elaborate on those points.

  The evidence for a flat earth is self-evident. Step outside and look at the world around you - it looks flat. Whether one stands in the middle of the Great Plains in Kansas, or on the highest mountain of the Rockies or the Alps, or on the deck of a ship on any of the oceans or seas, the world looks flat. I challenge anyone to find a place on this earth where they can stand and see evidence of anything but a flat horizon, and thus of a flat earth.

For those who are not convinced by physical evidence but instead seek a higher authority, I give you the highest authority: the word of God. Doesn't the Bible speak of the four corners of the world, which cannot exist on a round Earth? Doesn't the Bible describe the sky as a vault or dome over the Earth, rather than a sphere around the Earth? Didn't Daniel see "a tree of great height at the centre of the earth...reaching with its top to the sky and visible to the earth's farthest bounds." That can only happen on a flat Earth. Didn't the Devil take our Our Savior Jesus Christ "to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory"? That's only possible on a flat Earth, and impossible on a round Earth.

If I haven't convinced you that the concept of a round earth is disproven by the word of God, consider this: claims of a round earth deny the very possibility of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His ascent to Heaven. A round earth has no up and down. The Bible clearly says that Jesus Christ rose from this world unto Heaven. To deny the "downness" of Earth and the "upness" of Heaven is to deny the Resurrection and to deny that Jesus Christ lives. Perhaps you can ignore your eyes when they show you that the Earth is flat, but surely you can not ignore and deny the reality of Jesus Christ.

I am not going to argue about whether Jesus Christ lives in a undetectable ethereal paradise, because science cannot evaluate the existence of something for which there can be no evidence. However, I will argue that you can't take the Bible seriously as a scientific and geographic document.

 
  If you make that argument, you risk - no, you make certain - eternal damnation. Do you not accept that the New Testament is the word of God and a record of the life of Jesus Christ on this Earth?

I'm not here to deny that there was a man named Jesus Christ. I'm only here to say that we would be better building our understanding of the world on scientific observation than on the details of a book written about his life.  
  So you are empowered to reject Holy Scripture, and to deny the resurrection and ascent of Jesus Christ to Heaven?

My learned opponent's denial of the Resurrection is only the tip of the iceberg, ladies and gentlemen. Consider where the idea of a round earth leads us. My leaned opponent's view of the world says that there is no up and no down - that up in America or Europe is down in Australia. That's relativism, ladies and gentleman, with all its social implications. No longer is there an up and a down, and no longer a right and a wrong. If we can say that up is down, we can say that good is bad and bad is good, that life is death and death is life, that wisdom is foolishness and foolishness is wisdom, that the sacred is evil and the evil sacred. Once you open the door to relativism, there is no closing it - it sweeps in like a flood upon you and upon all that you hold dear.

My opponent would have you deny the reality of the round earth because she says it would subvert her ideology. I make no claims about ideology, and I think it would be silly for me to do so. I can only point to the physical evidence we all have seen and say "what is, is". I cannot reject the reality of a round earth because accepting that reality might change someone's mind about the gods they choose worship.  
  My learned opponent thinks that one can choose between gods! And this person is reponsible for the education of our children! If we choose to accept my learned opponent's argument, we accept a world where our children and grandchildren will learn that "up" here can be be "down" on the other side of the world, that good here can be bad there, that they can can pick and choose among God's words as they like. It is your choice - but I caution you to think long and hard about that choice and what it will mean.
   
 

We will now hear the debaters' closing statements.

I have recounted for you the abundant scientific evidence for a round world. You have seen the pictures of the earth from the moon, and you have seen the satellite and space-shuttle images. Some of you have even travelled around the world and never found the edge of the world that my opponent imagines. In short, the evidence supports a round world.

My opponent asks you to ignore this evidence. She insists that NASA, satellite mapping agencies, weather services that operate satelites, the Soviet and Russian space efforts, the space shuttles, the International Space Station - that all these are part of a conspiracy to deceive you about the shape of the earth. On the other hand, she asks you to trust the words of an ancient text. I respect that text for its moral teachings, but I encourage you to rely on modern observation to understand the physical world around you.

 
  It is sad that modern intelligent people have been led so far astray as to even consider my opponent's contentions of a round earth. I'm sure that most scientists mean well, and I have no animosity toward the person with whom I have shared the stage tonight. However, scientists have been duped. They love to explain something simple with a needlessly complicated theory. In this case, they have unwittingly fallen into a conspiracy to debunk the word of God and message of Jesus, to miss-educate our children, and to subvert the values of our society. Common-sense observation of the world around us and the word of Holy Scripture both show beyond a doubt that the world is flat. I hope you'll join me in moving beyond the illusion - no, the delusion - of a round world and into the reality revealed by God's word and by your own eyes. Thank you.

 :



 :

The arguments for a flat earth used above come from Robert J. Schadewald's Flat Earth Bible and his The Flat-out Truth, both of which are on Donald Simanek's web pages at Lock Haven University, and from materials distributed by the International Flat Earth Society, which was founded and led by Charles K. Johnson and Marjory Johnson. The International Flat Earth Society is not a spoof and is firmly committed to the proposition that the Earth is flat.

This web page is not intended to persuade readers that the Earth is flat, or that it is round. It is intended as an illustration of a possible argument between persons whose understandings of the world are developed from purely scientific and religious viewpoints. All inferences about who won this debate, about which side is correct, and about whether this debate is a viable analog for other debates between scientific and religious views are left to the reader.


Back to Railsback's GEOL 1122 main page