Wednesday, June 6, 2018

It's A Flat World After All

We defend the position that the Bible is literally true and scientifically accurate in every detail. - Kent Hovind
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. - Jehova (Job 38:4)
There is a pretty widespread view that whatever value the Hebrew and Christian scriptures might have, they are not a lot of use for scientific fields such as biology, geology and astronomy.  On the other hand, there are folks like Kent Hovind who insist that everything in their selection and translation (King James in Hovind's case) is "scientifically accurate in every detail".  

Hovind focuses on debunking the "lie of evolution" and argues for a universe that is about 6,000 years old (That's what you get from summing up all those begats and tacking on seven days).  On the other hand Hovind is OK with establishment science when it comes to the shape of the earth and the layout of the solar system up to a point (I don't know enough astronomy to pinpoint where it stops working for him).  Thus Hovind believes that the earth is shaped roughly like a globe and orbits the sun.

Because of that view he finds himself listed among heretics by those who find strong scriptural support for the notion that the earth is a flat disk. 

I've asked Lamar Smith to weigh in on the drama. 

(Go to 7:00 for beginning of flat earth discussion)

Peter Reilly has given me an assignment! In the spirit of transparency, though, I know exactly how B’rer Rabbit felt as he was tossed into the briar patch. I’m headed exactly where I want to go and where I would have gone myself, sooner or later.

There is a ‘movement’ across the globe by a small but rather vocal group that posits that the globe is not, in fact, a globe.  It’s colloquially known as the Flat Earth movement.

Now, Kent Hovind has actually spoken at some length about this collection of folks which might, at first blush, seem a little strange because every time he does so he can’t help but interject “I really don’t want to talk about this.” Then he does so on multiple occasions and for considerable lengths of time.

The movement itself is a loosely knit collection of people from internet trolls to NBA star Kyrie Irving to rapper B.O.B that espouses the belief that the earth is closer to the shape of a flat disc than a sphere. 

A moment’s consideration of all the things that would mean, if true, boggles the mind. Begin to dig into the incredibly long list of potential problems with this theory and you’ll be stunned at the cognitive dissonance on display. Every solution I will mention isn’t held by every member of the movement and confronting one flat-earther with what you know or have found often elicits the response “Oh, that’s just what THOSE flat-earthers think! My brand of flat earth, though, thinks something else about that issue.”

Common to most, though, is a general dislike and distrust of scientists and their findings. The flat-earthers, like young earther Kent Hovind, claim to “like science but distrust scientists” for no other reason than those pesky scientists disagree that the earth is either less than 10,000 years old, as Hovind believes, or flat.

Common to both groups, they’ve arrived at their conclusion then get on with the business of rejecting or twisting or cherry-picking all data to support their pet conclusion.  

I’m comfortable claiming that virtually every young earther is religious and holds their view for predominantly religious reasons.  I’m slightly less comfortable making the same claim for flat earthers. Proponents of the flat earth, it seems to me, have taken a lesson from the young earthers and don’t often talk about their religious views unless pressed. They tend to stick to data and apparent “inconsistencies,” knowing that if they cite the Bible, skeptics will dismiss them out of hand.

When they do cite scripture, the following are common:

1 Chronicles 16:30: "He has fixed the earth firm, immovable."
Psalm 93:1: "Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm ..."
Psalm 96:10: "He has fixed the earth firm, immovable ..."
Psalm 104:5: "Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it never can be shaken."
Isaiah 45:18: "...who made the earth and fashioned it, and himself fixed it fast..."
Again, not all flat-earthers agree but a significant sub-set believe that not only is the earth flat but it is immovable and the center of the universe.

If you find yourself saying “That’s what predominantly land-based people believed in the Ancient World through the Middle Ages!” Yeah, it is. Sea-faring people not so much. They’ve always had more direct access to evidence that counters the flat earth unless, of course, you listen to flat earthers today. It turns out, according to most flat-earthers, tall ships do not disappear hull first as they sail away from you. If your eyes have to lie to you to support their theory, they seem shockingly at peace with that.

There’s no way I can list all of the arguments I’ve heard (they’re really bad) or the rational counter-arguments. I want to discuss the intersection of flat earthers and young earthers especially in the person of Kent Hovind.

It is not safe to assume all flat earthers are also young earthers, but Kent indicates he thinks this is true and it’s certainly more true than not. If you hear a flat earther quote scripture then you can be practically assured both views are at least supported in that person’s mind by a hyper-literal interpretation of the Bible.

Of particular note is the video linked above of Kent’s summation and attempted refutation of the flat earth model. He claims the movement began in 2012 and was “probably by atheists.” In other videos he’s claimed the devil himself started the movement, though he never offers any evidence supporting either claim. The purpose of the movement, according to Kent, is to either divide Christians, make Christians look ridiculous or both. 

In this video he also shows a PPT slide saying “Flat Earth is a Jew Hoax” with a truly offensive caricature straight from the worst pages of Nazi propaganda. Even his disclaimer of “Now, I don’t know if the flat earth is a Jew hoax or not,” could be taken to imply that Kent believes that “Jew hoaxes” do exist and the flat earth theory just might be one of them.

I’ve pointed out how much I adore irony and what a target rich environment Hovind world is for irony. It is no secret that Kent is prone to see conspiracies even where none exists. His objections to evolution mean that the fact that evolution is the cornerstone of all biological sciences amounts to a massive conspiracy. Flat earthers, too, are squarely in the same camp. The promotion of the globe earth, to them, is the culmination of a centuries long conspiracy against what they see as the truth.

Some of Kent’s more ironic offerings coming from a young earther to the flat earthers:  “You can get people to believe almost anything. It is bizarre what some people believe.” He finds the belief in a flat earth utterly bizarre but an earth about 6,000 years old makes perfect sense.

“Do you know how much time Jesus spent on the flat earth? Zero! None!” observes Kent. Of course the question “How much time did Jesus devote to evolution?” never comes up. It’s the exact same amount, by the way.

In most of Kent’s introductions he’ll proclaim “....we’re the folks who believe the Bible is literally true.....” then he went on in this video to discuss how parts of the Bible should definitely be taken metaphorically. He criticizes the flat earthers for taking certain passages literally and not metaphorically then happily continues on doing the exact same thing with his favorite passages supporting a young earth.

Some of his objections in this video seem rather paltry to me. He jumps on the word ‘flat’ by pointing out that the earth has mountains and valleys and shows passages in the Bible describing the same therefore the earth isn’t ‘flat.’ I don’t see the value in quoting the Bible that mountains exist. One might come away with the impression that unless the Bible said there were mountains, Kent Hovind might not believe there were.

According to the Isaiah quote about the earth being a circle, Kent points out rather ridiculously that if the earth has depth it’s a cylinder. The flat earth argument is about the basic shape of the earth and Kent chose to give a geometry lesson. This is not the first time Kent sweats what something is called instead of what something is or how it behaves or what it’s nature is.

So, what is it about this movement that’s got the fearless Kent Hovind a might gun-shy? He believes they’re Christians, by and large, so I’m sure that plays into him not wanting to bash them too hard.  The flat earthers who do use scripture to support their beliefs seem to be staking out an even more extreme, more literal interpretation of the Bible and I’ve always felt that Kent prides himself on his already extreme views. His ideas relegate him to a fringe and it’s always seemed that that suits Kent just fine until, perhaps, folks more extreme than he is come along.

To see a fringe conspiracy theorist like Kent Hovind in a feud with even fringier conspiracy theorists is amongst the most entertaining spectacles I can imagine. I hope that the next time Peter Reilly gives me an assignment this enjoyable he sends along some popcorn. It was the only thing lacking to make this entertainment complete.


Lamar Smith who has taught history in high school in Texas for twelve years is a regular contributor to Your Tax Matters Partner.

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