Answering the Atheists: Sky Dome


Whatever people expected to follow on the invention of the internet, I'll bet if they'd filled out a list, a revival of the Flat Earth theory was the very last thing that would have crossed their minds. Yet that's just what happened! Basketball stars like Kyrie Irving flirt with Flat-Earthism. Atheists accuse the Bible of teaching the doctrine, while meanwhile, some foolish Christians agree with them. On what is Biblical flat-earthism based? Does the Bible anywhere say that the earth is flat? No, of course not. So where will we find such a teaching? Why, the Sky Dome.

What is the Sky Dome? A weighty solid hemispherical structure resting upon a flat earth. How do we know ancient people believed in it? Why, it's in the Bible! Or is it really? Where is any such structure described? It's there, in fact, only if it's ported in. Since the Sky Dome cannot be found in the Bible, perhaps it can be imported from other ancient texts. On what grounds? Why, the ancient Israelites must have believed in it too, if any other primitive people had such a belief! Really?

Advocates of the 'Sky Dome' theory speak as though there was one ancient world view, so that material may be ported from Babylonian mythology into the Bible. But there wasn't one 'ancient' model of the universe, there were a bewildering variety; every pre-Socratic philosopher constructed a different model. Some were finite, some infinite. For instance, the fourth century B.C. saw Epicurus' infinite universe:

"Moreover, the universe as a whole is infinite, for whatever is limited has an outermost edge to limit it, and such an edge is defined by something beyond. Since the universe does not have an edge, it has no limit; and since it lacks a limit, it is infinite and unbounded...Finally, the number of worlds, some like ours and some unlike, is also infinite. For the atoms are infinite in number...There is nothing therefore that will stand in the way of there being an infinite number of worlds." (Epicurus, Letters, Principal Doctrines, and Vatican Sayings, II. The Universe, 41b-45b, p. 11-13).

There were cylindrical models. . .and Pythagoras' spherical earth, which grew increasingly popular. Long before the Greek physicists, there was the Egyptian cow: "In the remote ages of that earliest civilization, which we have briefly surveyed in the preceding chapter, the shepherds and plowmen of the Nile valley saw in the heavens a vast cow, which stood athwart the vault, with head in the west, the earth lying between fore and hind feet, while the belly of the animal, studded with stars, was the arch of heaven." (James Henry Breasted, A History of Egypt, Kindle location 729). So where is the cow in the Bible? She isn't there, nor can I personally see her in the sky. The only way to find a cosmography in the Bible is to import one. The mountebanks who promote this theory rationalize importing their 'sky dome' because it is purportedly the universal understanding of 'primitive' people. Don't believe it for an instant; there is no such thing as a universal primitive astronomy.

It is assumed that everyone must have a cosmography. Even this is not accurate. Many people wrote and talked about the heavens and the earth without ever constructing a model such as the early Greek astronomers proposed, not even visualizing the possibility of looking at the whole system from the standpoint of an outside observer. Language about the heavens and the earth can simply be observational and phenomenological.

Given this variety, the burden of proof falls on the atheists' shoulders, to show where in the Bible there is any description of a flat earth covered by a sky-dome. Where is it?


Sky Dome

The Greek myth of Atlas implies the heavens are weighty. Some ancient works of literature, such as the Iliad, describe a flat earth. Homer tells his readers that the sun takes a nightly bath in the ocean:

"So he spoke, and Hera of the white arms gave him no answer. And now the shining light of the sun was dipped in the Ocean trailing black night across the grain-giving land." (Homer, Iliad, Book 8, 484-486).

That's flat-earthism. There is no such language in the Bible. Atheists nevertheless insist there is a structure described in the Bible, comprising a flat, disc-shaped earth surrounded by ocean, or maybe surrounded by mountains, or something, covered by a solid lid like an inverted soup tureen. The Jesus Seminar imagine they have seen it, or something like it: "The phrase 'outer darkness' refers to the region beyond the mountains at the ends of the [flat] earth, mountains that were thought to hold up the sky." (The Five Gospels, p. 256).

The atheists are sure it's in there. Trouble is, it can be maddeningly elusive to find any trace of a solid sky-dome in scripture. Bible authors seem unaware it's there: "He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing." (Job 25:7). It can even seem annoyingly in the way: "And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven." (Genesis 1:20). If 'firmament' is supposed to mean 'solid dome', how do the birds fly "in the open firmament of heaven"? Do they flip open little pet doors with their beaks? Where is it? Can it be found? They offer us mutually contradictory models: it's a disc, but it's got four corners. Weren't those primitive people silly, they didn't even realize a disc does not have four corners! When you add it all up, it cancels itself out, and you are left with nothing.

Urania, Wall Decoration from Pompei

Ends of the Earth

But surely the phrase 'the ends of the earth' must call to mind a Christmas snow-globe, with disk-shaped earth slumbering beneath a hemispherical sky? Well, no. Do you know there are people living at the "ends of the earth" -- and do you know we, the Gentiles, are they? Far from being a cartoony construct bounding a little snow-globe earth, the "ends of the earth" are the farthest inhabited regions:

"For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth." (Acts 13:47);
"All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee." (Psalms 22:27).

The Bible presents a tri-partite world: sky, earth, and sea. By what are the "ends of the earth" bounded? By the nothingness outside the snow-globe, say the atheists. But isn't the sea, the boundary of the land, the limitation in view? Biblically, the sea is bounded by the land, the land by the sea:

"And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?" (Job 38:11).
"Fear ye not me? saith the LORD: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?" (Jeremiah 5:22).

The "ends of the earth" are the further shores, the uttermost coasts, as in a verse like Isaiah 24:16, "From the uttermost part [kanaph, wings, corners] of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous." "It was also used to denote the ends of the inhabited part of the earth, and the corners that are most distant from our habitation." (Moses Maimonides, A Guide for the Perplexed, p. 71).

"He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.' [Psalm 72:8]. . .Widespread shall be the rule of Messiah; only the Land's End shall end his territory: to the Ultima Thule shall his sceptre be extended." (Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Kindle location 36908).

The phrase remains in common use today, for instance, "'The range of suspects and motives remains wide open,' Richard DesLauriers, FBI agent in charge in Boston, said at a news conference. He vowed to 'go to the ends of the Earth to identify the subject or subjects who are responsible for this despicable crime.'" (Pressure cooker bombs suspected in Boston blast, by Jay Lindsay and Eileen Sullivan, Associated Press, April 17, 2013).

Likewise with the phrase 'four corners of the earth', still employed to this day in travel brochures. If it is supposed to refer to the edges of a square, flat earth, then why is the phrase still in use? Some observers suggest its origin lies in the four points of the compass rose. More to the point, I think, is the still-common human habit of making maps of the earth from flat, rectangular sheets. Maps do have four corners, as the earth does not. If this attribute has leapt from the representation to the reality, this would not be so uncommon. We talk about Australia as 'Down Under,' but why is it 'Down Under' rather than Greenland? Because of the convention of situating north at the top. 'Up' and 'down' have migrated from the representation onto the reality represented. The fact that maps have four corners is not a mistake nor a falsification of reality.

Or perhaps it goes back even further, to the habit of primitive people, like the Eskimos, of making itineraries, essentially one-dimensional representations of a trip to a given destination. On an itinerary, a trip half-way around a lake might be modelled by a straight line, though it cannot be that on a two-dimensional map. On an itinerary, the only 'corners' are where we turn around and go back, a change of destination, not a change of direction. Land's end is correctly modelled as a 'corner' on an itinerary. The flat-earth theories will need to explain the continued use of the idiom by those moderns who are demonstrably round-earthers, like Charles Spurgeon: "The whole round earth shall yet reflect the light of his majesty. All the more because of the sin, and obstinacy, and pride of man shall God be glorified when grace reigns unto eternal life in all corners of the world." (Spurgeon, Charles. The Treasury of David (Kindle Locations 24985-24987). GLH Publishing.) Are the 'corners' the bounds of a flat, rectangular earth? Then why did he say "The whole round earth"? Convention? Or do the 'corners' have a sort of life of their own?

Isaiah, like Spurgeon, used this idiom:

"And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth." (Isaiah 11:12).

But wasn't there supposed to be a disk beneath this 'sky dome?' Do disks have corners? Can't the atheists make up their minds? Isn't Isaiah the one who calls the earth a "circle:" "It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:. . ." (Isaiah 40:22). Out of desperation, the atheists make Isaiah's "circle" a disk, though it is likelier a globe. There is so much variability in this supposed universal ancient world model that it can encompass anything at all. Perhaps in the end it is more of an analogy; the world traveller explores the globe through a lived experience more like that of a prospective buyer inspecting a new home, which does literally involve poking into corners, each little side trip counting as a 'corner.'

The phrases the Bible uses to describe features of the world system are all observable features of the world. They are not cartoony snow-globe constructs no one has ever seen. One can point to them and say, 'there it is, there is one of them.' The "pillars of heaven" are the mountains. The 'deeps' are the ocean depths. People have walked through them: "He rebuked the Red sea also, and it was dried up: so he led them through the depths, as through the wilderness." (Psalm 106:9). Jonah, thrown overboard, found himself in 'the depth':

"For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. Then said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head." (Jonah 2:3-5).

Pharaoh's forces were drowned in the 'depths': "Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone." (Exodus 15:4-5). Did Pharaoh's chariots and soldiers wander to some never-never fairy-land, or were they just covered up with water?

It's features of the Biblical world like 'the deep' which are the Lego building blocks of the atheists' 'sky dome' toy universe. Yet when we examine how the Bible itself actually employs these terms, we encounter only observable features of the world, naturalistically described.

Charlemagne with world orb


One novel feature some atheists ascribe to their 'sky dome' is that the stars are supposed to be little spangles stuck to the underside of this solid, metal 'sky dome:' Every night, they tell us, God hangs out the stars:

"To a thinking man in these days it is very instructive. The coming down of the Almighty from heaven to see the tower and put an end to it by dispersing its builders, points to the time when his dwelling was supposed to be just above the firmament or solid vault above the earth: the time when he exercised his beneficent activity in such acts as opening “the windows of heaven” to give down rain upon the earth; in bringing out the sun every day and hanging up the stars every night to give light to the earth; in hurling comets, to give warning. . ." (Andrew D. White, A History of the Warfare of Science and Theology, p. 535).

But what pagan people ever believed that the stars were 'spangles'? This is not a pagan notion at all, nor an ancient one; the atheists have found it in their own creative imagination. Even the Babylonians, acclaimed by atheists as the paradigmatic 'sky-domers', didn't believe the stars were 'spangles.' Notice Gilgamesh call the stars the 'Watchmen': "...and command also the Watchmen of the Night, the stars, and at night your father, Sin [Moon]." (Gilgamesh, Tablet III, 57-58). If you 'watch,' you are sentient. Spangles are not sentient.

Pagans tended to deify the stars, rather than reduce them to sparkly little spangles hung on the underside of a sky dome: "Surely vain are all men by nature, who are ignorant of God, and could not out of the good things that are seen know him that is: neither by considering the works did they acknowledge the workmaster; but deemed either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the violent water, or the lights of heaven, to be the gods which govern the world. With whose beauty if they being delighted took them to be gods; let them know how much better the Lord of them is: for the first author of beauty hath created them. But if they were astonished at their power and virtue, let them understand by them, how much mightier he is that made them." (Wisdom of Solomon 13:1-4). While there is no merit to the Babylonian idea that the stars are the powerful rulers of human destiny, which underlies the still-popular practice of astrology, the concept is not compatible with the atheists' claim that they are spangles which God hangs up as a decoration every night. Ask the atheists to explain to you how 'spangles' can rule the world, and then, and only then, take their word on it.

One cannot avoid suspecting many of these 'sky-dome' elements arose when modern atheists tried to imagine what ancient people must have thought when they looked up at the sky. Little spangles attached to a solid dome are familiar to anyone who has attended a planetarium, but they are not likely to have occurred to the Babylonians, who thought about the stars in a very different way. The 'sky dome' theory as elucidated by the atheists is a materialistic theory. It reduces the heavenly bodies to little sparkly things. Certainly, materialistic theories were within reach of the ancients; the Pre-Socratic philosophers, for the most part, worked up their models of the universe on materialistic principles. But that approach proved controversial!

The Babylonians perceived heavenly bodies as exerting great influence on this world below. Changes in the heavens presage seasonal changes, and it was easy to think, then as now, 'post hoc, ergo propter hoc.' The stars and the planets were gods, not only to the Babylonians but to most pagans: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, not to mention the puissant sun and the mysterious moon. The relation between a god and the feature of the world that god embodied was complex. Some pagan theologians ridiculed those who identified 'Ceres,' for example, with the grain crop. People thank Ceres for the grain crop...but who would be so silly as to thank the grain crop for the grain crop! This is to confuse the gift with the giver, they argued. But it's undeniable that Neptune, if he isn't the sea plain and simple, is bound up with the sea. The relation of their respective planets to 'Venus' and 'Mars' was as more than a mascot, less than simple identity. The bare minimum to be looked for in a god is sentience, intelligence, and some measure of freedom. Oddly enough, Origen, though a Christian, still believed the heavenly bodies to be possessed of these goods. Little sparkly things pasted to the ceiling possess them not at all.

Exactly what structure of the heavens the Babylonians hypothesized is much better known to the atheists than to the historians of science, who are reticent. In fact, they have not been able to find any Babylonian 'model of the universe,' and express perplexity over its absence:

"What seems to differentiate the Babylonians from the Greeks is that the former were primarily interested in using their observations to calibrate their religious calendar and to mine celestial events, such as star rising and eclipses, for their astrological significance. They seem to have adopted a 'black-box' approach to astronomy, being concerned primarily with visible phenomena, and to have paid little attention to formulating detailed systematic models of the mechanics that underlay what they could observe." (Nicholas Nicastro, 'Circumference: Eratosthenes and the Ancient Quest to Measure the Globe,' p. 30).
"Looking back at Babylonian astronomy from the twentieth century, one is struck by two things: the care with which the records were kept, and the mathematical brilliance of the predictive techniques...Although they were able to make forecasts of great accuracy, they did so in a way which did nothing to explain the events in question. Their work made eclipses, conjunctions, and retrogradations predictable, but it made them no more intelligible than before." (Stephen Toulmin, June Goodfield, 'The Fabric of the Heavens,' p. 41).

This is not really so surprising. What comes so easily to us: to imagine oneself an observer sitting outside the astronomy, and asking, what does the whole thing look like?-- is far from obvious, because we are inside, not outside. It was a great leap forward when the Pre-Socratics asked the question. Their answers, of course, were all different, which is the scandal of Pre-Socratic philosophy. Socrates zeroed in on their weak epistemology. The founders established completely different systems, and no one could prove one right, another wrong. The Greek scientists started at the top, asking not little questions, but propounding over-arching theories of everything. Like the popular modern theory of everything, Darwinism, these theories explain too much too easily ever to be disproved in the eyes of their admiring devotees. Better to propound theories that can be disproven.

The Pre-Socratics continued to attract disciples throughout classical antiquity, and were well positioned to prove Socrates wrong, if he was wrong. The Roman poet Lucretius wrote, in the first century B.C., an elegant verse treatment of Democritus' atomic theory. There was no disgrace in Democritus' advocacy of a flat earth in the fifth century B.C., but by the time Lucretius wrote, that idea was alarmingly retrograde, not even to mention his serious consideration of the 'new sun every morning' theory. No progress was possible; to be faithful to Democritus' atomism, Lucretius was obliged to ignore astronomical advances not achieved in-house. It's easy to accuse the later followers of calcifying their supple and adventurous predecessors, but these founders had left no method, thus no foundation upon which to build. Their enterprise stagnated owing to their inattention to epistemology. Socrates was right.

To hear the atheists tell it, the Jews learned 'sky dome' astronomy from the Babylonians. But the Babylonians, so far as is known to historians of science, had not even asked the question. The atheists allege they not only asked, but answered. It was a daring step the Pre-Socratic philosophers took, to make little models of universe, and say, 'See? That's everything there is. It looks like that.' Because that viewpoint comes so easily to us, we assume 'anyone can do it.' That the Babylonians even tried to do it is unknown to the historians of science. That the atheists know so much more than do the historians of science does not inspire confidence. And far from sitting eagerly at the feet of their imagined Babylonian instructors, the Jews could be at times downright critical:

"Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee." (Isaiah 47:13).

If the Jews of the Biblical period were such eager students of Babylonian astronomy, why reject astrology, not yet differentiated into a separate field? Not only were they far from uncritical, you almost pick up a hint at times they didn't even like the Babylonians: "O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones." (Psalm 137:8-9). This approach, of substituting what the Babylonians are imagined to have believed, for what the Bible actually says, is unhelpful. Nor is it clear that even the pagan Babylonians believed what is claimed for them. See: not spangles! Gods, powerful rulers!:

Where do these people come up with the spangles? These people speak with great confidence about a Babylonian world-model, described as follows: "In the old Babylonian cosmography, on which the Biblical view is based, the earth, shaped like a disk, was suspended over the waters of the ocean, while above it was the solid vault of heaven like a ceiling. In this the stars were fixed like lamps to light the earth, and hidden chambers to store up the rain." (Kaufmann Kohler, Jewish Theology, Kindle location 2249). Fortunately, the Babylonians wrote quite a bit about cosmology; however, no such structures are found described in these texts, which are fairly wild, and are not written from the stand-point of an observer outside the system. Partly this never-never land snow globe. . .pardon me, snow disk, world is created by an uninvolved reading of texts written by practical-minded people on the part of people with no practical thoughts in their minds whatever. For example, say you are looking for water: human life on this planet cannot be sustained without it. Where do you look? Up. . .down it comes, in torrents! (sometimes). Or, you could take a shovel and dig; believe it or not, this works a lot of the time. So it is natural to speak of reservoirs above and reservoirs below; both do, really, actually, exist. They try to imagine what these people are talking about, but cannot, because they have never looked for water. With some of these structures, I have to confess, I simply can't find them described where they are supposed to be found. There is no such diagram, no such description. How can they be ported into the Bible, if it can't be demonstrated that even the Babylonians understood what these people are talking about?

Not that the Babylonians didn't have a lot to say on these matters. Though some atheists assure us there's a point-by-point correspondence between the Babylonian world-view and the Bible, it can be maddeningly difficult to find any point of correspondence at all. The Babylonians told a detailed story of the construction of the universe, involving the dismemberment of a deceased lady's corpse. Tiamat, the primeval ocean goddess, was ripped in half, an atrocity of war: "He [Marduk] shot an arrow which pierced her belly, split her down the middle and slit her heart, vanquished her and extinguished her life. He threw down her corpse and stood on top of her." (The Epic of Creation Tablet IV). He then assembled the world as we know it from this lady's dismembered carcass: "He opened the Euphrates and the Tigris from her eyes, closed her nostrils,...He piled up clear-cut mountains from her udder, bored waterholes to drain off the catchwater." (Ibid.) Half of her goes to make the sky, half the earth. Though the text is fragmented, it would appear rain-clouds arise from the deceased lady's spittle: "The spittle of Tiamat...Marduk...He put into groups and made clouds scud. Raising winds, making rain, Making fog billow, by collecting her poison..." (Ibid.) By the way, where is our looked-for metallic 'sky-dome' with trap-doors? Did this lady have body parts made out of metal, like Robo-Cop?

Nor is there only one Babylonian creation myth, but multiple choice. Did the world we see result from the dismemberment of the primeval sea-goddess, Tiamat? Or from a plow breaking the ground: "At the very beginning (?) [Plough married Earth] And they [decided to establish (?)] a family (?) and dominion. 'We shall break up the virgin soil of the land into clods.' In the clods of their virgin soil (?), they created Sea." (Theogony of Dunnu). So in this Babylonian myth, 'Sea' is a creation of the primal progenitors Earth and Plough. There's yet another text which lists Anu the sky-god as creator, earth arising from sky. But the Babylonian creation myths do share one common theme: none mentions any metallic sky dome. So at least on this one point, they do have something in common with the Bible. Given the great variety of ideas expressed on these topics in antiquity, it can't be assumed there is any one paradigm which lies behind all ancient texts. Instead, proof is required. And this remains elusive...

Praise waters above the heavens!

  • “The next thing that he [Moses] informs us is that God divided the waters above the firmament from those below the firmament. The man who wrote that believed the firmament to be a solid affair. And that is what the gods did. . .That is where the gods lived. There is where they kept the water. It was solid. That is the reason the people prayed for rain. They believed that an angel could take a lever, raise a window and let out the desired quantity. I find in the Psalms that 'He bowed the heavens and came down;' and we read that the children of men built a tower to reach the heavens and climb into the abode of the gods. The man who wrote that believed the firmament to be solid. He knew nothing about the laws of evaporation. He did not know that the sun wooed with amorous kiss the waves of the sea, and that, disappointed, their vaporous sighs changed to tears and fell again as rain.”
  • (Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, Lectures of Robert Ingersoll, Lecture on the Mistakes of Moses).

Are there really lecture audiences gullible enough to sit there quietly while being told the Bible teaches angels use levers to open faucets in the sky? Will they also sit still to hear that the Bible teaches thunder and lightning are caused by angels bowling? The 'water-tank' proof-text is Genesis 7:11-12: "In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights."

So what could "windows of heaven" be but port-holes in a metallic sky dome, flung open to let out the rain, right? Well, no. We say the exact same thing when it starts to pour: 'Who opened the flood-gates?', etc. The Bible authors were perfectly well aware rain falls from clouds:

"And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel." (1 Kings 18:45);
"The clouds poured out water: the skies sent out a sound: thine arrows also went abroad." (Psalms 77:17);
"By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew." (Proverbs 3:20);
"If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be." (Ecclesiastes 11:3);
"He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them." (Job 26:8);
"For he maketh small the drops of water: they pour down rain according to the vapour thereof: Which the clouds do drop and distil upon man abundantly." (Job 36:27-28).

The clouds are the heavenly water jars: "Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven..." (Job 38:37). If they knew anything about the theory that rain was supposed to fall through these little trap-doors in the 'sky dome', why did they ascribe rain to the clouds instead? No Bible author ever describes rain falling from a clear blue sky, yet that ought to be possible under the atheists' 'sky dome' theory.

The atheists assure us we cannot do without this 'dome' if we are to have waters above the sky. They envision something like a double-hulled super-tanker, water-logged within, with port-holes underneath letting out the water when it rains, or else something like a bathysphere suspended in a water-bath. Scripture does speak of waters above the sky: "Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created." (Psalm 148:4-5). What are these waters above the sky? Bible-readers agree: it's the clouds!:

"Ge 1:7

"1:7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which [were] {f} under the firmament from the waters which [were] above the firmament: and it was so.
(f) As the sea and rivers, from those waters that are in the clouds, which are upheld by God's power, least they should overwhelm the world." (Geneva Notes).

Is there water above the air? Yes! See those fluffy white things up there. Just look up! There are floating reservoirs drifting through the sky!

"Moses describes the special use of this expanse, 'to divide the waters from the waters'...We see that the clouds suspended in the air, which threaten to fall upon our heads, yet leave us space to breathe...We know, indeed that the rain is naturally produced; but the deluge sufficiently shows how speedily we might be overwhelmed by the bursting of the clouds, unless the cataracts of heaven were closed by the hand of God. Nor does David rashly recount this among His miracles, that God 'layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters,' (Ps. 104:31;) and he elsewhere calls upon the celestial waters to praise God, (Ps. 148:4.) Since, therefore, God has created the clouds, and assigned them a region above us, it ought not to be forgotten that they are restrained by the power of God, lest, gushing forth with sudden violence, they should swallow us up: and especially since no other barrier is opposed to them than the liquid and yielding, air, which would easily give way unless this word prevailed, 'Let there be an expanse between the waters.'" (John Calvin Commentaries).

Every scripture has a natural, literal meaning, beyond which any esoteric readings are to be looked for.  I don't mean to restrict anyone's freedom in finding esoteric senses to these texts, as some like to do, whether physical or spiritual, but scripture must yield meaning to the simple as well as to the subtle.

'Let there be a 'firmament', an 'expansion', so the Hebrew word signifies, like a sheet spread, or a curtain drawn out...The use and design of it -- to 'divide the waters from the waters', that is, to distinguish between the waters that are wrapped up in the clouds and those that cover the sea.  God has, in the firmament of his power, chambers, store-chambers, whence he 'watereth the earth'." (Matthew Henry Commentaries).

Atheists of the world, look up! There are oceans suspended in air above you!

"...Let there be a firmament -- An expansion; so the Hebrew word reaches as high as the place where the stars are fixed, for that is called here the firmament of heaven, Ge 1:14,15, and as low as the place where the birds fly for that also is called the firmament of heaven, Ge 1:20...The design of it; to divide the waters from the waters -- That is, to distinguish between the waters that are wrapt up in the clouds, and those that cover the sea; the waters in the air, and those in the earth." (Wesley Notes).

Philo Judaeus describes a reservoir up there: "In the second place, it was necessary that that which afforded the excessive supply of waters for the deluge, namely, the double reservoir of water, the one from the fountains of the earth, and the other from the pourings forth of heaven, should be both closed, for the more the stores from which any material is supplied fail, the more it is consumed by itself, especially when divine virtue has given the command." (Philo Judaeus, Questions and Answers in Genesis, II, Section 29, Complete Works, Kindle location 32199). Atheists of the world, look up! You have nothing to lose but your illusions!

The ancient agriculturalists lived poised on a knife-edge. Crop failure meant starvation. Growing plants need water; where is it to be found? To answer, 'In Never-Never Land, outside the pretty little Snow Globe,' offers neither comfort nor help. There are two great reservoirs available to the farmer, the waters bound up in the storm clouds above, and the waters below the ground. Those who think there is no such thing as the latter have never dug a well! For practical minded people, these two great oceans are a great blessing.

The waters above the sky are of typological significance in the Bible. God not only wrote the Bible, but made the things talked about there, and none is without meaning. Our world is an illustrative picture-book:

The more gifted among human authors, such as Herman Melville, are capable of writing at multiple levels and imbuing their works with esoteric, as well as an obvious, meaning. God is similarly gifted. At its most basic, literal level, it is a mistake to assume that all references to the 'earth' are written from the standpoint of an observer outside the system, whether he thinks the earth is a globe, dish-shaped or whatever. This is simply not an available viewpoint at that level. It is interesting to see how much meaning sophisticated readers like Hugh Ross can find in the Genesis text; these readers are not necessarily reading into the text or importing foreign material, even though considerable time would inevitably elapse until readers could catch up to the Author's level of insight. However reading into the text an imaginary construct, the 'sky-dome,' believed in by none, shines no light and uncovers no meaning.

Language as She is Spoke

The Bible nowhere teaches that the earth is flat nor that it is covered by an inverted Revere-ware bowl, painted blue. Atheists will sometimes concede that it doesn't teach this: there is no deliberate presentation of any such doctrine. This in itself is odd given that atheists imagine such structures as the 'sky-dome' to be at the heart of the religious enterprise. But they go on to accuse, not any Bible author, but the Hebrew language of flat-earthism.

At this the reader must cry 'foul.' Though it is reasonable to expect a thoughtful writer to choose words carefully, which includes being mindful of their etymologies, it is not reasonable to expect any author, human or divine, to offer a warranty behind the origin each and every word of a language he or she consents to speak. No one ever makes this extravagant demand in any other context, so why is it justified here? Etymologies are always speculative; do you know the history of the English words you use, and will you stand behind them? Adam gave names to the animals, he did not learn their names from God. Gagging God in this way requires Him to introduce a divine Esperanto to His prophets before He can communicate with them, filled with newly coined words of immaculate descent. But how will He teach this new language to His prophets, without using words from the old? So He must use existing languages, all of whose words have a past, perhaps even a sordid past. But all current words have outlived their past, they have faced it down and gone onward; it is not entirely relevant, because words mean what they are used to mean; etymology belongs to history. Most speakers are not even aware of etymology: "We must accept the obvious fact that the speakers of a language simply know next to nothing about its development; and this certainly was the case with the writers and immediate readers of Scripture two millennia ago." (Moises Silva, Biblical Words and Their Meaning, Kindle location 487). Certainly the omniscient God knows what the immediate speakers may or may not know; but why God would be presumed to 'mean' the etymologies when no one else does is unclear.

The word 'firmament' is 'raqiya'. Atheists, going behind God's revelation to the vocabulary of the already existing human language He employed, claim that on its face this word propounds the 'sky-dome' theory. It means something beaten out, as gold into fine gold leaf. This is why the word is often translated 'expanse': "Then God said, 'Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." (Genesis 1:6 NASB). In Biblical meteorology, there is a lower ocean, the surface waters...and an upper ocean, the clouds: "Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb? When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddling-band for it. . ." (Job 38:8-9). God used this already existing word with clear meaning. If anyone asked, 'What is it?,' the speaker could point. The atheists say, language speakers must at some point have believed in a metal sky dome, or otherwise why use such a word? Perhaps to point to the lack of granularity? Who knows?

Nor is it reasonable arbitrarily to rule out otherwise available uses of language. Who propounded the rule that we can use simile and metaphor, but God cannot? One paramount 'dome' proof-text is Job 37:18: "Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?". But we find similar imagery in modern poets. Was Coleridge a flat-earther?: "All in a hot and copper sky, The bloody Sun, at noon, Right up above the mast did stand, No bigger than the Moon." (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner). What I think Coleridge meant by his "copper sky" is the shimmery, scintillating appearance of a blindingly hot day when it is almost hurtful to look at the bright, searing sky, even away from the sun itself. Poets signify this by visualizing the sky itself as a burnished reflector of highly polished metal: a "molten looking glass".

The Bible uses a range of descriptive imagery of the sky, including tents, curtains, fabric scrims, and garments:

"And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree." (Isaiah 34:4);
"Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:..." (Psalms 104:2);
"And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: they shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail." (Hebrews 1:10-12).

So are these 'competing theories': the 'scroll' theory, the 'curtain' theory, and the 'garment' theory? Or just mixed metaphors? None of the apocalyptic authors describe the banging and denting required to trash a metallic dome; had they imagined there to be any such structure, they would have been obliged to bring suitable means to bear to demolish it. Yet there's no mention of taking a wrecking ball to any solid 'sky dome'. Which is hardly surprising; probably they didn't even know it was there...which it isn't.


Flat Earth and the Ptolemaic System

Atheists allege that the early church writers believed in a flat earth. They will even tell you that everyone prior to the voyages of discovery of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan believed the earth was flat. The ancients, all of 'em, were flat-earthers. The modern academy is heavily invested in promoting this Ripley's 'Believe it or Not' conception: "Of course, Herodotus's world is still flat — that notion would stand for another thousand years." (Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People, p. 222).

So they say. But is it so? Did the early church writers believe in a flat earth? Why, then, do some early church authors, like Clement of Alexandria and Origen, employ technical terminology of Ptolemaic astronomy? Believe it or not, the Ptolemaic system features a round earth.

Not only did Claudius Ptolemy, who wrote in second century Alexandria, think the earth was round, he had arguments for a round earth which are downright compelling:

"Now, that also the earth taken as a whole is sensibly spherical, we could most likely think out in this way. For again it is possible to see that the sun and moon and the other stars do not rise and set at the same time for every observer on the earth, but always earlier for those living towards the orient and later for those living towards the occident...And since the differences in the hours is found to be proportional to the distances between the places, one would reasonably suppose the surface of the earth spherical...Again, whenever we sail towards mountains or any high places from whatever angle and in whatever direction, we see their bulk little by little increasing as if they were arising from the sea, whereas before they seemed submerged because of the curvature of the water's surface." (Ptolemy, Almagest, I.4).

Ptolemy's astronomy was not pre-scientific; it had high predictive value. Those church writers who accepted it were doing no more than believing the best secular science of their day. There's certainly room for improvement, as Ptolemy's system is geocentric. But the flat earth of the atheists can't be found therein.

Ptolemy's originality is difficult to gauge, because works by his predecessors have been lost. Aristotle, who does not provide a detailed astronomy, does however describe the earth as spherical:

"Either then the earth is spherical or it is at least naturally spherical...The evidence of the senses further corroborates this. How else would eclipses of the moon show segments shaped as we see them? As it is, the shapes which the moon itself each month shows are of every kind straight, gibbous, and concave -- but in eclipses the outline is always curved: and, since it is the interposition of the earth that makes the eclipse, the form of this line will be caused by the form of the earth's surface, which is therefore spherical. Again, our observations of the stars make it evident, not only that the earth is circular, but also that it is a circle of no great size. For quite a small change of position to south or north causes a manifest alteration of the horizon. There is much change, I mean, in the stars which are overhead, and the stars seen are different, as one moves northward or southward. Indeed there are some stars seen in Egypt and in the neighborhood of Cyprus which are not seen in the northerly regions; and stars, which in the north are never beyond the range of observation, in those regions rise and set." (Aristotle, On the Heavens, Book II, Part 14).

I've provided a copy of Aristotle's On the Heavens in the Thriceholy library, in hopes of combating the persistent misperception that, prior to Copernicus, astronomers believed the earth was flat. The Ptolemaic system is geocentric -- it situates the earth at the center -- but the earth in that system is as round as in any other. Plato also describes a spherical world system:

"...and if a person were to go round the world in a circle, he would often, when standing at the antipodes of his former position, speak of the same point as above and below; for, as I was saying just now, to speak of the whole which is in the form of a globe as having one part above and another below is not like a sensible man." (Plato, Timaeus, 63)

Atlas Bearing the Whole Round World's WeightWho started the trend? It is difficult to say, but Diogenes Laertius names Anaximander (611-546 B.C.) as a round-earther: "He held. . .that the earth, which is of spherical shape, lies in the midst, occupying the place of a centre; that the moon, shining with borrowed light, derives its illumination from the sun. . .He was the first to draw on a map the outline of land and sea, and he constructed a globe as well." (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Volume I, Book II, p. 131, Loeb edition.)

Not all the ancients were geocentrists. The heliocentric hypothesis was formulated in antiquity by, among others, Aristarchus of Samos: "His hypotheses are that the fixed stars and the sun remain unmoved, that the earth revolves about the sun in the circumference of a circle, the sun lying in the middle of the orbit. . ." (Archimedes, The Sand-Reckoner, p. 420, The World of Mathematics, Volume One, James R. Newman). The reasons why the early astronomers rejected the heliocentric hypothesis were not religious but physical. First, there was the lack of stellar parallax: "The earth, then, also, whether it move about the center or as stationary at it, must necessarily move with two motions. But if this were so, there would have to be passings and turnings of the fixed stars. Yet no such thing is observed. The same stars always rise and set in the same parts of the earth. " (Aristotle, On the Heavens, Book II, Part 14).

Passengers on a train watch telephone poles change their configurations respective to one another as the train rolls through the countryside. If the earth is moving through space, why is there no observable change in the configuration of the stars? Ptolemy, too, notes the absence of observable stellar parallax: " all parts of the earth the sizes and angular distances of the stars at the same times appear everywhere equal and alike...By the same can be shown that the earth can neither move in any one of the aforesaid oblique directions, nor ever change at all from its place at the center." (Ptolemy, Almagest I.6-7). Stellar parallax was not observed until the nineteenth century. This, thought Ptolemy, was observational proof against the earth orbiting the sun. To rebut this observational evidence, later astronomers hypothesized immense distance: but is that parsimonious?

What about rotation? If the earth rotates, the ancients wondered, why does a rock thrown upwards land directly beneath the point from which it was thrown? "...for us to grant these things [earth's rotation], they would have to admit that the earth's turning is the swiftest of absolutely all the movements about it because of its making so great a revolution in a short time, so that all those things that were not at rest on the earth would seem to have a movement contrary to it, and never would a cloud be seen to move toward the east nor anything else that flew or was thrown into the air. For the earth would always outstrip them in its eastward motion, so that all other bodies would seem to be left behind and to move towards the west." (Ptolemy, Almagest I.7).

Copernicus bravely meets these objections head on: "Moreover, freely falling bodies would not arrive at the places appointed them, and certainly not along the perpendicular line which they assume so quickly. And we would see clouds and other things floating in the air always borne toward the west. For these and similar reasons they say that the Earth remains at rest at the middle of the world and that there is no doubt about this." His answer: "And things are as when Aeneas said in Virgil: 'We sail out of the harbor, and the land and the cities move away.' As a matter of fact, when a ship floats on over a tranquil sea, all the things outside seem to the voyagers to be moving in a movement which is the image of their own, and they think on the contrary that they themselves and all the things with them are at rest." (Copernicus, Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, I.7-8). It took Galileo's genius to work out this 'ship' analogy in sufficient detail to quiet doubt. It was physics which lagged, not astronomy; no one in antiquity could explain how, on a moving earth, a projectile thrown directly upwards would land at a spot directly beneath where it was thrown.

While various conformations of the earth had been suggested by the earliest astronomers, Pliny reports no ongoing dispute:

"Of the Form of the Earth: Every one agrees that it has the most perfect figure. We always speak of the ball of the earth, and we admit it to be a globe bounded by the poles." (Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, 2.64).

Cicero too speaks of a globe: "Exile is terrible to those who have, as it were, a circumscribed habitation; but not to those who look upon the whole globe, but as one city [qui omnem orbem terrarum unam urbem esse ducunt]." (Complete Works of Cicero, Kindle location 47301, Paradoxes Addressed to Marcus Brutus, Paradox II). As Cicero describes it, the earth is "solid, round, and conglobular: "First, let us examine the earth, whose situation is in the middle of the universe, solid, round, and conglobular by its natural tendency; clothed with flowers, herbs, trees, and fruits; the whole in multitudes incredible, and with a variety suitable to every taste: let us consider the ever-cool and running springs, the clear waters of the rivers, the verdure of their banks, the hollow depths of caves, the cragginess of rocks, the heights of impending mountains, and the boundless extent of plains, the hidden veins of gold and silver, and the infinite quarries of marble."
(Cicero, Marcus Tullius. Delphi Complete Works of Cicero (Delphi Ancient Classics) (Kindle Locations 57559-57563). On the Nature of the God, Book II, Chapter XXXIX).

There were nay-sayers in the early church on the subject of Ptolemaic astronomy, but the Ptolemaic system was generally popular, round earth and all. It would later come to be much beloved by scholastics like Thomas Aquinas. Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin were also fond of it. Galileo's conflict with Roman Catholic authorities over the moving earth of the Copernican system has come, by some confused channel whereby atheist polemic bleeds over into the 'history of science,' to be misunderstood as a dispute over whether the earth is flat or round. There was no such dispute; the scholastics describe a round earth.

The pagan philosopher Pythagoras was a 'round-earther:' ". . .these elements interchange and turn into one another completely, and combine to produce a universe animate, intelligent, spherical, with the earth at its center, the earth itself too being spherical and inhabited round about. There are also antipodes, and our 'down' is their 'up.'" (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Pythagoras, Chapter VIII, p. 343 Loeb). Notice how Justin, and others amongst the earliest Christian apologists, quote with approval 'round earth' astronomy:

  • “And Pythagoras agrees with him when he writes: — 'Should one in boldness say, Lo, I am God! Besides the One — Eternal — Infinite, Then let him from the throne he has usurped put forth his power and form another globe, such as we dwell in, saying, This is mine.'”
  • (Justin on the Sole Government of God, quoting Pythagoras' testimony to the one God, Chapter II).

  • “Beautiful without doubt is the world, excelling, as well in its magnitude as in the arrangement of its parts, both those in the oblique circle and those about the north, and also in its spherical form.”
  • (Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians, Chapter 16).

  • “Lord of the good, Father, of all the Maker, Who heaven and heaven’s adornment, by Thy word Divine fitly disposed, alone didst make; Who broughtest forth the sunshine and the day; Who didst appoint their courses to the stars, And how the earth and sea their place should keep; And when the seasons, in their circling course, Winter and summer, spring and autumn, each Should come, according to well-ordered plan; Out of a confused heap who didst create This ordered sphere, and from the shapeless mass Of matter didst the universe adorn; — Grant to me life, and be that life well spent, Thy grace enjoying;. . .”
  • (Clement of Alexandria, Hymn to the Paedagogus, p. 584, ECF_0.02).

  • “As, when the sun shines above the earth, the shadow is spread over its lower part, because its spherical shape makes it impossible for it to be clasped all round at one and the same time by the rays, and necessarily, on whatever side the sun’s rays may fall on some particular point of the globe, if we follow a straight diameter, we shall find shadow upon the opposite point, and so, continuously, at the opposite end of the direct line of the rays shadow moves round that globe, keeping pace with the sun, so that equally in their turn both the upper half and the under half of the earth are in light and darkness; so, by this analogy, we have reason to be certain that, whatever in our hemisphere is observed to befall the atoms, the same will befall them in that other.”
  • (Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection, p. 860, ECF_2.05).

  • “For they say that the circumference of the world is likened to the turnings of a well-rounded globe, the earth having a central point. For its outline being spherical, it is necessary, they say, since there are the same distances of the parts, that the earth should be the center of the universe, around which, as being older, the heaven is whirling.”
  • (Methodius, Banquet of the Ten Virgins, Discourse 8, Chapter 14).

  • “Thus we might, without self deception, define day as air lighted by the sun, or as the space of time that the sun passes in our hemisphere.”
  • (Basil, Hexaemeron, Homily 6, Section 8, p. 276, ECF_2.08).

  • “For take, saith he, the comparison of ashes to a house, of a house to a city, a city to a province, a province to the Roman Empire, and the Roman Empire to the whole earth and all its bounds, and the whole earth to the heaven in which it is embosomed; — the earth, which bears the same proportion to the heaven as the center to the whole circumference of a wheel, for the earth is no more than this in comparison with the heaven: consider then that this first heaven which is seen is less than the second, and the second than the third, for so far Scripture has named them, not that they are only so many, but because it was expedient for us to know so many only.”
  • (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical  Lectures, Lecture 6, Section 3).

  • “. . .therefore I called Him back as My true and beloved Son from the Egypt whither He descended when He became man, meaning by Egypt this earthly sphere, or possibly Egypt itself.”
  • (Eusebius of Caesarea, Demonstratio Evangelica (The Proof of the Gospel), Book IX, Chapter 4).

  • “The sun and the moon have their settled course. The stars move in no uncertain orbits round this terrestrial globe.”
  • (The Emperor Constantine, quoted in Eusebius, Life of Constantine, Book Two, Chapter 58).

What you hear from the atheists is flat-out wrong: "All the early Fathers naturally believed that the earth was flat." (H. L. Mencken, A Treatise on the Gods, Kindle location 2922). The third-century Christian author Arnobius, debunking the pagan deities, one of whom presided over the 'left hand,' explains why this deity is somewhat beside the point in our spherical world,

"For in the first place, indeed, the world itself has in itself neither right nor left neither upper nor under regions, neither fore nor after parts. For whatever is round, and bounded on every side by the circumference of a solid sphere, has no beginning, no end; where there is no end and beginning, no part can have its own name and form the beginning." (Arnobius, The Seven Books of Arnobius, Book 4, Section 5, p. 891 ECF 0.06).

Later writers offer similar thoughts, taking for granted the rotundity of the world:

“Ye have heard in the Psalm, 'I have seen the end of all perfection. He hath said, I have seen the end of all perfection: what had he seen? Think we, had he ascended to the peak of some very high and pointed mountain, and looked out thence and seen the compass of the earth, and the circles of the round world, and therefore said, 'I have seen the end of all perfection'?” (Augustine, Homily on First John 5:1-3, Ten Homilies on First John, Homily 10.5).

Though Augustine shares Lactantius' dislike for the antipodes, he concedes the rotundity of the earth:

“But they do not remark that, although it be supposed or scientifically demonstrated that the world is of a round and spherical form, yet it does not follow that the other side of the earth is bare of water; nor even, though it be bare, does it immediately follow that it is peopled.” (Augustine, The City of God, Book 16, Chapter 9).

To close with Jerome, on the verge of the medieval period:

“Hardly had she escaped from the hands of the barbarians, hardly had she ceased weeping for the virgins whom they had torn from her arms, when she was overwhelmed by a sudden and unbearable bereavement, one too which she had had no cause to fear, the death of her loving son. Yet as one who was to be grandmother to a Christian virgin, she bore up against this death-dealing stroke, strong in hope of the future and proving true of herself the words of the lyric:
“Should the round world in fragments burst, its fall
May strike the just, may slay, but not appall.” (Jerome, Letters, Letter CXXX, Chapter 7, p. 589, ECF_2_06).

“The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian. [Ingemuit totus orbis, et Arianum se esse miratus est.]” (Jerome, Dialogue Against the Luciferians, Chapter 19).

It is a round world, after all, 'orbis' like the man says, which when you stop to think about it is a peculiar word for flat-earthers to be using for the world; our word 'orb' comes from the Latin orbis.

The atheists visualize a half-dome covering a flat surface and try to find it where they may. The sky above us does seem to convey, by its appearance, a spherical look and feel, though under the Copernican system of astronomy, this can only be an optical illusion. The popularity of domed structures, from the Pantheon forward, is probably related to this conception: "Mankind has built domed structures for over two thousand years and learned to attribute to their geometry very particular psychological properties. As a source of messages the architectural dome is related to the celestial sphere, which can be interpreted as a dome of infinite magnitude covering the whole of humanity. . .No other surface can give the same feeling of protection because the sphere is the only surface that comes down equally all around us. . .The dome sends a complex and ambiguous message, composed of amazement, awe and serenity." (Mario Salvadori, Why Buildings Stand Up, p. 278). Though a domed roof is, of necessity, never a complete sphere, what the people who built these structures were actually thinking of is a little different. The atheists seem strangely oblivious to the persistence, for centuries, of a system of astronomy which featured a whole-dome, or rather a series of nested concentric domes, surrounding the earth. Unknown to them, what was matched with the celestial sphere, fittingly enough, was a rotund, spherical earth.

This system is described, not only in technical literature intended for astronomers, but in popular works addressed to the public at large, both in antiquity and also during the Middle Ages; think of Dante, with his layered (Ptolemaic) universe:


The System Equant
Terrestrial Ball The Talmud
Money in the Bank Poets
Geography Dark Ages

  • “But nothing on earth is elevated so high that even the greatest of objects should be any appreciable portion in comparison with the whole universe. Were this not so, we should not be in the habit of saying that the whole earth is a ball. The distinctive mark of a ball is a certain uniform rotundity, much the same as the uniformity seen in a football or cricket ball. The seams and chinks constitute no great objection to the ball being described as symmetrical on all sides. As in a playing ball, those spaces do not in any way prevent the appearance of roundness, no more, in the earth at large regarded as a sphere, do lofty mountains, whose height is lost in a comparison with the whole world.”

  • (Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. (Natural Questions, Book IV, Chapter XI) Delphi Complete Works of Seneca the Younger (Kindle Locations 26126-26130))


There are always those who zig while others zag. Realizing that there are flat-earthers of the present day, such as Kyrie Irving, it can come as no surprise to learn there were such, even in antiquity.


Such was Lactantius, a Christian flat-earther of the fourth century. His issue was the antipodes. How is it that people in Australia walk around upside-down? Flerfers today wonder the same thing:

"How is it with those who imagine that there are antipodes opposite to our footsteps? Do they say anything to the purpose? Or is there any one so senseless as to believe that there are men whose footsteps are higher than their heads? or that the things which with us are in a recumbent position, with them hang in an inverted direction? that the crops and trees grow downwards? that the rains, and snow, and hail fall upwards to the earth? And does any one wonder that hanging gardens are mentioned among the seven wonders of the world, when philosophers make hanging fields, and seas, and cities, and mountains? The origin of this error must also be set forth by us. For they are always deceived in the same manner. For when they have assumed anything false in the commencement of their investigations, led by the resemblance of the truth, they necessarily fall into those things which are its consequences. Thus they fall into many ridiculous things; because those things which are in agreement with false things, must themselves be false. But since they placed confidence in the first, they do not consider the character of those things which follow, but defend them in every way; whereas they ought to judge from those which follow, whether the first are true or false." (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, Book III, Chapter XXXIII - XXXIV.)
Flat Earth system of Cosmas Indicopleustes
Flat Earth System of Cosmas Indicopleustes

Cosmas Indicopleustes

Our next contrarian was more ambitious. Cosmas Indicopleustes was a world traveler and explorer of the sixth century A.D. who may have made it as far as the Southern hemisphere; or if he didn't, he knew people who had, "For the sources of the river Nile lie somewhere in these parts, and in winter, on account of the heavy rains, the numerous rivers which they generate obstruct the path of the traveller. The people there have their winter at the time we have our summer." (Cosmas Indicopleustes, Christian Topography, Book II, p. 53). He travelled to regions as remote as India in pursuit of merchandise to trade in the Byzantine emporiums. He says he went to 'Axiomis' in Africa: ". . .and next from what we ourselves saw with our own eyes in the parts of Axomis in Ethiopia." (Cosmas Indicopleustes, Christian Topography, Book VI, p. 245). How could travel disprove an astronomical system? Well, certain of the astronomers had made testable claims about certain regions of the earth as we will see in a moment.

While Cosmas had a bit of Columbus and Magellan in him, unfortunately he also had a touch of Kyrie Irving. In his treatise on geography he describes a flat-earth system, which he defended in part on rational and empirical grounds based on his own experiences as a mariner. We discover, from the marvels of atheist historiography, that Cosmas' system was adopted by the church, so that any who dissented and said the earth was round were labelled as heretics:

Flat Earth System of Cosmas Indicopleustes

  • “He [Cosmas] also declared that the earth was flat. This he proved by many passages from the Bible. Among other reasons for believing the earth to be flat, he brought forward the following: We are told in the New Testament that Christ shall come again in glory and power, and all the world shall see him. Now, if the world is round, how are the people on the other side going to see Christ when he comes? That settled the question, and the church not only endorsed the book, but declared that whoever believed less or more than stated by Cosmas, was a heretic.”

  • (Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, The Ghosts, 1878. )

This idea is baloney, as I hope the reader has come to realize. The Bible neither teaches flat-earthism, nor was this concept ever adopted by the church and  made the basis of declaring people who dissented from it to be heretics. This is a made-up fable, and if gross falsehood like this is what it takes to put atheism across, then atheism can safely be discarded without regret right now. Or if the Bible does teach flat-earthism, where? According to Cosmas, right here:

"Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly [κοσμικον] sanctuary." (Hebrews 9:1).

So where does the Bible say the earth is flat? Why, right there! It talks about the tabernacle as a "worldly" sanctuary, patterned after the heavenly one. What does that mean? That means that the fold-up tabernacle Moses was instructed to make must be a carbon copy of the system of the heavens! Oh, and it's got a flat table in it! Really, that's it? Why do all the 'flat-earth' verses of the Bible need to be accompanied by so much hand-waving before anyone can see the point?



John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom was a brilliant and highly regarded orator who did not believe in the Ptolemaic system with its revolving spheres: "For this difference too was manifest: but the Apostle thinks of another also, 'which  (he says) 'the Lord pitched [or "made firm"] and not man.' Where are they who say that the heaven whirls around? where are they who declare that it is spherical? for both of these notions are overthrown here." (John Chrysostom, Homily 14, Hebrews 8:1, 2, Section 1, Volume 14, p. 932). We, too, do not believe that the heavens are either spherical or whirl around, but it's not clear where he's going with this. If John is indeed a flat-earther, it's hard to find in his work any direct statement to that effect. Plainly, however, he is not an enthusiast for Ptolemy's nested-shell astronomy either.

Against these dissenters are arrayed the vast majority of Christians whose views we can discover. It is unfair to blame the early Christians for accepting the Ptolemaic system, realizing it was the dominant secular astronomy of the day. It is even more unfair to pretend that, because we can name two actual flat-earthers of that early period, flat-earthism was secretly and unascertainably the dominant view! Yet so the atheists insist; they even claim that the bishops of Rome, as late as the voyages of discovery, found themselves embarrassed by the journeys of Columbus, Vasco de Gama, and Magellan, because,

"The political consequences that at once ensued placed the Papal Government in a position of great embarrassment. Its traditions and policy forbade it to admit any other than the flat figure of the earth, as revealed in the Scriptures. Concealment of the facts was impossible, sophistry was unavailing." (John William Draper, History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, p. 156).

Are the historical discoveries made by John William Draper and Andrew D. White in the nienteenth century defensible? Did the church really abandon ancient astronomy in favor of flat-earthism?:

Cosmas Indicopleustes
John Chrysostom
Mohammed ibn Abdallah
Book of Enoch
Pope Zachary
Flat Earthism Today

Novelist Washington Irving is sometimes blamed for sending everyone off onto this dead-end in the study of the history of astronomy. However, in fairness to this writer, he was understood to be writing historical fiction. He does present Columbus disputing with flat-earthers:

"To his [Columbus'] simplest proposition, the spherical form of the earth, were opposed figurative texts of scripture. They observed, that in the Psalms, the heavens are said to be extended like a hide; that is, according to commentators, the curtain, or covering of a tent, which, among the ancient pastoral nations, was formed of the hides of animals; and that St. Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews, compares the heavens to a tabernacle, or tent, extended over the earth, which they thence inferred must be flat. Columbus, who was a devoutly religious man, found that he was in danger ofbeing convicted, not merely of error, but of heterodoxy." (Washington Irving, The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, Volume I).

He does not present a Columbus who encounters only flat-earthers, though; he is no Robert Ingersoll. He is presenting Cosmas Indicopleustes' case with the 'tabernacle;' it is the table in the tabernacle which is flat, and thus, it is inferred, the earth. In any case, the dominant view of the church in the day was Ptolemaic round-earthism. That is what all the Christian universities of the west taught. Just so you know, the bishop of Rome from time to time issues a proclamation, addressed to Urbi et Orbi, meaning, the city and the world. They've issued these addresses since the thirteenth century. 'Urbi' means 'city,' of course, and 'orbi,' from 'orbis,' means world, because. . .

Cross and Globe

So who won the debate? One way of getting at the answer is to look at that familiar fixture of Christian iconography, the orb with cross stuck on top. Procopius describes a statue of the Emperor Justinian holding this appliance:

"Upon this horse sits a colossal brass figure of the Emperor, habited as Achilles, for so his costume is called; he wears hunting-shoes, and his ankles are not covered by his greaves. . .He looks towards the east, directing his course, I imagine, against the Persians; in his left hand he holds a globe, by which the sculptor signifies that all lands and seas are subject to him. He holds no sword or spear, or any other weapon, but a cross stands upon the globe, through which he has obtained his empire and victory in war; he stretches forward his right hand towards the east. . ." (Procopius, The Buildings of Justinian, Book I, Chapter II, The Complete Procopius Anthology, Kindle location 9968).

If these people thought the earth was flat, why would a globe convey to their minds the idea "that all lands and seas are subject to him"? Shouldn't it be something more like a pie-plate? Or rather a rectangle (the flat-earth interpreters have not made up their minds to settle on one model)? Here the imagery is taken up into heaven:

Limbourg Brothers, illumination prepared for John, Duke of Berry

What are artists thinking who take it upon themselves to portray the Holy Trinity, to sketch the living God! More to our topic here, what is that round object held between the first and second persons of the Trinity? It's the world, incorporating not only a round earth, but also the circumambient heavens. Why would a sphere appeal to flat-earthers as a fit symbol for their world system? Why wouldn't they prefer something like a covered pie-plate?

The artists who prepared these images were not aiming for snap-shots from life. They are not explicating a cosmological system of two very large guys with the world-ball rolling around on the floor between them. Still a symbol must be apt, and a sphere is not the most obvious choice to represent a flat earth.

Thrice Holy Radio!

People who pay attention to the British monarchy have encountered this orb, it's mentioned in the coronation service: "Receive this orb set under the cross, and remember that the whole world is subject to the power and empire of Christ our redeemer." (quoted in Michael F. Bird, Word From the Bird, October 5, 2022).

Error begets error. Once modern experts had ascertained that Christianity brought with it flat-earthism, how to explain all those balls with crosses stuck into them lying around? Why they are UFOs, of course. This image, by Bonaventura Salimbeni, is perceived by the most up-to-date atheists as a depiction of a Sputnik type craft. The mahlsticks manipulated by Father and Son are control rods, they explain. Check it out on the internet!:

Bonaventura Salimbeni, 'Glorification of the Eucharist.'

The persistence of the ball with the cross as a symbol of the universe implies the persistence of the world view upon which that imagery is premised.

Red Icon, Holy Trinity

The sweetest of these 'orb' pictures is Albrecht Durer's image of the Christ child holding the orb of the world in His hands:

Albrecht Durer, Christ Child Holding the Orb of the World

It is one thing when the Lord is depicted as holding the world in His hands, certainly it is not too heavy for him; but what about Caesars who use the same lingo to describe their task? Ammianus Marcellinus, a historian of late antiquity, seems to take offense at Constantius, who called himself the ruler of the whole world:

"And Constantius being exceedingly elated at the exquisite taste of this adulation, and thinking that he himself for the future should be free from all the ordinary inconveniences of mortality, now began to depart from the path of justice so evidently that he even at times laid claim to immortality; and in writing letters with his own hand, would style himself lord of the whole world [orbus totius se dominum appellaret]; a thing which, if others had said, any one ought to have been indignant at, who laboured with proper diligence to form his life and habits in emulation of the constitutional princes who had preceded him, as he professed to do.
"For even if he had under his power the infinities of worlds fancied by Democritus, as Alexander the Great, under the promptings of Anaxarchus, did fancy, yet either by reading, or by hearing others speak, he might have considered that (as mathematicians unanimously agree) the circumference of the whole earth, immense as it seems to us, is nevertheless not bigger than a pin’s point as compared with the greatness of the universe."

(History of Rome, Book XV, Chapter 1, Sections 3-4, Marcellinus, Ammianus. Delphi Complete Works of Ammianus Marcellinus (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 60) (Kindle Locations 983-991).)

One of the most notorious of these 'whole world' references occurs in the Bible, where some people find it an offense against inerrancy:

John II Comnenus

What about the Book of Enoch?

In defense of the 'sky dome' theory, atheists advance the pseudepigraphical Book of Enoch, held in high esteem by the Ethiopian Coptic Church, though not generally received as scripture by Jews or Christians. But the Book of Enoch, while including a flat earth astronomy, does not feature a solid sky dome! 'Enoch' describes, not the atheists' metallic hemisphere, but a big-top canopy, inflated by wind. This canopy is no more than a back-drop for the author's free-range astronomy: "And I saw how the winds stretch out the vaults of heaven, and have their station between heaven and earth: these are the pillars of the heaven." (Book of Enoch, 18:3). The astronomical actors lawfully proceed across this back-drop; they are not carried inertly. The author of Enoch may have picked this idea up from hints dropped in scripture:

"Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?" (Job 38:31-33).

The Bible emphasizes that God created the stars: "Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name:..." (Amos 5:8). The prophets were downgrading the stars from the divine status afforded them by their star-struck neighbors.

In the apocryphal Jewish writings one finds astronomical ideas at the farthest possible remove from inert spangles carried about by a 'sky dome': that is to say, the idea that the stars are animate, obeying their commands with intelligence and dispatch: "He that sendeth forth light, and it goeth, calleth it again, and it obeyeth him with fear. The stars shined in their watches, and rejoiced: when he calleth them, they say, Here we be; and so with cheerfulness they showed light unto him that made them." (Baruch 3:33-34). The 'cheerful' stars do as they're told: "For sun, moon, and stars, being bright and sent to do their offices, are obedient." (Baruch 6:60). The concept of 'law' or 'Torah' so impressed these writers they visualized the whole, wide world obeying God's commands, promptly and voluntarily. Thus was born the concept of 'natural law', which would have struck pagan Greek ears as an oxymoron, like 'hot ice'. Isaac Newton would later notice the same themes in scripture as did these authors.

Canonical scripture speaks of planets 'wandering' in the 'blackness' of space: "Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars ['asteres planetai'], to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever." (Jude 1:13). The Greeks so called the 'planets' as they observed them 'wandering' across the sky in their orbits. Some astronomical ideas found in 'Enoch' do seem to take their origin from Bible books like Job, namely the description of nature as the performance of law-abiding but free actors. Thankfully 'Enoch's' flat earth is not scriptural; that is his own contribution. Even 'Enoch's' erroneous astronomy does not incorporate the 'sky dome' described by the atheists, which remains elusive.

  • “For instance, nothing is more clear in the Bible than that Joshua, and perhaps also the author who wrote his history, thought that the sun revolves round the earth, and that the earth is fixed, and further that the sun for a certain period remained still. Many, who will not admit any movement in the heavenly bodies, explain away the passage till it seems to mean something quite different; others, who have learned to philosophize more correctly, and understand that the earth moves while the sun is still, or at any rate does not revolve round the earth, try with all their might to wrest this meaning from Scripture, though plainly nothing of the sort is intended. Such quibblers excite my wonder!”
  • (Benedict de Spinoza, A Theologico-Political Treatise, Part I, Chapter II, Section 68-70).

Joshua at Gibeon

The Bible uses phenomenological language to describe the visible transit of the sun, as do most folks to this day. From our perspective, it moves. We speak of the sun rising and setting. The only way to find error in our way of speaking is to impose a different frame of reference: "We say, for example, that the sun rises and sets. And we are right, because we are simply describing what we see." (Vern S. Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview, Kindle location 580). If Joshua's miracle were reprised today, witnesses noticing the sun get 'stuck' at noon would express themselves much the same way: 'Look, it's not moving!' "And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day." (Joshua 10:13).

Atheists respond to Joshua's miracle with the triumphant boast that Egyptian astronomical records contain no description of any such event. But how do they know they don't, when these records are not extant? Truth to tell, Egyptian chroniclers 'noticed' an awful lot of stuff that is unlikely to have happened: "Thus far I have spoken on the authority of the Egyptians and their priests...The sun, however, had within this period of time, on four several occasions, moved from his wonted course, twice rising where he now sets, and twice setting where he now rises. Egypt was in no degree affected by these changes..." (Herodotus, History, Book II).

Galileo made the case that Joshua' miracle, far from constituting proof of the Ptolemaic system, was actually easier under the Copernican scheme. This is because stopping the sun from its own proper movement, in the earlier system, wouldn't result in the sun standing still at all: "Now let us consider the extent to which it is true that the famous passage in Joshua may be accepted without altering the literal meaning of its words, and under what conditions the day might be greatly lengthened by obedience of the sun to Joshua's command that it stand still. If the celestial motions are taken according to the Ptolemaic system, this could never happen at all. For the movement of the sun through the ecliptic is from west to east, and hence it is opposite to the movement of the primum mobile, which in that system causes day and night. Therefore it is obvious that if the sun should cease its own proper motion, the day would become shorter, and not longer. The way to lengthen the day would be to speed up the sun's proper motion; and to cause the sun to remain above the horizon for some time in one place without declining towards the west, it would be necessary to hasten this motion until it was equal to that of the primum mobile...But I wish to consider next whether this very event may not be understood more consistently with what we read in the Book of Joshua in terms of the Copernican system..." I omit Galileo's lengthy and curious theorizing about how this miracle was wrought; interested readers can find it in his 'Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina'.

Another interpretation one sometimes hears is the 'psychological' one: the site of the miracle was not astronomical space but human psychology, time slowed down in their perception of it, not 'out there' in space. Some people go further and 'allegorize' Joshua's miracle: "Jewish commentators of the Talmud, even as early as the Middle Ages, have read this passage allegorically, recognizing that for the sun and moon to actually stop their motions would require an extraordinary miracle, one that would fundamentally break the laws of physics, and that therefore this could not have happened. What is described here is a metaphor: the 'stopped' sun and moon serve as a literary device to give the reader an idea about an exaggeratedly long battle." (Amir D. Aczel, Why Science Does Not Disprove God, p. 21). Of course it was an "extraordinary miracle"!

Another atheist complaint is that stopping the earth's rotation would produce catastrophe:The idea here is that, though God might well have the power to stop the world turning, He would have to stand by helplessly to watch as bad consequences followed therefrom. But if God can stop the earth's rotation, He can also suppress whatever undesirable results might follow. It is unclear why God, who spoke the worlds into being, is limited in His sphere of action to affecting objects two or three feet in diameter.

  • “The man who wrote that thought the sun was two or three feet in diameter, and could be stopped and pulled around like the sun and moon in a theatre. Do you know that the sun throws out every second of time as much heat as could be generated by burning eleven thousand millions tons of coal? I don't believe he knew that, or that he knew the motion of the earth. I don't believe he knew that it was turning on its axis at the rate of a thousand miles an hour, because if he did, he would have understood the immensity of heat that would have been generated by stopping the world. It has been calculated by one of the best mathematicians and astronomers that to stop the world would cause as much heat as it would take to burn a lump of solid coal three times as big as the globe.”
  • (Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, Lectures of Robert Ingersoll, Lecture on the Mistakes of Moses).

The Center The Magnificat
Pagan Philosophy Galileo's Crime
The Stable Earth The Moving Sun
Tycho Brahe Pagan Religion


Land of Milk and Honey

  • “ Where were these people going? They were going to the Holy Land. How large was it? Twelve thousand square miles—one-fifth the size of Illinois—a frightful country, covered with rocks and desolation. There never was a land agent in the city of Chicago that would not have blushed with shame to have described that land as flowing with milk and honey.”
  • (Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, Lectures of Robert Ingersoll, Lecture on the Mistakes of Moses).

The LORD promised to lead Israel to a land flowing with milk and honey:

"Therefore you shall keep every commandment which I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land which you cross over to possess, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the LORD swore to give your fathers, to them and their descendants, 'a land flowing with milk and honey.' For the land which you go to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden; but the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year." (Deuteronomy 11:8-12).

The LORD specifically promises that, unlike in Egypt where farmers had to water their crops by drawing water from the Nile with mechanical, foot-pedaled contrivances, the Land of Promise will not require irrigation. At this point, skeptics guffaw. Aren't these the kind of of inflated claims one finds in a real estate brochure? Does the hard-scrabble, dry land that's there now live up to this glowing prose?

But was it always like that? Not only do the Biblical descriptions of the Holy Land seem overly kind, so do the nature descriptions of ancient literature in general. Taking ancient literature as travel guide, you'd scarcely recognize the blooming gardens the ancients rhapsodized over in the stark deserts of today. Where gardens bloomed are now barren wastelands.

What happened? This entire part of the world has undergone a process of desertification resulting from human activities. They cut down the forests and drained the wetlands. The result was as an ancient dust bowl. Is it a desert because it doesn't rain, or does it not rain because it's a desert? Both; there's a feed-back mechanism. Changing the albedo of the land can actually impact the amount of rain that falls. Once you cut down the forests and over-graze the land, it won't rain, nothing will grow...and it won't rain.

They cut down the forests, for timber and fuel. Homer could recall a time when lion attacks were an occupational hazard of Greek livestock-tending: "When she had thus spoken, the goddess, flashing-eyed Athene, departed, and the son of Tydeus returned again and mingled with the foremost verily did fury thrice so great lay hold upon him, even as upon a lion that a shepherd in the field, guarding his fleecy sheep, hath wounded as he leapt over the wall of the sheep-fold, but hath not vanquished; his might hath he roused, but thereafter maketh no more defence, but slinketh amid the farm buildings, and the flock all unprotected is driven in rout, and the sheep are strewn in heaps, each hard by each, but the lion in his fury leapeth forth from the high fold; even in such fury did mighty Diomedes mingle with the Trojans." (Homer, Iliad, 5.134-140); "Even as a lion leapeth among the kine and breaketh the neck of a heifer or a cow as they graze in a woodland pasture, so did Tydeus' son thrust both these in evil wise from their car, sorely against their will..." (Homer, Iliad, 5.160-165). There aren't any lions roaming the 'woodland pastures' of contemporary Greece; they've gone, along with said 'woodland pastures'.

After they'd cut the forests, the top-soil was washed from the mountains, leaving barren rock, habitat for none but bees: "And, just as happens in small islands, what now remains compared with what then existed is like the skeleton of a sick man, all the fat and soft earth having wasted away, and only the bare framework of the land being left. But at that epoch the country was unimpaired, and for its mountains it had high arable hills, and in place of the 'moorlands,' as they are now called, it contained plains full of rich soil; and it had much forestland in its mountains, of which there are visible signs even to this day; for there are some mountains which now have nothing but food for bees, but they had trees no very long time ago, and the rafters from those felled there to roof the largest buildings are still sound. And besides, there were many lofty trees of cultivated species; and it produced boundless pasturage for flocks. Moreover, it was enriched by the yearly rains from Zeus, which were not lost to it, as now, by flowing from the bare land into the sea; but the soil it had was deep, and therein it received the water, storing it up in the retentive loamy soil and by drawing off into the hollows from the heights the water that was there absorbed, it provided all the various districts with abundant supplies of springwaters and streams, whereof the shrines which still remain even now, at the spots where the fountains formerly existed, are signs which testify that our present description of the land is true." (Plato, Critias, 111b-d).

The wetlands, once extensive, grew smaller: "In his time all of Egypt except the Thebaic district was a marsh: all the country that we now see was then covered by water, north of lake Moeris, which is seven days' journey up the river from the sea." (Herodotus, Histories, 2.4.3). As nature extended the delta of the Nile out into the Mediterranean by depositing sediment, human industry met her halfway and the wetlands shrank: "The old swamps which once must have rendered the regions of the northern Delta a vast morass, have been gradually filled up, and the fringe of marshes pushed further out. They undoubtedly occupied in antiquity a much large proportion of the Delta than they do now." (James H. Breasted, A History of Egypt, Kindle location 147). Even discounting Herodotus' penchant for exaggeration, record exists of extensive swamp reclamation projects throughout the ancient world. This was done for two reason: a.) to gain arable land, and b.) as a public health measure: without being able to trace the agent, the ancients were aware of a causal nexus between swamps and malaria: "As a result of heavy rains in the previous winter the ground had become soaked with water, and many low-lying regions, having received a vast amount of water, turned into shallow pools and held stagnant water, very much as marshy regions do; and when these waters became warm in the summer and grew putrid, thick foul vapors were formed, which, rising up in fumes, corrupted the surrounding air, the very thing which may be seen taking place in marshy grounds which are by nature pestilential." (Diodorus Historical Library 12.58.3 (Loeb) [12.58.3]). There is indeed a causal link, though it runs through insect life, not "thick foul vapors."

If you ever want a lesson in how not to conserve the environment, look to classical antiquity. The reduction of the wetlands, deforestation and other damaging land uses like over-grazing by goats likely played a role in the changing climate and topography which brought about the current aridity of the holy land. The ancient world gives an object lesson in how to foul one's own nest. Even though the Romans realized channelling drinking water in lead pipes was unhealthful, as documented in Vitruvius' Architecture, they still did it. Moreover, they used red lead as a spice and employed lead-lined cooking vessels for reducing flavorings. Not to mention that women used white lead as a cosmetic! Ovid, in his Art of Beauty, gives a recipe for foundation: "Of these take six pounds each and grind the whole in the mill. Add thereto white lead and the scum of ruddy nitre and Illyrian iris, which must be kneaded by young and sturdy arms." (Ovid, The Art of Beauty, Delphi Complete Works of Ovid (Delphi Ancient Classics) (Kindle Locations 7453-7454). I guess you could almost say, those whom the gods would destroy, they first poison with lead...

Interestingly enough, God tried to warn them. God encouraged proper soil conservation methods, including letting the land lie fallow every seventh year: "Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land." (Leviticus 25:3-5).

The land would enjoy its rest, with or without their cooperation: "Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall rest -- for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it...The land also shall be left empty by them, and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them; they will accept their guilt, because they despised My judgments and because their soul abhorred My statutes." (Leviticus 26:34-43).

In the event, it was without: "And those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years." (2 Chronicles 36:20-21).

The parched, arid land that we see throughout the Mideast today is not what was there when Moses led the children of Israel to the promised land: "The Mideast and Mediterranean were not always the degraded landscape that they appear today. In ancient times much of this area was a lush mosaic of wooded hills and fertile valleys. Thousands of years of deforestation, overgrazing, erosion, and valley siltation converted this heartland of western civilization into the relatively dry, barren, infertile landscape that predominates today." (Jared Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee, p. 333).

Michael Servetus, the anti-Trinity heretic burned at the stake in John Calvin's Geneva, in his prior career as a publisher had put out an edition of Ptolemy's Geography which received scrutiny from his inquisitors. A note in his edition of Ptolemy raised the old skeptic's chant, that Palestine is a desert, not a land flowing with milk and honey. In his defense, however, this note was not first penned by himself; it was taken over from an earlier edition. The error lies in assuming, that if the holy land is now a desert, so it must always have been. It was not. Human activity made it so, within human memory: "As long as the service of the Temple existed, the world was blessed for the sake of its inhabitants, and the rain came down in due season, as it is written [Deut. xi. 13, 14]: 'I love the Lord your God, and to serve him. . .that I will send rain for your land in due season.' But when the service of the Temple ceased, the inhabitants were not blessed, and the rain did not come down in due time, as it is written [ibid., ibid. 16]: 'Take heed to yourselves that your heart be not deceived. . . .and he will shut up the heavens that there be no rain.'" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume 9, Tract Aboth, Chapter I, Kindle location 37058). So up until 70 A.D., it rained, but then it didn't:

One piece of evidence that the ancient Mediterranean world as a whole was substantially wetter and greener than now is offered by the Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy, who says it used to rain in Alexandria, which it doesn't much now:

"This most acute observer of the skies, however, reported patterns of local weather in Alexandria that have struck many subsequent readers as embarrassingly unlikely. On Ptolemy’s testimony, it rained in Roman Alexandria every month of the year but August. Today there is about one day of rain from May to September, inclusive. This could not be a chance difference. Ptolemy’s observations imply different atmospheric and hydrological circumstances in the southeast Mediterranean."

(Harper, Kyle. The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire (The Princeton History of the Ancient World) (Kindle Locations 825-828). Princeton University Press.).

To be sure the people of God are not ultimately searching for a city below,

"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them." (Hebrews 11:13-16).

But the place below to which they were conducted, "a land flowing with milk and honey," (Exodus 3:8), was not then in the degraded condition to which it would later be reduced. This atheist quibble is anachronistic.

When Mohammed ibn Abdallah wrote the Koran in the seventh century A.D., it was already apparent that the near east had once supported a greater population. Ruined cities lay visible to the eye of the traveller in the midst of a now uninhabited wasteland:

"And how many cities which had been ungodly, and whose roofs are now laid low in ruin, have We destroyed! And wells have been abandoned and lofty castles! Have they not journeyed through the land? Have they not hearts to understand with, or ears to hear with?" (Sura 22:44-45).
"Have they never journeyed through the land, and seen what hath been the end of those who were before them? Mightier were they than these in strength; and they broke up the land, and dwelt in it in greater numbers than they who dwell there now; and their apostles came to them with proofs of their mission: and it was not God who would wrong them, but they wronged themselves." (Sura 30:8).
"Have they never journeyed in the land and seen what hath been the end of those who flourished before them, though mightier in strength than they?" (Sura 35:43).
"Have they never journeyed in this land, and seen what hath been the end of those who flourished before them? Mightier were they in strength than these Meccans, and their traces remain in the land." (Sura 40:22).
"Have they not journeyed in this land, and seen what hath been the end of those who flourished before them? More were they than these in number and mightier in strength, and greater are the traces of their power remaining in the land: yet their labors availed them nothing." (Sura 40:82).

They could see what was happening, but didn't quite know what to do about it. They were doing it themselves, with overgrazing, deforestation, and swamp drainage. The ancient world, once a garden, became less and less productive, and ultimately farms and fields went over to desert, a fit home for the Arabs who knew how to live in such places. The atheists should drop this slur against God's generosity, if only because these unwelcome climate changes might well have been averted if the people had followed instructions.

There's an old joke where a man is applying for a job as a lumber-jack. When asked what his prior experience in the field is, i.e., where has he done timber harvesting before, he replies, 'The Sahara.'  'What?' asked the startled interviewer. 'The Sahara is a desert!' 'Oh, yeah, now,' replies the man. Whether this apocryphal lumber-jack had anything to do with it or not, the Sahara is not what it used to be. Viewed from above, ancient rivers and water-courses can be made out. Nor was this back before there were any people around; people lived there when it was a verdant garden. They don't now. Every year the Sahara expands, because people allow goats to over-graze. How long have we been doing this?

Even without human habitation, there is a tendency for deserts to form on the leeward side of mountain ranges. The mountains wring out the water passing over, contained in the moisture-laden sea breezes, and there must have been some desert region in the 'shade' of the Atlas mountains. But it wouldn't have been continent-wide. The places where we've been: the Sahara, Arabia, Egypt, the Fertile Crescent: show a marked tendency toward desertification after we've been there for a while. Just saying. The same seems to be true of the Holy Land, which is today less of a land of milk and honey than it once was.


Ancient Error

To readers like Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, it is self-evident that the Bible, as the production of primitive men, must be filled with error. From Colonel Ingersoll's perspective, religion arose in the first instance in order to explain troubling meteorological phenomena:

"Man, in his ignorance, supposed that all phenomena were produced by some intelligent powers, and with direct reference to him. To preserve friendly relations with these powers was, and still is, the object of all religions. . .The lightning and thunder terrified him. In the presence of the volcano he sank upon his knees. The great forests filled with wild and ferocious beasts, the monstrous serpents crawling in mysterious depths, the boundless sea, the flaming comets, the sinister eclipses, the awful calmness of the stars, and more than all, the perpetual presence of death, convinced him that he was the sport and prey of unseen and malignant powers." (Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, Lectures of Robert Ingersoll, Lecture On Gods).

Religion, in short, is bad science; it does not address questions people still ask, like 'Why are we here? How should we live?,' but only questions like 'Why does it thunder?' (Answer: angels bowling.) Since religion is all about meteorology and cosmology, the Bible must be filled with this sort of information, and of course it must be wrong. How could primitive men have gotten it right? Colonel Ingersoll is so sure this information is there, he 'finds' it where others cannot.

Coming at the subject-matter from the diametrically opposed view is the believer, who expects scripture to be God-breathed: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:. . ." (2 Timothy 3:16). This reader comes to the Bible without Colonel Ingersoll's expectations: he is not looking to find bad science, but good salvation doctrine. For this reader, something more is required to 'find' the 'sky-dome' theory than bald assertion.

Not only is the believer deservedly skeptical of this theory, I rather doubt even the pagans ever believed in this creative modern scheme, a 'just-so' story whose implausibility is its chief selling point. The 'sky-dome' theory as presented by modern atheists is a synthesis of ideas present in antiquity, like flat-earthism, with ideas, like reductive materialism, popular with today's atheists, but seldom found in antiquity. What you find when you encounter bona fide flat-earthers, like the Greek poet Homer and possibly the seventh-century Arab chieftain Mohammed ibn Abdallah, is not elaborate theorizing about the relation and conformance of the various parts of the world-system. It is the strangest kind of anachronism to suppose that, because we have those things, flat-earthers must have had them too. But even the idea of a heavy sky, prone to mishap, did occur to some, though not all the ancients; consider the popular Latin saying, 'fiat justitia, ruat caelum:' let justice be done, though the heavens fall! Is it found also in the Koran?:

It would be helpful if 'sky-dome' advocates could find their theory taught or described somewhere in whole, so that it could be found by the unbiased inquirer without their eager assistance. Could the Koran be the looked-for place?

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