Entering the Flat Earth Theory Controversy

Strebe, Azimuthal equidistant projection SW, CC BY-SA 3.0

STATEMENT by T Mark Hightower


Within the last 2 weeks or so I have started getting into researching this flat earth theory that has become so popular in the last few years on the web by starting to do some of my own research.  So far I have found strong evidence in favor of the spherical earth theory that relates to the spherical earth model being able to explain accurate navigation and land surveying in the real world whereas the flat earth model fails miserably in this regard.  Notice that I am not making a dogmatic pronouncement that “the earth is a sphere” based on my findings so far.  I simply want to report on the results of my analyses and experiments, and will continue to do so in the future, regardless of which side of the argument they support.

Most flat earth theory advocates have been using the azimuthal equidistant (AE) map as their flat earth map for a long time.  But I have just recently learned that when you start pointing out to them problems with it, they will say that it is not right and that they are still working on getting an accurate flat earth map.  What I say to that is that if you do not have a flat earth map, then your flat earth theory is not even a scientific theory, because it is not falsifiable.  You can’t run tests to verify the model because you do not even know what the model is.

But using the azimuthal equidistant (AE) map as the flat earth map it is very easy to show its discrepancies with many examples.  I will offer two.

Basically what you do is calculate distances between well established geographical locations on both the spherical earth map and the flat earth map and compare them to each other as well as against actual measured distances on the earth. So I took Perth Australia and Sydney Australia. For spherical earth map shortest distance (great circle distance on spherical surface) is about 2050 miles. For flat earth map shortest distance (straight line between two points) is about 5160 miles. Google maps shows driving distance of about 2440 miles. Now all we need is to get someone in Australia to drive from city to city and see what distance they get with their car's odometer. The google map also shows a flying time between the two cities of 5 h 5 min. This means that if the flat earth distance is correct the plane would need to fly around 1000 mph.  This is absurd and clearly shows that the AE map as a flat earth map fails.

The next example is similar but for an around the world route.  I discovered a guy’s web site walter.bislins.ch where he has calculators for comparing the flat earth model to the spherical earth model.  He just added a flat earth flight planner calculator which I have used in this example.  So this is an around the world in the southern hemisphere test. Sao Paulo Brazil GRU to Johannesburg South Africa JNB to Sydney Australia SYD to Santiago Chile SCL and back to Sao Paulo Brazil GRU. Spherical Miles (hrs) are: 4627 (8:46) 6859 (12:46) 7054 (13:07) 1627 (3:25) for a total of 20167 miles in 38.07 hrs = 530 mph.  Flat Miles are: 9626 14576 15956 3512 for a total of 43670 miles. If this could be covered in the spherical time of 38.07 hrs the flight speed would need to be 43670/38.07 = 1147 mph.  This is absurd and clearly shows that the AE map as the flat earth map fails.

For the spherical calculations I found it easiest to enter the flights in FlightMemory.com with the airport symbols and save the web page with the tabular results as an html file, and then I used OpenFlights.org where I imported the html file which generated a nice map of the flights. From there it was easy to click on the points on the map and select to get the latitude and longitude for the airports, which I then used as input into Walter’s calculator.  I also found oneworld.com useful where I was able to find the airports for the around the world southern hemisphere route that I chose.

I just got through watching the video “Scientism Exposed” for the first time two nights ago.  Although this video makes some interesting and good points, it also troubles me because I feel that it defames and holds out for ridicule the things that are the most important to me in my life, my faith in a loving God, and Jesus Christ, who I believe is the ultimate savior of all.

I need to say a little about my Christian faith here, but it is not my purpose to elaborate too much on this in this writing.  I am a devout Christian with a lot of beliefs in common with many Christians, but also with some significant differing beliefs from many Christians.  A common theme of my differing beliefs is that they relate to areas where I feel that there are different views and interpretations where even though I have tried I am unable to determine for myself what is true and what is false, although I may lean toward favoring one view over another.  So many Christians will (like I once did) take dogmatic views on things because that is what they were taught, so they proceed thinking they are 100 % sure of many things when they haven’t even looked at other views, and likely they have been taught that any views not in keeping with what they have been taught are of the devil.

So I consider it to be a sin to claim certainty over things which you cannot be certain of.  So whereas there was a time in the past where I might when giving the gospel threaten never ending punishment in hell for those who do not in this life put their faith in Jesus Christ as their savior, I can no longer do this in clear conscience, because I feel I would be defaming God’s character by doing so.  This would make God out to be the God of never ending hate, and a hypocrite because He commands humankind to love their enemies.  So to me the greatest truth is that God will ultimately save all through Jesus Christ, even those who do not come to know Him until after their life on this earth.  The term I like the best is that I am a Christian Universalist.  And amazingly, Christian Universalism has been around since the earliest centuries after Christ.  And I am also a religious pluralist in the sense that I would rather learn from the faiths of others than feel that I need to convince them to leave their faith in favor of my faith.  But I will gladly share my faith with others but not force it on them.

So it is my judgment that those who are pushing flat earth theory as an overriding ultimate truth to lead people to the truth of God over atheism, are risking bringing defamation and ridicule upon God should their flat earth theories ultimately be determined to be flawed.

I am 61 years old now.  I was raised in a Christian home, attending Peninsula Bible Church (PBC) in Palo Alto, a non-denominational Bible believing Church.  My father, after high school, attended a Bible college in southern California for a year or two, but did not earn a degree there as far as I know.  He then served in the Navy for 4 years where he learned radio and electronics and afterwards went to college and got a degree in electrical engineering.  Either while in the Navy or shortly afterwards he got his ham radio license.  Prior to joining the Navy he had gotten his pilot’s license in 1947 at the age of 19 flying out of Reid Hillview airport in San Jose, CA.  After college he first worked for private companies in aerospace.  Eventually he got a job with NASA Ames Research Center in 1963.  He was never involved with freemasonry.  He retired from NASA in 1988.  So I was raised around ham radio, flying, electronics, and these things were some of my favorite hobbies while growing up.  I was quite interested in the space program and science and had posters of the planets and solar system up on the walls of my bedroom.  I also had pictures of my hero, Herb Alpert, up on the wall, as I was also into music, playing the trumpet and the piano.

I simply accepted what I was taught about the earth and the solar system and it made sense to me.  I remember learning what latitude and longitude were in elementary school.  My dad had friends at church who were also into scientific pursuits, and also I recall friends from NASA who were also devout Christians.  There was nothing about what I had learned about the earth or solar system while growing up that in any way shook my faith in my creator God or even encouraged me to believe in evolution.

I don’t want to get too much into my education and career here, but I at least want to mention it.  I ended up majoring in chemical engineering and started out in the chemical industry but ended up going to work for NASA in 1989.  The fact that my dad had worked for NASA had nothing to do with me ending up working there, as far as I can tell.  I was job hunting and saw that there were some contractor job openings at NASA Ames for chemical engineers, so I applied and got a job.  The following year I was hired to work directly for NASA as a civil servant.  I retired from NASA Ames in 2015.

While working at NASA Ames I met a lot of people who had known my dad.  And I also came to know some devout Christians, although I never did join a Bible study group at Ames.

I remember a time around 1990 when a famous Christian astronomer from South Africa came to Peninsula Bible Church to speak.  I think his name was David Block.  I think he is still alive to this day.  His presentation in no way diminished my faith, but instead enhanced my faith by showing me marvelous beauty in God’s creation that I had never seen before.  Hugh Ross is another Christian astronomer who may have spoken at PBC at some point.  I know I ended up reading one of his books, I think it was called “The Fingerprint of God.”

Around 3 or 4 years ago, out of my own interest I was looking for information about Hugh Ross, and I knew he had an organization called Reasons to Believe, and I went to their web site and ended up getting some books.  And then later I picked up a several hour long DVD set where there was a debate between old earth creationists (Hugh Ross was one of these) and young earth creationists.  I watched all of it with my dad.  I then discovered a young earth creationist organization called Creation Ministries International.  So I ended up getting some books from their organization.

So this becomes a good example of an area where I have opened myself up to hearing both sides, and I really don’t think I can figure out which side is right, or which side is more right from my view.  And there are some pretty big differences between the viewpoints of these two groups, yet I am quite sure that both of these groups agree on the spherical earth theory, and reject the flat earth theory.

So are we to now have young flat earth creationists versus young spherical earth creationists?

Another example I could give is Francis Collins, a scientist who headed up the human genome project who is a devout Christian, and he believes in evolution.  I am quite far into reading one of his books right now.  Very interesting.

I am trying to read more books on philosophy, theology, Christianity, religion, science, psychology, and history to broaden my understanding in these areas.  The more I read and study the more I realize how much more I don’t know than what I thought I knew.  Things are quite up in the air in a lot of areas, including science, philosophy, and theology.  There were probably wrong turns that were made in all of these areas that remain to be discovered and corrected in the future.

I recommend the writings of Dr. Mitch Stokes, a devout Christian with degrees in engineering and philosophy.  He makes a very strong case for why we should be much more skeptical toward what science can tell us than what a lot of scientists would have us believe.

Another area I am finding worth looking into is process philosophy and process theology.  There is David Ray Griffin, John Cobb, Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, Alfred North Whitehead, and Charles Hartshorne.

There is Philip Mauro, an attorney who became a Christian later in life, and ended up writing extensively on Christianity.  He was a contemporary of Cyrus Scofield of Scofield Reference Bible fame.  Scofield’s Bible popularized dispensationalism, which has had a major impact on Christianity especially in the United States.  This is where the concept of the Rapture of the Church came from.  Mauro was critical of Dispensationalism in some of his writings, even though he had initially bought into it.  If you want to look at views on the complete other side from Dispensationalism, look at books on Preterism, the view that most if not all Bible prophecy has already been fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

I have read many books on Christian Universalism over the last 10 years or so, and have written reviews on Amazon for some of them.  Most recently I was introduced to the work of Dr. Boyd Purcell and ended up reading both of his books, which are fantastic.

I have read a couple of books by Rob Skiba related to Biblical prophecy and the Giants interpretation of Genesis 6 and other passages and extra Biblical sources, and I found this all quite interesting, but I am not sure how this information will change the way that I live my life.

And of course I have ended up watching a fair amount of Rob Skiba’s flat earth presentations.

And the other day I watched one of Skiba’s Youtube videos that was at least a year old where he claims to be getting to the issue of flights in the southern hemisphere and properly interpreting the azimuthal equidistant map (the so called flat earth map).  And he was struggling with what it meant that the map was “equidistant.”  And he ended up showing that a flight in the southern hemisphere on this map as the shortest distance between two points was not a straight line on this map, but instead a very much curved line that was much longer on this map than a straight line between the two points on this map.  What he had just shown was that to obtain reality on this map, he had to interpret it as what it is, a projection of a spherical surface onto a circular disk.  His observation was consistent with a spherical earth model, not a flat earth model.

And all you need to do to understand where the azimuthal equidistant map came from is go to the Wikipedia article on the subject.  It is azimuthal and equidistant from the north pole, which means that all points on the spherical earth project onto the circular disk taking the center of the disk as the north pole and taking the same heading angle (azimuth) and distance from the north pole of the sphere to each point on the sphere as the angle and distance from the center of the disk to each corresponding point on the disk.  The map is equidistant in the sense that the distance from the north pole to any point on the sphere will be the same distance from the center of the disk to the corresponding point on the disk.

I think that the attention that is being drawn to this flat earth issue can end up being a good thing if: everyone remains respectful of each other’s search for reality and the views they hold and/or come to; analyses and experiments are conducted that bear upon the issues being raised and the procedures and results are openly and freely shared so others can reproduce the results if they wish to; we all use this as an opportunity to practice love toward one another rather than strife and hatred.

We should recognize that none of us are capable of understanding everything.  For those who believe in a creator God, our ability to understand comes from God.  People do vary tremendously in their natural abilities and what they have been able to learn in their education and life.

So I think that each individual should be able to admit that there are things that they may not be capable of understanding.

I can remember when I was a teenager my dad telling me the Biblical principle “By their fruits you shall know them.”  My take on this now is pluralistic.  I look at one’s actions rather than at their beliefs.

If one is of some religious bent, and also believes the earth is flat, I can accept that, and I will look to their actions to see if they are of love and respect for the sanctity of everyone’s search for truth.

If they are dogmatic in trying to convince all others that they are of the one true faith, and that faith includes belief in the flat earth, and they bad mouth those who do not believe as they do, then I will find their fruits to be not in keeping with respect for “the free and responsible search for truth and meaning” of every individual.

I borrowed the above quote from Unitarian Universalist Association Principles which I copied from the web site of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Sunnyvale and pasted below for reference.

When I do the thought experiment of what sort of school or theological seminary would I consider going to if I had the will and energy and opportunity to do so at this late stage in my life, I feel it would have to be something along the lines of the principles of the UUA, because I would want to be totally free to explore things without constraint, although I would want to put emphasis on my Christian faith.

So I present the UUA principles below simply as the best example I know of respecting and encompassing a wide variety of viewpoints.

UUA Principles copied from http://uufs.org/believe/

Unitarian Universalism encompasses a wide range of beliefs. These seven principles sum up the core values that our congregations promise to affirm and promote.

The Seven Principles

    The inherent worth and dignity of every person
    Justice, equity and compassion in human relations
    Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
    A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
    The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large
    The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
    Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

Unitarian Universalism draws from many sources.

The Six Sources

    Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life
    Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love
    Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life
    Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves
    Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit
    Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature
    Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision. As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support.

T Mark Hightower 9/11/2017