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There is a myth that people believed the Earth was flat until Christopher Columbus sailed to America. The flat Earth myth first appeared in the 17th century when Protestants tried to make Catholics look stupid by saying Catholics believed the Earth was flat. Then in 1828, Washington Irving (who wrote "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow") wrote a biography about Christopher Columbus. In it, he said that people believed that Earth was flat and that Columbus believed it was round.
The issue in the 1490s was not the shape of the Earth, but its size. Columbus thought the Earth was smaller than everyone else, and so he thought he could sail to India. Columbus was wrong and everyone else was right. Nobody knew about the Americas. Columbus was lucky and he didn't die at sea.
Other anti-religious scholars started quoting Irving's biography as evidence that religious people were stupid. John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White wanted to portray science and religion as incompatible. Draper was a scientist who hated his sister, who was a Catholic nun. White got in fights with churches when he tried to create the non-religious Cornell University in New York.
Because both Draper and White were highly educated and respected their teachings became very popular between 1870 and 1920. We now know that their books about religion and science were wrong. But many of their false teachings are still believed today, including the idea that people in the past believed the Earth was flat.
Some also claim that certain phrases in the Bible teach the earth is flat, specifically phrases like "the four corners of the earth", "ends of the earth", and the earth's “pillars.” One could interpret this to mean the Earth is flat and would could also interpret this to be poetry and figurative language. Either way, the Bible doesn't talk about the the shape of the Earth anywhere. And the Bible uses the word "dragon" several times and Christians knows that it isn't teaching that literal dragons exist.
Modern Flat Earthers[edit | edit source]
The flat Earth has seen a rise in belief in the 21st Century. Modern belief in the flat earth started in 1849. Samuel Rowbotham began lecturing and promoted the idea of a flat Earth in his book "Zetetic Astronomy". After Rowbotham died the Universal Zetetic Society was created and they kept the idea alive in their publications.
In 1956, Samuel Shenton created the International Flat Earth Research Society. At one time there were 3,500 members. The group declined in 1997.
In 2004, Daniel Shenton (not related to Samuel Shenton) resurrected the Flat Earth Society on the Internet. The society was officially relaunched in October 2009.
Members of the society say that NASA and government agencies are deluding the public. The most popular flat Earth theory says that the world is a round disk, that the top of the Earth is in the center, and that Antarctica is not a continent but a large round wall that holds the oceans in like a dish. They say NASA is guarding the Antarctic ice wall and that NASA photoshops its satellite images.