Our Ancestors Were Smart, Are WE?
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 at 1:16PM
David Roberts

Where did we get this idea that the ancient peoples thought the Earth was flat? 

Recently, Senator Ted Cruz compared himself to Galileo when he stated, “ It used to be [that] it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.” 

Wrong on so many levels. Everybody loves to compare themselves to this man. Especially crackpots.

Galileo Galilei got in trouble, not because he thought the world was round, but because he taught that the Earth orbited the Sun ,not the accepted view at the time. 

I remember being taught this in the seventh grade. When Columbus made his proposal to the Spanish King and Queen to reach the east by sailing west, the argument against it was not that the ships would fall off the edge of the Earth. Ferdinand brought in his royal scholars and asked them if hey saw any problems. 

Columbus was not the first to come up with this idea. And the royal scholars had heard it all before. They told the king that the journey was too far. The sailors would die of starvation before before they reached China. They sighted Greek text from Eratosthenes as far back as fifth century BCE that showed the world to be around 25,000 miles in circumference.

 

The irony is that they were right. Columbus had used some faulty math and thought that the Earth was much smaller.

Had there not been a relatively unknown land mass (later known as the North and South Americas) Columbus and his men would have all died at sea. 

Now I can remember my teacher, Mrs. Davis, explaining this to us in the seventh grade. I even remember thinking that I was glad I had reached the point in my education where I was starting to get some facts. 

I had earlier been told that story about how even educated people back then thought the Earth had an edge to it. But know I was growing up, and could be told the unedited tale. It didn't need to be all cut and dried simple. 

But as I grew, it came to my attention that most people seemed to lack this information. When I pressed people with questions, some even lit up with recognition. Oh yea, they would say, I forgot about that. 

And while we are on the subject, the “Flat Earth” concept is rather new. And the Flat Earth Society is stronger now than it ever was, thanks to the internet. 

I’ve notice this tendency, especial in history. People tend to believe the first story they were told. Everyone remembers that the American Revolution was about “no taxation without representation.” Few of us remember what we learned in high school, about how so many of the English agreed with this idea. 

You might be led to suspect that the earlier an idea is put in your head, the longer it takes to get it out.

 

 

Article originally appeared on Buffalodavid Speaks! (http://buffalodavidspeaks.com/).
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