What is the flat earth theory, is it true, and is it biblical?

The flat earth model theory has gained traction in recent years. It is the idea that the earth is a flat, circular disc with the sun and moon orbiting above it. Variations of this idea were held by people thousands of years 

flat earth sun moon model ago because they lacked more technologically advanced methods of examining our world. With global navigation, advances in astronomy, science, space travel, geo-mapping, passenger jets, etc., the flat earth theory has been largely destroyed. Nevertheless, despite the evidence, some flat-earth holdouts go to great lengths to establish their theory as true. And, no matter what science presents to support that the earth is spherical, it is dismissed as inaccurate or conspiratorial.

So, is the earth really a round, flat disc, or is it a globe as scientists, astronauts, airline pilots, ship captains, geographers, and explorers routinely affirm?

Of course, the earth is a globe.

In preparation for this article, I did some reading on the topic and went to a pro-flat earth website (tfes.org), where I joined the forum and asked a lot of questions. They answered, and it is from those answers and my other research that I am writing this article.

flat earth solar system Now there are a lot of arguments that flat earthers use to reject the spherical shape of the earth and opt for a flat one. I won't be able to address them all - and there are a lot. I don't think it's worth all that effort. So, I decided to focus on the arguments that demonstrate the flat earth theory cannot be true. Then, I will tackle biblical passages used in support of the flat earth theory.

Problems with flat earth: Eclipses

flat earth sun moon model In flat earth theory, both the sun and the moon orbit around a common orbital point located above the flat surface of the earth. How then does the shadow of the earth move across the moon in an eclipse? It can't. I have not yet read a good response to this problem.

As you can see from the image to the right, in the flat earth model, the sun and the moon are above the plane of the earth. It is impossible for the shadow of the earth to appear on the moon when the earth is not between the earth and the moon. The flat earth model just doesn't work when we look at eclipses.

Problems with flat earth: Suspension above earth

In the flat earth model, the sun and moon orbit around a common point. According to the laws of physics, they will tend to fly apart due to centrifugal force. In order to stay in place, they need to have an equal and opposite force that holds them in place. This would be gravity. Then, why don't the sun and the moon crash into the earth since the gravitational pull from all three would draw them together?

The responses that I've read say they don't know and that there must be some unseen force between the celestial bodies that keeps them in place. But of course, this is an appeal to ignorance. We know about gravity (some flat earthers deny its existence). We know that the force of gravity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance 1/D2. We know about its strength that every celestial body exerts a gravitational force and every other celestial body. Therefore, both the sun and the moon must exert a gravitational force on the earth, and the earth exerts a gravitational force on the sun and the moon. Therefore, the sun and the moon should come crashing down onto the flat earth. But they don't. So, again, the flat earth model fails.

One response offered as a "possibility" is the "photoelectric suspension" theory. It states that photons (light) can exert a force on matter (radiation pressure), and this keeps the earth and moon above the earth. But in flat earth theory, the sun and moon are of the same size. The moon does not emit light. It reflects light. So, the photoelectric suspension theory would fail to account for the moon staying above the earth.

Quantum mechanics describes some unusual relationships with the effect of photons upon electrons. But, the momentum is incredibly small1 and not sufficient to keep a huge mass like the sun and the moon above the earth. The idea that light generated from the sun is enough to counter the enormous gravitational effect between the sun and the earth can't be true. This flat earth theory does not work.

Problems with flat earth: line of sight

flat earth line of sight If we can see the moon in both daytime and nighttime, then why can't we also see the sun daytime and nighttime in the flat earth model? The sun is bright and gives off more light than the moon reflects, so if the earth were flat, everyone should be able to see the sun - even at night. But, they can't, so that version of the flat earth fails, too.

Problems with flat earth: Sunrise and Sunset

If the earth were flat and the sun and moon are suspended above the earth, then sunrise and sunset would not be possible. Therefore, another model of a flat earth has been proposed where both the sun and the moon orbit in such a way that they move below the plane of the earth.

But if this were the case, there would be gravitational perturbations. The sun and moon are furthest away from the earth when above it. The gravitation force on the earth would be less than when they pass close by the plane of the earth at its edges to go below the plane. This would cause orbital disruption of both the sun and the moon, such as an increase of speed of the sun and moon when they approach the plane of the disc when they 'set' because they are closer to the edge of the disc. That is when gravity would be stronger. In addition, with the sunrise and moonrise, there would be the effect of them increasing their speed as they near the earth plane, and they would slow as they rise above its plane. But, we don't see such orbital/speed disruption of the sun and the moon. Therefore, this model does not work.

Problems with flat earth: North Star and Southern Star

earth polaris crux If the earth is flat, then observatories all over the world should be able to see the North Star at night. But they can't. Those in the southern hemisphere cannot see Polaris, the North Star. Likewise, if the earth is flat, then observatories in the northern hemisphere should be able to see the southern star, Crux, which is in the southern hemisphere. But, they can't either.

Furthermore, the fact that the stars spin around the North Star in the northern hemisphere and the Southern Star in the southern hemisphere is best explained by the earth being a globe. If the earth were flat, how could there possibly be two stars around which the rest of the stars spin? It makes absolutely no sense in a flat earth scenario.

 

Problems with flat earth: Conspiracy

Flat earthers assert that there is a global conspiracy (no pun intended), in which the truth of the flat Earth has been suppressed. When I ask what the reason for this conspiracy was, I was told that NASA and other governmental agencies get money based on the earth-globe model. Therefore they can justify spending billions on bogus space travel, faked moon landings, and pseudoscience. Well, it's hard to argue with someone who believes everything is a conspiracy and says such things as, "They [people who affirm the earth is a globe] are defending childhood dogmas, which have been handed down from one generation to the next since the Ancient Greeks." Wow, amazing. So, no matter what the evidence is, it's all part of the conspiracy, and we "globalists" are believing in "childhood dogmas." Nevertheless, there's another problem with the conspiracy theory idea.

There are thousands upon thousands of people who occupy jobs as airline pilots, ship captains, surveyors, astronomers, astrophysicists, etc. If the earth were flat, their professions would undoubtedly reveal that fact. Furthermore, for the global conspiracy to be maintained, they would have to all be working together to further that conspiracy. That would require thousands and thousands of people to be "in on it." But why would they do that? What is there to gain in such a global deception? Flat earthers say it is because they are deceived or are part of a worldwide conspiracy so they can retain their prestige, money, power, etc.

But, there is a huge problem with believing in a worldwide global conspiracy to suppress flat earth truth. The more people that are involved, the more likely it is there will be those who will abandon their conspiratorial cooperation and expose it. But, we don't see any such exposure by such people in those fields. At least, I've not seen or heard anything like that, especially considering that CARM gets thousands of emails a year from all over the world from all kinds of people in all kinds of professions.

The flat earth theory is full of problems.

The Bible and the Flat Earth

Does the Bible teach that the earth is flat? Many people believe it does. So, let's take a look at some of the verses used by flat-earth proponents to see if the Bible teaches that the earth is flat.

Gen. 1:6-8, 14-15, 17, 20, firmament/expanse

  • Gen. 1:6, "Then God said, 'Let there be an expanse (kjv, firmament, et. all) in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.'”
  • Gen. 1:7, "God made the expanse (firmament), and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse (firmament); and it was so."
  • Gen. 1:8, "God called the expanse (firmament) heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day."
  • Gen. 1:14, "Then God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse (firmament) of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.'"
  • Gen. 1:15, "'and let them be for lights in the expanse (firmament) of the heavens to give light on the earth'; and it was so."
  • Gen. 1:17, "God placed them in the expanse (firmament) of the heavens to give light on the earth,"
  • Gen. 1:20, "Then God said, 'Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse (firmament) of the heavens.'"

Many flat earthers appeal to the Bible, where it uses the word firmament/expanse (depending on the translation) in support of the idea that the earth is flat and is covered by a solid dome/firmament. The word for firmament/expanse in the Hebrew ‏רְקִיעַ, raqia, which is a cognate of the Hebrew rq, "to spread out." Raqia occurs 17 times in the Old Testament in the following verses. Genesis 1:6-8, 14-15, 17, 20; Psalm 19:1; 150:1; Ezekiel 1:22-23, 25-26; 10:1; Daniel 12:3. A summary of other usages is as follows.

  1. A part of God's creation that separated waters below and above (Gen. 1:6, 7)
  2. The expanse is called heaven (Gen. 1:8)
  3. God made lights in the "expanse of the heavens" (heaven of the heavens) (Gen. 1:14-15, 17)
  4. Birds fly in the open expanse (Gen. 1:20)
  5. The expanse speaks of God's glory (Psalm 19:1; 150:1)
  6. In visions of God containing a storm, (Ezek. 1:4), with four living creatures having four faces and four wings (vv. 5-14), wheels in wheels (vv. 15-21), that had eyes (vall that. 18).  over these four beings was an expance  like crystal (vv. 22-24).  A voice from a throne came from above the expanse (v. 25-26)
  7. Shining like the expanse of heaven, (Dan. 12:3).

Flat earthers tend to use these verses to suggest that the firmament/expanse is a solid dome under which the sun and the moon reside. Is this necessary from the text? Not it is not. The usage of raqia in the verses suggest both literal and figurative aspects. Let me explain.

People of the time would use what they saw to describe what they understood. They would say that "the sun rose" or "the sun set," but that is only a description of what they saw, not an accurate representation of the cosmological facts. In fact, the Bible uses the term sunrise many times: Num. 2:3; 3:38; Josh. 1:15; 12:1; 19:12-13; Luke 1:78. Likewise, in the Bible, the moon is the "lesser light" (Gen. 1:16). But, it is not a light. It reflects the sun's light. Even flat earthers admit this. So, the cosmological description in Genesis 1 reveals a phenomenological, observational approach. This is consistent with the description of Genesis, where light and vegetation are created before the sun (Genesis 1:3, 11-12, 16)

Furthermore, according to flat earthers, the sun and moon are under the dome, and the stars are embedded in the dome/firmament/expanse. But, the Bible says that the sun and moon are in the firmament/expanse/dome (Gen. 1:14).

  • "in the expanse,"CSB, ESV, NASB, NIV, LXX, Tanakh
  • "in the firmament," KJV, RSV.
  • "In the vaulted dome," LEB

So, which is it? Are the sun and moon embedded in the dome, or are they below the dome as flat earthers maintain? They can't have it both ways if they want to use the Bible to support their view. This demonstrates a problem in their understanding of the biblical text.

Finally, if they were to say that the sun, moon, and the stars are all embedded in this dome, but only the sun and moon (and planets) that move differently within that dome, then I have some questions. How do they know that's true, and why do the sun, moon, and planets move differently than the stars in the same dome? So far, I've not read any responses that can rationally deal with this problem.

Parallax Effect and the Dome of Stars

This solid-dome theory, where the stars are embedded within it, and the earth is below (geocentrism), has problems. Consider the parallax effect.2 This effect occurs when the earth is in opposite locations in its orbit around the sun (heliocentrism). From these different locations, any particular star will appear at a slightly different angle. This difference can be measured, and the distance to the star can be calculated. If the stars were embedded in a dome that moves in a limited and relatively close distance to earth, then the parallax effect would be far greater than in the earth-orbits-around-the-sun model. But, the parallax evidence does not support a dome theory with stars embedded in it. It supports the opposite. So, what does the flat earth adherent say about this? It's a conspiracy, and the evidence must be dismissed. No matter what the facts are, they dismiss it because it's all part of the conspiracy.

Dome of stars questions

If the Hebrew raqia means a solid dome with stars embedded in it, then there are questions.

  1. How solid is it?
  2. How thick is it?
  3. What is it made of?
  4. How does the movement of the planets fit in the solid dome when the planets move in the stars don't.
  5. If the planets are outside the dome, how do you know this?

Now, these questions can't be answered by flat-earthers because they contend that the entire scientific community is working together to suppress the truth and prevent their scientific analysis.

1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 93:1, the earth is fixed, immovable

  • 1 Chronicles 16:30, "Tremble before Him, all the earth; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved."
  • Psalm 93:1, "The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty; The LORD has clothed and girded Himself with strength; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved."

The Bible often speaks in figurative language. Such is the case with the earth being fixed and immovable. From the person on the earth, it is immovable. But, also, we see the Bible speaks of the "four corners of the earth" (Isaiah 11:12) as well as the pillars of the earth (Psalm 75:3). These are figurative expressions. Since the earth is stable in its orbit around the sun, it appears that the earth is fixed and immovable - because we are on it, moving with it and don't perceive its motion. That is all is going on here.

Isaiah 11:12, four corners of the earth

Isaiah 11:12, "And He will lift up a standard for the nations And assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth."

In this verse, we see that it mentions "four corners." Does this mean the earth is a flat square or rectangle? No, it doesn't. Also, the phrase "four corners" occurs in other parts of the Bible.

  • Ezekiel 7:2, "And you, son of man, thus says the Lord GOD to the land of Israel, ‘An end! The end is coming on the four corners of the land."
  • Revelation 7:1, "After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree."
  • Revelation 20:8, "and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth,, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore."

The phrase used in Ezekiel 7:2 does not include the oceans. Therefore, this description is dealing with the four cardinal directions: North, South, East, and West. Obviously, the land does not have four actual corners. So this is figurative. Such is the case in Revelation 7:1 that speaks of four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. Also, Rev. 20:8 speaks of the nations, "which are in the four corners of the earth." If the earth is flat (or a disc?) and has corners, then who are the nations that are there in those four corners? Wouldn't we know about them? The use of the phrase "four corners" is figurative.

Daniel 4:11, tree visible to the whole earth

Daniel 4:11, "The tree grew large and became strong and its height reached to the sky, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth."  

Obviously, this verse is figurative. But some flat earth adherents use it to say that the only way a tree could be seen from the whole earth is if the earth was flat. But this, of course, fails. How big and high would a tree have to be for everyone to see it all over the flat earth? Where was/is this immense tree? It would have to be thousands of feet high and quite huge.

Furthermore, if a flat-line site is possible on the so-called flat earth, then why do people on the Hawaiian Islands of Kauai and the Big Island not see each other? They are about 300 miles apart. The tallest peak on Kauia, Kawaikini, is 5,148 feet. The tallest peak on the Big Island, Mauna Kea is 13,800 feet above sea level. If the earth is flat, why can't people on each of the peaks see the other peaks? They can't because the earth is curved.

"With a curved Earth of its measured radius, the line-of-sight limit for those two elevations caps out at 233 miles. Only with a curved Earth is one invisible from the other, and this is true for any two mountain peaks with clear line-of-sights from one to the other." https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2017/11/24/five-impossible-facts-that-would-have-to-be-true-if-the-earth-were-flat/#62d111b87c4f

Deut. 13:7; Psalm 65:8; 98:3, Ends of the earth

  • Deut. 13:7, "of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end),"
  • 1 Sam. 2:10, "...The LORD will judge the ends of the earth..."
  • Job 28:24, "For He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens."
  • Psalm 65:8, "They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs."
  • Psalm 98:3, "...All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God."
  • Isaiah 45:22, "Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other."
  • Also, Isaiah 52:10;

It should be evident that the phrase "end of the earth" is a figurative way of speaking. According to flat earthers, the end of the earth would be where the ice rim is. But Psalm 65:8 says people dwell at the end of the earth. Even in flat earth theory, people are not living at the ice barrier at the end of the world. So, the phrase "end of the earth" is figurative, not literal, and cannot be used to support flat earth theory.

1 Samuel 2:8, Psalm 75:3, Pillars of the Earth

  • 1 Samuel 2:8, "For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and He set the world on them."
  • Psalm 75:3, "The earth and all who dwell in it melt; It is I who have firmly set its pillars. Selah."

The earth is not resting on pillars. If it were, then what are those pillars resting upon, and so on? Instead, the Bible is speaking of the earth in figurative terms just as it speaks of the foundation of the earth in figurative terms.

Job 26:7, "He stretches out the north over empty space and hangs the earth on nothing."  

Unfortunately, it is problematic for flat earthers to take figurative speech and turn it into something literal. If they are going to say that the earth is set on pillars (1 Sam. 2:8; Ps 75:3) or has a foundation (Job 38:4), then how does that fit with God hanging the earth on nothing (Job 26:7)? They have to pick and choose what they will believe and how they will interpret it. And, they will do it according to their agenda, not according to the totality of biblical revelation.

Job 38:4, The foundation of the earth

  • Job 38:4, Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding."
  • Psalm 104:5, "He established the earth upon its foundations, So that it will not totter forever and ever."

The foundation of a thing is different than the thing. In other words, the foundation of the earth is different than the earth itself. The idea that the earth would be built and rest upon a foundation is ludicrous. What foundation would that be, four elephants? It doesn't make any sense to assert there is one, especially considering that Job 26:7 says that God hangs the earth in nothing. Therefore, Job 38:4 is another example of figure forms of speech that the Bible uses to communicate the truth about the earth.

Isaiah 40:22, the circle of the earth

Isaiah 40:22, "It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in."

Is the phrase "circle of the earth" literal or figurative? The flat earthers would say that it is literal. But, if that is the case, then is it also literal when it says the earth has four corners, Isaiah 11:12; Ezek. 7:2; Rev. 7:1; 20:8? Which is it? Also, Isaiah 40:22 says that God "sits above the circle of the earth"? Does God actually sit it in heaven? No. He does not. It is figurative. Also, consider the statement that the "inhabitants are like grasshoppers." Certainly, God can use figurative speech to describe actual truths - which are not meant to be taken literally. From the perspective of someone who would stand say on a mountain top and turn 360° would be completing what would amount to the view of a circle. It would not mean that the earth itself is likewise a circle.

Flat earthers can't have it both ways. If they want to use the Bible to say that the earth is a circular flat disk, then ought they also say that the earth has four corners (Isaiah 11:12). Both can't be true because they are mutually exclusive. Therefore, both phrases ('circle of the earth' and 'four corners') are figurative.

Furthermore, the word in Hebrew for "circle" is חוּג, chug. It occurs only three times in the entire Old Testament.

  1. Job 22:14, "Clouds are a hiding place for Him, so that He cannot see; and He walks on the vault of heaven."
  2. Prov. 8:27, "When He established the heavens, I was there, when He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep."
  3. Isaiah 40:22, "It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in."

Words mean what they mean in context. We do not want to transfer the meaning of the word in one context to another. But since the word only occurs three times in the entire Bible, then we can view its very limited appearances quite easily. In Job 22:14 the word vault might then be translated as circle. But this could be understood as referring to how a person would stand on the earth and look around him 360° and see what appears to be a circle in heaven. Furthermore, the verse says that "clouds are a hiding place for Him." Does God hide behind clouds? Of course not. The context is figurative.

When we look at Proverbs 8:27, we see that God inscribed a "circle on the face of the deep." Different Bibles render chug into different English words such as 1) Circle - ESV, NASB, NKJV 2) Compass - KJV 1900, Douay Rheims; 3) Horizon - CSB, Tanakh. I'm not exactly sure what that means, but the context is dealing with the personification of wisdom. As I look at commentaries, none of them shed any light on what the word can mean in this context. So, it cannot be used to support flat earth theory.

Nevertheless, Isaiah 40:22 would require the flat earth adherent to apply a figurative-literal-figurative interpretation of the verse. After all, it says that God "sits" (figurative) above "the circle of the earth" (literal?) and that its inhabitants are like grasshoppers (figurative). How consistent are they when they push their agenda into the Scriptures? Not very and their inconsistencies reveal their lack of objectivity.

Matt. 4:8, all the kingdoms visible from a high mountain

Matthew 4:8, "Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;"

Some flat earthers use this verse in support of their theory. They say that it demonstrates there's a way to see all the kingdoms at once from a single high mountain. They say that this is only possible if the earth is flat. But, if we take this literally, then where is this high mountain from which the entire flat earth can be seen? It would most probably be over there in the area of Israel since Satan took Jesus to the temple wall in Jerusalem (Matt. 4:5) and tempted Him to throw Himself down. The highest mountain in Israel is Mount Herman at 7,336 feet (2,236 m). The highest mountain in the Middle East is Mount Damavand in Iran, at 18,406 feet. Was that the mountain to which Satan took Jesus? Or, was it Mount Everest, at 29,029 feet?

Also, how far is it possible to see within our atmosphere? After all, it contains moisture, temperature variations, and various particulates. So if this mountain exists from which every kingdom can be seen, then the atmosphere would have to allow that. It would have to be crystal clear. But, it isn't, and we cannot see thousands of miles through it.

Furthermore, the further away an object is, the smaller it appears to be. The human eye could only see something so small. A kingdom (palace, building, mountain), decreases drastically in size the further away it is. Seeing something thousands of miles away would require visual acuity human beings just don't possess. Again, the flat earth position fails.

Conclusion

The flat earth model fails scientifically and biblically. There are too many problems to overcome in both categories. But, those who are more interested in promoting their agenda over facts will twist the truth to fit their desires and dismiss the evidence that doesn't fit their assumptions. Furthermore, the idea of a global conspiracy would be extremely hard to maintain, given that so many thousands of people could easily start speaking against it and provide evidence against the earth being a globe. Has anyone from NASA, JPL, astronauts, airline pilots, or ship captains come out to say that the earth is really flat? If so, where are they?

And, in light of the Bible, there is no warrant to assert that it teaches the earth is flat and sits under a dome. It just isn't there.

So, in light of the facts both in science, logic, and Scripture, CARM denies the flat Earth theory.

 

 

 

  • 1. zmescience.com/science/photon-force-measure-8253632
  • 2. https://lco.global/spacebook/distance/parallax-and-distance-measurement/
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.