An actual illustration from 1246 clearly showing a round Earth
I was actually taught this in school. Columbus in 1492 had this crazy notion that the world world was round and no one would back him because everyone knew the world was flat. And so the intrepid explorer set off on the ocean blue and low and behold did not fall off the edge but discovered a new continent. It’s a good story, complete crap, but a good story.
Aside from the fact that you can’t discover something that has millions of people living on it, the reality is that no one believed the earth was flat. No one.
In fact as far back as ancient Greece Plato and Aristotle were writing about a spherical Earth. And in 240 B.C.E Eratosthenes (a Greek astronomer in Egypt) calculated the circumstance of the Earth and came remarkably close to the actual number. And from that time forward not one credible person ever doubted the truth of this. According to Stephen Jay Gould, “there never was a period of ‘flat earth darkness’ among scholars (regardless of how the public at large may have conceptualized our planet both then and now). Greek knowledge of sphericity never faded, and all major medieval scholars accepted the Earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology.”
So where did this come from? Well most people credit histories by John William Draper, Andrew Dickson White and Washington Irving (yes, the guy who wrote Sleepy Hollow) for popularizing the flat-earth myth between 1870 and 1920. You see at the time there was this fellow named Darwin who was proposing some ideas that didn’t sit well with the established notions of the time. And stating that people (specifically scientists) once believed that the Earth was flat was a way to discredit these new-fangled ideas. It was a made-up story used to throw doubt on rigorous scientific data gathered through experiment and observation. Kinda like I saw a politician do this past Sunday. In 2015.
Oh, and the thing about Columbus is he thought the world was smaller than everyone else did and so could sail around to India in a shorter time than going over land. The reason he couldn’t get backers was that everyone thought he would sail out to the middle of the ocean, run out of supplies and die. Thus making it a bad investment. Lucky for him he ran into a very large continent and set to work exploiting the indigenous peoples. What a guy.
So Let’s Put These Myths To Rest
These are old and outdated notions and in my opinion they do more harm than good. We are mid-way through the second decade of the 21st century its about time we put these misconceptions to bed. Forever. So the next time someone says we only use 10% of our brains or people used to believe the world was flat politely tell them they are wrong and explain why. I’m sure they will be eager to be corrected and thankful for the knowledge.
Or you could just roll your eyes and throw a cushion at them. Especially if they are on TV.
Originally published July 27, 2015