@Ken: Sean, if after sober reflection I ever come to …

Comment on PUC Professor: The Noachian Flood was just a local flood? by Sean Pitman.


Sean, if after sober reflection I ever come to the conclusion that the overwhelming evidence supports that all life, baring a bit of sea life, came off the Ark about 4000 years ago I’ll gladly join you at Sabbath service.

Of course! What other rational option would you have at that point? Why do you think I’m an SDA today? I have no other rational option given what I think the best empirical evidence that I can comprehend is telling me…

Sean Pitman

Sean Pitman Also Commented

PUC Professor: The Noachian Flood was just a local flood?
@Professor Kent:

Just a trivial matter: a circle is two-dimensional; a sphere is not.

Kind of like when Erv wrote in his comment that we now know that the world is “round” – instead of “spherical”? 😉

Sean Pitman

PUC Professor: The Noachian Flood was just a local flood?
@Ervin Taylor:

As others have noted, Sean continues to miss the point.

Anyone who has read any of the literature on the “Myth of the Flat Earth” is aware that a number of Greek intellectuals in the Hellenistic period had come to the view that the earth was a sphere and even made some calculations of its diameter–one of which was very close to the modern value assuming that modern estimates of the units of distance used by these Greek writers is correct. Medieval scholars who could read these works–mostly in Latin translations but some in Greek–also knew the world was not flat.

But this is not the point. We are talking about ancient Hebrew writers. Only the strained and special pleading by individuals such as Sean and other fundamentalists dispute the view that these writers viewed the world as essentially flat and fixed in space.

The ancient Hebrews (before the 3rd and perhaps even the 6th century B.C.) may or may not have believed that the Earth was flat. And, some biblical authors may have been of different opinions or educational backgrounds. The author of Job, for example, claims that the Earth was suspended in space “on nothing” (Job 26:7 NIV). Also, when Isaiah described God sitting above the “circle of the Earth” (Isaiah 40:22) was he talking about a spherical Earth or a flat circular plate? Clearly Solomon had exposure to shipping and sailors – – and sailors who do much sailing quickly realize that ships disappear over a curved horizon – suggesting a spherical Earth.

In short, I think modern people don’t give the ancients as much credit as they deserve when it comes to figuring out such problems. Regardless, however, the point remains that it is possible for certain, if not all, biblical authors to have believed in various errors like the “flat Earth”. So what? – as Erv puts it:

So they were wrong. What is the problem? Only if you insist in Biblical inerrancy would this be a problem.

Well, those like Erv try to use such errors to argue that the Bible, and religion in general, really has nothing to do with science or empirical reality. Therefore, all that is really left to support religious belief in the statements of this or that “good book” or “prophet” is “faith” – faith that is not, or at least need not be, based on any kind of empirical reality whatsoever.

What Erv fails to realize is that the rational credibility of “faith” in the Bible or a particular biblical interpretation must be based on some kind of universally available empirical evidence. If one is able to discredit what the Bible says about physical reality, one is also able to discredit what the Bible says about metaphysical realities as well – realities that are not subject to testing or even the potential for falsification.

So, what does a believer in the very real credibility of the Bible, like me, do with obvious errors in the Bible regarding physical reality? – like Joshua’s request that the Sun and Moon stand still relative to the Earth? Did Joshua not realize that it was the Earth that moved relative to the Sun? Probably not. Does that therefore falsify biblical credibility? Hardly. We all often use the same language today – the language of perspective appearance instead of known reality.

However, Erv tries to use the same argument when it comes to the Genesis account of the literal days of creation and the worldwide Noachian Flood. He suggests that because there are, or at least probably were, misunderstandings of the true nature of physical reality in the minds of the biblical authors, that they most likely got this part wrong too.

That’s a problem, in my book, because the author(s) of the Genesis account were so specific about what was seen. From the author’s perspective, the Earth was in fact created in just six literal days, each of which certainly seemed to have been divided by “evenings and mornings”. Now, it would be very hard to misinterpret “evenings and mornings”. Even a little child could get that much right. It just doesn’t take too much intelligence or experience to correctly report such an empirical observation.

The same thing is true of the worldwide Flood. Internal consistency is important when it comes to interpreting the author’s account of this story… and what it has to say about biblical credibility on the nature, and even existence, of God. According to the author, the Flood had to have been worldwide in distribution and effect or Noah would not have needed to build an ark over 120 years of time to save land animal and human life. All God would have needed to do is tell Noah where to move. No need to save animals in an Ark to repopulate the planet if the Flood was going to be nothing but some local Flood.

Such arguments simply make the story internally inconsistent and therefore impact the overall credibility of the Bible and of Christian faith in general.

So, if anyone misses the main point here, it’s Erv…

Sean Pitman

PUC Professor: The Noachian Flood was just a local flood?
The Flat Earth?

@Ervin Taylor:

The Hebrews also believed that the world was flat and fixed in space. We now know that the world is round and moves in space.

This isn’t a likely statement. We actually know that the ancient’s believed in a spherical Earth – not a flat Earth.

It must first be reiterated that with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat. A round earth appears at least as early as the sixth century BC with Pythagoras, who was followed by Aristotle, Euclid, and Aristarchus, among others in observing that the earth was a sphere. Although there were a few dissenters–Leukippos and Demokritos for example–by the time of Eratosthenes (3 c. BC), followed by Crates(2 c. BC), Strabo (3 c. BC), and Ptolemy (first c. AD), the sphericity of the earth was accepted by all educated Greeks and Romans.

Nor did this situation change with the advent of Christianity. A few—at least two and at most five–early Christian fathers denied the spherically of earth by mistakenly taking passages such as Ps. 104:2-3 as geographical rather than metaphorical statements. On the other side tens of thousands of Christian theologians, poets, artists, and scientists took the spherical view throughout the early, medieval, and modern church. The point is that no educated person believed otherwise.

No one before the 1830s believed that medieval people thought that the earth was flat. The idea was established, almost contemporaneously, by a Frenchman and an American. One was Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848), an academic of strong antireligious prejudices who had studied both geography and patristics and who cleverly drew upon both to misrepresent the church fathers and their medieval successors as believing in a flat earth, in his On the Cosmographical Ideas of the Church Fathers (1834).

The American was no other than our beloved storyteller Washington Irving (1783-1859), who loved to write historical fiction under the guise of history. His misrepresentations of the history of early New York City and of the life of Washington were topped by his history of Christopher Columbus (1828). It was he who invented the indelible picture of the young Columbus, a “simple mariner,” appearing before a dark crowd of benighted inquisitors and hooded theologians at a council of Salamanca, all of whom believed, according to Irving, that the earth was flat like a plate. Well, yes, there was a meeting at Salamanca in 1491, but Irving’s version of it, to quote a distinguished modern historian of Columbus, was “pure moonshine. Washington Irving, scenting his opportunity for a picturesque and moving scene,” created a fictitious account of this “nonexistent university council” and “let his imagination go completely…the whole story is misleading and mischievous nonsense.”

Historians Jeffery Burton Russell and Christine Garwood have also destroyed the long held view among modern scholars that scientists and philosophers of the Middle Ages and early Christian church believed that the earth was flat. After an extensive review of the letters, papers, books of all the major thinkers throughout these periods, Russell and Garwood made the surprising discovery that apart from a few isolated individuals, no one believed in a flat earth—indeed, the common consensus throughout this entire period among virtually all scholars and churchmen was that the earth was spherical. Russell and Garwood then ask, from where did this flat earth understanding of early Christian and medieval thought come? They were able to trace it to the early 19th century when anti-religious sentiment was high among many scholars and intellectuals.

Also, there are several passages in the Bible that seem to suggest that the biblical writers did understand the Earth to be spherical. Isaiah writes about God sitting enthroned above the “circle of the Earth” (Isaiah 40:22). It is also interesting to note that the biblical writers emphasize the infinite distance of the east from the west (since this would not be true of the north from the south) – indicating an understanding of the spherical nature of the Earth and of the magnetic poles of the Earth (Psalms 103:12) – as well as some sense of sea or oceanic navigation (which both give very good clues as to the spericity of the Earth. The biblical authors also talk about God hanging the Earth in empty space (Job 26:7) and clearly had the ability to compare the Earth to other planets (especially the moon) as well as the Sun as being round or spherical (i.e., not square with “corners”).

Sean Pitman

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