Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The astrodome

To revisit a pet issue of mine, there are scholars who insist that Bible writers operate with a flat-earth/three-story cosmography. They say we should interpret the Bible in the same way an ancient Near Eastern audience would understand it. And there's nothing wrong with that general principle. Ironically, I think the scholars in question lack the imagination to do justice to their own principle.

According to flat-earth cosmography, mountain ranges prop up the solid dome of the sky. So the mountain range marks the outer limits of the world. It's like the mountain ranges are flat in back. Half-mountains. Now consider some phenomena that prescientific observers  see:

1. Clouds coming over the horizon or receding over the horizon. The most natural way to explain the appearance is that clouds are coming over the hills and mountains from behind the hills and mountains. So the world continues on the other side of the mountain range. That's not where the world ends. 

But if flat-earth cosmography were true, there'd be no space between the sky and the back of the mountains. In the case of receding clouds, if flat-earth cosmography were true, drifting clouds would strike the side of the sky, spreading up and down the solid dome. 

Visualize putting red or blue dye in an aquarium. It will spread out laterally until it reaches the sides of the aquarium. Then it will spread out veridically (up and down the sides of the aquarium) because it can't go any further in a straight line. 

2. Likewise, in flat-earth cosmology, either sun, moon, and stars rise from behind the hills and mountains or in front of them. But they can't rise from behind the hills and mountains because the solid dome of the sky comes down at the highest point of the mountain range. If the sky is solid and the mountains are solid, the sky will rest on the mountain peaks. It can't go any lower. But in that case, the sky forms a vertical barrier or wall on the ridge of the mountain range. So there's nothing behind the mountain range. 

And even if sun, moon, and stars were positioned behind the sky rather than up and down the face of the sky, the solid dome would have to be transparent to see them, like clear glass. But it's blue, like colored glass. Yet the sun isn't blue. 

The alternative is for sun, moon, and stars to rise out of the earth at the foot of the mountains. If, however, they're in front of the mountains, observers would seem them block the view of the mountains as they ascend to the sky. 

So when we assume the viewpoint of an ancient Near Eastern audience, how is the flat-earth construct that some scholars posit consistent with what ground-based, naked-eye observers see? Even from a prescientific perspective, three-story cosmography doesn't make sense. And these are just two examples. I've discussed several others.  

1 comment:

  1. As I'm sure you know, Poythress has a takedown of this idea in his recent "Interpreting Eden".