Friday, 8 August 2014

C.C. Walker and the Flat Earth Christadelphian

I've referred on more than one occasion to C.C. Walker's response to a correspondent who argued that belief in a spherical earth was a pagan theory which directly challenged the inspiration and authority of the scripture, as it showed that over 100 years ago, our community regarded a fundamentalist reading of the creation narratives as anything but normative. As the concepts of YEC and Biblicism still influence our community, it is worth specifically revisiting this brilliant article as its parallels to the contemporary debate on evolution are clear, and worth applying.

In August 1913, The Christadelphian published a letter from a bro. T. Griffith, endorsing a flat earth cosmology on Biblical grounds:
Dear Brother Walker.—Referring to your brief eulogium on Sir Robert Ball’s speculation as to the “dots in the heavens” (The Christadelphian, July, page 316), I shall be glad if you will condescend to reply to the following queries through the columns of The Christadelphian. 
Seeing that the veracity and verbal inspiration of the Scriptures are denied by many on the basis of the revolving globe-earth theory, even to the extent of rejecting the ascension of Jesus into the heaven of heavens as a “geometrical impossibility.” the matter surely cannot be set aside as of no importance, and beyond the province of a magazine devoted to the defence of Biblical teaching and the overthrow of pagan and papal dogmas. 
The globe-earth theory is essentially pagan in its origin, and no amount of ingenuity has yet succeeded in harmonizing it with the cosmogony of the Bible. 
It is supposed that the theory was first introduced into Europe by Pythagoras, in the sixth century b.c., and he was a rank pagan. It was afterwards adopted by Plato, and latterly modified to its present form by Aristarchus of Samos, “who went to the length of ranking our green world as a planet revolving yearly round the sun.” Through Copernicus and Galileo the theory has acquired a distinct Romish taint. 
We may blame the author of “Lead Kindly Light” for following the glimmer of Rome’s magic lantern,1 instead of bringing his mental difficulties to be solved in the light of the word of God; but what about those who allow themselves to be led by the vapourings of scientific theorists while pondering over the plainly worded inspired narrative of creation? . . . 
There may not be much danger of a brother being led astray by the perusal of modern rationalistic literature, for in that case he is prepared to antagonize the fallacies of modern thought, but morsels of error, in the form of “scientific” tit-bits, daintily wrapped up within the covers of a Biblical magazine, devoted to the defence and advocacy of Scripture doctrine, may not give rise to suspicion that there is anything wrong. The wrong is there all the same, and its effects become manifest when he who has swallowed the morsel finds, as the logical outcome of an adopted bastard theory, that the Bible and modern science are at variance, and verbal inspiration a farce. . . . 
The late Prof. Woodhouse, of Cambridge University, once wrote, in reference to the globe-earth theory—“We shall never arrive at a time when we shall be able to pronounce it absolutely proved to be true. The nature of the subject excludes such a possibility” (Astronomy, Vol. 1, p. 13). 
The “great astronomer,” Sir Robert Ball — wherein does his greatness lie? Certainly not in his discovery or advocacy of scientific truth. He is an evolutionist of the first order, and a pronounced anti-creationist. He is just the type of unbeliever that so-called modern science is producing; the old Scripture - revering type of astronomers, such as Ferguson, Woodhouse, and Herschell, is fast dying out as the natural effect of an anti-Scriptural theory. 
But here I must submit my queries:— 
1.—Is it not a fact that the Bible teaches that there are but two great lights and but one sun?
2.—Is it not a pure speculation, unsupported by any natural fact, the theory that the “dots in the heavens” are great suns?
3.—Is it not a fact that the enormously extravagant distances and magnitudes of the so-called “dots” have for their bases, the unproved assumption that the earth is a revolving globe, speeding through space at 68,000 miles an hour, and with an orbit of 190 millions of miles?
4.—Is it not a fact, as Prof. Robert Main, of Greenwich, candidly affirmed, that the theories “respecting the distances of the fixed stars and other cosmical problems” are based upon the “refined speculations of modern astronomy?”
5.—Is it not the teaching of Scripture that the earth, that is, the dry land, is a stationary body, founded upon the seas, and established upon the floods, and with its foundations in the deep?
6.—Is it not the plain testimony of Moses that sun, moon, and stars, were made and set in the heavens on the fourth day of Creation week? 
Believing, as I do, with you, that it is “necessary to bring everything to the test of the Word of God,” I present these questions in all good faith for your serious consideration.
Faithfully yours, in the pursuit and defence of all divine truth,

T. Griffiths.
I will commend bro. Griffith for being entirely consistent in his Biblical cosmology, as nowhere will you find reference to the Earth being spherical. [1] The creation narratives refer to an Earth covered by a solid firmament in which the sun, moon, and stars are fixed, clearly consistent with a flat Earth. In that he was far more consistent than YECs or OECs who are inconsistent in how literally they interpret the creation narratives.

Griffith's letter shares striking parallels with antievolutionists in:
  1. Privileging a literal reading of the Bible without providing any justification for why he chose this hermeneutical strategy
  2. Linking modern science with atheism
  3. Attacking scientists as 'unbelievers' and 'evolutionists' rather than providing informed, critical appraisals of their arguments
  4. Taking quotations from scientists out of context
  5. Making extravagant claims that the inspiration and authority of the Bible are challenged by accepting what science declares about the universe
Bro Walker's response shows both a deep respect for both books of divine revelation, as well as evidence that the fundamentalism which blights our community was anything but normative for us a century ago:
We would not discuss this matter were it not that our brother does himself and others an injustice in proclaiming the well settled belief of so many of his brethren a “wrong” and “bastard theory” and so forth; and quite unfaithful to the Word of God. 
This is not the case at all. Speaking for ourselves: before we learned “the truth” we were quite well convinced of the spherical figure of the earth from perfectly candid study of natural phenomena, and of navigation, which certainly “works” on the spherical basis. And we have found nothing in the Scriptures to unsettle this conviction in the least. Quite the contrary. In fact, the “enormous distances and magnitudes” which appear to be a stumbling block to our brother, are to us only the fitting suggestions of the Infinite and Eternal. And this is the impression of many of the brethren, as it was of the late Dr. Thomas and brother Roberts. 
Though we thus believe, we are in no way responsible for the denials of ignorance and unbelief. To us, the mention of “geometrical impossibility” as an objection to the ascent of Jesus into heaven, is merely an indication of the objector’s lack of true understanding alike of The Acts of the Apostles, and of natural phenomena. 
Admitted that “the globe-earth theory” is of “pagan” origin, it is not therefore untrue. Much natural truth is of “pagan” discovery. We do not reject it on that account; and as to Galileo and the “Romish taint,” we have always understood that the whole weight of Papal authority was thrown against “the globe-earth theory,” which it has since been compelled to accept as true. 
Newman’s “religious difficulties,” which he solved by surrender to Rome, were not like natural phenomena which can be put to the tests of observation and measurement. It is scarcely right to allude to the result of scientific observation and measurement, obtained through centuries of patient labour, as “the vapouring of scientific theorists.” In these days of the discovery of the North and South Poles, and of record-breaking travel round the world, we can surely be permitted to hold to the belief in a spherical earth, without throwing ourselves open to a charge of unfaithfulness to the Bible. 
With regard to the remarks of Professor Woodhouse, we are inclined to think a great many of his brother professors would have differed from his conclusion. It would largely depend upon just what he meant by “absolutely proved;” and as he is dead we cannot ask him. 
So far as we understand, the prevailing type of “Scripture-revering Astronomers” is that of believers in the spherical earth. Indeed, we know of no “astronomy” apart from such a belief. But as to our brother’s queries:— 
Answer 1.—No; the Bible does not absolutely limit the number of “great lights” to two; nor does it affirm that there is absolutely only one sun in the universe. It tells us that this is so with reference to the earth (which is obvious enough to the most elementary observation), but it also tells us that God made “the stars also,” without telling us what the stars are. Later, an apostle speaks of “one star differing from another star in glory,” without defining the extent of the “glory” of any. Modern astronomy reveals very great “glory” among the stars, and though, of necessity, largely speculative, is far from being the profanity that some well-meaning souls imagine it to be. 
Answer 2.—No; there are “natural facts” underlying the “speculation.” Such are the ascertained velocity of light, the eclipses of Jupiter’s moons, the fact that the best telescopes will not resolve the stars into discs as in the case of the planets; the fact of the existence of the planet Neptune as simultaneously discovered by Adams and Le Verrier; the facts of parallax and spectrum analysis. “Natural facts” are the essence of modern astronomy. 
Answer 3.—Without committing ourselves exactly to the figures named, we may say that what our brother calls an “unproved assumption” is with us a well-settled conviction, for reasons which may be found in any good work on astronomy, Sir Robert Ball’s “Story of the Heavens,” for example. 
Answer 4.—No doubt Professor Main meant to qualify results and figures by his remark—not principles. These are too well established to admit of doubt by any Greenwich professor. With very small parallaxes distances are, of course, correspondingly indefinite. This appears to be all that Prof. Main wished to emphasise in his remark, the context on which we do not know. 
Answer 5.—It is certainly written: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods” (Psa. 24:1, 2). It is also written: “He stretched out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing” (Job 26:7). We do not find the passages at all irreconcilable, or even difficult; and we do not believe that the burden of either of them is mainly (if at all) the figure of the earth; but rather the majesty of the Creator. 
Answer 6.—Moses’ testimony is not so “plain” that it cannot be misinterpreted or misunderstood. He speaks of “the heaven and the earth” as being in existence “in the beginning;” and therefore it does not seem to be inadmissible to suppose that “the host of heaven” was likewise then in existence. Moses’ testimony was given to Israel in what might be called the infancy of the world, when men did not know the extent of the earth, let alone that of the sun, moon, and stars. And, as we believe, it was given (by God through Moses), not so much to instruct Israel in cosmogony in detail, as to impress upon them the idea that The Most High God is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 14:22). And this against the claims of the gods of the nations, as was abundantly proved in Israel’s history. As to “the fourth day,” we do not know of any “day” in the literal sense apart from the sun and its motion. And, therefore, if the “days” of Genesis 1. are to be taken as literal days, we feel bound to admit the sun as the origin of the “light,” and “evening and morning” that were the characteristics of “the first day.” How can you have “evening and morning” without the sun? We must settle up “the plain testimony” of verse 5 with that of verses 14–19. As we said before (The Christadelphian, 1910, p. 269), “If we understand Moses as saying that the sun came into existence on ‘the fourth day,’ we make him contradict himself; we make him present us with day and night, evening and morning, without the sun upon which these things depend.”

Under these circumstances we prefer another interpretation, holding always in reserve the thought that presently Moses will be on the scene again, and that we may then, perhaps, be permitted to hear the divine interpretation of the divine utterances of so long ago.—Ed.
Walker's reply needs little in the line of commentary other than to note his recognition that the creation narratives were not as plain as Griffith (and the 21st century YECs) alleged, as well as his strikingly perceptive recognition that as Genesis was given to a pre-scientific audience, its main purpose was not to teach science, but to show that YHWH, and not the gods of the nations was creator.

Bro Walker never accepted evolution, though he accepted the antiquity of the Earth, recognised that creation in six literal days could not be reconciled with what geology had shown, and was willing to accept that if one could show that ancient fossils were ancestral to modern life forms, our community would need to revise its understanding of Genesis:
The professors tell us for instance that some of these ancient birds, whose strides we can see for ourselves from their footprints were from four to six feet long, were like gigantic ostriches. Supposing that it were ever established that they were the actual progenitors of our smaller forms (“There were giants in the earth in those days” might apply to to birds and beasts), would the credibility of the Mosaic narrative suffer? Not at all, in our estimation. We should indeed have to revise somewhat our interpretation of the brief cosmogony of Gen. 1.; but should not waver as concerning its divinity, nor await with less faith and patience the reappearance of Moses in the land of the living. (Emphasis mine) [3]
Our community could do worse than to follow his example.


1. Walker C.C. "Is it 'Wrong' to Believe that the Earth is a Sphere?" The Christadelphian (1913) 50:346-349

2. The fundamentalist assertion that Isaiah 40:22 refers to a spherical Earth is false, as the Hebrew חוּג refers not to a sphere, but a circle. See Robert Schneider "Does the Bible Teach a Spherical Earth?" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2001) 53:159-169

3. Walker C.C. "Genesis" The Christadelphian (1910) 47:501-502