Fun with Flat Earth Fundies, Part 1



A while back I wrote an article for the Christian Research Journal titled, “The Legendary Flat Earth Bible” in which I showed that flat Earth readings of the text were an anachronism.  The main error of such interpreters is assuming that “earth” in the Bible refers to planetary Earth. That would actually have been impossible, since our planet was not named “Earth” until well after the Biblical era.

A fundamentalist named Philip Stallings, described as “Founder of the Biblical Flat Earth Society,” had a few problems with my article. He mock-piously insists that “we are to approach these issues from the standard of God's Word” (as if I didn’t? truth is a standard of the Word, isn’t it?) and then issues the vague threat that if we aren’t careful, my suggestion that we read the text in its proper contexts could lead to believing in evil stuff like theistic evolution and maybe also Communism, pornography, and sugar-free cookies. Once Stallings slides his backside off that greased slippery slope, he hits the ground with a thud. I had said in the article:
 
To illustrate the problem, a critic once remarked that the parable of the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31–2) would have been more impressive had Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a redwood. Since no one in first-century Palestine knew what a redwood was, the critic argued, this would have demonstrated prophetic knowledge to the modern reader.

Stallings responds that “[n]o creationist, young earther, or flat earther argue from any sort of parable to begin with” and then goes on a skein about “persecution” and “scientism” that somehow manages to miss the point by at least the breadth of a flat Earth. I am not saying anything here about what a creationist, young earther, or flat earther would do or argue from. I am, rather, making a point about the intelligibility of Jesus’ words to his own audience in Matthew 13.

Stallings eventually sort of gets it, but only after he allows me to hammer it into his skull with the next paragraph:

Such judgments reflect a provincialism that assumes the modern reader should be a privileged target of the text. If Jesus spoke of redwood trees, it would represent a stunning anachronism that readers for hundreds of years to come would find puzzling, and potentially consider a reason to reject the Bible’s message, just as some claim to reject it today because of alleged flat-Earth passages. The modern critic demands accommodation from God at the cost of confusion for all who lived before.

Stallings’ first response to this is the intro for the Spoiled Modern Manifesto: “Are we not all privileged readers?” Well, no, Philip, we are NOT all privileged readers. That is your personal delusion as an egotistical modern person who considers yourself to be the center of the universe. The universe you believe in isn’t so much geocentric as egocentric. Your question, in any event, evades the force of the point: a specific reference to redwoods would have benefited only modern people and maybe some Native Americans in the region that would become northern California. No one else, and definitely not the people Jesus was directly speaking to. They were, in fact, privileged over us because they heard Jesus first and in person. So no, we are not privileged over them, period.

The spoiled outcry continues with further exercises in missing the point: “To suggest that one can ONLY benefit from the true meaning of the text must now go back to the past denies the sufficiency of Scripture for correction and instruction in righteousness.”

Well, first of all, Phil, this little ditty about the “sufficiency” of Scripture in the way you have it is also a modern anachronism. Here’s a little something Phil seems’ oblivious to: if he’s right, his own articles explaining why the Bible teaches a flat Earth deny the sufficiency of Scripture to make that point. And worse yet: He reads the Bible in English, as a translation. Obviously the Bible in Hebrew and Greek wasn’t “sufficient” to get the message to him.

Here’s the reality: The doctrine of the “sufficiency” of Scripture was formed in the context of a specific reaction to perceived excesses by the Catholic Church. Specifically, it was a reaction to the use of deuteroncanonical materials. So, no, it wasn’t formulated to exclude defining external contexts.

The hilarity of it is that Stallings clearly knows he backs himself into a corner with his view, because he tries to qualify it with all the subtlety of a ballerina with cement overshoes: “Obviously we should all be eager to understand the context surrounding the authors, history, and audience but NOT as to sacrifice the entirety of the meaning in order to satisfy theories which abound today!” But hang on there, Phil: Where did you get that “entirety of the meaning” in the first place? Basically, you got it from your own external assumptions of how the text ought to be read: apart from a defining external context. Thus when he says absurd things like:

If the Scriptures teach that the "sun stood still," who am I to now twist the opposite meaning out of the text based upon a modern day assumption? Have we grown so "privileged" as to believe that we now are capable of rewriting the text and reveal how opposite and confusing the pure Word of God was then because of what NASA has told us?

…he fails to see that the meaning he has ascribed was itself based on modern day assumptions: Such as, that God would not use phenomenological language to describe a visual perception; and, further down that track, that God thinks and talks like a modern fundy. In other words, that God thinks like Phil does.

Phil eventually gets back to the redwoods problem, but it’s just another evasion:

Parables were used then and even today to refer to every day objects in order to convey a moral story. That there were no redwoods mentioned by name would be consistent with parables which also didn't refer to people by name.

Even a fundy atheist ignorant enough to appeal to the “redwoods” objection can see how transparently thin that excuse is, though, because Jesus named the mustard plant! It’s as though Phil was smoking redwood needles when he composed that argument.

I’ll stop there and tackle more of Phil’s silly readings next time, but close with this note. Just how much of a nut do we have here in Stallings?

He follows Hislop’s “Mystery Babylon” theory. That’s how nuts he is.

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