The Columbus “Science vs. Religion” Battle

Preview from Ten Myths of Modern Academia

This myth started with the publishing of A.D. White’s book, ” A History of the Warfare between Science and Religion, etc.” back in 1896, a book that White admitted was written out of anger at some opponents of his agenda at Cornell University. The following quote gives a good idea of his overall theme;

“The warfare of Columbus (with religion) the world knows well…How, even after he was triumphant, and after his voyage had greatly strengthened the theory of the earth’s sphericity…the theological barriers to this geological truth yielded but slowly.”

Makes for a great story and one that buttresses the idea that religion (read Christianity) had for centuries held back science during what for years has been labeled as the “Dark Ages”. However, despite its prevalence in modern academia, there isn’t an ounce of truth in it. The dog just doesn’t hunt, as they say in the provinces. Not only did others than Columbus suspect the world was round, the entire Christian world, Roman Catholic prelates included, knew the world was round. Bede taught the sphericity of the Earth at least as early as the 7th century, and the preeminent textbook on astrology in the 13th century was aptly named, “Sphere”. Written by John of Sacrobosco, it taught that all that the earth and all the planets were round. (Stark, For the Glory of God, p.122)

In fact, recent historians have stated that during the entire first 1500 years of Christendom, it was almost unanimous in its understanding of a round Earth, and by the time of Columbus it was accepted without question. (J.B. Russel, “Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians”) Others, like Edward Grant, have pointed out that in all of the scholastic’s works and writing, in all of the Christian universities across Europe, the idea of a flat earth is only mentioned in order to refute it. (Planets, Stars and Orbs: The Medieval Cosmos, 1200-1687)
Frances and Joseph Gies state;

“Robert Bacon, Albertus Magnus and their colleagues brought a renewed emphasis to the sphericity of the earth, never questioned but somewhat lost sight of in the Crusading age, which had popularized a map showing Jerusalem as the center of the world.” Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel, 1995, Harpers Collins, p.234

According to Rodney Stark, sociologist and historian, many Catholic scholars did argue with Columbus, but not over the sphericity of the Earth. They argued rightly that he had severely underestimated the size of the sphere of the Earth. Columbus thought it was only 2000 miles from the Canary Islands to Japan, when in fact it is closer to 14,000. None of Columbus’s own writings or journals, nor his son’s biography of Columbus, or any other writings contemporary with Columbus, or the journals of Magellan, makes any mention of the shape of the Earth. (Stark, ibid) Kind of strange if in fact his whole adventure was wrapped in scientific controversy over the shape of the planet; you would think that somewhere at least, this allegedly raging controversy would be alluded to.

Columbus himself did say and repeat often that it was “the Sacred Scriptures”, particularly those of Isaiah that had inspired and encouraged him, and that he felt the “hand of God” upon him. In fact, in his “Libro de Prophecias, he said;

“At this time I have seen and put in study to look into all the Scriptures, cosmography, histories, chronicles and philosophy and other arts, which our Lord opened to my understanding (I could sense His hand upon me), so that it became clear to me that it was feasible to navigate from here to the Indies; and He unlocked within me the determination to execute the idea…”

“I have already said that for the execution of the enterprise of the Indies, neither reason, nor mathematics, nor world maps were profitable to me; rather the prophecy of Isaiah was completely fulfilled…”

Christianity wasn’t the enemy of science or Columbus; it was the source of inspiration.

So how did this story reach “engraved in stone” status in modern academia at the turn of the 19th century and how has it remained there, undaunted by the facts of history, so long? Just as the halls of academia swooned over the theories of German higher criticism which pretended to have totally demolished the historicity of the Bible, from Torah to the New Testament, it could not resist another tale that ran so well along side of Darwinism.

Modern academia had decided to embrace the newly revived religion of secular paganism, with all its veneer of sophistication and scholastic wisdom. And it sank its teeth into this atheistic ideal with renewed vigor, locking its jaws with all the tenacity of a rabid bull dog holding a rabbit in its mouth. And with about the same glassy eyed level of intelligence.

After all, according to one of the modern prophets of the science vs. religion myth, Richard Dawkins, to reject the Darwinian myth and believe anything else makes us,

“…ignorant, stupid or insane…or evil…” (Dawkins R., quoted in Johnson, Darwin on Trial, p.9)

Ah, nothing like the tolerance of the secular humanist, eh? In the case of this long held myth, though, it appears as if modern academia is the one guilty of ignorance and stupidity, and a very stubborn aversion to data that contravenes its anti-supernatural agenda.


About notmanynoble

woodcutter from Washington State
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2 Responses to The Columbus “Science vs. Religion” Battle

  1. Tony says:

    Excellent. The “controversy” surrounding the shape of the earth is permeated throughout academia, both to the young and old. It’s still used as a fun jab for University professors today in my own classrooms. A little research sheds greater light on the matter, and it once again proves embellishment and exaggeration.


    • notmanynoble says:

      Yeah, I’m afraid the main goal would appear to develope the highest scorn and hatred towards the religion and faith of their fathers. Stuff their ears wirh half truths blind their eyes with false pictures of history and then turn them loose to follow any set of morals and any set of presuppositions but those based on Scripture.


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