In an editorial in The Standard Bearer of May 1, under the title “Evolution, Long Periods, or Days,” the Reverend H. Hoeksema asks for historical verification for certain statements made in the Beacon Lights editorial three issues ago: “Proof Positive – the Earth Is Flat.”
But first, I feel constrained to interject a definite denial to the statement that the title of the editorial was meant to be sarcastic and that “Proof Positive – the Earth Was Created In Six Twenty-Four Hour Days” would have fit just as well. Had the intent been sarcasm and ridicule, yes I suppose it would have fit, but since the purpose of the article was to show that Divine harmony continues to exist in spite of ecclesiastical errors in cosmology, the alternate suggested by the Rev. Hoeksema would not fit.
Secondly, I find it distasteful and disappointing to dwell further on past errors of the church as if to make the church look foolish, but upon request I do so.
Thirdly, my editorial was not a reflection of the Rev. Hoeksema’s series on creation but stemmed from quite different sources.
As verification of the statement that the church once taught that the earth was flat I offer the writings of Lactantius, an early Christian church writer who wrote a number of books on “the false wisdom of the philosophers.” In chapter 24 of this third book “he heaped ridicule on the doctrine of the spherical earth…made disparaging remarks about people whose feet would be above their heads…etc.” (History of Astronomy, by Dryer, page 209). In the same work, Dryer quotes Severeanus, Bishop of Gagala, who states categorically in one of his “Six Lectures on the Creation of the World”, “the earth is flat…”. Sometime later, in the 6th century, Kosmas, a prominent lay member of the church, again ridiculed the idea of a spherical earth and asked, “How could a spherical earth be swamped by the deluge in the days of Noah?” To him, this was proof positive that the earth was flat.
As late as the thirteenth century, the church was still in opposition to the Grecian philosophers who taught the roundness of the earth, for in the Council of Paris in 1209, the church laymen and students were forbidden to read the writings of Aristotle regarding his philosophy on nature.
From these writings and more, I feel it is obvious that the church once taught that the earth is flat and anyone contradicting this faced serious opposition.
I have also been asked to prove that the theologians believed and taught that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun and the planets revolve around the earth; also that the church held this view in opposition to other influences.
That the church hold and taught the earth-centered universe is verified by the following quotation from the Encyclopedia Britannica (Eleventh edition, Vol. XI, page 408): “On the 24th of February 1616 the consulting theologians of the Holy Office characterized the two propositions – that the sun is immovable in the center of the world, and that the earth has a diurnal motion of rotation, the first as ‘absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical, because expressly contrary to Holy Scripture’ and the second as ‘Open to the same censure in philosophy, and at least erroneous as to faith.” Also from the New Funk and Wagnall Encyclopedia (Vol. 15, page 5470; re the life and work of Galileo Galilei), “The Copernican view of the solar system, which contradicted the prevailing theory that the earth is fixed and is the center about which the universe revolves, roused theological opposition.”
In 1633 Galileo was summoned to the palace of the Inquisition; there he was accused of writing in opposition to a former decree against such activities (dating from 1616) and under menace of torture he read his recantation and received his sentence.
So much for the requested verification that the church has at times held to erroneous views regarding cosmology and opposed with supposedly scriptural basis, the erudite few who attempted to teach otherwise.
Now to the more pleasant and positive segment of our task: the attempt to answer the Rev. Hoeksema’s questions with which he closed his editorial. Remember, please, that I am no scientist, and do not pretend to be one, and therefore have been forced to rely on non-technical references.
Question No. 1…”just what is Carbon-14?” Carbon-14 is a radioactive substance found in minute quantities in every living thing. According to Dr. Libby, formerly of the University of Chicago, cosmic rays (assumed to come from the sun) produce carbon-14 which in turn joins with oxygen found in the air to form carbon dioxide which is absorbed by plants and through plants into animals and man, who then have traces of Carbon-14 in their bodies. This carbon-14 can be detected and measured much like the radiation of uranium is detected and measured by Geiger Counters. This Carbon-14 has a “half life” of 5,568 years (plus or minus 30 years). In other words, one half of any sample of Carbon-14 will ‘disappear’ in 5,568 years and half o that remainder will disappear in another 5,568 years and so on.
Question No. 2. “Will you explain how, especially Carbon-14 proves that the earth is thousands of years older than Scripture indicates? You, evidently believe this.” First of all, may I place quotation marks around the word “prove”, for although I cannot scientifically disprove the Carbon-14 dating theory, I do not believe its testimony regarding creation. The age of any given matter is determined by measuring with a supersensitive radiation counter, the amount of Carbon-14 remaining in the matter. This, when compared with the amount of Carbon-14 in a similar sample of known age, gives the technician the age of the sample being tested.
Question No. 3. “Will you explain how it is even possible, and now I mean in the light of Scripture, that animal…and some form of human life existed a half million years before the birth of Christ? And will you prove this also from Carbon-14 as well as from ‘the technique of measuring the radioactivity that remains in the samples submitted by archeologists’?” I am assuming that the phrase “even possible” in the above question is intended in its broadest scope. I also wish to state that the mention here of heretical theories is not intended to be misconstrued as a plea for their acceptance or even for their “co-existence.” As for the first part of the above question: If one will allow the alternate translations from the original languages of Scripture, and also the secondary meanings of certain words and phrases required by proponents of various theories of creation it is “possible” to “prove” that both animal and some sort of human life could have existed a half million years before the birth of Christ. Because of this, we should exercise extreme care when exposed to unorthodox doctrines in spite of their supposedly scriptural basis I have been unable to relocate the source of the information that carbon dating has placed man on the earth calendar some half million years before Christ. I have, however, a reference which reports that the radioactivity in certain rocks indicates an age of 4.5 billion years (National Geographic, Vol. CXIV, No. 2, page 254). If they can make rocks that old they should have no problem with “proving” that man is a mere half million years old!
Question No. 4. “Was man created in the image of Goad a half million years ago or did he gradually develop into that image?” Neither. Although we cannot disprove the evidence of Carbon-14 dating on a scientific basis, we as Christians are not obliged to accept its testimony regarding creation. This is a direct contradiction to many humanistic philosophies which consider logic as the criterion upon which our beliefs and actions should all be based. But don’t forget: The church of Christ lives not through logic but by faith in God and in His Word.
Originally Published in:
Vol. 19 No. 6 August-September 1959