Gary W. Summers
One of our college students, a conscientious one who actually reads the textbook, was shocked to discover the following at the very beginning of her history book. In answer to the heading question “Was Columbus the first to believe the earth was round?” the writer, Gloria Deak, comments:
Not at all. Every educated man in his day believed it was a sphere, and every European university taught the concept in geography classes. There were, of course, some who clung to the ancient biblical notions that the earth was a flat disk with Jerusalem in the center and that one could fall off the edge (3).
Our Nation’s Heritage, edited by Larry G. Bowman and Randolph B. Campbell, and published in 1997 by American Heritage-Custom Publishing, a division of Forbes, Inc., 60 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011. The editors, in their glowing praise of Ms. Deak prior to the chapter’s beginning, comment that “she provides her readers sensible answers to some of the more persistent misconceptions concerning Columbus’ adventures” (1).
It would appear, from the editors’ comments and the writers’ remarks, that academia is in sad shape. Graduate students are taught to document their facts. Their introductory (and obligatory) research course requires about ten to fifteen hours a week in the library. When the instructor assigns questions, he expects documented answers. At least, ten years ago that was the way the system operated. Apparently, those who write textbooks (“opinion books” might be more appropriate) are exempt from such petty scholarly annoyances.
Deak makes two unsubstantiated statements: (1) That all the elite minds of Europe knew the world was round; (2) That only Bible-believers (obviously ignorant souls) believed the earth was flat with Jerusalem in the center. The inaccuracy of the latter statement forces one to question the former—or anything else this writer says. The student should ask some questions at this point.
1. What source is cited to establish what every European university taught about geography? Could the writer not list even one book that gives a summary of the beliefs of European university professors, with specific quotations? Ms. Deak has heard of footnotes, has she not?
2. To what ancient “biblical” notions does the writer refer? Presumably, if they are “biblical” notions, they could be traced to the Bible. Exactly what verse says the Earth is a flat disk? One cannot turn to Isaiah 40:22 for that information. God is described as “He that sits above the circle of the earth.”
3. And what passage proclaims Jerusalem to be the center of the Earth? Students can only hope that Ms. Deak knows history better than she knows the Bible (which she has obviously not studied).
But the real damage is that a number of young people (who have never read the Scriptures) will take courses (filled with prejudices) and emerge from them convinced that the Bible is full of superstitions and myths. How ironic that, in an age of information, ignorance such as Deak’s is propagated in the name of higher education!