Terra Firma: The Earth Is Not A Planet, Proved From Scripture, Reason, And Fact, by David Wardlaw Scott
When I first received this book, I wondered if it was a joke. The author, by his title alone, appeared to be a firm contender for a spokesman of the Flat Earth Society. In looking at the book and reading it, and its frequent citations of scripture, the myths of Gilgamesh, obscure writings from those whom the author calls Zetetics, and the writings of scientists whose wisdom the author disparages, it is clear that the author was not joking. He was quite in earnest. Published in 1901, it seems unbelievable that this book would still be in Cornell University’s library system, but this is where the copy of the book existed, at any rate, whose digital version I read after having been sent this book with the request of a review by a loyal reader of the blog. I made a promise to give this book a serious review, and I am a man of my word, although I must freely confess that few people who read this book are likely to take the author very seriously, especially once he draws clearly out of scale representations of a spherical earth or shows a total ignorance of spherical geometry. It would be rather churlish and anachronistic of me to point out that this book does not address the question of relativity; it strictly finds fault with Newtonian physics with the laws of gravity, although the author would have hardly been a fan of relativity and quantum mechanics and superstring theory, which are even more hard to conceptualize than Newtonian physics.
In terms of its contents, this book is very lengthy and straightforward, about 300 pages or so in length, including its notes and introductory material. This is clearly too large of a book to be written by an old man on a lark. The book’s contents make it clear that he is attempting to make a reputation as a sound exegete of scripture. The chapters of the book are organized as follows: introductory remarks, the Adamic creation, the nebular hypothesis, remarks on alleged proofs of the world’s globularity, speculations on the immovable foundations of the earth, horizontality of land and water, several chapters on the sun, moon, and stars in scripture and scientific theory, the flood, the great deep, and closing fragments. It almost seems besides the point to talk about the book’s science, such as it conceives of it, given the fact that the scientific views that the author is mocking are nearly as obsolete as the views that the author discusses. To give but one example, as a flavor for the rest, the author talks about the incorrect reckoning of sailors in the far southern seas and its occasionally destructive results, about which there are at least a couple of comments that appear somewhat obvious: for one, who relies on dead reckoning anyway, and for another, the author appears not to take into consideration the continual winds and currents in the southern seas that would make dead reckoning persistently inaccurate in either one direction or the other based on how one was sailing.
Aside from the book’s contents, it is the book’s approach that is the most worthy of serious reflection. If one wanted to prove the earth was a planet one could point to GPS satellites, photos of the earth from space, and a whole host of other evidence. But the author represents a mode of extreme skepticism about the deceptive nature of the world’s authorities, especially in science and politics, and whatever evidence one could point to about the earth’s spherical state, among any other things, would then proceed to a question about the validity of the authority that was being appealed to. The author, by denying those authorities, and by pointing out the fact that much of scientific inquiry in the past few centuries has depended on suppositions that are assumed to be fact upon frequent repetition, and the fact that science teachers have often been less than precise or careful about the various metaphorical language that is used to discuss theories, especially in recent decades where science has become ever more difficult to adequately conceive of, much less explain, means that the author represents a legitimate difficulty on the part of people to accept anything that is told by a supposed authority, especially one that reflects hostility to God’s Word. In such a situation, many books could be written across each other, and because of an absence of common authority, no profitable discourse would take place. This book is a pointed reminder of the problems of discourse in our society, and the results of pervasive mistrust of authorities, and rather than ridicule such an author, I find within myself a great deal of empathy for the state that he is in, even where I disagree with his interpretations of scripture.