Saturday, October 4, 2008

When did we know the Earth was not Flat?

While visiting Ephesus in Turkey, one of the great ports of the ancient Roman empire, I thought I experienced a personal ah-hah moment. I saw a statue of a triumphant Roman hero with one foot on a globe. The revelation that struck me was, hey, the Romans knew that the earth was round!

Later, I was to find out that the Greeks knew that the earth was round and passed the knowledge on to the Romans. Some guy named Eratosthenes even measured the circumference of the earth and came within less than 1% from today's measurement based on modern instrumentation. That was more than 2,200 years ago, when Eratosthenes was one of the leading scholars living in Alexandria.

Why then it was necessary for Galileo to rediscover this startling truth all over again? Because religion got in the way. More specifically, since the Catholic Church became the religion of the realm after Constantine became the Roman emperor.

The Church ruled by dogma, a concept that is antithetical to free thinking and open inquiry. It became blasphemy to speculate about the universe and whether the earth is at the center or not and whether the earth is flat or not.

Since no one relish being toasted at the stake, everybody went along with whatever the Church deemed as right was right. Darkness descended on earth in the middle ages. To some degree, that darkness remains to this day.

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