(by Phyllis Schlafly, EagleForum.org) – One of the famous lines written by the songwriter Ira Gershwin is “They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round.” You can call that poetic license for a musical comedy, but it’s important to know that that line is a lie, and it’s unfortunate that it appears in many school textbooks. Christopher Columbus and his contemporaries knew very well that the earth was round. Medieval science had been built on the precise studies of Greek scholars, and every educated person of Columbus’ time knew that the earth is round. Not only had the ancient Greeks discovered that the earth is round, but the philosopher Eratostenes accurately calculated the earth’s circumference in the third century before Christ. Medieval scholars debated such details as the earth’s size and how big are the oceans, but no serious scholar believed the earth to be flat. The great medieval religious scholars, such as the Venerable Bede, Roger Bacon and Thomas Aquinas, added to the Greeks’ knowledge with their own calculations.

The myth that people of the 15th century believed that the earth was flat was popularized by 19th century atheists in order to use science in their war against religion. What better way to discredit religion than to attribute an obviously false idea to religious people! This myth can be traced directly to two very influential 19th century books: History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science by John William Draper (a physician) published in 1874 and History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickson White (the first president of Cornell University) published in 1896. Both men used the flat-earth myth to help spread their arguments against religion. These books started the false and dangerous ideology that there is a war between science and religion, and that science is the only source of truth. The flat-earth myth did not appear in schoolbooks before 1870, but nearly all textbooks included it after 1880.

The attempt to make Columbus into a hero of the battle between science and religion is particularly ridiculous. Columbus was a deeply committed Christian whose own writings prove that his desire to carry the message of Jesus Christ to faraway lands was the primary motivation of his historic voyage to the New World.

This post is from a Phyllis Schlafly Radio Script, October 9, 2000.  Mrs. Schlafly is the founder of EagleForum.orgClick here for the original post.


1. Why does Phyllis Schlafly say it is important for us to know that educated people in Columbus’ time understood that the earth is round?

2. Do you agree with Mrs. Schlafly’s assertion?

Read additional articles that support Mrs. Schlafly’s assertion at: textbookleague.org and bede.org.uk/flatearth.htm.