Lee McIntyre, a professor at Boston University, begins his fascinating book How to Talk to a Science Denier with an account of a visit he paid to a conference of people who are convinced that the earth is flat and that there is a massive conspiracy of organizations that want to convince humanity that we live on a round earth. He tells of his ever-increasing amazement at the bizarre theories that during this weekend were poured out over him, but most of all at the stubborn persistence with which all his arguments were swept aside. He left the congress with a feeling of failure and alienation: he had not been able to establish an open, meaningful dialogue with these, often educated, people who believed (that word is certainly applicable) in a flat earth.
It is incomprehensible to me, but there appears to be a large group of people who believe in the flat-earth theory. According to a survey that Dagblad Trouw commissioned from Kieskompas in 2019, there are about 150,000 men and women in the Netherlands who are certain or consider it very likely that NASA and other organizations are doing everything they can to cover up the fact that the earth is not a sphere but a flat disk! In the USA the percentage of people who subscribe to the flat-earth-theory is even higher.
I was reminded of the newspaper report and the Boston professor’s book today when I saw a reference to a short video on YouTube by Matthew Korpman. He is a young Adventist scholar who recently graduated from the prestigious Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. He already has several publications to his name. These show that he is not afraid to broach controversial subjects.
Sponsored by Adventist Today, he has now embarked on a special project, namely the production of a series of short YouTube programs in which he responds to bizarre theories circulating in (and especially on the fringes of) the Adventist Church. The latest episode looks at a conversation (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeyu2i5GQes – ca. 50 minutes into the tape) between Walter Veith and his conversation partner Martin Smith in which the flat-earth topic comes up. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5YXBEZBitU) Veith tells his audience that he is very often asked whether the earth is flat or round. The remarkable thing is that he refuses to answer this question. While he likes to portray himself as a scientist who gets to the bottom of things, in this case his scientific curiosity lets him down. He quotes a rather vague statement from a letter Ellen White once wrote to a church member, but otherwise thinks we had better leave this question alone. There are different answers to the question of whether the earth is flat or round, but, Veith opines, disagreement will only arise if we go into this matter in more detail. Korpman supposes that in Veith’s constituency there are quite a few people with extreme ideas, including many flat-earthers. And Veith doesn’t want to lose them, because that category provides significant support for his ministry, especially also expressed in dollars.
I suspect Korpman hits the nail on the head. I highly recommend this short video by Matthew Korpman to anyone who still thinks that Walter Veith represents a serious voice in the Adventist Church, who should be listened to. But from my own experience I know that anyone who writes critically about him will sooner or later be sharply attacked. He considers me to be a Jesuit who has infiltrated the Adventist Church and who is part of the group of apostates that threatens the church from within. I wouldn’t be surprised if Korpman is soon given that same label. But with his video series, he is doing his church an extremely valuable service.