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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

John McCain believes in a flat Earth

I watched the second presidential debate, the town hall format, and was shocked when I heard John McCain say "We have gone to all 4 corners of the earth" (Youtube 2:28). Clearly this means he believes in a flat earth since only a flat earth could have 4 corners! Any other rational person would have said "We have been around the globe". During presidential debates the candidates choose their words very carefully. McCain may be sending a signal that if he is elected he will continue the mission of the evangelical protestant church that devised the God-based illogical war on Iraq and a stem cell policy from pre-Germ Theory thinking.

I used to be under the impression that John McCain was a religious moderate but after picking Sarah Palin for VP (whom a moderate would never be comfortable with) and claiming we have been to each of the four corners of the earth (I wonder where he thinks the corners are?); now it is clear that he is a Christian fundamentalist. Thousands of years ago before people had circumnavigated the earth (or had globes in classrooms or had pictures of the earth from space) it was understandable to believe the earth was flat. Even Euclid thought the earth was flat and he was one of the smartest people ever to have lived.

Nowadays, you would only find people who believe in a flat earth because they are Bible literalists because that is the only source of teachings which still preaches the flat earth theory. See Isaiah 11:12 and Matthew 4:8.

What are McCain's positions on the age of the earth and the "end times"?

I think a person who believes he is capable of serving as president from age 72 to age 80 and appoints a successor who believes the "end times" will be within her lifetime is not putting country first, he's putting God first!

On top of all that I mentioned above McCain has been bragging during this race that being a POW is a major qualification for being president while it clearly is not. McCain's judgment is severely flawed!

By Peter


Tiago said...

Just saw the Kiva page "Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious".

I was about to join when I noticed that everything else related to the page seems to drop everything after "Atheists". Even the caption for the group here on the blog says only "Kiva atheists". No to mention the blog's name altogether

I would love to join when all "Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious" are treated in equal footing. But not before.

(Agnostic and Secular Humanist)

Tropical Pete said...


I updated the caption to the team page link. Hope that helps :)


Charlotte Lake said...


I was happy to find your team on Kiva, but disappointed in this post as an introduction to your thinking. Let me start by saying I am a staunch Obama supporter and feel there are many things about John McCain's policies and statements worth complaining about, not to mention those of his running mate.

However, claiming that John McCain believes the Earth is flat because he happened to use the idiom "the four corners of the earth" is, in my opinion, just as irresponsible as claiming a person is amoral and selfish just because she says "I don't believe in God." In both cases, a brashly misleading conclusion is drawn from a statement, a conclusion that is based more on the agenda of the listener than on the beliefs of the speaker.

Despite the fact that most Americans fully accept the fact that the earth is a sphere, "the four corners of the earth" is still a common phrase in the English vernacular. The phrase may have first been recorded in the Bible, but I don't think it has any religious connotation to the average person today. I'm sure I have used it a time or two in my lifetime, and I have never been accused of believing the earth is flat or of being a Christian fundamentalist or of being irrational because of it.

Do you honestly think that anyone who uses the phrase "the four corners of the earth" believes the earth is flat, and is therefore an irrational Christian fundamentalist? If so, then I must question your judgment as much as you question McCain's (even as I also question McCain's judgment about many other matters). If not, then perhaps you should think twice about accusing your enemy of something you wouldn't, given the same evidence, accuse your friendly neighbor of.

I am a skeptical agnostic humanist who likes to consider herself a freethinker. But one of the things I value most is responsible discourse, something that seems to be in short supply this election season. I am guilty of resorting to inflammatory rhetoric at times, when emotions are high, but I always end up feeling worse about myself because of it. It is ultimately more satisfying to have an honest and respectful argument with an opponent than to sit around with like-minded folks spewing wild accusations against those we mutually dislike.

(Trying to live a life of honesty and integrity . . . just because.)

Tropical Pete said...


I humbly accept your criticism. I do however disagree that "the four corners of the earth" does not have a religious connotation. How could it have a secular connotation?

Also, my intense criticism of McCain's words is partly due to the forum in which he expressed those words. If it was in passing with friends or on Jay Leno's show then maybe he didn't seriously mean it but I question his motive to use it in the serious forum of a internationally televised presidential debate.

He also called Obama "that one" and is now referring to him as "eloquent". I question McCain's motivation for those statements.

Sarah Palin used the phrase "hell-bent" in her interview with Katie Couric, referring to Bin Laden's mission. I question that religious idiom because a neutral observer would note that Bin Laden is actually "paradise-bent" which Palin clearly cannot acknowledge.

It seems to me that Palin cannot see the equivalence between her religion and Islam, which means to me that she believes her world view is the one and only correct world view and as we've seen with President Bush that can lead to disastrous results. Palin is the person with whom McCain has put his highest confidence.

I do not see the separation between the idiom "the four corners of the earth" and the concept of a flat Earth and I would question and challenge anyone who used that phrase in my company if for no other reason but to embarrass them into upgrading their vocabulary.

How am I to judge what a person believes other than by the words he chooses to express himself?

Maybe by questioning these religious idioms we can move the dialog towards a more secular based rhetoric, your thoughts?

Fritz Juhnke said...

Tropical Pete,

It is telling that you couldn't respond to Katie's point without throwing in a few more jabs at Palin and McCain. That smacks very much of someone who has reached a conclusion and is casting about for evidence that fits the conclusion, as opposed to someone who is looking at the evidence under discussion and wondering what conclusions might fit with it.

You ask how a flat earth could have a secular meaning. I submit the book "The World Is Flat" as an ready example. Would you agree that Friedman's title is clearly non-religious, and clearly metaphorical? If so, on what grounds is Friedman permitted to speak metaphorically and McCain not, and/or on what grounds is McCain's turn of phrase a signal of his radical religious agenda?

If your thinking isn't large enough to stumble upon a best-selling example that would support a reasonable critique made by one of your readers, your readership will, in the long run, not be large enough to contain people who make reasonable critiques.

Charlotte Lake said...


I appreciate your response to my earlier comments. You are giving me a chance to have an honest and respectful argument with an opponent! I will attempt to respond point by point.

You ask how "four corners of the earth" could have a secular connotation, and I ask "Why can't it?" It has never had a religious connotation for me, and religion was a central part of my upbringing. I did not even know the phrase was in the Bible until reading your original post. A phrase does not necessarily have a religious connotation whenever it is used just because it happens to be in the Bible. Do you think "Eat, drink, and be merry" has a religious connotation when shouted by a jolly host at the beginning of a raucous dinner party? Or what about a smitten teenage girl gazing across the room at the quarterback of the football team, whispering to her friend "He's the apple of my eye."? Both of these phrases are in the Bible, but I don't think many people would consider them religious utterances in these cases. Likewise, I doubt many people took John McCain's use of "the four corners of the earth" to have any religious significance whatsoever or to indicate a belief in the earth's flatness. I suspect most people's minds processed the phrase as meaning "the whole earth".

As for McCain planning to use those specific words in a particularly important public forum, I believe he could just as easily have been speaking off the cuff. And even if his use of "the four corners of the earth" was written into a prepared statement for the debate, it does not necessarily follow that the words were chosen to send a message to religious fundamentalists. A speechwriter could have thought it was a colorful way to say "the whole world", or not thought that much about it at all.

(Your comment about McCain's use of "that one" is a side point, but I will respond as a side point of my own. I'm inclined to believe this comment was also off the cuff and many in McCain's campaign staff may have groaned in frustration when he said it. As an Obama supporter, I was actually a little happy when McCain said it, because I thought the statement would harm McCain more than Obama.)

You ask, "How am I to judge what a person believes other than by the words he chooses to express himself?" It is true that a person's words are often the most, if not all, we have to go on to discern what he or she believes. (In some cases, of course, we also see actions that cause us to doubt the truth of a person's statements and lead us to say something like "actions speak louder than words". Quick quiz: Is that phrase in the Bible?) So, yes, people's words give us an important indication of what they believe. But there are many ways to interpret what someone says, and some interpretations end up saying more about the interpreter's true beliefs than about the speaker's true beliefs. I believe this is especially true when a listener decides (consciously or not) whether to assume an innocent use of idiomatic or figurative language, or to insist on a purely literal rendering of a person's comments.

You insistence that McCain's use of the phrase "the four corners of the earth" means that he is a Christian fundamentalist who believes the earth is flat gives me more information about you than McCain's statement gave me about him. McCain's statement actually gives me no additional information about him, since I don't think the use of the idiom alone indicates anything about one's religious or world views.

Here are some things I have learned about you:

1. I learned a bit about your politics, specifically that you dislike and distrust both John McCain and Sarah Palin. I am not sure who you will vote for next month, but I am pretty confident who you will _not_ vote for.

2. I learned a bit about your views on religion. You dislike Christian fundamentalism and you dislike the intermingling of government and religion. (Is it too strong to say "abhor"?) You dislike uses of phrases from the Bible, whether or not the speaker intends any religious meaning or even knows the phrase is written in the Bible.

3. I learned about your geographical sense of the earth. You believe it is round and think very ill of those who believe otherwise.

4. I have also learned that you sometimes prefer a complicated explanation to a simple one. A simple explanation of McCain's use of "four corners of the earth" is that he meant "the whole earth", even though he knows the earth doesn't have corners. A complicated explanation is that he used the phrase to reveal his belief that the earth is flat and to send a secret message to Christian fundamentalists and Biblical literalists, hoping for their votes next month.

Have I missed the mark? What have you learned about me through my comments?

Tropical Pete said...


I've made an assumption that John McCain believes in a flat earth.
That assumption is based on my interpretation of his statement from the second presidential debate when he said he had been to the "four corners of the earth". I acknowledge your criticism of my post as valid because it's hard to believe that anyone would believe something as absurd as the Earth is flat yet in my post I said he clearly believes the Earth is flat. (to respond to yangfuli: I made extra jabs at McCain and Palin as a way to show that they have other absurd beliefs). Maybe clearly
was the wrong word and I should have used potentially because not everyone can agree on the connotations and whether an outdated religious idiom can be used in a secular or metaphorical context.

I do agree with you that the meaning and connotations a person derives from someone else's statements does reflect on them and how I responded to McCain's statement does reflect on me.

Every time I hear someone use an analogy from the garden of eden or about Adam and Eve or the forbidden fruit I take that to mean the person believes in God unless I know it's a parody. I also take it to mean they believe in Genesis or parts of it. It turns out a lot of people do not believe in Evolution. So if they don't believe in Evolution why wouldn't it be fair to assume they believe in Genesis (if they are Christian). If they did not believe in those things I would assume they would choose an analogy that reflects their views more appropriately.

Why is it far fetched to believe McCain possibly could believe in a flat earth? Is it less reasonable to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster than to believe in God? People actually believe in Astrology and Psychics.

Since you believe in a globe Earth is it possible that could bias you to doubt anyone believes otherwise? I sometimes doubt anyone believes in God! Although I quickly get reassured they do on a daily basis.

If someone used the idiom "if I had a crystal ball" they probably believe in psychic phenomenon.

Have you heard the saying people get more religious as they get older? Maybe that is what is happening to McCain because I thought he used to be a moderate.

I'm trying to read between the lines... both McCain and Obama are declared Christians but Obama's
mother was Atheist so at a minimum that puts him in a place where he is tolerant of Atheists. McCain kept knocking Obama by saying he supported a Planetarium. McCain comes off as not caring about science. To choose that example essentially says, about McCain, that providing funds for children to learn about Astronomy is worthless.

Palin believe Obama has been "palling around with terrorists". I guess that contributed to the environment that allowed me to take McCain literally when he said the Earth was flat. I do acknowledge he could have meant it metaphorically.

Upon Googling it appears that there are people out there who have disconnected the idiom "four corners of the earth" from the concept of a flat Earth. I would
argue that those people probably take that position as a form of religious apologetics.

I don't think "actions speak louder than words", phrased as such, is in the bible but I believe
the concept is in there in the form of the debate over whether faith or good works (or deeds) are more important. Good works being a concept in Zoroastrianism (which predates Judaism) in the form of one of their creeds: "Good thoughts, good words, good deeds".

Ok, maybe the use of the phrase "the four corners of the earth" cannot alone be taken as evidence that McCain is a fundamentalist. That's why I brought up Palin. If McCain thought Bush (a clear fundamentalist who thinks God spoke to him and told him to go to Iraq) was too religious why would he pick Palin? But if Bush was just the right amount of religious; well then Palin is a good choice for McCain.

McCain is against abortion and in Canada people who hold that position are considered fundamentalist Christians. I'm Canadian, by the way, so I won't be voting in the American election. If I was, I would vote for Obama because he appears to be a very intelligent, science friendly person who is on the side of the common person. I did vote for Stephen Harper of the Conservatives in Canada but you could argue that the right-wing in Canada is like the left-wing in America because Canada in general is more socialist than America.

Regarding the things you've learned about me. #1 is correct. #2 is correct and it bugs me to no end
that Catholicism is entrenched in the Canadian Constitution. #3 is correct and I also think we are all
members of one planet and we should work towards a world where everyone chooses where they live and borders
are imaginary lines which denote legal jurisdiction. #4 is not correct about me in general. I'm not a conspiracy theorist and generally prefer a simpler explanation. I do know however that when politicians bring up religion
(such as God Bless America at the end of a speech) it is to send a veiled message since in America religion does not have to be mentioned in the sphere of government; so why is religion mentioned so often? In Canada,
we can tolerate not to even bring the subject up (see my post on the Canadian Election).

A side note to yangfuli: Friedman is playing off of the religious idiom that we are speaking of (look at the cover of his book on Wikipedia). He's using that analogy to explain how the world is flat economically but he has
jumped on the bandwagon of the religious idiom to get attention for his book. I wouldn't therefore say the title of his book is a secular example of the phrase.

Back to katie, what have I learned about you? I'll keep it short. You are good at paying attention to detail and scrutinizing claims that do not have conclusive evidence. So in that regard I do not have the conclusive evidence to have taken such a harsh tone on McCain.

Dave said...

I agree with Katie. "Four corners of the earth" is an idiom and not indicative of any "flat earth" beliefs.

As for why McCain chose Palin there is lots of speculation. One is that he had hoped she would appeal to the younger and women's vote. Another theory is that because the GOP would not let him choose Liberman as his running mate he decided to do in completely the opposite direction. Either way it is moot since he lost.

If you are interested, there is a great documentary by the BBC in what every president should know about science. You can find it at

It is pretty funny and features some great scientists like Richard Dawkins, Michio Kaku and more.