Invigilant et al.
Property Terms I
Property Terms II
Property Terms III
Shining Words I
Shining Words II
Rhetorical Devices I
Rhetorical Devices II
Rhetorical Devices III
Rhetorical Devices IV
Maxims of Equity I
Maxims of Equity II
Maxims of Equity III
Bill Long 11/22/04
Standing Firm Upon the Earth
In the previous essay, I introduced the term antipodes, which the OED defines as either those who dwell directly opposite to each other on the earth or the exact opposite location of a person or thing. Antipodes creates a quite visual picture--anti means "opposite" and podes, the plural of pous, means "feet." "Those whose feet are directly opposite ours" would be a fair translation of the concept. While the term is dealt with rather more fully in the OED than alexandrite, for example, it does not tell the vivid story of the term in intellectual and theological history. The word antipodes implicates several beliefs central to scientific thought and Christian theology, among them the sphericity of the earth, the unity of the human race and the spread of the Gospel to the farthest parts of the inhabited earth.
The word first appears in Plato's Timaeus, that most complex and obscure cosmological dialogue. While seeming to argue against the concept of the antipodes, Plato states:
"For if there were any solid body in equipoise at the center of the universe, there would be nothing to draw it to this extreme rather than to that, for they are all perfectly similar; and if a person were to go round the world in a circle, he would often, when standing at the antipodes of his former position, speak of the same point as above and below......to speak of the whole [in this manner] is not like a sensible man (Timaeus 63a)."
Though Plato seemed to have problems with the concept in this passage, by the time of the geographer Eratosthenes a few centuries later, the word appeared again but this time in a positive way. Not only was the earth spherical, according to him, but there were inhabitants on the other side of the earth, the antipodes. By the time of the early Christians, then, ferment was in the air regarding the existence of a spherical earth and a possible existence of people living "opposite" to Europeans, Southwest Asians or North Africans.
A Christian Response
Belief in the antipodes was too much for the early Christians. Augustine, in his magisterial City of God, advanced the central argument against the existence of the antipodes (antipodes as inhabitants) which would last for probably 800 years or more in Western Christendom. Though not citing specific Scriptural passages, he says:
"As to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth...men who walk with their feet opposite ours, there is no reason for believing it. Those who affirm it do not claim to possess any actual information: they merely conjecture that, since the earth is suspended within the concavity of the heavens, and there is as much room on the one side of it as on the other, therefore the part which is beneath cannot be void of human inhabitants. They fail to notice that, even should it be believed or demonstrated that the world is round or spherical in form, it does not follow that the part of the earth opposite to us is not completely covered with water, or that any conjectured dry land there should be inhabited by men....and it is too absurd to say that some men might have set sail from this side and, traversing the immense expanse of ocean, have propagated there a race of human beings descended from that one first man (City of God, XVI.9)."
Interesting from Augustine's exposition is both the theological nature of his argument and the fact that he is leaving it open to falsification. On the one hand, he says that the existence of this opposite world is a matter of "conjecture," leaving himself open to the argument of a later world traveller who actually circumnavigates the globe and shows things to be different. Maybe he thought that no such proof would ever be forthcoming; it is, however, an interesting qualification of his argument.
On the other hand is his theological argument. The last six words show his real concern: the unity of the human race. In order for sin to be a reality transmitted from Adam to the rest of humankind, humankind had to be directly descended from him. It is almost as if sin, for Augustine, is like a blood type or a genetic feature that is passed on from parent to child. If there is no physical connection between the generations, sin could also not be transmitted. But Augustine is playing for much higher stakes than merely a doctrine of sin. Sin, original sin, is a necessary prerequisite for grace, and in order for grace to be proclaimed, God has to ordain and arrange the sending out of the message to the ends of the earth. In a verse that will be subsequently important in the debate over the Antipodes (quoting from Ps. 19 and Romans 9), "Their line has gone forth to all the earth, and their words unto the end of the world."
That is, an adjunct of the belief in human depravity and the divine grace is the belief, sanctioned by this reading of Scripture, that the word of the Gospel has already gone out to all the earth. But, that word has gone out "in the flat," so to speak, from Britain in the North to India in the East and to the edges of the Sahara in the South. This must, therefore, be the "ends of the world" of which the Scripture authors spoke. Therefore we cannot have an Antipodes, simply because the Gospel could not have been proclaimed there. Thus, ultimately, Augustine's argument rests on the justice of God. He would not require repentance and a turning to Him in faith if the word of the Gospel had not been proclaimed to them.
It is convenient for Augustine that no one had plausibly given an argument for the spherical earth and the existence of people "whose feet are opposite." When investigation is lacking, therefore, theology rushes in to fill the gaps. What is unsure now becomes unnecessary and even contrary to faith. We see, therefore, in Augustine's handling of the problem, all the germs of later Catholic Christian hostility to science. But this is as far as we can go today, even though I think I need one more essay on the Antipodes.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long