Magellan and the Moon

Did Ferdinand see the shadow on the moon? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Internet atheism is the gift that keeps on giving. I recently caught someone talking about how people used to believe the Earth was flat. After I asked who that was, I was told people today still believe that. Okay, but what about in the past? As it was getting late, I just talked some about the Greeks and said that the roundness of the Earth was established after that, only to be told that those people who believed in talking donkeys and virgins making babies (And I do affirm the virgin birth) thought otherwise. Then, came what was obviously meant to be the killing blow to me.

Oh my! Well, naturally, I hung my head in shame immediately and walked away in debate. Obviously, this quote shattered everything I hold dear about medieval history.

Not exactly.

You see, the problem with this quote is that it is unsourced entirely. I had read that it came from Ingersoll. Indeed, you can find it in the Works of Robert Ingersoll. This is a free resource on Google Books and you can search inside a book. I just did a search for Magellan.

To be fair, I also did a search for famous quotes by Magellan in a basic internet search. The problem with this quote is the words are never the same and also, it is never sourced. When you find a quote that the words are changed and they are not sourced, you should be suspicious. I, unfortunately, found no works of Magellan himself on Google Books. To be doubly sure I just searched Amazon and again, nothing. There are plenty of books about Magellan. There is nothing by him.

However, while I normally don’t trust wiki sources, wikiquotes does have something good on this:

  • The Church says that the Earth is flat, but I know that it is round. For I have seen the shadow of the earth on the moon and I have more faith in the Shadow than in the Church.

  • Variant: The Church says that the Earth is Flat, but I know that it is Round. For I have seen its Shadow on the Moon and I have more Faith in a Shadow than in the Church.

    • This quotation is often found on the internet attributed to Magellan, but never with a source, and is probably derived from an anecdote popularized by Robert Green Ingersoll in his essay “Individuality” (1873) where he writes:
It is a blessed thing that in every age some one has had individuality enough and courage enough to stand by his own convictions, — some one who had the grandeur to say his say. I believe it was Magellan who said, “The church says the earth is flat; but I have seen its shadow on the moon, and I have more confidence even in a shadow than in the church.” On the prow of his ship were disobedience, defiance, scorn, and success.

Ingersoll was probably citing an earlier version of the anecdote which appeared on Page 451 of the History of the Intellectual Development of Europe (1863) by John William Draper:

In the whole history of human undertakings there is nothing that exceeds, if indeed there is any thing that equals, this voyage of Magellan’s. That of Columbus dwindles away in comparison. It is a display of superhuman courage, superhuman perseverance – a display of resolution not to be diverted from its purpose by any motive or any suffering, but inflexibly persisting to its end. Well might his despairing sailors come to the conclusion that they had entered on a trackless waste of waters, endless before them and hopeless in a return. “But, though the Church hath evermore from Holy Writ affirmed that the earth should be a wide-spread plain bordered by the waters, yet he comforted himself when he considered that in the eclipses of the moon the shadow cast of the earth is round; and as is the shadow, such, in like manner, is the substance.” It was a stout heart – a heart of triple brass – which could thus, against such authority, extract unyielding faith from a shadow.

The quotation marks are noteworthy, suggesting that Draper is citing an earlier work, but Draper’s work does not provide sources. Given that the quote is expressed in the third person, it is certainly possible that the statement was made by one of Magellan’s crew members or other associates. It is unlikely that Magellan would have made the statement, since Earth’s sphericity was well-established when Magellan’s voyage occurred, although Earth’s size was still debated.

Indeed, if you go to page 451, you can see it.

If you want to study the history of science and Christianity, two names you do not want to talk seriously are John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White. These are the ones who first started the myth of the warfare between science and religion and their works have been shredded by scholars in the area. Unfortunately, their works still reach on past them and too many people have bought into this myth.
The real problem here is that this quote could have easily been shown to be false in just a few minutes with some searching and looking matters up. Unfortunately, that was not done. No. It’s not just atheists who do this. I have pointed out that Christians and conservatives and sometimes both do it regularly. You can see that here, here, and here.
Why would I investigate my fellow Christians with these claims? Because I care about truth. I also say the same thing when Christians jump on archaeological discoveries just recently announced. My advice is to not share them yet. Give it a few years. Let the scholarly academics study this and debate it back and forth and then when matters are more established, then share it.
Too many of us look at something and say “If it agrees with us, it is 100% true.” Then we say, “If it disagrees with us, it must be proven 100%.” We might be better off if we reversed those to be more skeptical.
In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

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