1. Scientists have discovered hell!

The myth

When drilling in Siberia, a team of geologists broke through to a cavern, nine miles down. They lowered a heat resistant microphone, and were horrified at what they heard: the screaming wails of thousands of suffering souls.

Christian media outlets started reporting the story in the late 1980s. Then by the 1990s many sincere believers were telling their friends that ‘Scientists have discovered hell’. The disturbing audio recording even survived, and appeared on radio and TV, both secular and Christian. (Listen to the sounds of hell, here…if you dare!)

The truth

The story wasn’t true. It’s thought to have been based on a 1984 article in Scientific American, where scientists did indeed drill deep…only no screaming cavern was found. Where the recording comes from is hard to tell. There are rumours it’s a sound effects loop from a 1972 Mario Bava movie called Baron Blood. Despite both Christianity Today and Biblical Archaeology Review debunking the Siberian Hell Hole story, it’s still shared through social media today. Perhaps having proof of hell is like an irresistible form of evangelistic gold.

2. Steve Irwin and Charles Darwin converted on their deathbed!

The myth

Crocodile hunter and media personality Steve Irwin had been dead for a just a few days when rumours of his last minute conversion appeared on Christian websites.

Religious fans were comforted at the thought of spending eternity with such a well-loved star. Perhaps they’ll hang out with the father of evolution too, since it’s claimed Charles Darwin also converted on his deathbed. Key to the story was a woman called Lady Hope. The active evangelist said she’d visited Darwin one afternoon to find him bedridden and reading the Bible, where he promptly renounced his ideas, and turned to Christ. He died months later. 

The truth

The Irwin story started as a simple miscommunication. A woman emailed an Australian website asking for confirmation of Irwin’s conversion. Someone at the site mistakenly took the email as proof of the story and so the myth began.

Lady Hope’s tale of visiting Darwin was scrutinised and found untenable. It was still embellished afterwards and shared until it became part of Christian mythology. As a young Christian I vividly remember hearing of Darwin’s conversion from atheism to faith, then I quoted that same story to others. It’s more accurate to say he was neither an outright atheist or a born again believer.

By the way, similar conversion tales exist about renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens and astronomer, Carl Sagan, but again, they appear to be myths. So let’s stop sharing them. And while we’re at it, let’s stop claiming we know full well where people end up after death, too.

3. JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series to lure children into witchcraft!

The myth

This one hit its peak in the early 2000s, but it’s still a live myth for some church folk today. Namely that Rowling had, in Pastor John Hagee’s words, offered "Witchcraft Repackaged" to kids. Her plan? A worldwide turn of children to the occult!

The truth

Rowling has repeatedly denied that she’s on a mission to convert kids to witchcraft. She’s called the idea absurd, especially since the system of magic in the Potter world is very different to modern witchcraft anyway. Yet still, some Christians assume she’s lying.

The waters got even muddier when an article appeared showing kids in Potter outfits worshipping around a blood red pentagram. Despite it being a parody from comedy site, The Onion, it was still shared as a genuine news article by worried Christians.

Potter panic has died down somewhat, with many Christians defending the books as ironically having biblical values. Yet the myth persists. Just this month, St Edwards Catholic School in Nashville banned Rowling’s books from their libraries.

4. The earth is flat!

The myth

The world looks flat, feels flat, is flat! And any suggestion that it’s a sphere is part of the round earth conspiracy, orchestrated by government agencies like NASA.

You’ve probably heard of flat-earthers, but did you know that a bunch of them are Christians? A 2018 YouGov poll spotted a link between flat earth theory and spirituality, with some claiming that a flat earth is more in keeping with scripture. More than half (52%) considered themselves ‘very religious’ – with 23% as somewhat religious.

The truth

Saying the earth is flat clashes against the scientific consensus – the earth is a sphere, or close to it. Though secular evidence can be quickly dismissed, maybe they might be persuaded by Answers in Genesis. The fundamentalist Christian organisation advocates for young earth creationism and strict biblical inerrancy. But even they have a page debunking claims that the earth is flat.

5. Noah’s Ark discovered in Turkey!

The myth

Many different sites have been identified as the resting place of Noah’s ark, with several expeditions claiming to have found physical evidence of that world's most famous Bible boat. One of the most influential claims centred on Mount Tendurek in eastern Turkey.

The truth

Sorry, but most claims of a found ark have been honest mistakes. The site in Turkey for example certainly looked like the hull of a ship (see above photo), but it was a natural formation. Still, a flood (sorry!) of stories followed. Some claims were downright lies, like a 1993 CBS Television special in which a man called George Jammal held up a piece of ark wood he claimed was from the Turkey site. Turned out that Jammal was an out-of-work Israeli actor who had never set foot in Turkey. The wood was just a piece of scrap pine that he’d smeared in soy sauce for an ageing effect.

Rev Peter Laws is the creator of the acclaimed Matt Hunter crime fiction novels, Purged, Unleashed and Severed (Allison and Busby). He’s also the author of the non-fiction book The Frighteners: Why We Love Monsters, Ghosts, Death and Gore (Icon Books) He writes a monthly column for The Fortean Times and is a regular public speaker. He explores the spiritual side of horror in his Youtube show, The Flicks That Church Forgot. Find out more at peterlaws.co.uk or follow him on Twitter @revpeterlaws.

Enjoyed that? Get more articles covering news, culture, faith and apologetics in every print issue of Premier Christianity magazine. Subscribe now

Premier Christianity is committed to publishing a variety of opinion pieces from across the UK Church. The views expressed on our blog do not necessarily represent those of the publisher.