There was a time in human history when people truly thought the Earth was flat. The great thinkers of that era no doubt looked across the glorious plane before them and smiled to themselves. They had it all figured out. Figures like Emperor Constantine (272 – 337), the first Roman emperor to claim conversion to Christianity, claimed a round Earth was the belief of heretics, pointing to scripture as the final answer on the matter.
We live at a fortuitous point in time in many ways. The Internet, space exploration, ever-expanding knowledge on genes, an (admittedly slow) advancement toward more sustainable methods of travel and power and so on – it’s all happening right now. I say this knowing that many generations before us going back centuries marveled at their own point in time thinking they were the most fortunate or sophisticated. In the future, I’m sure more advanced people will look back on us and feel shocked that anyone lived like we do. Hopefully we at least got the shape of the Earth right.
It may surprise you to learn that, despite people as far back as Eratosthenes the Greek (276 BCE – 194 BCE) determining the spherical shape of the Earth without leaving Egypt, there are some who still firmly believe in a flat Earth. While many self-proclaimed Flat Earthers may not be serious about this claim, it’s difficult to tell (see Poe’s Law). Adherents are either the world’s most dedicated trolls or they’ve truly been sucked into the great conspiratorial unknown. (Fun fact: Even famous rapper B.o.B believes the Earth is flat, releasing a song called “Flatline” all about it.)
For proof that I’m not making this up, see the website of the Flat Earth Society, where I’ve had an active forum account for over six years. I can’t help it – I absolutely love conspiracy theories. Not because I believe in them, but because the fact that other people do fascinates me. And let me tell you from firsthand experience: Flat Earthers are fact-dodging, deflective, utter deniers of reality. They deny the moon landings out of necessity, claim that NASA is pulling a fast one on basically the entire planet (for… some reason) and, while they don’t outright claim a connection to Christianity, many seem to adhere to a kind of fundamentalist Christian dogma. Add in some Jew hating and you have one fun group.
It is not my goal or purpose here to debunk the concept of a flat Earth. Many other scientists and science enthusiasts have worked on this task already. As with anyone hellbent on believing in their conspiracy theory of choice, whether it be the supposed evils of vaccines or the flatness of the Earth, you can’t easily convince these people to abandon their beliefs with facts and reason, so I won’t even try. My only goal is to have a little fun discussing Flat Earthers and some of the crazy stuff that comes out of their (flat?) world. If you want a very entertaining overview on the issue, see this wonderful video by YouTube user Vsauce.
So what are some things Flat Earthers actually believe? Basically, the Earth is a flat plane with the “north pole” as the central point and an ice wall (which we commonly call Antarctica) surrounding the entire edge, although I’ve seen some claims of an infinitely expanding flat planet. Gravity doesn’t exist and objects just fall (no hint as to why). A quick look at the Society’s FAQ page, archived here as of 9/26/2016, shows us some other gems. While I won’t go through every single point, some examples and my commentary follow.
Is the flat Earth connected to any religion?
“While almost every religion shares a common worldview of a dome shaped earth, we have no official connection with any established religions. However, it would be impossible to deny the strong historical ties with Christianity by past Presidents of the Society.”
While they are being honest on both counts, alleged proponents of the idea seem to betray their religion when replying to comments on various websites like YouTube. While one cannot say for certain if these people are in fact actual proponents and not just trolls or fakes, the issue comes up so frequently that it’s at least worth noting that there does seem to be a connection between Christianity and Flat Earthers. Although the Bible never explicitly says if the Earth is flat or not, there are some verses that have been used to back up flatness claims. Isaiah 40:22 says, “It is he who sits upon the circle of the Earth.” Job 38:14 states, “The Earth takes shape like clay under a seal.” Whether or not these verses intended to state the actual shape of the Earth is another story unto itself, but they have been used as biblical “proof” of the Earth’s flatness in some believers’ minds.
What is some of the evidence you have?
“There are several readily apparent proofs of the planets flatness. The horizon always rises to meet eye level – which is impossible on a ball earth. The surfaces of bodies of water has been shown to be level. If the Earth was a Globe, this would not be the case. There is no visible curvature to the horizon even from airplanes. We don’t even have a full shot of the Earth rotating from space! One almost has to ask – is there any real evidence the Earth is a Globe?”
This is where some of you may start head scratching. These are just brief answers in a FAQ collection, but hyperlinks are super easy to insert. Where is their support for their claims that the horizon “always rises to meet eye level” (what does that even mean?) and that bodies of water have “been shown to be level?” Unfortunately the author did not include them.
The curvature claim is where things get really interesting. Passenger jets fly at an altitude of about 30,000 feet (5.6 miles). At this height, it would indeed be difficult to detect the curvature of something as massive as Earth. (And while we’re on the subject, if we use the Antarctica-bordered model of a flat Earth as pictured above, wouldn’t a flat disc like that have a visible curvature as well where the planet’s boundary is? So if Flat Earthers are denying curvature, are they then denying their own non-infinite model?)
Setting aside space flight, NASA and any government-related proof of the spherical Earth since they simply won’t accept it, it’s fortunate for us that there have been numerous students and amateurs who have sent inexpensive, simple cameras into the atmosphere high enough to detect curvature. Typically, the setup requires a camera, a method to get the camera high enough (a balloon) and a tracking device. Photographs can then be taken without a conspiratorial government getting involved. I give you this project by a Cub Scout group and this one by a couple MIT students which both hit a height of 20 miles. In the former, the kids used a GoPro Hero 3+ (specs here).
Despite these experiments that anyone can do with a couple hundred bucks, there is still ardent denial, usually in the form of claiming the cameras are using a fisheye lens. But even if that issue hasn’t been corrected for, the central horizontal axis of all fisheye lenses will be an axis free of distortion. Despite this knowledge, the denial still occurs.
Why Would People Lie About The Shape Of The Earth?
“There are three common explanations for this, but in the end without toppling the Planar Conspiracy there is no real way to know.
- To Maintain Legitimacy: During the Cold War we faked the moon landing. Shortly after they realized the reason they could not reach the moon was due to the flatness of the Earth. They were stuck in a lie, and had to continue it or lose legitimacy of our governments. Even today we would still hold onto this lie due to role Science plays in our ruling government.
- To hide the truth of the Bible.
- To Gain Power and Money: By siphoning off the space budgets and denying the world the resources of the Antarctic they gain a considerable amount of power and wealth.”
Planar Conspiracy. It has a ring to it, I must say. My comments to this trio of points are
- Instead of owning up to the “truth,” they just dug their heels in for fear of their reputation? I don’t know where Flat Earthers have been, but people aren’t exactly thrilled with our government and somehow it remains legitimate. Also, I believe they are confused about science “ruling” our government. While I yearn for the day when all of our representatives consult facts and evidence when making decisions, right now many politicians are actively working against science and reason. Notable individuals include Matt Bevin, Mike Pence and Ted Cruz.
- Earlier they claimed there was no connection between flat Earth “theory” and the Bible, but suddenly there are people out there trying to hide the Bible’s truth. Interesting.
- Power and money. The goals of any evil organization or person. This could be the start of the next great Austin Powers plot.
What does the map of the Earth look like then?
“As evidenced by the logo of the United Nations the Earth is a round disk of indefinite dimensions. The geographic North Pole is located in the center of the disk, and the Antarctic lies around the outer edges.”
Even the UN is in on it. For reference, here is their logo.
Apparently it’s just not possible that the UN wanted a logo that was capable of showing all the nations instead of the limited view we’d have if it was a spherical representation or if it was a region-centric version we’d have with the typical north-up iterations of globe projections. Flat Earthers also don’t seem to put a lot of stock in mankind’s ability to measure things, what with the whole “indefinite dimensions” phrase.
What Is Gravity?
“Gravity as a theory is false. Objects simply fall.
In the flat earth community there are several theories as to why this happens. Some attempt to explain this with use of mechanics like electromagnetism, density, or pressure. Others make use of traditional mathematics, such as the infinite plane model, and others a new look at the problem – such as the non-euclidean model.
What is certain is sphere earth gravity is not tenable in any way shape or form.”
Despite the fact that recently gravity waves have been confirmed to exist which, you know, would require gravity itself to exist, Flat Earthers apparently maintain this position. Perhaps because under a flat model, the Earth simply couldn’t maintain its shape if gravity were to exert itself upon the disc. Or perhaps it’s because the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), which made this observation, is funded by the National Science Foundation, which is a US government agency and obviously evil. Or something.
Lastly, we’ll look at this point.
Is There An Edge To The Earth?
“The Flat Earth Society, along with previous notable flatists such as Samuel Shenton and S. Rowbotham, believe there is no end to the Earth and that it continues indefinitely. The only edge to the earth is the one you are standing on. Some math describing this can be found in our blog article The Mathematics of an Infinite Earth.”
This is an interesting answer, and one that contradicts their response to the question about the map of the Earth when they stated, “…and the Antarctic lies around the outer edges.”
That earlier answer implies an edge, but this answer raises questions. Is there more of Earth to discover? More people, land, bodies of water or features? Or are we confined by an ice wall and whatever might lie beyond is inaccessible? Why have we not discovered more of the Earth in the past decades given our technological advancements? Why is there a model given on their own FAQ page of a limited disc when they then claim an indefinite plane? These are questions we may never know the answers to. Hypothetically, if the ice wall and indefinite plane ideas are combined, I’d like to see an adventure film where the characters find a way beyond the wall and explore the limitless expanse. It makes for interesting science fiction/fantasy at any rate.
There is so much more one could look at. From the FAQ page to the site’s library and forum, there is enough content to keep any curious individual going for a long time. While I don’t necessarily recommend following in my footsteps and sinking a large amount of your life into the site, it is worth a visit and it’s also worth being aware people like this exist. Perhaps they are all just trolling us, but there are stranger things in this world to behold, so I wouldn’t put this level of intellectually disingenuous thought beyond anyone. It is tin foil hattery, plain and simple.
I’ll leave you with this humorous comic.