The Earth is Flat (and other nonsense)

Since I originally published this article, I have written a series of follow-up articles on this topic:

And a recently published piece that provides empirical evidence for the earth that we all know it to be, a small, round planet, spinning once on its axis every 24 hours in orbit around a rather quiet, not-too-common star: Update: Real Science Answers to Flat Earth Claims
TheFlatEarth(DiskWorld)In much of what I write, I always try to stress the need for education, specifically the need for education in the STEM fields. That a debate on the physical geometry of the earth is taking place today speaks directly to this point because something is clearly lacking. Statistically, there will always be those recalcitrant ones who refuse to learn or are simply not educable but that there is such a sharp rise in the number of individuals who hold this belief is as troubling as it is remarkable. It is remarkable because of what has been accomplished, of what could only be dreamed of as science fiction 3 or 4 decades earlier, much of it because of science, the same science that that is now being scorned and ridiculed by those who hold the belief that the earth is flat. Today we have multiple orbiting observatories, mobile communication devices that fit in our pockets using a GPS system that relies on Einstein’s GTR without which it wouldn’t work, robotic rovers on Mars, flybys of frozen worlds, orbiting platforms around distant planets returning fantastic images and data that will fill the minds and imaginations of school children and researchers for generations to come; we have detected gentle ripples in space time, the whisper of Gravity Waves and live in an age when we can actually watch the beautiful blue, rotating planet below us, perched aloft in the International Space Station or in a Space Shuttle! It is, indeed, remarkable and quite ironic in this same age, where the use of standard indicators for a spheroidal earth (the term “spheroidal” is loosely used in this context as the earth is really a mildly oblate spheroid) are unacceptable and called into question by these individuals who have lost all rationality.

I believe that any failings in the educational system in this country and educational systems in general have played a minimal role in this troubling new trend. I suspect it is an aspect of an open society where, in a fully interconnected world with the free exchange of ideas combined with instant communication, it was bound to happen. The value in such a system lies with its ability, a consequence of the openness and inter-connectivity, to autocorrect aberrant notions of reality such as this and it is my hope and belief that this will occur.

Prior to writing this piece, I did some research, trying to find a correlation between education, demographics, culture, and other related factors that would help explain the alarming rise in the number of FlatEarthers. Generally, FlatEarthers are literal, Biblical Creationists. Many of them believe they are on a mission, a crusade to expose the lies and deceit of a vast, global conspiracy. Sadly, their ignorance and paranoia isn’t specific to one culture or society; I was hoping to find a correlation wherein a cultural or particular societal dysfunction would give rise to their beliefs and delusions, but sadly this isn’t the case. They do revere a certain English inventor Samuel Rowbotham (1816–1884) who published a 16-page pamphlet, from which he later expanded into a 430-page book entitled Earth Not a Globe. In the book, he expounds his views based on a literal interpretation of several Biblical passages. In the model presented in the book, the earth is a flat disc with the north pole at its center and the south “pole” extending all the way around the outer edge.

Galileo came up against a barrier to authentic inquiry in his battle with the Catholic Church 400 years ago and we all know how that worked out for him. Today, the Catholic Church is one of the greatest champions of authentic scientific research and inquiry, so religion isn’t really a barrier to authentic understanding and inquiry when it is relegated to its proper role in an individual’s life. An unbridled, over-zealous religiosity unchecked by reason and science can have tragic, real-world consequences, the examples of which are many and varied and continue to this day:

Why the Thirty Meter Telescope Project must be Allowed to Proceed
Horrific Paris Attack Highlights Need for Education
Trump Presidency Worst Possible Outcome of 2016 General Election (many Donald Trump supporters are literal Biblical Creationists, science illiterates, climate and evolution deniers and individuals who generally don’t see the value of science)
Science Must be Priority for Next US President

The self-proclaimed president of the International Flat Earth Research Society, Eric Dubay, one of the principles heavily involved in this movement is particularly committed; for him, this is his raison d’etre; more than a religion, it defines his life. As you listen to him, you have to wonder how someone can be so out of touch with reality, deny 2500 years of science and discovery and yet remain so passionate and committed to it. In his case, he isn’t just a FlatEarther, he is also a Holocaust and Climate denier. Denying 2500 years of science and discovery, even denying Climate Change when that belief can have dire consequences in the present day is one thing, but to deny the Holocaust, a recorded chapter in history where millions of people suffered horrible deaths at the hands of a megalomaniac, is offensive in the extreme, so much so that Dubay’s various internet accounts that include several forum and hosting providers as well as Facebook have repeatedly shut him down or deleted his accounts (he claims he’s on his fourth Facebook account).

In the FlatEarther’s world view, the earth is a flat disk with the north pole at the geometric center of the disk. As one proceeds “south”, as in the real world, you encounter the various land masses until you arrive at Antarctica. You see, with a flat earth, there can be no such thing as a “south” pole, so Antarctica is their nether land bounded by the 50-meter high ice wall, beyond which no mortal can venture and about which no one knows:

Beyond the 150 foot Ice Wall is anyone’s guess. How far the ice extends; how it terminates; and what exists beyond it, are questions to which no present human experience can reply. All we at present know is, that snow and hail, howling winds, and indescribable storms and hurricanes prevail; and that in every direction “human ingress is barred by unsealed escarpments of perpetual ice,” extending farther than eye or telescope can penetrate, and becoming lost in gloom and darkness. Some hold that the tundra of ice and snow stretches forever eternally.

In addition to their belief that the earth is a great, flat disk bounded along its circumference by a 50-meter high ice wall, they also believe the following:

  • The Moon is flat (Eric Dubay)
  • The sun is not a star and that the stars are not suns
  • The sun is 10,000 km distant
  • That there never was a manned exploration of the moon
  • The Mars Landings are a hoax (Eric Dubay)
  • There is no such thing as gravity (Eric Dubay) – Eric, not considering General Relativity and adopting a purely Newtonian view of gravity, how do we explain the downward acceleration of objects towards the ground – that when we let go of a ball, it falls to the ground?
  • The earth is 6,000 years old (many creationists hold this view as well as a notable Republican Presidential candidate)
  • Earth is Not a Planet (Eric Dubay)
  • Relativity Does Not Exist (Eric Dubay)
  • Satellites and the ISS are a Hoax and don’t exist (Eric Dubay) – Eric, we can observe them overhead on a clear night
  • NASA is a Masonic Sun-Worshipping Globalist Cult (Eric Dubay)
  • Nuclear Weapons do not exist (Eric Dubay) – tell that to the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • World renown Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is a lying shill Freemason (Eric Dubay)
  • Michelle Obama is a Man, Barack Obama is Gay (Eric Dubay)
  • Dinosaurs never existed (Eric Dubay) – hey Eric, where did all those buried dinosaur fossils that we’ve dug up come from? Its called video and you can actually watch them being unearthed! Guess they were planted underground by the NASA, Zionist Freemasons
  • DubaySouthPoleThe South Pole does not exist (Eric Dubay). Tell that to the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. He and four others arrived there on 14 December 1911, five weeks ahead of a British party led by Robert F. Scott as part of the Terra Nova Expedition.

That there exists a Flat Earth Society is bad enough but Dubay’s paranoia knows no bounds. In keeping with the tone, tenner and language of this article, his mind has taken a walk off the map, pun quite intended. Amazingly, in an article published on his website, he outs his own, fellow travelers as “Controlled Opposition”!

Many of the FlatEarthers consider themselves enlightened “Truthers” and view the rest of us who have a more cogent, informed, rational view of the natural world and the universe as “sheeple”; that we’re either victims of or co-conspirators in a vast “Big Science/Big Education” conspiracy led by NASA and that we’ve been lied to for decades. One has to wonder what benefits would be gained by the perpetrators of such a big lie and conspiracy – where’s the payoff? One of their main contentions is that there is no empirical proof that the earth is spheroidal. That the FlatEarthers believe this bespeaks a profound ignorance of history since the ancient Greeks dispensed with the notion of a flat earth over 2 millennia ago.

Aristarchus-of-samosAristarchus (230 BC) of Samos provided us with a more cogent and complete heliocentric model than the mere reemergence of spherical-orbit heliocentrism proposed by Copernicus, published in 1543, the year of his death; Aristarchus proposed a comprehensive heliocentric model, complete with elliptical orbits 2200 years ago; today, we revere Kepler as the proponent of elliptical orbits, forgetting Aristarchus postulated them so long ago.


pythagoras-05The famous Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras, also from Samos and predating Aristarchus’, taught the heliocentric model, complete with a spherical earth, 250 years before Aristarchus:

Pythagoras taught that the sun is a movable sphere in the center of the universe, and that all the planets revolve round it E. Cobham Brewer (1894)


EratosthenesProofOfSphericalEarth
Illustration of Eratosthenes’ famous experiment, conducted in 240 B.C., the results of which determined the circumference of the Earth to within 5% of its actual value, 2,256 years ago!

eratosthenesEratosthenes, a contemporary of Aristarchus, not only proved the earth was spheroidal but, in a famous experiment, he calculated its circumference!


Although the ancient Greeks did a masterful job in proving the reality of a spheroidal earth, it would be impossible to debunk every wild claim made by the FlatEarthers today as the claims are as ridiculous as they are numerous and varied, many having an ad hoc explanation for any given, apparently-contradictory phenomenon. And, since most of them have abandoned rationality, it isn’t possible to “prove” a spheroidal earth to them, or anything for that matter, using a logical, reductionist approach as you would use in, say, a science classroom. Simple observations, such as the curvature of the earth observed from a jetliner at cruising altitude or a ship sailing towards the horizon eventually disappearing below the horizon’s curve, would suffice for most rational people; they don’t accept these logical, rational “proofs”.

Another contention of theirs, and this is perhaps the main one, is that the earth is “observed” to be flat – they don’t “see” the curvature. That they don’t consider their physical bodies as being relatively quite small compared to even a mountain, let alone a planet such as the earth, that this relative size speaks to the loss of a curved perception, that the curve would be perceived to be quite gentle because of the large relative size of the planet bespeaks a complete disconnect from reality and the abandonment of logic and rational thought.

According to them, we are the deluded ones, the ones who have been fooled, the ones who have been brainwashed by the Education Establishment and Big Science. Occam’s razor states, quite clearly, that with all aspects of a system being in balance, the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one. The flat earth theory is as cumbersome and perhaps even more unwieldy than Ptolemy’s epicycles were in explaining retrograde motion. Which is simpler, a spheroidal mass, at a minimum held together by gravity, obeying its beautifully simple and elegant laws or a flat, two dimensional disk fixed in space with wildly fantastic explanations to explain even the most basic phenomena we observe every day such as the rising and setting of the sun and moon.  In the case of Eric Dubay, I don’t believe its possible to reach any common ground with him at all as his fantasies have metastasized into full-blown psychosis.

To get a sense of just how far from reality he and many other adherents are, consider this excerpt from one of Eric Dubay’s blog posts wherein he “debunks the debunkers”

The documentary opens with a bunch of CGI pictures/videos of the “spinning ball-Earth,” then an explanation of how the Earth is supposedly spinning 1000mph, while revolving around the Sun at 67,000mph and we feel NOTHING because it all just happens at such a perfectly constant velocity that we don’t feel anything (We are also supposedly rotating 500,000mph around the Milky Way and shooting 670,000,000mph away from a Big Bang creationary explosion at the beginning of time, but they don’t bother to mention that). This is not a proof, however, just a convenient excuse in attempt to explain away why we cannot see, hear or feel any of this alleged motion. In actual fact, the Earth is completely stationary and this has been scientifically proven in several experiments and is confirmed by our every day experience

It is a pity for them because the real earth and the real universe are wonderful, beautiful, strange and fantastic beyond our wildest imaginations, one where we don’t have to invent the strange and the fantastic – its already here. One can spend an entire lifetime studying them only to glimpse their true enormity and splendor. To trivialize them as the FlatEarthers have done is an insult to nature and, moreover, an insult to the past and present generations of educators, scientists, mathematicians, poets, writers, artists, scholars and intellectuals. They do themselves, their associates, their children and countless others who don’t know better or who are uneducated in basic science a disservice with their proliferation of this nonsense.

For those of us who are educators, we can’t reach them all but we must try. We can’t save them from themselves if they refuse to listen, if they refuse to learn, if they refuse to be educated and remain willful in their ignorance. As standing socio-technical challenges are overcome, as we expand our extra-terrestrial presence on the moon, Mars and beyond, they will be left behind along with their foolish ideas if they remain stuck in their intransigence.

GSBrooks_TheEarthIsNotFlatIf you would like to explore the Flat Earth phenomenon further, either out of curiosity or to see just how far from reality otherwise educated people will go, writer, filmmaker and songwriter Gordon Brooks has written a great book entitled “The Earth Is Not Flat“, available on Amazon. Lately, Gordon has been on the receiving end of vicious, ad hominem attacks by certain members of the Flat Earth community. Personal attacks are clearly off limits and unacceptable when debating science, philosophy or a personal world view, so why do you suppose they would attack him with such malice? The closer you get to the truth, the more strident the defense; this has always been true. The Kindle edition of Gordon’s book is less than $5, the soft-cover edition is less than $10. For the price of a McDonald’s lunch, you can take a stand against the powers of pseudoscience and the growing wave of intellectual and moral darkness that is engulfing modern society.

It is fitting to close with a quote from the great Claudius Ptolemy. Although wrong in his Geocentric cosmology of Epicycles to explain the motions of the planets, he realized in his humanity and with humility that we will continue to grow and learn, as that is our nature as mortals and perhaps we and the FlatEarthers can benefit from that humility

“I know that I am mortal by nature, and ephemeral; but when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies I no longer touch the earth with my feet: I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia”


Imagination is more important than knowledge 585px-Albert_Einstein_signature_1934(invert)
An index of all articles in this blog can be found here.

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