The science on this was settled over 2,500 years ago? The reason I continue writing on this topic is because I deeply care about the truth and the future.
If it were just the few, maybe 1/2 of 1% (maybe a little more, or a little less, I hope no more) of the population (that would be about 1,000,000 people in the US), it wouldn’t matter really because, statistically, there will always be those who hold some fringe belief. This isn’t really about them as they’re probably not the ones reading this article or this blog. They choose to remain willfully uneducated or ignorant; they know full well what resources are available, what questions to ask and who and where to ask; they know there are virtually unlimited resources to explore real ideas or if they have real questions. They’re not interested in exploring real ideas or learning the answers to real questions, or authentic, productive discourse. When presented with the truth, they respond with scorn, ridicule combined with vulgar, baseless accusations and insults. Why? In the hopes, that if they discredit the source, they discredit the idea as they have no sound, scientific basis for their own ideas.
Where are they? Based on the locations, names and monikers of the various Twitter accounts I’ve interacted with, some are in the UK (Scotland), Ireland (Dublin), the US (Boulder, Colorado and Atlanta, Georgia-B.o.B), Australia and Thailand (Bangkok, Eric Dubay-Dubay is an American living in Bangkok). I was looking for some particular, idiosyncratic aspect to their country, culture or national origin but found nothing outstanding. I was also looking for some inverse correlation between national educational statistics and adherence to a FlatEarth world view. Alas, there was none that I could find.
It should be pointed out that, contrary to popular myth, any variant of a “FlatEarth” cosmology was dispelled with by the Greeks at the beginning of Classical Antiquity, around 2,600 years ago. There exists a mistaken notion that a FlatEarth cosmology existed up through the Middle Ages; not so. Yes, Geo-Centrism was the prevailing cosmological world view but the notion of a Flat Earth had been dispelled 2,100 years earlier. Enter Samuel Rowbotham in 1881 and the publication of “Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe” under the pseudonym “Parallax”. Many of their ideas are based on the writings of this obscure, itinerant English lecturer and inventor combined with an all too literal ascent and adherence to certain biblical passages.
Conspiracy Theories and Government Coverups
Then, there are others who have an obsession with conspiracy theories, government coverups, evil shadow governments and governmental agencies, mind control, the Truther movement and with others still, the embodiment of all of this, in part or in total. They’re obsessed with NASA as an evil government collaboration whose dark mission is to misinform and deceive. As such, any evidence that is linked to NASA and presented to illustrate a point or in support of an argument against a particular belief of theirs is rejected out of hand. Moreover, by attempting to expose the reality of a spheroidal earth and those who ascend to that reality as some kind of shadowy conspiracy with mal intent, the “Truthers” among them actually do a disservice to the rest of us, diverting needed attention from the real shadowy conspiracies that exist and need exposing and that have nothing to do with the accepted physical geometry of the earth.
The One Basic Tenant
Aside from the one basic tenant of their belief system, that the earth is flat, there really isn’t a coherent body of dogma. They don’t accept the Scientific Method, so arguments based on rational, deductive reasoning and logic don’t work with them. Instead, they adhere to the “Zetetic Method”, first (and lastly) postulated by Rowbotham in his book: “Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe“. The word “Zetetic” is derived from the Greek, meaning “to inquire” or to seek by means of inquiry. The difference between their method and authentic scientific inquiry is purely semantic. The universally accepted method by which science is conducted is through the “Scientific Method”, at its roots a reductionist method whereby a hypothesis is postulated, data analyzed and a conclusion adopted where, hopefully, the hypothesis is accepted based on the preponderance of the data in support of the hypothesis. That they don’t accept the conventional method speaks to a deep ignorance. Reasoning with some of them is like debating the existence of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny with a child but instead, they’re adults! And some of them, by all accounts, are educated professionals, like airline pilots (now there’s a scary thought)! They maintain elaborate websites that, for the simple-minded, appear quite convincing!
This is about reaching out to the the gullible, the misinformed or those who are sincerely looking for answers; it is about trying to slow down the tidal wave of intellectual and moral darkness that is today overtaking modern society. We are witness to a rebirth of the Dark Ages concurrent with a neo-religious zealotry, one feeding into the other with no moral compass for guidance. There is a clear case of cause and effect: as nature abhors a vacuum, the intellectual vacuum, the result of decades of poor training, emphasis and education in the STEM fields, is being filled with a neo-religious fervor unseen in modern times. Combined with much stronger emphasis on the STEM fields at all levels of education, the clear light of reason is the only antidote and, as a nation, or even as a species, the longer the delay, the further down the slope towards intellectual nihilism we will go.
Instant Communication, Information and “Useful Idiots”
With the internet and instant communication, misinformation can spread at the speed of light and ironically, the scope and breadth of the ignorance is at an all-time high when the exact opposite is what would be expected. What doesn’t help is the plentiful supply of “useful idiots” (to use a phrase from the Cold-War era Soviets), who give them forums and free publicity and are themselves uneducated and misinformed or who simply think that its “cool” or just another idea in the marketplace of ideas. Information is useless without a proper understanding and context. Yes, almost unlimited information is available but without the proper understanding, context and guidance, it is, at the worst dangerous and, at the least, useless. This last point speaks to the lack of education generally and in science and the STEM fields specifically. In fact, there exists today an organized and growing body of philosophy antithetical to science and STEM! The basis of this philosophy stems from what is considered useful in today’s economy. In the minds of its proponents, the pursuit of a field for purely academic reasons is a waste of time. Theirs is a utilitarian view of education where, if it doesn’t lead to a positive financial outcome, it’s useless. They don’t see the need for advanced mathematics or science such as calculus or physics. What many of them, political scientists, don’t realize is that without these disciplines much of the technology that the world so heavily depends on, would not exist; case in point: GPS, a technology dependent on Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. The Flat-earthers believe the GPS is land-based. To accept otherwise would be a de-facto denial of their basic premise, a flat earth. Another problem is an incomplete or incorrect understanding of basic physics or astronomy. The internet is rife with so-called “experts” who believe they are such simply because they’ve read a few books or because “so many believe this, it must be true”.
In the case of the FlatEarthers, the famous words of Stuart Chase come to mind: “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible”. There are many proofs of a “round, spinning ball” earth. They have a belief, and nothing is going to change that belief, regardless of its veracity. Attempts at convincing them, at least for those whose belief in a Flat Earth is religious in origin, is futile. For them, their religion is their world, their life, their everything; their religion defines their very existence. They are so terrified of their mortality, that their consciousness will cease and they will no longer be, that they embrace anything that will shield them from this sobering eventuality. They will defend this like lions, even in the face of incontrovertible logic.
In terms of “proof”, they require “empirical evidence in hand” in order to accept or even consider any evidence of a claim, either to prove a spheroidal earth or to disprove a flat disk earth. These two concepts are mutually exclusive, the negative of one implies the other, a spheroidal earth cannot be, at the same time, a flat disk. By proving a spheroidal earth, we would necessarily disprove a flat disk earth, or at least you would think so. However, when a real explanation is presented, they reject the evidence as contrived, fake or as being the product of a conspiracy. Since there is no coherent body of dogma outside of the basic belief that the earth is a flat stationary disk covered by a clear, impenetrable dome, it is only necessary to debunk this underlying premise and the rest will fall like a house of cards. The “proofs” of the various aspects of their belief system, as disorganized and inconsistent as it is, are, in a few words, applications of pseudoscience without context.
The various “proofs” of the Earth’s spherical nature are:
1. The Foucault Pendulum as proof of the Earth as a “spinning ball”. At the Paris Observatory in 1851, Jean Bernard Léon Foucault first demonstrates that the earth is a rotating sphere that didn’t depend on any celestial observations. By suspending a weight just above the floor from the zenith point of the observatory, Foucault empirically demonstrates that the earth is rotating by measuring the precession of the pendulum’s swing over the course of 24 hours. Using a basic knowledge of vectors and differential calculus, it can be shown that the period, P, necessary for the pendulum to complete one “rotation” is 24/sin(a) where a is the latitude of the observer above the equator. At the equator it is noted that the rotation never occurs as the sine of 0 is 0.
A Demonstration of the Foucault Pendulum
2. Star Trails obtained from either the northern or southern hemisphere. A time exposure with the camera aimed at the North Celestial Pole (NCP) or the South Celestial Pole (SCP) will show star trails in decreasing arcs centered on the respective pole. For observers at the equator, the locations of the poles will be on the Northern and Southern horizons, respectively with the stars rising vertically with no arc on the Eastern horizon and setting similarly with no arc on the Western horizon. Observations of the stars at either of the poles will show the stars rotating about the NCP or SCP at the zenith (the point directly overhead) in decreasing length arcs as you approach the zenith. In a similar observation, the diurnal motion of the rising and setting stars can only occur, again, for observers on a rotating sphere. A completely different effect would be observed for observers on a stationary flat disk with the stars “fixed” to the firmament or clear, impenetrable dome.
3. Even without a telescope, standing still while observing a star, planet, the sun or moon relative to a fixed object on the ground (a tree or a building for example) for no more than 5 minutes will show the motion of the star, planet, sun or moon relative to the stationary object. This observation can only occur for an observer on a rotating sphere. The effect is highly magnified even in a pair of binoculars. Professional telescopes employ a “clock drive” that moves the telescope at the same rate the stars appear to move across the sky due to the earth’s rotation.
4. Telescopic observations of the planets clearly show their spherical geometry, even in a modest telescope. While this isn’t a direct “proof” that the earth is a sphere, any reasonable person would agree that it certainly suggests that it is so. In an indirect “proof” of a heliocentric solar system and as further to this point, Galileo observes the transiting of Jupiter’s moons across the giant planet on the two dimensional plane of the sky and suggests that this is a model for the larger solar system.
5. The seasonal change of the stars is directly due to the earth’s revolution around the sun by 1º per day (360º/365 days). Stars rise almost 4 minutes early each day, such that over the course of 90 days (one quarter year), for example, the same star that was on the horizon at 8 PM on January 1st is now on the meridian (90º from the horizon) at 8 PM on April 1st.
6. The list is almost endless with others, such as the phases of the moon and the changing seasons providing additional “proof”.
Imagination is more important than knowledge
An index of all articles in this blog can be found here.