Modern flat Earth beliefs
Modern flat Earth beliefs are promoted by organizations and individuals which make claims that the Earth is flat while denying the Earth's sphericity, contrary to over two millennia of scientific consensus. Flat Earth beliefs are pseudoscience; the theories and assertions are not based on scientific knowledge. Flat Earth advocates are classified by experts in philosophy and physics as science deniers.
Flat Earth groups of the modern era date from the middle of the 20th century; some adherents are serious and some are not. Those who are serious are often motivated by religion or conspiracy theories. Through the use of social media, flat Earth theories have been increasingly espoused and promoted by individuals unaffiliated with larger groups. Many believers make use of social media to spread their views.
Modern flat Earth belief originated with the English writer Samuel Rowbotham (1816–1884). Based on conclusions derived from the Bedford Level experiment, Rowbotham published a pamphlet titled Zetetic Astronomy. He later expanded this into the book Earth Not a Globe, proposing the Earth is a flat disc centred at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice, Antarctica. Rowbotham further held that the Sun and Moon were 3,000 miles (4,800 km) above Earth and that the "cosmos" was 3,100 miles (5,000 km) above the Earth. He also published a leaflet titled The Inconsistency of Modern Astronomy and its Opposition to the Scriptures, which argued that the "Bible, alongside our senses, supported the idea that the earth was flat and immovable and this essential truth should not be set aside for a system based solely on human conjecture".
Rowbotham and followers like William Carpenter gained attention by successful use of pseudoscience in public debates with leading scientists such as Alfred Russel Wallace. Rowbotham created a Zetetic Society in England and New York, shipping over a thousand copies of Zetetic Astronomy.
After Rowbotham's death, Lady Elizabeth Blount established a Universal Zetetic Society, whose objective was "the propagation of knowledge related to Natural Cosmogony in confirmation of the Holy Scriptures, based on practical scientific investigation". The society published a magazine, The Earth Not a Globe Review, and remained active well into the early 20th century. A flat Earth journal, Earth: a Monthly Magazine of Sense and Science, was published between 1901 and 1904, edited by Lady Blount.
International Flat Earth Research Society
In 1956, Samuel Shenton created the International Flat Earth Research Society as a successor to the Universal Zetetic Society, running it as "organising secretary" from his home in Dover, England. Given Shenton's interest in alternative science and technology, the emphasis on religious arguments was less than in the predecessor society. When satellite images showed Earth as a sphere, Shenton remarked: "It's easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye". Later asked about similar photographs taken by astronauts, he attributed curvature to the use of wide-angle lens, adding, "It's a deception of the public and it isn't right".
In 1969, Shenton persuaded Ellis Hillman, a Polytechnic of East London lecturer, to become president of the Flat Earth Society; but there is little evidence of any activity on his part until after Shenton's death, when he added most of Shenton's library to the archives of the Science Fiction Foundation he helped to establish.
Historical accounts and spoken history tell us the Land part may have been square, all in one mass at one time, then as now, the magnetic north being the Center. Vast cataclysmic events and shaking no doubt broke the land apart, divided the Land to be our present continents or islands as they exist today. One thing we know for sure about this world...the known inhabited world is Flat, Level, a Plain World.
-Flyer written by Charles K. Johnson, 1984.
Shenton died in 1971. Charles K. Johnson inherited part of Shenton's library from Shenton's wife, and established and became president of the International Flat Earth Research Society of America and Covenant People's Church in California. Over the next three decades, under his leadership, the Flat Earth Society grew to a reported 3,500 members.
Johnson issued many publications and handled all membership applications. The most famous publication was Flat Earth News, a quarterly, four-page tabloid. Johnson paid for these publications through annual member dues costing US$6 to US$10 over the course of his leadership. Johnson cited the Bible for his beliefs, and he saw scientists as pulling a hoax which would replace religion with science.
The Flat Earth Society's most recent planet model is that humanity lives on a disc, with the North Pole at its centre and a 150-foot-high (46 m) wall of ice, Antarctica, at the outer edge. The resulting map resembles the symbol of the United Nations, which Johnson used as evidence for his position. In this model, the Sun and Moon are each 32 miles (51 km) in diameter.
Flat Earth Society recruited members by speaking against the US government and all its agencies, particularly NASA. Much of the society's literature in its early days focused on interpreting the Bible to mean that the Earth is flat, although they did try to offer scientific explanations and evidence.
According to Charles K. Johnson, the membership of the group rose to 3,500 under his leadership but began to decline after a fire at his house in 1997 which destroyed all of the records and contacts of the society's members. Johnson's wife, who helped manage the membership database, died shortly thereafter. Johnson himself died on 19 March 2001.
In 2004, Daniel Shenton (not related to Samuel) resurrected the Flat Earth Society, basing it around a web-based discussion forum. This eventually led to the official relaunch of the society in October 2009, and the creation of a new website, featuring a public collection of flat Earth literature and a wiki. Moreover, the society began accepting new members for the first time since 2001, with musician Thomas Dolby becoming the first to join the newly reconvened society. As of July 2017[update], over 500 people have become members.
In 2013, part of this society broke away to form a new web-based group also featuring a forum and wiki.
Flat Earth Society of Canada was established on 8 November 1970 by philosopher Leo Ferrari, writer Raymond Fraser and poet Alden Nowlan; and was active until 1984. Its archives are held at the University of New Brunswick.
Calling themselves "planoterrestrialists", their aims were quite different from other flat Earth societies. They claimed a prevailing problem of the new technological age was the willingness of people to accept theories "on blind faith and to reject the evidence of their own senses." The parodic intention of the Society appeared in the writings of Ferrari, as he attributed everything from gender to racial inequality on the globularist and the spherical Earth model. Ferrari even claimed to have nearly fallen off "the Edge" of the Earth at Brimstone Head on Fogo Island.
Ferrari was interviewed as an "expert" in the 1990 flat Earth mockumentary In Search of the Edge by Pancake Productions (a reference to the expression "as flat as a pancake"). In the accompanying study guide, Ferrari is outed as a "globularist," a nonce word for someone who believes the Earth is spherical. The real intent of the film, which was part-funded by the Ontario Arts Council and National Film Board of Canada, was to promote schoolchildren's critical thinking and media literacy by "[attempting] to prove in convincing fashion, something everyone knew to be false."
Multi-media artist Kay Burns re-created the Flat Earth Society of Canada as an art project with her alter ego Iris Taylor as its president. Burns created an installation entitled the Museum of the Flat Earth, which included some artefacts from the 1970 group. It was exhibited in 2016 at the Flat Earth Outpost Café in Shoal Bay, Newfoundland.
In Italy there are no centralised societies on flat Earth. However, since the 2010s, small groups of conspiracy theorists, who carry out meetings, started to emerge and to spread flat Earth theories. Among these are Calogero Greco, Albino Galuppini and Agostino Favari, who organised in 2018–2019 several meetings in Palermo, Sicily, with an entry price of €20.
Among their claims, some include:
- NASA is similar to Disneyland and that astronauts are actors.
- The April 2019 supermassive black hole photo at the core of the supergiant elliptical galaxy Messier 87 is a complete fake.
- The proof Earth is flat lies in a filled bottle where, if placed horizontally, water never curves.
In addition to these, it is their common belief that the United States has a plan to create in Europe a new America open to everyone, where the only value is consumerism and that George Soros commands a satanic globalist conspiracy. They reject the past existence of dinosaurs, the Darwinian theory of evolution, and the authority of the scientific community, claiming scientists are Freemasons.
Former leader of the Five Star Movement political party, Beppe Grillo, showed interest in the group, admitting to admiring their free speech spirit and to wanting to participate at the May 2019 conference. In the end, however, Grillo did not appear.
In the Internet era, the availability of communications technology and social media like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have made it easy for individuals, famous or not, to spread disinformation and attract others to erroneous ideas. One of the topics that has flourished in this environment is that of the flat Earth.
Modern flat-Earthers generally embrace some form of conspiracy theory out of the necessity of explaining why major institutions such as governments, media outlets, schools, scientists, and airlines all assert that the world is a sphere. They tend to not trust observations they have not made themselves, and often distrust or disagree with each other. They also might be less inclined to inerrantist interpretations of the Bible, and some critics of the flat Earth idea, such as astronomer Danny R. Faulkner, are young Earth creationists and attempt to explain away the Bible's flat Earth language.
Based on the speakers at the 2018 UK's Flat Earth UK Convention, believers in a flat Earth vary widely in their views. While most agree upon a disc-shaped Earth, some are convinced the Earth is diamond-shaped. Furthermore, while most believers do not believe in outer space and none believe humans have ever travelled there, they vary widely in their views of the universe.
The solar eclipse of 21 August 2017 gave rise to numerous YouTube videos purporting to show how the details of the eclipse prove the Earth is flat. Also in 2017, "the Tunisian and Arab scientific and educational world" had a scandal when a PhD student submitted a thesis "declaring Earth to be flat, unmoving, young (only 13,500 years of age), and the centre of the universe".
On 3 May 2018, Steven Novella analysed the modern belief in a flat Earth, and concluded that, despite what most people think about the subject, the believers are being sincere in their belief that the Earth is flat, and are not "just saying that to wind us up". He stated that:
In the end that is the core malfunction of the flat-earthers, and the modern populist rejection of expertise in general. It is a horrifically simplistic view of the world that ignores (partly out of ignorance, and partly out of motivated reasoning) to [sic] real complexities of our civilisation. It is ultimately lazy, childish, and self-indulgent, resulting in a profound level of ignorance drowning in motivated reasoning.
The British sceptical activist Michael Marshall attended the UK's annual Flat Earth UK Convention on 27–29 April 2018 and noted disagreement on several views of the believers in a flat Earth. To Marshall, one of the most telling moments at the convention was the "Flat Earth Addiction" test that was based on a checklist used to determine whether someone is in a cult, without the convention attendees realising the possibility of themselves being in a cult.
Organisations sceptical of fringe beliefs have occasionally performed tests to demonstrate the local curvature of the Earth. One of these, conducted by members of the Independent Investigations Group, at the Salton Sea on 10 June 2018 was attended also by supporters of a flat Earth, and the encounter between the two groups was recorded by the National Geographic Explorer. This experiment successfully demonstrated the curvature of the Earth via the disappearance over distance of boat-based and shore-based targets.
In 2018, the documentary Behind the Curve was released, which follows prominent modern flat-Earthers Mark Sargent and Patricia Steere, as well as astrophysicists and psychologists who attempt to explain the growing fad.
The Flat Earth Society has a Twitter account, @FlatEarthOrg. This account shares information about their group and promotes flat earth ideologies.
Mike Hughes, a daredevil and flat-Earth conspiracy theorist, used a homebuilt manned-rocket in an attempt to see for himself if the Earth is flat on 24 March 2018. His rocket made of scrap metal was estimated to cost $20,000, and using a mobile home as a custom launchpad managed to climb 1,875 feet (572 m) with Hughes inside and ended with a hard landing but with parachutes successfully deploying. The amateur rocketeer was not seriously injured and remained firm in his flat Earth beliefs. He claimed that real evidence will come with "larger rockets". Hughes was killed in an accident on 22 February 2020 while piloting a flight of his steam-powered rocket in a further attempt to prove the Earth was flat. The accident was caused by an early deployment and separation of the return parachute on the vehicle. The rocket impacted after falling from an altitude of several hundred feet. Hughes was killed instantly.
After Hughes' death, his public relations representative Darren Shuster stated that Hughes "didn't believe in flat Earth" and that it was "a PR stunt" to get publicity, while Michael Linn, who worked on the documentary Rocketman: Mad Mike's Mission to Prove the Flat-Earth said that Hughes' belief appeared genuine.
In popular culture
The flat Earth, or the Flat Earth model, is often used and characterized in a satirical or humorous sense, which is generally popularized by Internet memes on social media platforms. One image, which appeared in May 2017 according to TinEye which could possibly be a photoshop, displays a Facebook post by the Flat Earth Society stating the phrase "The Flat Earth Society has members all around the globe" with another user replying, "Say that again, but slowly" after some time the image went viral.
The Flat Earth model is also used in fictional writing, along with books, video games and music.
- The fictional character Evan Michael Tanner, an international adventurer created by American novelist Lawrence Block in the 1960s, is a member of the Flat Earth Society. Tanner is described as not taking the Flat Earth belief seriously, but rather belongs to the group to represent his suspicion of authority and devotion to fighting for lost causes.
- Richard A. Lupoff's novel Circumpolar! (1984) describes a flat Earth, with a hole at the centre instead of a North Pole, and the underside contains fictional lands such as Atlantis and Lemuria.
- California-based punk rock band Bad Religion include a song titled "Flat Earth Society", by Brett Gurewitz, on their album Against the Grain (1990). A prominent feature of the song is the refrain "lie, lie, lie," indicating a strong denunciation of the society and its theories.
- In 1984, English musician Thomas Dolby released an album called The Flat Earth. This became the name for his fan club and subsequent website forums. Daniel Shenton credited this album as his introduction to the theory, and offered the first membership of the reopened Society. Dolby, while not a believer, accepted.
- Terry Pratchett's commercially successful series of Discworld novels take place on a flat Earth balanced on the backs of four elephants standing on a giant turtle swimming through space. The thirteenth book in the series, Small Gods, features the "Quisition", a powerful censorial body within the Omnian church, whose members propagate the religious dogma that the world is in fact spherical, and persecute those who dare to say truly that "the Turtle moves", in allusion both to the historical controversy on heliocentrism and to the ahistorical belief that the notion of spherical Earth was condemned as heretical by the Church in the Middle Ages.
- In 2013, while discussing the importance of acting on climate change, President Barack Obama said there was no time for "a meeting of the Flat-Earth Society" in reference to climate change deniers.
- Rapper B.o.B composed a song titled "Flatline", in which he claims the Earth is flat and promotes other conspiracy theories. He was offered, and accepted, membership in the Flat Earth Society. In 2016, he posted a photo of himself on Twitter at a highly elevated location. He captioned the photo "The cities in the background are approximately 16 miles apart… where is the curve? Please explain this." He later added that "A lot of people are turned off by the phrase ‘flat earth’ ... but there’s no way u can see all the evidence and not know... grow up". Since these comments, he has additionally started a GoFundMe page to raise $1 million to launch a satellite into space to prove that the Earth is flat. (Valenzuela, 2019) but the page has been taken down.
- On Saturday, 17 February 2017 NBA point guard Kyrie Irving was interviewed on his previous comments in a podcast with fellow NBA players Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson regarding the Earth's curvature. In the podcast, he made claims about the ambiguity of the evidence that the Earth being round and his words garnered massive attention and sparked discussion on social media. 
- Shaquille O'Neal claimed that the Earth is flat during his podcast called The Big Podcast with Shaq. The podcast episode was titled "Shaquille O'Neal and Kevin Garnett Talk NBA and Area 21, Plus Shaq Sounds Off on the Boogie Cousins Trade and Wrestlemania". He said that he drove from Florida to California and it was flat to him.
- SpaceX ISS docking simulator has an option to display Earth flat.
- In late 2020 a group called "The Truthtellers" released a game titled Flat Earth Simulator on Steam.
- Figure of the Earth
- Hollow Earth
- Spherical Earth § Effects and empirical confirmation (documenting why the flat Earth belief is mistaken)
- Wilbur Glenn Voliva
Notes and references
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You don't convince someone who has already rejected thousands of years of scientific evidence by showing them more evidence.
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more than half of Flat earthers (52%) consider themselves "very religious,"
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