Everyone has heard of the Flat Earth Society. These are people who supposedly think the earth is actually flat, much like prevailing view in ancient times, when the earth was thought to be a flat object the the center or bottom of the world, covered by a dome-shaped firmament to which the stars were affixed. This is the way it's described in the bible. But that belief died out long ago, didn't it? Well, mostly, particularly among the educated classes. But a modern pseudo-scientific version of the flat-earth theory of has been enjoying something of a comeback, especially in the past few years.
This theory was initiated in the 19th century by Samuel Rowbotham, who conducted an experiment that purported to show that the earth is flat. Rowbotham published a book called Zetetic Astronomy, and several other works now regarded as sacred texts, that describe modern flat earth theory, with the north pole at the center of the earth disk, surrounded by the continents, and the Antarctic ice-wall (that supposedly retains the ocean waters) stretched around the perimeter. The sun and moon circle above at a height of 3000 miles, with the sun illuminating only the portion of the disk it is hovering over at any given time. The firmament (or "cosmos") is another 100 miles above the sun. Rowbotham had something of a following in his time, but it wasn't until a century later that his theory began to gain additional traction with the founding of the International Flat Earth Society.
Rowbotham's experiments were debunked by the scientific community in the 19th century, but that didn't stop followers of his theory from clinging to their belief. They have developed a body of literature that includes many "proofs" that the earth is not a globe. Today, there are several different Flat Earth societies, each adhering to a variant of the core theory established by Rowbotham, but with some differences in their goals and the details of the theory that they espouse. Needless to say, each of them claims to be the keeper of the "true" science. Today, the movement is growing larger than ever before, and as its numbers increase, its members feel that they are being subjected to persecution by the rest of society. Public education has an increasingly difficult task of teaching real science in a class that contains the children of flat earth believers, who refuse to accept the validity of established science. And new laws allow them to challenge what is being taught in the science class.
Haven't we heard all this before?
The flat earthers are serious about their beliefs. You can point out the major scientific flaws in their theory all you like. It doesn't matter to them. They have ready answers for these objections. Those answers are just as shallow and vapid as the basic theory. But they are good enough to satisfy the intellect of the believer, and that's all that matters to them. Let me give you a small sample, regarding gravitation, found in one of their sacred texts, a book called Zetetic Cosmogony, that approaches modern science from a perspective of extreme incredulity (diagram shows body A on the left, body B on the right, and center point C in between):
If there are two bodies, and it is required to move A to C, the force moving A to C must proceed from the side A. Either some impact, or some involvement of a motion toward C, must act to carry A to C. The modern schools, however, assert that B may move A to C, and A move B to C; and this is mutual attraction!! Hence it is necessary to believe that B acts on the side of A, where B is not present, and that A acts on B on the side B, where A is not present. In other words, A is required to be where it is not, and also be in force at A, so as to move B to C! all of which is absurd.What seems absurd to me is the idea that anyone can take this stuff seriously. But they do. It's something they believe in. And that gets to the heart of the matter.
As Dr. Joe Pierre points out in this excellent article in Psychology Today, there's a difference between “believing in” and “believing that.” The latter is based on evidence. The former is characterized by a lack of evidence, and unfalsifiability. Flat earthers have to ignore or deny a vast body of scientific evidence and knowledge to sustain their belief system. But they don't admit that they deny science. Their position is that they have science on their side. It's the scientific establishment that they take issue with. The scientific community as a whole (along with the education community and government) is engaged in a giant worldwide conspiracy to dupe and indoctrinate the public with their globular earth model for purposes of profit. All those pictures of earth from space? Faked! Bwaa ha haaaa!
And so with conspiracy theory in hand, and armed with a body of pseudo-scientific literature and well-rehearsed arguments, the adherents of this belief system have the enemy in their sights, and stand ready to defend what they believe in. So confident are they, that they feel qualified to argue with, and even ridicule big-name members of the scientific establishment, as we have seen in the well-publicized dispute between rapper B.o.B. and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Of course, any reasonably objective person can easily see that this is all bullshit. How can someone with a modicum of intelligence be so easily swayed to believe something as patently ridiculous as the flat earth theory, despite the existence of so much evidence to the contrary? But as we all know, when you believe in something, evidence is meaningless, and reason goes out the window.
Yes, we have heard all this before.