Digging up the Bones of God
On the Flat Earth Movement and its Antecedents
First of all, this will not be any attempt to discredit nor slander anyone who holds the beliefs discussed herein. Rather, I will try to ascertain the motivation, the thinking, and the impetus behind the growth of such movements in recent years. Secondly, we must keep in mind that we are dealing with people who, for the most part, are engaged in a type of science; in the case of the flat Earth movement, people are actively seeking knowledge, though it runs contrary to physics, our cosmological model as understood by modern science and observation. Today I wanted to say my piece about the flat Earth movement, and in a follow up discuss the anti-vaccination phenomena.
What we have are a group of people that are making a number of assertions, which, when added up, seem to show them that the Earth is flat and, moreover, they have been lied to by government agencies and the scientific community. I believe this base impulse drives these communities, the flat Earth movement and the anti-vaccination movement. When we look at it from this perspective, it is not hard to empathize with this sentiment; the last fifty years have given us ample evidence which demonstrates the extent to which our elected officials and institutions are willing to bend the truth in order to further their own agendas. These impulses are natural, and rather than resulting in a healthy skepticism, lead them to embrace notions outside of the norm. Furthermore, though it may be easy to simply dismiss the earnest, truth seeking people among these groups, it is unproductive and ultimately accomplishes very little. When attempting to explain why someone may be wrong, it is important to realize that we have to meet someone where they are and not attempt to talk down to them.
A quote from one of the leading figures in the flat Earth movement, “…In fact, it’s just silly when you think about it. Astronomy and astrophysics and all of that, they aren’t even real sciences. You, obviously, are going to claim that they are. But you can only observe. You can’t make hypothesis, or make predictions, all you can do is observe…” Later, he adds, “Do you just believe everything the government tells you, that they are right about everything?” And freemasonry is brought into the discussion, for some reason, which is an attempt to show the physical structure of the planet we live on. If the argument were strong enough, these comments would be wholly unnecessary, but from the perspective of someone who believes in the flat Earth model, this is not irrelevant at all. Far from it, actually, it is the linchpin around which everything else revolves. First they must prove that ‘they’ are lying, and somewhere at the end of that road is a flat Earth, Freemason plots, and a society of elites who control the world, sometimes Jewish, sometimes gentile, but always invisible and impossibly competent, powerful and all-knowing. Godlike, you could say.
That the flat Earth movement has yet to create a model that can be tested and observably make predictions does not seem to be a problem for this man, though he asserts these claims with all the confidence of a Nobel laureate. What we have here is a group of people who have been left behind, left out of the mainstream scientific discourse, and have a deep-seated feeling that they have been lied to for their entire lives. Many of us have now seen the now infamous Netflix documentary. During its runtime, a prediction is made that, everyone present claims will behave in one way if the earth were a sphere. Yet, when the results come in and it does just that, no one is willing to meet this head on. It is practically ignored. What is it that we have here? Is it a case of confirmation bias?
Perhaps this is more of a case where we have a group of people who have found a community where they have found acceptance, a sense of belonging, in which the work they are doing is attempting to rewrite the book on some of the most fundamental and perplexing questions to ever trouble the minds of human beings. Rather than the Earth being a single speck amid untold billions, instead we have a special garden, lovingly crafted and distinct amid the celestial bodies and part of a unique, special creation unique in the entirety of the universe. This realization may give one pause in attempting to debunk such theories; scientists and those conversant in physics and mathematics can, to their heart’s content, give example after example. But as long as those examples come from an establishment they have roundly rejected they will be roundly rejected, as the science is not being rejected as much as it is the establishment it represents. As long as that establishment has been linked to institutions which have, in their minds, deluded and misinformed the public for so long, attempting to refute these ideas by relying on information gathered from these same institutions will be met with hostility, rejection and mockery, and are likely to never convince.
It is also important to recognize the role of conspiracy in modern culture. It plays a role once played by religion. Instead of all powerful Gods who control the forces of nature, like Zeus and his thunderbolt and Poseidon’s mighty waves, there are shadowy, all powerful groups whose footfalls shake the Earth and only they, those in the know, privy to the secrets like the initiates of the ancient mystery cults of Athens, can feel their tremors and recognize their true origins. As we see again and again, if someone believes that the Earth is flat, it is also likely they believe in other conspiracy theories. Browsing the Flat Earth and Globe Discussion Facebook page, home to 125,000 members, one is likely to come across other, often unrelated conspiracy claims. Is it a coincidence, that in finding the truth about the globe, they also decided that every other conspiracy was also strong enough to persuade them? Or is it more likely that, once you roundly dismiss the world and its history because of the sources from which that information is derived, the only way to rebuild the world is in a way that maintains the Gods, albeit in different forms, and to reclaim the dignity and uniqueness of humanity? Claims are not supported, rather they are repeated; what has no place in a normal scientific discussion, like the trustworthiness of the government, is irrevocably linked to these movements because they have no trust in these establishments, nor the institutions from which our counter-arguments derive.
I would argue that this is what is going on, and that it is not about what proofs they may present; for each argument to be presented can be easily rebuffed. The gradual set of the sun, for example, the day and night cycle in which half of the world experiences darkness while the other daylight, while each becomes less dark and more bright by gradient, is enough to disprove by observation the notion of a low-orbit sun, we are trying to convince people that what is, essentially, a new religious community that we have dug up the bones of their God and measured them, classified them and put them into a category, as a butterfly specimen is pinned to a display case by a needle. Some may be acting in bad faith, and others may just be curious, but for the majority of the community, working with contradictory models and acting on faith, it is more accurate to look at this for what it is: the attempt to reclaim the uniqueness of humanity, the Earth, and their dignity in the face of what they feel to be a world full of lies, deceit and misinformation. They are not scientists, they are theologians. And we all know it is so much easier to preach to a choir.
Furthermore, you will often hear references to the Bible, the energy of the Heavens, selective quotations and claims from pre-modern scientists. The flat Earth movement may not be exclusively religious, nor all its members inclined towards religiosity, but the impulse that once drove us to religion is one and the same that drives those who now seek to remake the world among themselves, among people whose faces they can see, whose problems they understand and whose eyes they can look into without flinching – ‘real people’ – not representatives of institutions that have lost their credibility. Only a flight into space has a chance of putting this to rest, but I guarantee you if some eccentric billionaire was to pay to take the leaders of the flat Earth movement into space, far enough up to see the curve receding in the distant and giving way to the shapes of our beautiful planet, they would find a way to dismiss their eyes before giving up their God.