The Ancient Greeks discovered in 200BC planet Earth is round, not flat. The Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus delivered solid mathematical proof in 1543. We have seen numerous breath-taking images of Earth relayed from space.
Why is there a growing number of people starting to reject the fact that our planet is round?
The Flat-Earthers, as they are called (a derogatory term used to denote people who are out of touch with the realities of modern life) have grown in numbers, and, celebrities are flocking to join. The former England cricketer, Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, has declared himself a Flat-Earth enthusiast.
He argues that ‘evidence suggests the world isn’t round,’ asking: ‘If you’re in a helicopter and you hover, why does the Earth not [rotate under you] if it’s round? Why would water stay still if we’re hurtling through space? Why is it not wobbling?’
He co-hosts his Radio 5 show with former footballer Robbie Savage, when he said the moon landings could have been faked and that he’d been persuaded by a podcast called ‘The Flat Earthers.’
The Flat Earth International Conference will be held in the U.S. next year and Flintoff plans to attend. Thousands of Flat-Earthers made it to North Carolina, flying in from Britain, New Zealand and Argentina.
Robbie Davidson who is the conference organizer, claims the movement is in its best shape since Copernicus. He said: ‘You’re going to see more celebrities and scientists come aboard. This is just the beginning.’
‘I drive from Florida to California all the time, and it’s flat to me,’ declared Shaquille O’Neal, the American former professional basketball player, and rapper. ‘I do not go up and down at a 360-degree angle, and all that stuff about gravity.’
U.S. rapper, Bobby Ray Simmons Jr (better known as B.o.B), set up a crowd-funding appeal to launch a satellite to send back pictures that would prove the flatness of our planet. He has garnered only $6,878 towards his $1 million target.
Historians agree that even in the Middle Ages, authorities accepted that the Earth is round. It is only religious hardliners believing that God had created Earth as a flat disc at the center of the universe.
Samuel Birley Rowbotham, a Biblical Creationist, in 1838, believed the Earth and the universe are the result of a specific act of divine creation, placed a pair of surveyor’s rods six miles apart along a section of the Old Bedford River where it runs through a drainage canal in a straight, uninterrupted line through the Cambridgeshire Fens. Victorian Flat-Earth ideas were created by a test called the Bedford Level experiment.
He positioned himself next to one rod and found he could see the other. He said this proved the Earth was flat because if the planet was round and its surface curved, the other rod should be out of sight.
In 1870, his ‘proof’ attracted a small army of converts. A supporter called John Hampden, issued a public wager of £500 (about £61,000 in today’s money) to anyone who could provide incontrovertible proof that the Earth was not flat.
Alfred Russel Wallace, took up the challenge, a surveyor and eminent scientist are credited with (independently of Charles Darwin) developing a theory of evolution based on natural selection. He knew Rowbotham’s finding of flatness was the result of an optical illusion caused by a phenomenon known as ‘atmospheric refraction.’
‘The illusion happens because the density of air varies throughout the atmosphere and can cause light passing through it to get ‘bent.’ This bending can ‘lift’ images near the horizon into view.
Rowbotham adjusted an original experiment to eliminate atmospheric refraction and Russel Wallace won the bet by showing there was a degree of curvature consistent with the planet being round.
The experiment was referreed by the editor of ‘The Field’ sports magazine, however, Hampden refused to accept the result, claiming that Wallace had cheated, and sued him.
Hampden was jailed after a long, messy court battle, for libel and for threatening murder after he wrote to Wallace’s wife: ‘Madam if your infernal thief of a husband is brought home some day with every bone in his head smashed to pulp, you will know the reason.’
The court then ruled the bet was invalid and accepted Hampden’s claim that he had retracted the wager. Wallace had to return the £500. Both sides, however, claimed victory. Hampden’s supporter, Lady Elizabeth Anne Blount, a devout Christian, and vegetarian, established the Universal Zetetic Society to prove his point.
The word Zetetic means ‘inquiring,’ though the society’s limited horizons were betrayed by the title of its journal: The Earth Not A Globe Review. The group attracted members such as an archbishop, a major-general, various aristocrats and literary names of the day.
The International Flat Earth Society was then formed in 1956. Its organizer, Samuel Shenton, of Dover, was a tireless campaigner on the subject of a flat Eart. He dismissed the first satellite images to show Earth as a sphere in 1960 by claiming: ‘It’s easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye.’
The Society’s membership records passed to a Charles Johnson in California after Shenton died in 1971. Johnson who declared himself ‘President of the International Flat Earth Research Society of America and Covenant People’s Church.’
‘If Earth were a ball spinning in space, there would be no up or down,’ he said in 1984. He maintained that the world was a flat disc floating on primordial waters.
When Johnson died in 2001, his group had 3,500 members, but it seemed the movement would die with him. The Vatican had admitted the Inquisition (the Catholic Church’s institution established to combat heresy) had been wrong in 1633 to force Renaissance scientist Galileo Galilei to renounce his theory, under threat of torture, the Earth does not move around the Sun, although not until 1992.
The internet has become a Flat-Earth forum for cranks around the globe.
In 2004, the Flat Earth Society was resurrected as a web-based discussion forum. That led to the official relaunch of the society in 2009. The first new member was musician Thomas Dolby who doesn’t believe the Earth is flat, but he did release an album called The Flat Earth.
The Flat Earth Bible Society has 161,000 followers, and the two versions of the Flat Earth Societ split up after a row in 2013.
In 2016, 52% of British adults told online pollsters Atomik Research the Apollo 11 mission was fake. Harrison Schmitt, who set foot on the moon in 1972, responded philosophically: ‘If people decide they’re going to deny the facts of history and the facts of science and technology, there’s not much you can do with them. I just feel sorry that we failed in their education.’
The Flat Earth Society said last month: ‘Astronauts simply don’t understand that their word isn’t worth anything anymore. This isn’t the Sixties. We don’t fall for your nonsense.’
Flat-Earthers believe NASA faked all pictures of a moon landing. The pictures of the Earth viewed from space are not real and NASA is lying to conceal the truth that the world is a flat disc in space with a wall of ice around the rim to stop the oceans pouring over the side.
Robbie Davidson, a Flat-Earther, compares his movement to climate-change skeptics. He insists their theory is due for wider serious consideration.
‘Pretty soon it’ll get to a critical point and scientists will have to come to the table,’ he said. ‘It’s one thing when it’s a bunch of fruitloops online, but now we are getting to the point of seeing major names.’
Elon Musk, chief of the electric-powered vehicle company Tesla and the private space exploration rocket company SpaceX disagrees. He teased Flat-Earthers by tweeting: ‘Why is there no Flat Mars Society?’
The Flat Earth Society replied: ‘Unlike the Earth, Mars has been observed to be round. We hope you have a fantastic day.’
Flat-Earthers are now determined to try to prove their point by visiting space and confirming our planet is a disc themselves.
‘Mad’ Mike Hughes, a 61-year-old from California, aborted the launch of his home-made steam-powered rocket. He was planning to fly to the edge of space, and prove we inhabit a flat planet. The details of how he intended to do it are sketchy.
Hughes says he secured another launch site after federal officials in the Mojave Desert refused to give him permission. No new date has been announced.
Darrell Fox, from Portland, Oregon, the leader of the 976-member Flat Earth v Spherical Earth Facebook group has made similar plans. He aims to send up cameras on high-altitude balloons to prove his point, however, after several years, he has not been able to gather sufficient funding.
Flat-Earthers have a new platform, but, whether such plans get off the ground is not the point. Anyone can claim anything, and the world’s most gravity-defyingly ignorant conspiracy theory has found a fan base.
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