Recent articles and a wave of posts on Facebook are indicating that there is a growing minority of people who believe the earth is flat. Here’s what’s funny. Nearly 95 percent of all high school graduates were educated in a government school. Government schools are sold to us as bastions of right science. So what happened since for millennia almost no one believed the earth was flat?1
An article in The Economist gets it half right: “If schools were better at teaching analytical thinking, that might reduce the appeal of conspiracy theories.” It’s not just about teaching critical thinking but what schools often don’t allow to be taught.
Chinese paleontologist Jun-Yuan Chen got in trouble in 1999 with the scientific community while visiting the United States “because he questioned the theory of evolution” based on his studies “of strange fossil creatures.” He was told that Darwinism is sacrosanct. To question evolution is a form of secular blasphemy. “In China we can criticize Darwin,” Chen said in response to the controversy, “but not the government; in America you can criticize the government, but not Darwin.”2
When young people are forced to believe that women can become men, and men can become women in addition to more than 50 additional gender identities against everything they’ve been taught in their biology classes, such irrationalism can lead to scientific skepticism. “A religious studies major was barred from Christianity class at Indiana University of Pennsylvania for saying during class that there are only two genders.” (Fox News)
It’s no small wonder that some people are willing to believe the irrational. They’ve been trained to be scientifically schizophrenic skeptics.
In America interest in the flat-Earth movement appears to be growing. In September  Bobby Ray Simmons Jr., a rapper also known as B.o.B, launched a crowd-funding campaign to send satellites into orbit to determine the Earth’s shape. On November 9th, 500 “flat-Earthers” assembled in North Carolina for the first annual Flat Earth International Conference. Data from Google Trends show that in the past two years, searches for “flat earth” have more than tripled.
While doing research for a book I’m writing, I was looking at the history of evolutionary thought. We were taught that Charles Darwin developed the theory and published his book On the Origin of Species in 1859 to defend his hypothesis. What a lot of people don’t know is that British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace developed a similar theory at the same time independent of Darwin. It was Wallace’s published theories in a letter to Darwin that motivated Darwin to publish his ground-breaking work. “[H]is paper on the subject was jointly published with some of Charles Darwin‘s writings in 1858, a year before Darwin’s first edition of On the Origin of Species.”
In addition to his work on evolution, Wallace was engaged in a debate over the flat-earth claim.
In 1870, a Flat-Earth proponent named John Hampden offered a £500 wager (equivalent to about £44000 in present-day terms) in a magazine advertisement to anyone who could demonstrate a convex curvature in a body of water such as a river, canal, or lake. Wallace, intrigued by the challenge and short of money at the time, designed an experiment in which he set up two objects along a six-mile (10 km) stretch of canal. Both objects were at the same height above the water, and he mounted a telescope on a bridge at the same height above the water as well. When seen through the telescope, one object appeared higher than the other, showing the curvature of the earth.
The judge for the wager, the editor of Field magazine, declared Wallace the winner, but Hampden refused to accept the result. He sued Wallace and launched a campaign, which persisted for several years, of writing letters to various publications and to organisations of which Wallace was a member denouncing him as a swindler and a thief. Wallace won multiple libel suits against Hampden, but the resulting litigation cost Wallace more than the amount of the wager and the controversy frustrated him for years.
Wallace learned an expensive lesson. There are some people that can’t be convinced, by all observational accounts, that the earth is not flat. Who’s surprised at this since observationally and through study, we are being forced to believe that a man can become a woman by force of will and lopping off his penis and testicles and life-long hormone treatments?
- The claim has been repeatedly made that many people believed the earth was flat and that Columbus’ famous voyage disproved the flat-earth claim. This is historical fiction. See Jeffrey Russell’s Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians. [↩]
- Jonas E. Alexis, In the Name of Knowledge and Wisdom: Why Atheists, Skeptics, Agnostics, and Intellectuals deny Christianity (Enumclaw, WA: Pleasant Word, 2008), 120-121. [↩]