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Thom Barker: Say it with me, the Earth is flat

Thom Barker
Thom Barker - Submitted

I honestly cannot decide whether the Flat Earth Society is for real. Oh, it is a real organization. It has a website and a Facebook page and a store (of course). And, according to Live Science, its membership has been growing by approximately 200 people every year.

The society’s website smacks of satire dubbing itself a place for free thinkers and the intellectual exchange of ideas. A recent post chronicles flat-Earther Mike Hughes challenging the pre-conceived notion rocket science is hard by building his own rocket to launch himself into the “atmoplane.” That is clever stuff because if the earth is a flat disc, as they claim, atmosphere would be a misnomer.

“Hughes is a limo driver from the American West Coast and while he was unable to be reached for comment, his understanding of concepts like trajectory, magnetopause, and terracentric orbital dynamics was clearly not stifled by the liberal round-earth agendas of our “top” universities,” the article states.

If that is not satire, I’m not so sure I know the definition.

“What’s perhaps most impressive is that in true Rowbothiam fashion, Hughes has made his rocket steam powered!” the post goes on. “Not even the laws against building ballistic missiles can keep Hughes grounded. Godspeed, Hughes. We here at The Flat Earth Society salute you.”

The real genius of it is that spokespeople manage to stay in character, tongues planted firmly in cheek (I hope) when asked directly if it is indeed satire. Undoubtedly, the membership is mixed between scoffers and true believers.

Michael Wilmore, the society’s vice president, who ostensibly counts himself among the latter, put it this way: "The question of belief and sincerity is one that comes up a lot. If I had to guess, I would probably say that at least some of our members see the Flat Earth Society and Flat Earth Theory as a kind of epistemological exercise, whether as a critique of the scientific method or as a kind of 'solipsism for beginners.' There are also probably some who thought the certificate would be kind of funny to have on their wall.”

Whatever else it may be, Flat Earth theory is a great way to make fun of conspiracy theories. First you have to dismiss scads of easily observable concrete evidence. Then you invoke an incredibly vast global network of deceit headed up by a powerful governmental entity—in this case NASA—even though we all know two people can’t keep a secret much less the hundreds of thousands who would have to be in on this one. Then you co-opt the known laws of the universe, to accommodate your alternate explanation all the while not succumbing to wild flights of fancy such as magic.

I have to give them credit here for also not invoking the “because God” fallacy, but sticking to “science.”

For example, they explain the day-night cycle by positing the sun and moon, each having a diameter of 50 kilometres, are circling above the flat Earth at a distance of 4,800 km while admitting, unlike the Earth, celestial bodies are spherical because obviously anybody can see it for themselves.

Also, gravity is an illusion created by the Earth accelerating upward at 9.8 meters per second squared driven by dark energy. There is debate within the flat-Earth movement of how this squares with relativity because the disc would not be able to indefinitely accelerate without exceeding the speed of light. At least they recognize relativity.

Ultimately, my inclination is to join this group. I mean, the Earth is obviously bumpy, but it sure doesn’t seem like it’s spherical. Say it with me, the Earth is flat.

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