Quote of the Day: Flat-Earth Conspiracy Continues to Spread

flat earth

This week, the businessman attended the third annual Flat Earth International Conference, held at an Embassy Suites hotel in suburban Dallas, Texas. Organizers told CNN that about 600 others went too.
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The event’s schedule resembled any corporate conference, with some fairly noticeable twists. Speakers gave presentations including “Space is Fake” and “Testing The Moon: A Globe Lie Perspective.” Awards for the year’s best flat Earth-related videos were handed out. And believers reveled in an opportunity to meet several of the movement’s most influential minds.

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People in every pocket of this spherical planet are rejecting science and spreading the word that the Earth is flat.

There’s no clear study indicating how many people have been convinced — and flat Earthers like [David] Weiss will tell you without evidence there are millions more in the closet anyway, including Hollywood A-listers and commercial airline pilots — but online communities have hundreds of thousands of followers and YouTube is inundated with flat-Earth content creators, whose productions reach millions.

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A YouGov survey of more than 8,000 American adults suggested last year that as many as one in six Americans are not entirely certain the world is round, while a 2019 Datafolha Institute survey of more than 2,000 Brazilian adults indicated that 7% of people in that country reject that concept, according to local media.

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When [Robbie] Davidson first heard that people really do believe in a flat Earth, “I just laughed and said, ‘they’ve got to be the stupidest people ever.’ Who in their right mind could believe something so dumb?”

A couple of years later, Davidson was setting up the first international flat Earth conference. Like most of the speakers at the event CNN spoke to, he was convinced after he decided he couldn’t prove the Earth’s roundness.

For Davidson, a born-again Christian [a common trait among flat-eathers], the most logical explanation for the conspiracy of the millennium goes like this: “Let’s just say there is an adversary, there is a devil, there is a Satan. His whole job would be to try to convince the world that God doesn’t exist. He’s done an incredible job convincing people with the idea that we’re just on a random speck in an infinite universe.”

The reality, says Davidson, is that the flat Earth, sun, moon and stars are contained in a “Truman Show”-like dome. From there, pitfalls can be easily dismissed — like photos of the Earth from space, which flat Earthers believe are photoshopped. “This all goes away if they put a 24/7 camera feed on the moon,” he adds.

And Davidson quickly found a large online community believing the same thing. “I thought doing a conference would just take it to the next stage where the media and the world will look at it and say, ‘wait a minute — something must be going on. This is not just some internet fad, or a bunch of crazy people online. They’re now meeting in buildings.'”

He has a few things he wants to make clear to a flat-Earth novice.

Firstly, and most importantly — “none of us believe that we’re a flying pancake in space.” The community merely believes that space does not exist, the world sits still and the moon landing was faked. The jury is out on gravity — but as Davidson notes, no one has ever seen it.

Secondly — no, you won’t fall off the edge. While flat Earthers’ views of the world vary, most believe the planet is a circular disk with Antarctica acting as an ice wall barrier around the edge.

And thirdly, modern flat Earthers have little in common with the Flat Earth Society, a group that has existed for decades and has more than 200,000 followers on Facebook.

That organization, some speakers told CNN, is a government-controlled body designed to pump out misinformation and make the flat-Earth cause sound far-fetched to curious minds. Davidson calls their theories “completely ridiculous.”

Most [flat-earth] adherents say they’re just curious, as all good scientific minds should be. “We love science,” Davidson insists.

Still, most adherents demonstrate plenty of anti-scientific tendencies. It’s hard to find a flat Earther who doesn’t believe most other conspiracies under the sun; a flat-Earth conference is invariably also a gathering of anti-vaxxers, 9/11 truthers and Illuminati subscribers, to name a few.

It’s that hyper-skeptical mindset that helps flat earthers answer the big questions — like who’s hiding the true shape of the planet from us?

“The ruling elite, from the royal family to the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds … all of those groups that run the world, they’re in on it,” says Weiss.

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Scientists have also noted that a social motive draws people to conspiracy theories — the desire to “maintain a positive view of the self and the groups we belong to,” as social psychologist Karen Douglas of the University of Kent says.

And few groups have as strong a community as flat Earthers.

“This (conference) is an outlet for a lot of people that might otherwise get ostracized by friends and family and co-workers. When they come here, they know it’s absolutely a safe space,” [Mark] Sargent says of this week’s event.

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But perhaps the most important driver is an underlying need for power and control. “People want to feel safe and secure in the world,” Douglas says. And power comes from knowledge — no matter how questionable it may be.

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“It seems that increasingly, people don’t trust scientists and experts, or their motives,” Douglas says. “More research needs to be done in this area, and I’m sure there are some positive consequences to believing in conspiracy theories, but early indications suggests that they are more harm than help.”

Rob Picheta, CNN, The flat-Earth conspiracy is spreading around the globe. Does it hide a darker core?, November 18, 2019

NASA Fact Sheet for middle school students titled, What is Earth?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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6 Comments

  1. Melissa A Montana

    Unfortunately, I think we are going through a phase similar to the 1970’s when bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, The Bermuda Triangle, psychics, and other nonsense was all the rage. I believe all this will burn out in a few years when the novelty wears off, just as most of it did back then. Of course, they didn’t have the internet either, so that may make a difference in how long this lasts.

    Reply
  2. Byroniac

    Am I the only one who thinks that “conspiracy theorist” makes them sound more sophisticated than they actually are? Can we not just call most of them “conspiracy gossips” instead?

    Reply
  3. GeoffT

    The flat earth idea is interesting because it runs up against competing intuition. On the one hand our senses tell us that the earth is flat but, on the other hand, the least knowledge we acquire of the world shows that it must be round, spherical in shape. It has to be. Spherical explains everything, from gravity to climate to tides. If we try to imagine a flat earth then the logical contortions are frightening. Where do the sun and moon go at day and night, or why can’t we see objects beyond the horizon even with binoculars? How can gravity be countered?

    Flat earth belief is always going to be bound up with other foolish ideas, and I include fundamental religious belief in those. It’s a combination of psychological factors that include a feeling of inferiority, a need to appear ‘special’, and perhaps some sense of community, however bizarre.

    Reply
  4. Sarah Leitner

    Fascinating psychological study. Thank you Bruce. It makes me wish I’d studied that area of psychology more in depth

    Reply
  5. Becky Wiren

    It’s ridiculous. Greeks knew the earth was round before Christ was born. A little observation from an inquiring mind shows that if we climb up a hill, things change.Early sailors quickly came to see the changes in the constellations, not just in season but in latitude.

    Reply
  6. ObstacleChick

    The Netflix documentary Beyond the Curve explored flat earthers in a comprehensive and compassionate way. It focused on Mark Sargent as well as other flat earthers and conspiracy theorists. They reminded me a lot of Christian apologists trying to reconcile the unreconcilable aspects of faith not supported by the majority of data.

    Did anyone notice that there are Real Flat Earthers and those that are government controlled and thus not True Believers? Sounds like fundamentalist Christianity to me…..

    Reply

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