All entries for Tuesday 25 August 2009

August 25, 2009

Flat Earth

Writing about web page

I was actually planning to write a post about resaurants, but then I discovered this little jewel on the Internet. A forum for people who believe that the Earth is flat! Priorities changed, and suddenly I had something way more urgent to write about.

Now, I know that there are people out there who believe some ridiculous theories. Some believe we never landed on the Moon, some believe that biology is not a science. But believers in a FLAT EARTH?! Oh come on. That's not even controversial, that's just plain stupid. Naturally, I initally suspected that the entire forum might be a hoax. However, after reading the FAQ, and the posts made by regular members, I realised with creeping horror that they were serious.

Q: "Is this site for real?" 

A: This site is real. There are members who seriously believe the Earth is flat. However, there are also members who do not.

I'm not a physicist - never mistake a Mathematician for a Physicist - but I know enough about Newtonian Mechanics and our universe to know that a spherical Earth is the most sensible and elegant solution to the shape of our planet. Not to mention the most... true. There are pictures, there are satelites, and there has been overwhelming scientific and public consensus on this for hundreds of years. I see no reason to question my belief that the Earth is round and I am absolutely positive that you, the reader, feel the same way. So I am speechless that these people nevertheless believe this drivel.

I spent quite a while on the forum. Not because I felt a need to rebut their theory (in my opinion they are lost souls who have reached a level of idiocy that is not worth my time) but because I found it amusing to read about their extremely elaborate and complicated theory which attempts to explain natural phenomena from a Flat Earth perspective. I will give you a summary of their belief system here:

Map of a flat Earth

According to Flat Earth'ers, the Earth is a flat disc at the centre of the Universe, looking as above. It is surrounded by a great impenetrable Ice Wall, that prevents the sea and the atmolayer from falling off. The Sun and the Moon are spotlights that circle the sky overhead, thereby illuminating different parts of the Earth at different times. Sunrises and sunsets are "perspective effects". Lunar eclipses are caused by a third celestial body, the anti-moon, getting between the Sun and the Moon, thereby darkening the moon. Gravity is caused by a Universal Accelerator underneath the Earth. It is unknown how the opposite side of the Earth looks. Also, pilots who fly from, say, South America to New Zealand, are being misguided by their GPS. Other unexplained phenomena usually have something to do with Dark Energy.

That's Flat Earth Theory in a nutshell. For more details, go visit their FAQ. For an even more scientific approach, see Samuel Birley Rowbotham's book on Zetetic Astronomy, Earth Not a Globe.

The whole idea is of course utterly absurd. What I find funny is their obstinacy to make this a consistent theory with no flaws whatsoever. This means that they constantly have to invent new explanations to all the evidence that seems to refute their beloved hypothesis. The thing is, even if they somehow do manage to patch up every anomaly with far-fetched solutions to reach a theory that does not contradict itself, it will be riddled with so many pointless and artifical rules, forces and celestial bodies that it will look like a wobbly shed, next to the beauty of the Round Earth Palace. In short, Flat Earth Theory raises too many new questions. Ever heard of Occam's Razor?

Still, all that got me thinking. The posters at the forum in question seemed very stubborn, and I started wondering how one could possibly make them change their minds. So here's a little challenge for you: What is the simplest way to prove that the Earth is spherical? By "simple" I mean "easy to execute". And I'm talking about proper proof; a picture of a round Earth, for instance, could technically have been photoshopped. Any ideas?

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