Although it is firmly believed by scientists, academicians, and basically just about anyone on earth, that the Earth is round, there is a society of individuals who are holding to the pre-Copernican belief of a flat world. In Lancaster, Ca. there lived a man, Charles Johnson, who once headed up the society known as “The Flat Earth Society”. This society still exists: “But it didn’t last: By the time Johnson died, the society had dwindled again to just 100 members. The Flat Earth Society is still around, though they remain little more than a tiny fringe group.” (Lewis, 2016). Even at its highest enrollment it had about 3500 members. This essay argues that the Flat Earth Society maintains their beliefs despite proof, and that therefore, the Flat Earth Society is similar to a religion.
The aim of the Flat Earth Society, according to Charles Johnson is: “To carefully observe, think freely rediscove forgotten fact and oppose theoretical dogmatic assumptions. To help establish the United States…of the the world on this flat earth. Replace the science religion…with SANITY”[sic] (Day, 1993). The typos are contained in the original document that is written by Johnson. What Johnson proclaims is the opposite of scientific rationality. Johnson’s critics believe that his beliefs are insane, yet Johnson claims that his belief is the only sane belief. The Flat Earth Society proclaims that any evidence that we do have of the Earth’s roundness is a scientific hoax. NASA is at the forefront of this hoax, according to Flat Earth Society members, because NASA falsifies computer generated imagery. The fact that the Earth is flat is otherwise empirically evident, argue Flat Earth Society members, because we can see that it is flat. It takes setting reason aside, literally disbelieving our own senses, to believe the scientifically-held belief that the Earth is round.
The belief that Johnson promoted was one that included dismissing any scientific proof of the world being round. He claimed that the space program was a hoax. Lancaster is located right where Edwards Airforce Base is located, so Johnson was literally right next door to the scientists that he eschewed: “‘You can’t orbit a flat earth,” Johnson told Robert J. Schadewald for in 1980. ‘The Space Shuttle is a joke—and a very ludicrous joke.’”(Lewis, 2016). Johnson does not believe that there should be any faith in science because it can be an illusion and it can be false, whereas our sight relates to us reliable truths. Our sight reveals that the Earth is flat, not round. Johnson believed that empirical evidence was the proof that the Earth is flat. He called out to people to use their senses, and even said that it takes common sense to understand that the Earth is flat. “His essential suggestion was that people should just look around and trust their own eyes. ‘Reasonable, intelligent people have always recognized that the earth is flat,’’ he said.” (Martin, 2001). Empirically, the Earth appears to be flat, therefore, Johnson claims that it is ludicrous to think that it could be anything other than flat.
However, if Johnson is willing to ignore the facts of science, and claim to a belief that has actually been disproven, then his belief system falls into a “religious zealot” category. IT is not just because Johnson believed that there was Biblical evidence of a flat world that his beliefs are religious; the religiosity is the dogmatic adherence to his ideology despite valid scientific evidence. According to Charles Johnson, he claims that one of the purposes of the Flat Earth Society is to escape the myth of science: “Science is a false religion, the opium of the masses.” (Day, 1993). The phrase “opium” of the masses implies that the masses are not reasonable or rational and that they are addicted to scientific lies.
Johnson and all Flat Earth Society members claim that NASA falsifies computer imagery. They believe that all the computer imagery that NASA has provided has been adulterated. At this juncture, scientists and Flat Earth Society members are at a headlock because scientists claim that we have empirical evidence that the earth is round. Take, for instance, the photographs of Earth taken from space. However, these photographs are discounted by the Flat Earth Society because they believe that the photographs have been falsified by NASA. One scientist argues that: “It is always good to question ‘how we know what we know’…But it is also good to have the ability to accept compelling evidence—such as the photographs of Earth from space.” (Martin, 2016). It is the inability to accept compelling evidence that defines the Flat Earth Society as a cult type organization, its own religion.
NASA is not a hoax, and it is irrational to believe that the Earth is flat. This essay argues that adherence to such a belief is dogmatic. It is ironic that the Flat Earth Society claims to escape the dogmatic beliefs of science, when they present their own impossible ideology. NASA has not computer generated this knowledge that the Earth is round. In order to claim that the Earth is flat, Charles Johnson and his followers have to intentionally set aside their logical faculty. Ironically, Johnson claims that this is what people are forced to do by science, subvert their logic and reason to the manipulations of scientific proof. Johnson claims it is illogical to claim the Earth is round when it is visibly flat.
However, with computer imagery, we know that the Earth is round. There are pictures of people standing and the horizon appears flat in the background. This is not sufficient evidence in graphic form that the earth is flat. Some pictures are taken with a fish eye lens, counteracting the curve. There are many methods of computer generated imagery and manipulations, however, NASA has not been manipulating the imagery of the Earth. The Hubble Space Telescope is not sending falsified pictures of earth back to us. Flat Earth Society rests much of their certainty that the Earth is flat on the idea that empirical evidence of the Earth’s roundness has been a computer generated hoax: “Mr. Johnson, who called himself the last iconoclast, regarded scientists as witch doctors pulling off a gigantic hoax so as to replace religion with science.” (Martin, 2001). One question that would be interesting to have Charles Johnson answer would be, why? To what avail is a giant hoax of this sort? No one profits, so it does not make sense. If Johnson wanted to preserve religion, in the face of science, then he did not succeed. Essentially, Johnson created his own deviant culture.
However, Charles Johnson profited from the memberships in Flat Earth Society. At $10 yearly membership, and 3500 members, he was bringing in $35,000 annually. This likens the Society to a religion as well. Charles Johnson was one of the main “prophets” of this religion, and the congregation supported him. The idea that there are minority amounts of people who want to be anomalies seems to be the rite of membership in the society. It is for the above reasons, and for the inability to accept the evidence that NASA has reliably produced, that the Flat Earth Society verges on maniacal religion.
- Day, P.J. (1993). “Documenting the existence of the international flat earth society”. The Flat Earth Society. Retrieved from: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/flatearth.html
- Lewis, D. (2016). “The curious history of The Flat Earth Society” Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/curious-history-international-flat-earth-society-180957969/?no-ist
- Martin, D. (2001). Charles Johnson, 76, proponent of Flat Earth”. New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/25/us/charles-johnson-76-proponent-of-flat-earth.html