Flat Earth

By Robert Bernstein   |   April 16, 2024

My wife and I came out of a party recently just in time to catch a rocket launch in the sky. I took some photos of the beautiful colors and patterns and posted them on Facebook.

A Facebook childhood friend “Bill” replied, “The rockets that go nowhere under the firmament.”

Was he pushing the bizarre idea that the Earth is flat? I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. As children, I was the science guy and he was an athlete, artist and poet. So, I replied, “Can you please elaborate on your poetic comment?”

His reply was clear. Not poetic: “In my humble opinion we live on a fixed flat stationary plain under a dome that separates the waters above from the waters below. Space is fake. NASA is an abomination. Extra-terrestrial is beyond the ice wall. Not up there.”

We lived two doors from each other. Going to all the same schools from elementary to high school. What happened? I really wanted to know. I called his sister for insight. She said she is worried about him. But she didn’t know what had happened, either.

As a former teacher, I tried to engage Bill by asking simple questions. I mostly wanted to know who had introduced him to this idea. His answer: “I knew some people I worked with who I thought were crazy when they refuted the heliocentric model. Now not so much.”

He then cited explorer Admiral Byrd as a Flat Earther. He sent me a video of Byrd being interviewed where he talked about a land beyond the South Pole as big as the U.S. Bill clearly misunderstood what Byrd meant. Byrd just meant that he had entered from West Antarctica. And that East Antarctica is bigger. The size of the U.S.

A huge breakthrough came when Bill sent me an actual 19th century map of the flat Earth by Alexander Gleason. It works pretty well for the northern hemisphere. But it utterly fails for the southern hemisphere. Today, airplanes fly daily between Chile, Australia, and South Africa. We know these distances are nothing like what is shown in that map.

Unfortunately, Bill cut off contact with me after I sent him an air route map. He claimed that another of our classmates had insulted him about this, so he would cut me off, too. It was very sad and frustrating. I wanted to connect and understand how this had happened.

Some of what he said indicated strong Christian beliefs. If you Google “flat Earth” and “Bible” you will get a flood of Christian statements denying that the Bible supports a flat Earth. They want to reject the Flat Earth people! I think they are wrong.

Bill correctly quoted the Genesis use of the word “firmament.” The Bible makes reference to the Earth as sitting under a dome. That the Earth does not move. That there are edges to the world. That it is possible to stand in a place and look down on the entire world at once.

From a personal standpoint, how would you try to make a human connection to someone who believes something you consider utterly absurd? Would you try to offer them alternative information? Would you just let it go?

From a scientific perspective, do you actually know how to show that the Earth is spheroidal? Are you aware that ancient Greek philosopher Eratosthenes of Cyrene actually calculated the circumference of the Earth quite accurately? Around 240 BCE. You don’t need airplanes or spacecraft to do so.

Airplanes or spacecraft made no difference for Bill. He echoed a vast conspiracy regarding spacecraft that claims that everything about NASA is just fake. Just think about what is involved in believing such a conspiracy. If you start searching, you will find a vast array of videos “explaining” how the Earth is flat and how this conspiracy works to hide it.

It makes them feel special to have access to this secret information.

My worry: If people can be deluded about such settled facts, how are they going to understand the urgent need for action on the Climate Crisis?  


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