Modern flat Earth societies

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This article is about the society. For the Belgian band, see Flat Earth Society (band).
A flat Earth model depicting Antarctica as an ice wall surrounding a disk-shaped Earth.

Modern flat Earth societies, formerly represented by the International Flat Earth Research Society (IFERS), are present day organizations which aim to promote the idea based on a disputed quote in the Bible[1] that the Earth is flat instead of an oblate spheroid. This historically popular theory is now a fringe theory, usually regarded by mainstream media as either (humorous) mockery of the original belief or as a form of denialism.[2] IFERS, the first modern Flat society organization, was founded by Christian Englishman Samuel Shenton in 1956[3] and was later led by American Christian Charles K. Johnson, who based the organization in his home town of Lancaster, California. The belief lacked representation after Johnson’s death in 2001, until the name was reclaimed in 2004 by Johnson's self-proclaimed successor 'Daniel Shenton' (likely a reference to Samuel Shenton), a man claiming to live in Hong Kong.[4] Although Samuel Shenton has become the main public figure of flat Earth belief, it's debatable whether or not he is to be equally regarded as a flat Earth believer, quoting a response from Shenton to a person claiming that the Earth is round: "Round, perhaps, but not spherical." [5][6][7]

The idea that the Earth was flat was typical of ancient European cosmologies until about the 4th century BCE, when Ancient Greek philosophers proposed that the Earth was a sphere, or at least rounded.[8] Aristotle was one of the first Greek thinkers to propose a spherical Earth in 330 BCE. By the early Middle Ages, it was widespread knowledge throughout Europe that the Earth was a sphere.[9]

Modern pseudoscientific Biblical flat Earth hypotheses originated with the English writer Samuel Rowbotham (1816–1884). Based on his conclusions derived from the Bedford Level experiment, Rowbotham published a 16-page pamphlet, Zetetic Astronomy, which he later expanded into a 430-page book, Earth Not a Globe, expounding his views. He said the Earth is a flat disc centred at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice (Antarctica), with the Sun and Moon 3,000 miles (4,800 km) and the "cosmos" 3,100 miles (5,000 km) above earth.[10] He also published a leaflet entitled "The inconsistency of Modern Astronomy and its Opposition to the Scriptures!!" which argued that the "Bible, alongside our senses, supported the idea that the earth was flat and immovable and this essential truth should not be set aside for a system based solely on human conjecture".[11]

Rowbotham and followers like William Carpenter who continued advocating the belief, gained attention by successfully using pseudoscience in public debates[when?] with leading scientists of the day. One such debate, involving the prominent naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, concerned the Bedford Level experiment (and later led to several lawsuits for fraud and libel).[12][13][14] Rowbotham created a Zetetic Society in England and New York, shipping over a thousand copies of Zetetic Astronomy.[15]

After Rowbotham's death, Lady Elizabeth Blount, wife of explorer Sir Walter de Sodington Blount, established a Universal Zetetic Society, whose objective was "the propagation of knowledge related to Natural Cosmogony in confirmation of the Holy Scriptures, based on practical scientific investigation". The society published a magazine, The Earth Not a Globe Review, and remained active well into the early 20th century.[16] A flat Earth journal, Earth: a Monthly Magazine of Sense and Science, was published between 1901–1904, edited by Lady Blount.[17]

Samuel Shenton: The Flat Earth Society[edit]

In 1956, Samuel Shenton, a signwriter by trade, created International Flat Earth Society as a successor to Universal Zetetic Society and ran it as "organizing secretary" from his home in Dover, England.[16][18] Because of Shenton's interest in alternative science and technology, the emphasis on religious arguments was less than in the predecessor society.[19]

This was just before the launch of the first artificial satellite; when satellite images showed Earth as a sphere, the society was undaunted; Shenton remarked: "It's easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye."[20]

However it was not until the advent of human spaceflight that Shenton managed to attract wide publicity, being featured in The New York Times in January and June 1964, when the epithet "flat-earther" was also slung across the floor of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom in both directions.[citation needed]

The society also claimed that the Apollo Moon landings were a hoax staged by Hollywood, a position also held by others not connected to the Flat Earth Society.

In 1969, Shenton persuaded Ellis Hillman, a Polytechnic lecturer, to become president of the Flat Earth Society, but there is little evidence of any activity on his part until after Shenton's death, when he added most of Shenton's library to the archives of the Science Fiction Foundation which he helped to establish.[21]

Historical accounts and spoken history tell us the Land part may have been square, all in one mass at one time, then as now, the magnetic north being the Center. Vast cataclysmic events and shaking no doubt broke the land apart, divided the Land to be our present continents or islands as they exist today. One thing we know for sure about this world...the known inhabited world is Flat, Level, a Plain World.

-Flyer written by Charles K. Johnson, 1984.[22]

Shenton died in 1971; Charles K. Johnson, inheriting part of Shenton's library from Shenton's wife, established and became president of the International Flat Earth Research Society of America and Covenant People's Church in California. Under his leadership, over the next three decades, the Flat Earth Society grew from a few members to a reported 3,500.[23] Johnson gave newsletters, flyers, maps, and other promotional materials to anyone who asked for them, and managed all membership applications together with his wife, Marjory. The most famous of these newsletters was Flat Earth News. Johnson paid for these publications through annual member dues costing US$6 to US$10 over the course of his leadership.[24] Johnson's beliefs were based on the Bible; he saw scientists as pulling a hoax which would replace religion with science.[23]

The Flat Earth Society's most recent world model is that humanity lives on a disc, with the North Pole at its center and a 150-foot (45 m) high wall of ice at the outer edge.[25] The resulting map resembles the symbol of the United Nations, which Johnson used as evidence for his position.[26] In this model, the sun and moon are each 32 miles (52 km) in diameter.[27]

Flat Earth Society recruited members by attacking the U. S. government and all its agencies, particularly NASA. Much of the society’s literature in its early days focused on interpreting the Bible literally to mean that the Earth is flat, although they did try to offer scientific explanations and evidence.[24]

Flat Earth News[edit]

Flat Earth News, was a quarterly, four-page tabloid.[24]

Some headlines from Flat Earth News during the 1970s and early 1980s:[28]

  • "Whole World Deceived... Except the Very Elect" (Dec. 1977)
  • "Australia Not Down Under" (May 1978)
  • "Sun Is a Light 32 Miles Across" (Dec. 1978)
  • "The Earth Has No Motion" (Jun. 1979)
  • "Nikita Krushchev Father of NASA" (Mar. 1980)
  • "Galileo Was a Liar" (Dec. 1980)
  • "Science Insults Your Intelligence" (Sep. 1980)
  • "World IS Flat, and That's That" (Sep. 1980)
  • "The Earth Is Not a Ball; Gravity Does Not Exist" (Mar. 1981)

Peak and decline[edit]

The group rose to about 3,500 members at its peak under Charles K. Johnson.[23] It faced overwhelming scientific evidence and public opinion that the Earth is a sphere. "Flat-earther" became a common epithet for someone who stubbornly adheres to discredited or outmoded ideas.

The society fell to around 200 members by 1980. They still believed the Earth is flat. Eugenie Scott called them an example of "extreme Biblical-literalist theology: The earth is flat because the Bible says it is flat, regardless of what science tells us".[29] The society was further affected by a fire at the house of Charles K. Johnson which destroyed all of the records and contacts of members of the Society. Johnson’s wife, who helped manage the database, died shortly thereafter. Johnson himself died on March 19, 2001.[30]

Modern Flat Earth Societies[edit]

In 2004, Daniel Shenton (not related to Samuel[31]) resurrected the Flat Earth Society, basing it around a web-based discussion forum.[32] This eventually led to the official relaunch of the society in October 2009,[33] and the creation of a new website, featuring the world's largest public collection of Flat Earth literature and a user-edited encyclopedia.[34] Moreover, the society began accepting new members for the first time since 2001, with musician Thomas Dolby becoming the first member to join the newly reconvened society. As of July 2014, over 500 people have become members.[35] Shenton has also conducted several interviews since the society's relaunch, including in The Guardian newspaper.[6]

In 2013, part of this society broke away to form a new web-based group also featuring a forum and wiki.[36]

Logo of the 2013 Flat Earth Society

Canadian society[edit]

Flat Earth Society of Canada was established on 8 November 1970 by philosopher Leo Ferrari, writer Raymond Fraser and poet Alden Nowlan;[37] and was active until 1984.[38] Calling themselves planoterrestrialists,[39] their aims were quite different from other flat earth societies. With obvious humorous overtones, they claimed a prevailing problem of the new technological age was the willingness of people to accept theories "on blind faith and to reject the evidence of their own senses."[38] They did not actually believe Flat Earth theories, considering their proponents cranks, and did not accept such people into their society, which was made of quite a few prominent members of Canadian literary and political circles.

They published a newsletter, The Official Chronicle and promoted their ideas more widely via television and press. Its main aims were "to combat the fallacious deification of the circle," "to restore man's confidence in the validity of his own perceptions", and "to spearhead man's escape from his metaphysical and geometrical prison."

As of 2003, Iris Taylor of I. Taylor Research has worked to reinstate the Canadian Chapter of the Flat Earth Society and recruit new members.[40]

In popular culture[edit]

  • English musician Thomas Dolby released an album called The Flat Earth, has used the name Flat Earth Society for his website forums, and has linked to information relating to the flat earth myth. Thomas Dolby also holds the place as the first member since the Flat Earth Society reopened membership.
  • In the 1980s, talk show host Wally George often sparred with and ridiculed Flat Earth Society members on his show Hot Seat. Australian talk show host Don Lane also had Flat Earth Society advocates on his show.
  • California-based punk rock band Bad Religion include a song titled "Flat Earth Society", by Brett Gurewitz, on their album Against the Grain (1990).
  • Richard A. Lupoff's novel Circumpolar! describes a flat planet much like the Earth as described by Flat Earth Society, except it has a hole at the centre instead of a North Pole, and the underside contains fictional lands such as Atlantis and Lemuria.[41]
  • While discussing the importance of acting on climate change, President Barack Obama said there was no time for "a meeting of the flat-earth society" in reference to climate change deniers.[42]
  • Nick Davies wrote "Flat Earth News" in which he names names and exposes the national news stories which turn out to be pseudo events manufactured by the PR industry and the global news stories which prove to be fiction generated by a new machinery of international propaganda.[43]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ matter of Flat Earth in the Bible
  2. ^ the Globe vs. Denying Global Warming
  3. ^ "Flat Earth Society". Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Twitter response
  6. ^ a b David Adam (February 23, 2010). "The Earth is flat? What planet is he on?". The Guardian. 
  7. ^ Dan, Gilgoff (2013-11-24). "Bill Nye on creationism: It's like teaching the earth is flat". CNN. Retrieved August 31, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Wherefore he made the world in the form of a globe, round as from a lathe, having its extremes in every direction equidistant from the centre, the most perfect and the most like itself of all figures..."Plato, Timaeus (c. 360 BCE), retrieved 2011-01-29 
  9. ^ O'Neill, Brendan (2008-08-04). "UK | Magazine | Do they really think the earth is flat?". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  10. ^ Schick, Theodore; Lewis Vaughn How to think about weird things: critical thinking for a new age Houghton Mifflin (Mayfield) (31 October 1995) ISBN 978-1-55934-254-4 p.197
  11. ^ Garwood 2007, p. 46
  12. ^ Nature April 7, 1870.
  13. ^ "The Form of the Earth—A Shock of Opinions" (PDF). New York Times. 1871-08-10. Retrieved 2007-11-02. 
  14. ^ Hampden, John (1870): The Bedford Canal swindle detected & exposed. A. Bull, London.
  15. ^ Garwood 2007, p. 133
  16. ^ a b Moore, Patrick (1972). "Better and Flatter Earths" (PDF). Can You Speak Venusian?. ISBN 0-352-39776-4. 
  17. ^ Garwood 2007, pp. 155–159
  18. ^ "On the Level?". New York Times. June 12, 1960. p. 2. (subscription required)
  19. ^ Garwood 2007, pp. 220–225
  20. ^ Schadewald RJ. "Six "Flood" Arguments Creationists can't answer". National Center for Science Education. Retrieved 2010-04-24. 
  21. ^ Garwood 2007, pp. 320
  22. ^ "Documenting the Existence of "The International Flat Earth Society"". Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  23. ^ a b c Martin, Douglas (25 March 2001). "Charles Johnson, 76, Proponent of Flat Earth". New York Times. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  24. ^ a b c Schadewald RJ (July 1980). "The Flat-out Truth". Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  25. ^ Voliva, Wilbur Glenn (Mar 1979). "Is the Earth a Whirling Globe?". Flat Earth News. Lancaster, CA: International Flat Earth Research Society. p. 2. 
  26. ^ Johnson, Charles K. (Dec 1978). "Flat Earth News: News of the World's Children". Lancaster, CA: International Flat Earth Research Society. p. 2. 
  27. ^ Flat Earth News Dec 1978, p. 1.
  28. ^ "Flat Earth Society Library". Retrieved March 16, 2014. 
  29. ^ Scott, Eugenie (1997). "Antievolution and Creationism in the United States". Annual Review of Anthropology 26: 263–289. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.26.1.263. Retrieved Dec 8, 2011. 
  30. ^ Author(s): John R. Cole, Contributing Editor (2001). "Flat Earth Society President Dies | NCSE". National Center for Science Education. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  31. ^ "Miedo a un planeta esférico". 2010-03-19. Retrieved 2012-07-21. 
  32. ^ "The Flat Earth Society forum". Retrieved 2014-07-24. 
  33. ^ "Relaunch of the Flat Earth Society (press release)". 
  34. ^ "The Flat Earth Society Homepage". Retrieved 2014-07-24. 
  35. ^ "The Flat Earth Society - Membership Register". Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  36. ^ "The Flat Earth Society". Retrieved 2014-07-14. 
  37. ^ "Leo Charles Ferrari". New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia. St. Thomas University. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  38. ^ a b "Series No. 2 The Flat Earth Society of Canada". Leo C. Ferrari Fonds. UNB Archives and Special Collections. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  39. ^ "Dr. Ferrari and the Flat Earth Society by Alden Nowlan". Retrieved 2013-02-07. 
  40. ^ Taylor Research
  41. ^ "Circumpolar! (Twin Planets, book 1) by Richard A Lupoff". Retrieved 2013-06-28. 
  42. ^ O'Brien, Michael (25 June 2013). "Obama: No time for 'flat-earth society' on climate change". NBC News. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  43. ^


  • Garwood, Christine (2007). Flat Earth: the History of an infamous idea. Macmillan. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Raymond Fraser (2007). When The Earth Was Flat: Remembering Leonard Cohen, Alden Nowlan, the Flat Earth Society, the King James monarchy hoax, the Montreal Story Tellers and other curious matters. Black Moss Press, ISBN 978-0-88753-439-3
  • Christine Garwood (2007) Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea, Pan Books, ISBN 1-4050-4702-X

External links[edit]