Flat Earth Society
The Flat Earth Society (also known as the International Flat Earth Society or the International Flat Earth Research Society) is an organization which aims to further the idea that the Earth is flat instead of an oblate spheroid. The modern organization was founded by Englishman Samuel Shenton in 1956 and was later led by Charles K. Johnson, who based the organization in his home in Lancaster, California. The formal society was inactive after Johnson’s death in 2001 but was resurrected in 2004 by its new president Daniel Shenton.
The idea that the Earth was flat was typical of ancient European cosmologies until about the 4th century BCE, when the Ancient Greek philosophers proposed the idea that the Earth was a sphere, or at least rounded in shape. 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.
Modern hypotheses supporting a flat Earth originated with English inventor Samuel Rowbotham (1816–1884). Based on his incorrect interpretation of experiments on the Bedford Level, Rowbotham published a 16-page pamphlet, called Zetetic Astronomy, which he later expanded into a 430-page book, Earth Not a Globe, expounding his views. According to Rowbotham's system, 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. 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".
Rowbotham and his followers, like William Carpenter who continued his work, gained attention by engaging 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). Rowbotham created a Zetetic Society in England and New York, shipping over a thousand copies of Zetetic Astronomy. Council members in New York included the US Consul to China and the superintendent of Baltimore public schools. He also edited The Zetetic and Anti-Theorist: a monthly journal of practical cosmography.
After Rowbotham's death, Lady Elizabeth Blount, wife of the 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 entitled The Earth Not a Globe Review, and remained active well into the early part of the 20th century. A flat Earth journal, Earth: a Monthly Magazine of Sense and Science, was published between 1901–1904, edited by Lady Blount. In 1901, she repeated Rowbotham's Bedford Level Experiment and photographed the effect, sparking a correspondence in the magazine English Mechanic with several counter-claims. Later it achieved some notoriety by being involved in a scam involving dental practices. After World War I, the movement underwent a slow decline.
In 1956, Samuel Shenton, a signwriter by trade, created the International Flat Earth Society as a successor to the Universal Zetetic Society and ran it as "organizing secretary" from his home in Dover, in Britain. Because of Shenton's interest in alternative science and technology, the emphasis on religious arguments was less than in the predecessor society.
This was just before the launch of the first artificial satellite, and when satellite images taken from outer space showed the Earth as a sphere rather than flat, the society was undaunted; Shenton remarked: "It's easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye."
However it was not until the advent of manned 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.
The society also took the position 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.
Shenton died in 1971 and Charles K. Johnson, inheriting part of Shenton's library from Shenton's wife, established and became the 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 in size from a few members to a reported 3,500. Johnson distributed 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 dues of members costing US$6 to US$10 over the course of his leadership. Johnson's beliefs were based on the Bible; he viewed scientists as pulling off a hoax which would replace religion with science.
The most recent world model propagated by the Flat Earth Society holds 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. The resulting map resembles the symbol of the United Nations, which Johnson used as evidence for his position. In this model, the sun and moon are each 32 miles (52 km) in diameter.
The Flat Earth Society recruited members by attacking the United States government and all of 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 attempt to offer scientific explanations and evidence.
Flat Earth News
Some headlines from Flat Earth News during the 1970s and early 1980s:
- "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
The group rose to about 3,500 members during its peak under Charles K. Johnson. The organization faced overwhelming scientific evidence and public opinion that maintained that the Earth is a sphere. The term "flat-earther" became commonly used to refer to an individual who stubbornly adheres to discredited or outmoded ideas.
The society fell to around 200 members by 1980. These members still believed that the Earth is flat. Eugenie Scott called the society an example of "extreme Biblical-literalist theology: The earth is flat because the Bible says it is flat, regardless of what science tells us". 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 Flat Earth Society. Johnson’s wife, who helped manage the database, died shortly thereafter. Charles K. Johnson himself died on March 19, 2001.
The Flat Earth Society of Canada was established on 8 November 1970 by philosopher Leo Ferrari, writer Raymond Fraser and poet Alden Nowlan. The society was active until 1984. Calling themselves planoterrestrialists, 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." They did not actually believe Flat Earth theories, considering their proponents to be cranks, and indeed did not accept such people into their society, which was composed 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 through television and press. Its primary 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.
In 2004, Daniel Shenton (not related to Samuel) resurrected the Flat Earth Society, basing it around a web-based discussion forum. This eventually led to the official relaunch of the society in October 2009, and the creation of a new website, featuring the largest public collection of Flat Earth literature in the world and a user-edited encyclopaedia. 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 March 2012, around 420 people have become members. Shenton has also conducted several interviews since the society's relaunch, including in The Guardian newspaper.
In popular culture
- 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 members of the Flat Earth Society 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 entitled "Flat Earth Society", written 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 the 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.
- While discussing the importance of acting on climate change, President Barack Obama said that there was no time for "a meeting of the flat-earth society" in reference to climate change deniers.
Notes and references
- "Flat Earth Society". howstuffworks.com. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
- David Adam (February 23, 2010). "The Earth is flat? What planet is he on?". The Guardian.
- Dan, Gilgoff (2013-11-24). "Bill Nye on creationism: It's like teaching the earth is flat". CNN. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
- "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 (c. 360 BCE.), Timaeus, retrieved 2011-01-29
- O'Neill, Brendan (2008-08-04). "UK | Magazine | Do they really think the earth is flat?". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
- 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
- Garwood 2007, p. 46
- Nature April 7, 1870.
- "The Form of the Earth—A Shock of Opinions" (PDF). New York Times. 1871-08-10. Retrieved 2007-11-02.
- Hampden, John (1870): The Bedford Canal swindle detected & exposed. A. Bull, London.
- Garwood 2007, p. 133
- Moore, P (1972). "Better and Flatter Earths" (PDF). Can You Speak Venusian?. ISBN 0-352-39776-4.
- Garwood 2007, pp. 155–159
- Garwood 2007, pp. 182–6
- "On the Level?". New York Times. June 12, 1960. p. 2.(subscription required)
- Garwood 2007, pp. 220–225
- Schadewald RJ. "Six "Flood" Arguments Creationists can't answer". National Center for Science Education. Retrieved 2010-04-24.
- Garwood 2007, pp. 320
- "Documenting the Existence of "The International Flat Earth Society"". talk.origins. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
- Martin, Douglas (25 March 2001). "Charles Johnson, 76, Proponent of Flat Earth". New York Times. Retrieved 27 December 2013.
- Schadewald RJ (July 1980). "The Flat-out Truth". Lhup.edu. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
- Voliva, Wilbur Glenn (Mar 1979). "Is the Earth a Whirling Globe?". Flat Earth News. Lancaster, CA: International Flat Earth Research Society. p. 2. Retrieved March 16, 2014.
- Johnson, Charles K. (Dec 1978). "News of the World's Children". Flat Earth News. Lancaster, CA: International Flat Earth Research Society. p. 2. Retrieved March 16, 2014.
- Johnson, Charles K. (Dec 1978). "Sun is a Light 32 Miles Across". Flat Earth News. Lancaster, CA: International Flat Earth Research Society. p. 1. Retrieved March 16, 2014.
- "Flat Earth Society Library". [n.d.] Retrieved March 16, 2014.
- 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.
- Author(s): John R. Cole, Contributing Editor (2001). "Flat Earth Society President Dies | NCSE". National Center for Science Education. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
- "Leo Charles Ferrari". New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia. St. Thomas University. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
- "Series No. 2 The Flat Earth Society of Canada". Leo C. Ferrari Fonds. UNB Archives and Special Collections. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
- "DR. FERRARI AND THE FLAT EARTH SOCIETY by Alden Nowlan". Retrieved 2013-02-07.
- "Miedo a un planeta esférico". 2010-03-19. Retrieved 2012-07-21.
- "The Flat Earth Society forum".
- "Relaunch of the Flat Earth Society (press release)".
- "The Flat Earth Society Homepage".
- "Circumpolar! (Twin Planets, book 1) by Richard A Lupoff". Fantasticfiction.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-06-28.
- O'Brien, Michael (25 June 2013). "Obama: No time for 'flat-earth society' on climate change". NBC News. Retrieved 27 December 2013.
- Garwood, Christine (2007). Flat Earth: the History of an infamous idea. Macmillan.
- 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