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Not Even the Greeks Thought the World Was Flat, But These People Do

There are some people today who claim to still believe that the Earth is flat

smithsonian.com

Image: NASA

Long, long ago, people sailing away from their homes worried about falling off the edge of the Earth. They truly believed that the Earth was flat, and before we had satellites and space travel and world traveling, it wasn’t that crazy of a thing to believe. But there are some people today who claim to still believe that the Earth is flat. Life’s Little Mysteries explains the main theory:

The leading flat-earther theory holds that Earth is a disc with the Arctic Circle in the center and Antarctica, a 150-foot-tall wall of ice, around the rim. NASA employees, they say, guard this ice wall to prevent people from climbing over and falling off the disc. Earth’s day and night cycle is explained by positing that the sun and moon are spheres measuring 32 miles (51 kilometers) that move in circles 3,000 miles (4,828 km) above the plane of the Earth. (Stars, they say, move in a plane 3,100 miles up.) Like spotlights, these celestial spheres illuminate different portions of the planet in a 24-hour cycle. Flat-earthers believe there must also be an invisible “antimoon” that obscures the moon during lunar eclipses.

As a side note, it’s actually not true that most people long believed the Earth was flat. In fact, according to this note in the Irish Times, we’ve known about the roundness of the Earth for quite a while:

The roundness of the earth was well known to the ancient Greeks, as it was to educated Romans, Arabs and medieval Christian monks. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the 13th century, took for granted that his readers would already be familiar with this fact: “the same scientific truth belongs to different sciences: thus both the physicist and the astronomer prove the earth to be round.” All this is, of course, well before the advent of “science” in the current sense of the word. The era of modern science is generally accepted to have begun around the beginning of the 17th century, with the work of Kepler, Galileo and Newton – who would all have been as familiar with the roundness of the earth as we are today.

That context makes today’s flat earthers even more unusual: Not even the Ancient Greeks thought the Earth was flat. The question arises: are these people serious? Well, according to Life’s Little Mysteries, yes, they are. The site spoke with Michael Wilmore, the vice president of the Flat Earth Society:

“The question of belief and sincerity is one that comes up a lot,” Wilmore said. “If I had to guess, I would probably say that at least some of our members see the Flat Earth Society and Flat Earth Theory as a kind of epistemological exercise, whether as a critique of the scientific method or as a kind of ‘solipsism for beginners.’ There are also probably some who thought the certificate would be kind of funny to have on their wall. That being said, I know many members personally, and I am fully convinced of their belief.”

Wilmore counts himself among the true believers. “My own convictions are a result of philosophical introspection and a considerable body of data that I have personally observed, and which I am still compiling,” he said.

And flat-earthers don’t really fit into the usual conspiracy theory group —the kinds of people who think that the moon landing was a hoax or that aliens walk among us. Instead, they’re just concerned about the shape of our home planet. And while they’re wrong—wronger than even the Greeks were about the nature of the world—they really do believe.

More from Smithsonian.com:

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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