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Flat Earth and those who inhabit it

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The time I spent on the Flat Earth, and what I learned from it.

I spent some time chatting with people from "The Flat Earth Society" over the past couple of weeks - it's been an interesting experience.

Allow me to enlighten you!

Do people really believe that the world is Flat?

Yes - I think some of them truly do.  There seem to be three kinds of people in the Flat Earth community:

  1. Those who find it to be an interesting intellectual puzzle to come up with a consistent set of theories for how the Earth could be Flat - but who clearly don't believe them to be true.
  2. Those who truly believe that the Earth is Flat and that come up with ideas of their own - and from the members of group (1) to try to provide a logical basis for what is an honestly held core belief.
  3. People from various extreme religious positions who find evidence in the Bible to support the claim for the Earth being Flat.  They seem to pay little attention to the details - but when provoked will refer you to answers from group (1) and (2).

Many people have heard of "The Flat Earth Society" - but it seems that there are at least three groups who lay claim to that name:

Since https://tfes.org seems to be the latest and most active - that's where I decided to go visit for a while.

What Exactly Do They Believe?

Well, this is where the story gets a little complicated.  They all agree that the world is flat...that much is (I suppose) a given.  (Although there are also concave-earthers, inside-out-earthers and various other splinter groups...but these are scattered and have no solid dogma to discuss).   However, there are multiple theories for many of their talking points:

  • Some believe that the earth is flat, finite in extent and has a wall of ice surrounding what round-earthers believe to be the south pole.   Others believe that there is land beyond that ice wall - infinite in extent - and possibly containing other pockets of life.   Yet others believe that the world is covered by an enormous dome (called "the firmament") which is made of water.  The latter group seem to be mostly made up of the religious fundamentalists - because this is literally what the Bible says.
  • Some believe that the map of the flat earth has the North Pole in the center and that there is no South Pole - but rather that to the south (in all directions) is that great ice wall.  But others have a map that contains both the north and the south pole - with the "edge" of the world slicing through the pacific ocean.
  • Some believe in the notion of "gravity" for the Earth - but others believe that gravity is a fiction and that in reality the world is accelerating upwards at 9.8 meters per second-squared...which produces the illusion of gravity.   Some others believe that the sky dome - or possibly the stars repel objects and yet others that objects fall when you drop them because of air pressure pushing down on them.
  • Some believe that photos from space are faked by NASA - others believe that NASA employees are so indoctrinated in the Round Earth hypothesis, that they alter experimental results and doctor photographs to confirm that belief - hoestly believing that they are just correcting the results of flawed experiments.

So pinning down a group of Flat Earthers to a single answer is a lot like nailing Jello to the ceiling.

Some of their beliefs are simply made up - others come from the Bible - yet others are based on a series of experiments done over a hundred years ago (about which I'll talk later).

Flat Earth Maps

There are two maps that are commonly used and discussed in modern Flat Earth debates:

The one on the left is quite hard to defend - the issue of what happens at the edge being problematic - and the extreme distortions of southern hemisphere continents is impossible to maintain - but it does allow the idea that someone could visit antarctica and that there is a true south pole.

The image on the right is by far the most commonly discussed.  The continents are hardly distorted at all - but the southern hemisphere oceans are vastly too large by round-earth measurements.  Notice that the "south pole" doesn't really exist - and that white region around the perimeter is the part that (according to some) extends out to infinity in all directions and is bounded by a vast "ice wall".  If you were to venture out past the ice wall, the temperatures would get colder and colder until the air would freeze and you could go no further.

In the righthand map, a compass needle will point toward the north pole - so if you try to sail or fly around the world, east/west you'll go around in a big circle just like on the round earth - and if you try to go in a North/South circle, you hit the ice wall...and that's your lot.   But mostly, using a compass, you'll navigate just like you do in the Round Earth.  It is claimed that if you attempt to fly or sail to the "south pole" that you'll be intercepted by one of a vast number of United Nations ships, airplanes or drones - I've never been able to find out what happens next - do they lock you up?  Make you a part of the conspiracy?  Shoot you?   I don't know.

On the lefthand map...who knows?  Really?


How can they POSSIBLY still believe it?

Satellite photos:

As I explained, they dismiss NASA (and by implication) other space agency images as faked.   People who claim to have travelled to the South pole are a part of the conspiracy - so are people who make things like satellite phones, satellite TV and GPS navigation equipment.  You're not going to convince a flat-earther based on something that neither you, nor they, have ever experienced - because...well...it's a conspiracy.

So we're left with only the arguments based on things that anyone can test.

Ships over the horizon:

The most common one that round-earthers present to them is the one about ships sailing over the horizon and the hull disappearing before the superstructure, masts, etc.   This is not a good line of attack.  When you actually LOOK at photos taken of that, you tend to be beset with mirages and other optical distortions that, in all honesty, leaves open either alternative being true.   The Flat Earthers claim that if you're looking at a ship that's halfway over the horizon, then you can actually see it all if you use binoculars or a telescope - but unless you're standing on a beach, right next to a flat earther - you're not going to win this debate.

Sun and Moon:

The second most common approach from round earthers is to ask about the sun and the moon.  Here the flat earthers are on shakier ground.   They mostly claim that both sun and moon are about 3000 miles above the earth and are each about 30 miles across.   The sun is claimed to take a slowly spiralling path and to shine only a cone of light - kindof like a flashlight.

This could certainly go some way to explaining how we get day and night - but it can't explain how the sun can simultaneously be vertically overhead in (say) England - while it's on the horizon in (say) Texas.    So they explain that this is caused by "perspective" - because the distance between you and the sun is further when it's evening - perspective will position it onto the horizon.   This isn't how round earth perspective works - and to my mind, it suffers one crashingly difficult problem.   If the sun is so far away that perspective makes it seem to touch the horizon - then shouldn't it be much smaller?   In fact, to most people's eyes, it looks considerably bigger (this also happens with the moon - and it's a common optical illusion called "The Moon Illusion").   So some flat earthers use the undoubtedly true "illusion" that sun and moon are larger when at the horizon to explain away the aparrently over-large size at sunset and sunrise - but that answer doesn't work - I can hold a coin at arms length and it just covers the sun at zenith and also at the horizon - which erases the optical illusion argument very effectively.  Perspective still works.

Other claim that perspective only makes dim things look smaller - because their light can't "grab the air" like a bright light can.  I can use math and geometry to explain how this couldn't explain what we can all plainly see...but flat earthers don't seem to have the patience to follow through with such detailed discussions - so they just give up, or repeat their own confused responses over and over.

Round Earthers then ask about the phases of the moon - which aren't easy to explain if the sun and moon move in the way they claim.   So their response is one of two things:  One is that the moon glows by it's own light rather than reflecting sunlight...and why not?  NASA are claimed to by lying to us about going there to see.   So the moon could change brightness in various places...one of the more bizarre explanations is that the moon's light comes from glowing organisms like fireflies - and that these are migratory species - which accounts for the moon phases.

Hard to dispute that one - but you can.   Take any small back-yard telescope - or even a good pair of binoculars - and look at the crescent of the new moon.  You can plainly see shadows being cast by mountain peaks and crater rims - but if the moon itself is what's glowing, how can it cast a shadow onto itself?   This is a good question - and produces an eery silence from the Flat Earthers.

Another problem they have is with eclipses.   If sun and moon are the same size - and at the same distance, they'd collide with each other rather than the moon eclipsing the sun.  But in Flat Earth astronomy - that doesn't happen.   The moon somehow never gets that close to the sun.   Also, a lunar eclipse (in round-earth speak) is caused by the shadow of the Earth cast onto the Moon...and you can clearly see that the shadow is curved!   But in Flat Earth theory - there is a third body out there.   Some call it the "Shadow Object" and others call it the "Anti-Moon".   This is a black disk (or maybe a sphere) that gets between the earth and the sun during solar eclipses and between earth and moon during a lunar eclipse.  This is extremely problematic because a solar eclipse is visible from only a very small part of the world - implying that the anti-moon is considerably closer to us than the sun so as to cast only a small shadow onto the flat earth below.  But lunar eclipses look the same no matter where you are standing on the Earth - so the anti-moon would have to be EXTREMELY close to the moon...which would fail miserably to explain why the area of the moon it blocks is so much larger than the area of the sun that it blocks.

Orientation of the Moon

Now this is the first argument that I've never hard a flat earther try to explain away...for me it's the first and most easy defence of "round earth".

When you're standing at the North Pole, looking at the new moon, it looks like a 'close parenthesis'....')' a curve where the two cusps are close to vertical above each other.   If you're in the northern hemisphere somewhere, the new moon seems "tilted" at an angle that gets bigger the further south you go.

At the equator, the new moon looks like a cup or maybe a boat the two cusps lie horizontally rather than vertically...and as you head south, it rotates further until at the south pole it looks like the other parenthesis '('.

Not many people travel far enough to see this - but I've lived in the UK, Texas and Kenya - and the moon does indeed do exactly what I've described.

You can see this effect by looking at traditions in those places.    In most children's books in the UK and throughout Europe - the moon is often depicted as a vertical crescent (with a man's face in it and a nose pointing towards the center of the circle.  We see actresses and singers lowered on crescent moons onto a theatre stage!

However, in countries close to the equator - we get old stories of the moon being used as a boat to carry the gods across the sky - or a cup that the gods drink from.   That tradition make ZERO sense if you come from a northerly or southerly place.

Then, the pattern of craters and maria on the full moon look like a face to those of us brought up in the North..."the man in the moon" is a universal meme in those places.   But in southern hemisphere countries everyone talks about a rabbit - or perhaps a hare that lives on the moon...and indeed, if you flip a photo of the moon around - you can see that.

In the flat earth - people standing on different hemispheres (or "hemiplanes" as the Flat Earthers prefer) would have to see the exact same moon - and they don't.

So as far as I'm concerned - Flat Earth is busted.

Rotation of the Stars

If you stand in the Northern hemisphere, looking northward towards the "pole star" - Polaris...and watch for long enough - you'll see the stars rising in the east and setting in the west - with Polaris sitting motionless in the center of the rotations of all of these stars.  If you're facing north, the stars rise to your right and set to your left.   This is explained in Flat Earth by the entire disk of star objects spinning in a counter-clockwise direction around Polaris...which is fine, I suppose.

But if you're in the Southern hemisphere...look south and there is no particular star in the southerly direction - but stars still rise in the East (which is now to your left, of course) and set to the West - and the stars appear to be rotating about an empty patch of sky to the south in a CLOCKWISE direction around that point.

Well, if the world is flat - and "south" points "outwards" from the center of the disk, the counter-clockwise rotation of the disk of stars should look like the stars are not rotating around a point but moving horizontally across the southern horizon...from your left to your right.

So how can flat earthers explain this?

I've heard to different explanations.   One (laughably) said that Australians get confused as to which way is "south" and are actually looking to the North when they see this rotation about an empty patch of sky - and the only reason they can't see polaris at the center is because it's so far away! 

Needless to say, numerous Australians rushed to complain about this...and I've subsequently heard a different explanation which is that all of the stars south of the equator rotate in the opposite direction from in the North.

That makes no sense - now they'd rise in the west and set in the east...and in any case, they'd still cross the sky more or less parallel to the horizon instead of orbiting in a circle.

Worse still - what would you see if you looked upwards from the Equator?   Half of the stars going one way and the other half going the other way?

I've seen the skies from Nairobi, Kenya - and they don't do that.

Flat Earthers are fond of pointing out that very few people live in the southern hemisphere and large sections (unreasonably large, actually) are covered in water - so...mumble...

Quanta Airlines Flights

Quantas airlines (the big Australian carrier) offers several non-stop flights from Australia to places like South America and South Africa.   These flights take 12 hours and 9 hours respectively.   On a round earth, that translates to flights that are within the range of their 747-400 aircraft - and calculate out to speeds around 600 mph - which is about right for an airliner that's trying to stretch it's range.

But - if you look at either of the flat earth maps - the distances involved are between two and two and a half times longer than on the round earth.   This means that the 747 would (a) run out of fuel before it gets halfway there and (b) have to fly at more than twice the speed of sound to do it!

Some flat earthers fall back on "conspiracy" - others claim that the "jet stream" speeds up the aircraft on those flight (but oddly, reverse direction for the reverse flight?) - others say it's a conspiracy theory and that nobody really goes on those flights because they don't exist.

But the best one...the absolute best ever Flat Earth response I ever got...was that people fall asleep on those long flights so they don't notice the airplane landing, refuelling and taking off again...and the international date line is crossed - explaining the time issues.

Wow!  Just wow!


As I explained before, there are many issues with flat-earth gravity.   If the earth is a flat disk (with an edge) then gravity would pull sideways more and more as you moved away from the center of the disk.

The idea that the Earth is accelerating upwards at insanely increasing speeds could not explain why there is more gravity at the north (and non-existant south) poles - and less at the equator - or why gravity is less at the tops of mountains.

The latter is "explained" by the third theory which is that there is lower air pressure at high altitudes - which "presses down" less than at sea level making things lighter at the tops of mountains.   I can't even begin to explain the misunderstanding of how pressure works in all directions equally - but the killer for that is to put an object under a 'bell jar' and pump out all of the air.   The object does not appear to levitate.

Suffice to say that none of the flat earth theories of gravity actually work.

For me, personally:

The worst thing about the flat earth theories - is that they rapidly get so insanely complicated - the paths that sun, moon, planets and stars have to take in order to PERFECTLY look like they'd look if you happened to be standing on a rotating sphere - is amazing.

Nobody seems to question the fact that the Flat Earth that they believe in is so amazingly well "tailored" to precisely mimic every little observation you can make from a Round Earth with the simplest of rules of physics.

Why their sun should move around in such complex paths - why the stars should do what they claim - none of the reasons WHY they do this very complex motion is never explained.

In round earth, every one of these observations follows quite naturally from one single equation (that of gravity) and the fact that light pretty much travels in straight lines.   Two very simple and quite obvious physical laws cover everything from eclipses to stellar motion, phases of the moon...the whole nine yards.

The round earth is a beautiful, simple theory - and it requires no special reasoning.

Which leaves us with just one thing:

So - if the world is really round - and there is no vast United Nations conspiracy...why does the UN flag look EXACTLY like the Flat Earth map?




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