The Recent Inventions of the Flat Earth

Want to make your new category of ‘scientists’ stand out? Make them shining beacons of knowledge against a backdrop of flat Earth ignorance—even if you have to invent that too.

Is it just me, or does that article (chapter?) dip into conspiracy theory at points?


This part fried my irony meter:

…after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species the flat earth migrated into the polemical toolbox of evolutionists (some Darwinian, some otherwise) to use as a bludgeon against any who doubted the way the new evolutionary winds were blowing.

Does Derrick Peterson not know that “evolutionist” is a word from the polemical toolbox of creationists, used to falsely portray evolutionary biology as an ideology–like creationism?


I find this stream of posts about how horrid it is to accuse religion of being the fount of flat-eartherism really, really, really strange, and in a way, rather insulting.

I think the nearest I came to being “taught” that people all once thought the earth was flat was a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Columbus argues with the King of Spain. From very early days – elementary school – I was taught that the ancients already knew the earth was round.

But where we seem to be is in a kind of double-or-triple-meta-false-narrative space: a tale to the effect that there was once a false tale to the effect that everyone (or just the devout) once believed a false tale, and a false imputation of the blame for this false tale about false tales to those who are culturally aligned with science and modernity. While the whole thing makes my head spin, and one practically needs a scorecard and a flow-chart to work out who is claiming who said what false thing about whom, and whether that in turn is merely a fact claimed falsely by some third party, it really feels as though the purpose here is to disparage science, modernity and reason by suggesting that those forces have been terribly unfair to pseudoscience, mysticism and superstition.

Well, bloody hell. A person has got to come to grips with the controversies in his culture which exist at his own time and place, and I happen to live in a time and place where the forces of angry pseudoscientific religious zealots are at war with science, and where they come to that war armed with considerable social and political power. The point of these meta-meta-meta-narratives appears to be to suggest that (a) the current war of certain forms of religion against science has not been everywhere and always present since the beginning of time, and (b) people of a scientific mindset have sometimes overstated the extent to which, in their own times, prominent forms of religious belief were at war with science. But the answer to those claims is surely “so what?” Nobody really thinks that the current problem is the universal condition of all human history, but that doesn’t make the dangers of creationism or fundamentalism less potent than they are.


From the extract… “Far from being confined to the fictional imagination of Irving…”
Would this be a tangential reference to David Irving, the well-known Holocaust denier?

I think it’s Washington Irving. There was something posted previously about his having written a fictionalized account of the story of Columbus.

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Indeed, yes. Columbus was but a footnote in Australian school education of my day. As a staunch member of the British Commonwealth, we celebrated Cook’s “discovery” of Australia. Which, not to say that Cook’s achievements were not manifold, was almost as fictional given the various Dutch discoveries of the 1600’s.


Indeed. And now we have the GOP candidate for the US Senate from Georgia asking if we evolved from apes, why are there still apes?


Yes, I thought that was a fairly remarkable thing; thanks, Herschel Walker, for your contribution to every thinking person’s despair. But oh, no, we are assured: the problem is not that religious extremists are marshalling an army of halfwits. The REAL problem is that Bugs Bunny is telling kids that medieval people thought the world was flat, and this is prompting people to be so vewy, vewy insensitive to the feelings of those religious zealots.

I don’t know whether this is true, strictly speaking, but I sort of doubt it. Did the guy with the “Camp Auschwitz” shirt at the Capitol just show up because evolutionary biologists had hurt his feelings? Are the apologists for everything from genocide to Christian nationalism to the Wedge Strategy really just annoyed that Bugs continues to spread this tale, and all we need to do is ban the cartoon and they’ll stop trying to burn civilization down? As strong as my First Amendment feelings are, I think I’d be all for that one, if it really would fix the problem. It would not.

But it really, really chafes, as the war of current religion against science rages on, to have it suggested that any meaningful portion of the cause here is the spread of a bunch of stories which few educated people ever really believed and which are hardly front-and-center in any public debate over science. This seems like a case of straining VERY hard to find something, anything, for which science-minded people can somehow be blamed, in a situation where blame really belongs wholly to the enemies of modernity, culture and education, just for the sake of achieving some small victory in the false-equivalency department.


IMO your use of “seems” is an extremely diplomatic understatement.


Much more could certainly be said, and some of that might be unpleasant.

A funny note on all of this flat-earth stuff: the only accusation I have heard, “in the wild,” in the last several decades about anyone claiming the earth was flat was aimed by a religious propagandist AGAINST scientists. Despite having sequestered myself in the hardest-to-find of houses in Seattle, I was surprised one morning to find Mormon missionaries knocking at my front door. Having, as I do, a long family tradition of reducing such people to tears, I invited them in. Alas, no tears this time, but it was interesting.

I got that lovely hopeful look that comes when, to the missionaries’ astonishment, the mark says he HAS indeed read the Book of Mormon, cover to cover. And the Pearl of Great Price, too. And most of the Doctrine and Covenants, while we’re at it. That hopeful look vanished when I started talking about the light that genetic analysis sheds on human populations. I pointed out that the natives of this continent really do turn out to be not all that closely related to the lost tribes of Israel – to whom they ought to be closely related if the Book of Mormon is true – but instead are more closely related to people who live in eastern Asia today.

But there is, it turns out, a handy answer in the Mormon missionaries’ manual for this one: “But scientists used to think the earth was flat!” Ah, those scientists. The fools! They’re always changing their minds about things. Sure, TODAY they’re saying that the native Americans are not all that closely related to Jewish middle-eastern tribes, but just you wait: just as scientists said, up to some point in the past, that the earth was flat, and then figured it out, at some point they’re also going to figure out that the Book of Mormon is true and that they’ve been mis-reading the genetic evidence. At this point I was, needless to say, completely convinced. Of what, I will not say.

So, that’s my personal scorecard for the last thirty years or so: atheists claiming Christians believed the earth was flat: zero. Christians (well, of a sort) claiming that scientists believed the earth was flat: one. The score would probably be running higher were it not for the enormous pit, subsequently dug in front of my door, from which I periodically clean up the remains of accidentally-staked Mormon missionaries. (SERIOUS eyebrow ridges on some of these skulls, by the way.)


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