Flat Earthers have come full circle

The Earth isn’t round – it’s flat! It looks flat, so it is flat.
No, you’re not overhearing kids discussing cosmology in the schoolyard – there are people around today who’ve rejected centuries of scientific evidence, and they’re called Flat Earthers.

Flat Earthers in history

Ancient civilisations thought the Earth was flat – but only until their cultures became more sophisticated. Ancient Greeks held onto the belief until the Classical period; Indians didn’t get a handle on the Earth being a globe until around 2000 years ago; and the Chinese weren’t converted until the 17th century.
Growing acceptance of the spherical theory spread from Greece, fuelled by the likes of Pythagoras, Aristotle, Ptolemy and Pliny the Elder. In the late Middle Ages, theory was backed up by fact when navigators saw first-hand evidence of the Earth’s curvature and explorers circumnavigated the globe.


Depicting Antarctica as an ice wall surrounding a disk-shaped Earth

19th-century renaissance

The man who got the Flat Earth idea re-rolling was English writer Samuel Rowbotham (1816–84). He argued that the Earth is a flat disc centred on the North Pole, with the ice wall of Antarctica forming the disc’s outer edge. One of Rowbotham’s sources of evidence was the Bible, which includes several mentions of the Earth’s flat and
immovable nature.
Rowbotham called his scientific studies Zetetic Astronomy (from the Greek word zeteo, ‘to seek’), and the resulting Universal Zetetic Society was active into the early 1900s, when the idea flatlined once again.

Modern Flat Earthers

In the 1950s, Rowbotham’s mix of Biblical literalism and pseudoscience was revived as the International Flat Earth Society (FES). The ’50s were rife with conspiracy theories, from Roswell’s UFOs to Hitler being alive and well and living in Argentina, so the idea took hold. The society’s founder, Samuel Shenton, wanted to spread the word in the early days of the Space Race, before science provided yet more proof that the world was a ball.
After several decades of mixed fortunes, the FES was officially reignited in 2009. Today, the society’s members number around 500 across the world. For some, it’s a free-for- all for conspiracy theorists; for others, especially those put off by the idea of us being an insignificant bit of dust in the cosmos, it’s a serious belief.


The Flammarion engraving (1888) depicts a traveler who arrives at the edge of a flat Earth and sticks his head through the firmament

FES Beliefs

The Flat Earthers swear that:

  • the Round Earth is a millennia-old conspiracy, fuelled by greed and embezzlement by governments and corporations
  • the Earth is unmoving, perhaps as young as 13,500 years old, and sits at the centre of the universe
  • the horizon isn’t curved
  • the sky is a blue inverted dome above us
  • gravity doesn’t exist
  • the sun is a spotlight spinning in circles 3000 miles above the North Pole – when it’s above you, it’s day; when it moves on, it’s night
  • sunrise and sunset are just a matter of perspective
  • the moon landing and all those pesky NASA pictures from space are faked – and space travel itself (known simply as ‘the conspiracy’) is part of a giant hoax
  • Flat Earthers have the right to question everything and to reject accepted knowledge, and the right not to care if people disagree.

The big question is what lies beyond Antarctica’s wall of ice – Flat Earthers believe that the wall holds back the oceans and protects us from who knows what lies beyond…
The Flat Earth Society has all the hallmarks of satire but it’s not. As people around the world lose faith in governments and democracy, and conspiracy theories become
accepted facts, membership is growing.
If you’d like to find out more and possibly join the Flat Earthers, visit the Flat Earth Society’s website and discussion boards, and browse their Q&A Wiki page.

Main image: deviantart.com
Artist's depiction

Most recent

Flat Earthers have come full circle

What’s on the menu? Winter edition

Flat Earthers have come full circle

From Julep to Cosmo: a history of world-beating ...

Flat Earthers have come full circle

Flukes and Bradbury's through the ages

Flat Earthers have come full circle

Over 60 style icons