There is no shortage of conspiracy theories. However, it is concluded that flat earth theorists are not necessarily conspiracy theorists, but rather pseudo-scientists. The theory, or pseudoscience, that the earth is flat remains one of the longest and more robustly-held beliefs, which is substantiated by practical, if not philosophical, argument. It is widely observed that, “flat-eathers are more adamant that the Earth is flat than most people are that the Earth is round.”
The International Flat Earth Society was originally formed in the early 1800s by British inventor, Dr. Samuel Birley Rowbotham. His views were based on biblical text and that the world is “never-ending.” This DOES NOT mean the Earth is two-dimensionally flat! Rowbotham developed his system of Zetelic Astronomy. In 1956, Samuel Shenton (a direct descendant of the Universal Zetetic Society) established today’s International Flat Earth Research Society (IFERS), also known as the Flat Earth Society. The IFERS still promotes independent free thought and provokes discussion of Rowbotham’s Flat Earth theory today. Forums encourage open debate and other archived Flat Earth literature from the Society’s extensive library is available.
While its membership continues to grow, there are at least 10 things you should know about the Flat Earth Society, its history, the Flat Earth theory, and resources available to inform anyone that is curious or interested in the Flat Earth theory and Society.
10Flat Earth Conspiracies
One of the first proponents of the Flat Earth theory was American writer Washington Irving. He believed Christopher Columbus did what he had to do to, and said what he had to say, to get his exploration and new world voyage sponsored. Others engaged in the religion vs. science debate of the time (Draper and White) concurred with Irving’s Flat Earth belief regardless of emerging Round Earth studies in the Middle Ages, as well as the oversimplification of the science/religion debate.
An 1890 John T. Lawson pamphlet (Earth Not A Globe But Positively A Plane) begins by saying, “According to the book of Revelation, the word “world” is used more than 260 times in the Bible, and the word “earth” 850 times. The words “round” or ‘‘globe” or “sphere” are never once applied to it. Not a single expression is used from the beginning of the inspired book to the end, suggestive of the idea that the earth is a planet, or, suggesting that the earth is anything else than a stationary plane.” He further describes the continents as interconnected by means of floating on top of a layer of ocean.
More modern Plane Truth theory (1966) remains based in Rowbotham’s biblical argument. Astronaut photos from space showing the curvature of the earth behind the astronaut in the picture, as well as weather systems across the plane, are distortions and show the astronauts fly in established orbits across the known portion of Earth, “which is unending as the Creator has stated.”
More archived writings may be accessed at The Flat Earth Society Library’s Pamphlets and Journals Collection.
9Can the Whole World Be Wrong
For centuries (beginning as early as c. 550 BC) philosophers, historians, astronomers, and emperors believed the world was flat. While philosophers before Socrates believed the world was as flat as a wafferboard, others envisioned the earth as a log, that has distinct edges, which floated on a sea of water. Still others, such as pre-Socrates Greek philosopher Anaximenes of Miletus, believed the earth to be a short cylinder with a flat (circular) top that floated on air, similar to the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies that rode on air. The explanation of how the earth remained fixed, while being cylindrical with a flat top, was due to its equidistance from all things. Additionally, Greek philosopher and theologian, Xenophanes of Colophon (c. 500 BC) thought the flat Earth’s upper side touched the air while it’s lower side extend infinitely.
By the 5th century BC, Archelaus (c. 450 BC), Greek philosopher, and supposed teacher of Socrates, purported the Earth was flat with a slight depression in the middle that allowed the sun to rise and set at varying times. By 78–139 AD, Chinese astronomer, Zhang Heng described the earth as the center-lying yolk of the egg known as the heavens. Also by the mid-5th century, Pythagoras, Parmenides, and Aristotle began spreading their view of a Round Earth among the masses.
Rowbotham’s original 19th century Flat Earth view held that the earth was a flat disk centered at the North Pole. It was bordered along its southernmost edge by a wall of ice. He also concluded that the sun, moon, stars, and planets floated only a few hundred miles above the earth’s surface. Rowbotham’s followers carried on his Zetetic Astronomy theory after his death in 1884, founding the Universal Zetetic Society.
8The Flat Earth Test
Dr. Samuel Birley Rowbotham provided his easily-replicated experimental Flat Earth evidence, the Bedford Level Experiment that only requires access to a long body of standing water and some trigonometry. Using this, Rowbotham concluded that water is not convex and the earth’s surface is not curved like the Round Earth principle (mathematically) predicts.
He set the sight line approximately 13 feet above the water to reduce the effects of atmospheric refraction. A pole was set in the approximate middle between the end points of the line. A visually-seen bump in the line would indicate the curvature of the earth between the two end points Assuming the measurement is taken close to the surface, the light rays can curve downward at a rate equal to the mean curvature of the surface of the earth. Curvature and refraction cancel each other out and the earth appears flat.
In 1869 John Hamden, Esq. substantiated the Zetelic Astronomy theory, stating that the earth could not possibly be round. He suggested selecting a single point on a globe (or wheel) where a level (flatness) may be obtained at “absolute repose” and totally undisturbed. Inclining the point in any way instantly disturbs the level at its extreme apex/highest point. But, in practice, he states, the level (flatness) may be observed anywhere there is a yard of still water, at any point on the compass, day or night (similar to Rowbotham’s experiment). Hamden concludes that, from his observation, “The absolute and undeniable fact that all waters upon the face of the earth are horizontal to each other is positive proof that the earth cannot be a sphere, and cannot revolve on an axis.”
Other experiments since then have been made to prove the theory in one way or another. Some are elementary, while others are more complex.
7The Concept of Gravity
The concept that the Earth accelerates upward, rather than gravity forcing things downward, is problematic. The Flat Earth belief is that the Earth is quite stationary and that the concept of gravity is better explained in terms of mechanics, such as electromagnetism, density, or pressure. An infinite plane serves as a more stable form for gravity to pull things into. Some flat earthers use mathematics models, such as the infinite plane model or the non-euclidean model, to explain the flat plane gravity concept as it opposes traditional spherical gravity belief.
What goes up must come down, but not necessarily due to gravity. Science cannot prove or disprove, or detect, gravity. Newton had no concept of electromagnetism and his hypothesis was (erroneously) based on the sun being stationary in order to prove his observations. Newton also incorporated the globe-earth spinning around the sun as a means to explain observational theories of other astrophysicists of the day.
Electromagnetism plays a significant role in physical reality but is left out of the globe-earth heliocentric model that relies on the theory the Earth spins and gravity holds everything in place. Consider the Earth rotating rapidly at the equator (i.e.: 1000+ mph) but nothing measureable at the pole, “the earth must be tethered to the sun by nothing with only the sun’s gravity holding the earth to its circuit … however, the gravity of the sun is undetectable, and if the earth orbits the sun and moon orbits the earth, is the solar plane lined up with the galactic plane?” Essentially, then, gravity, such as it is, is an internal, rather than external, force.
6Falling Off the Edge of the World
For those that ask why we cannot see the edge, we remind you that it is not possible to see beyond the horizon. Space bends due to mass due to aether. Ships, vehicles, etc. appear to disappear from sight when they merge with the convergence line. If it is possible to magnify their progress, they could still be seen moving away, not necessarily over a curve. Mostly it becomes an issue of optical illusion.
We also reiterate that the Flat Earth theory, originally based on a “world without end” and “never-ending world” concept, should NOT be misconstrued as being two-dimensional. Nor does one fall off the face of it into oblivion. Rowbatham contended that the only edge of the Earth is the one you are standing on.
From the research by Newton (Ferrari Effect) and Einstein’s (Relativity, Equivalence Principle) non-euclidean, hypotheses exist that, although the Earth APPEARS round, it can be traversed by a straight line through space. They proceed to mathematically prove this. The Flat Earth theory may be calculated directly from our laws of motion and coherence with relativity.
5The Antarctic Wall of Ice
Rowbotham contended, and wrote, that the Earth is a flat disc. He further explained to his followers that Earth is centered at the North Pole and bound along its southern edge by a wall of ice (Antarctica). It is further bound by the sun, moon, and planets. The Ice Wall is essentially the coast of Antarctica. It is the naturally-formed, “level water container” that encompasses the Earth (360 degrees) and holds the oceans in and marks the outside edge of the Earth. Reports vary about the actual height of the wall, but it is easily within the range of generally 40,000 – 50,000 feet high, and holds the atmolayer in place. There is no report how far below the ocean’s surface the ice wall extends (typically 2/3 of an iceberg lies below the surface of the water). Additionally, there is no report declaring how wide the ice wall is or other geographic dimensions of the frozen beast. Different Flat Earth models provide different specifics about the dimensions and the ice wall itself.
Pondering in script, Rowbotham described the Antarctica ice wall thusly: “How far the ice extends; how it terminates; and what exists beyond it, are questions to which no present human experience can reply. All we at present know is, that snow and hail, howling winds, and indescribable storms and hurricanes prevail; and that in every direction; human ingress is barred by unsealed escarpments of perpetual ice; extending farther than eye or telescope can penetrate, and becoming lost in gloom and darkness.”
4Flat Earth Library
The Flat Earth Society has amassed a library of resources over their centuries of its existence. The collection includes archival newsletters, newspaper and magazine articles, the Samuel Shenton archives, the Lady Blount “flat or spherical” writings, the Ellis Hillman archives, 19th Century writings predominantly by Dr. Samuel Rowbotham and the Universal Zetetic Society, and other miscellaneous resources including writings that defend as well as those that support the base biblical premise of the Flat Earth theory.
There are complete books or excerpts from must-read Flat Earth books written by the founders of the Flat Earth Society. Samuel Rowbotham’s (Parallax) book, The Earth Not a Globe! An Experimental Inquiry Into the True Figure of the Earth as well as Lady Elizabeth Blount’s (Zeteo) Adrian Galilio and Zetetic Astronomy are available online.
The Flat Earth Library offers an extensive collection of short works, usually in the form of pamphlets, journals, or tracts. These have been written over decades by the Universal Zetetic Society and Flat Earth Society members such as, Albert Smith (Zetetes) and William Carpenter and are available for download. The Universal Zetetic Society’s Earth Not A Globe Review from 1893 – 1904 are also available.
The Library offers modern magazine/newspaper articles, such as those written by Robert Schadewald (1980 – 1987), Adrian Swindler (1990), and those that have been published in The Independent, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, and the Mechanics’ Magazine provide more current thought (1994 – 2001+).
Web articles through The Flat Earth Library include The Flat Earth E-book, Flat Earth Mythology and Fact (Biblical Astronomer, No. 94), and Do they really think the earth is flat? to name a few.
3Lady Elizabeth Blount
After Dr. Rowbotham’s death, Lady Elizabeth Blount (aka Zeteo) established a Universal Zetetic Society. Lady Blount was the wife of explorer Sir Walter de Sodington Blount. In addition to being a progressive thinker, Lady Blount was a poet, writer, and composer/songwriter. She was a humanitarian (and vegetarian). Lady Blount was a devout Christian, holding the Bible as the undisputed authority on the natural world. Her writings were a combination of scriptural and experimental arguments that supported her religious and Flat Earth views that one could not be a Christian and still believe the Earth was a sphere/globe.
Lady Blount’s objective for the Flat Earth Society was the proliferation of information and knowledge related to natural cosmogony (the origin of the cosmos). She expounded Flat Earth information that was intended to confirm God’s creation and confirm the Holy Scriptures through practical scientific investigation. She repeated many of Rowbotham’s experiments. Some of the experiments spun off counter-experiments of her own. Her movement also generated several books, including Terra Firma (David Wardlaw Scott) that proposed a flat, stationary earth.
Lady Elizabeth Blount attracted thousands of members to the Society. Her social station and wealth allowed her access to England’s social elite. Her initial, Universal Zetetic Society’s membership register included a variety or aristocrats as well as an archbishop (Edward Haughton), major general, and various scholars.
2The Universal Zetetic Society
The Universal Zetetic Society (UZS) was the forerunner to the Flat Earth Society. Devotees of Dr. Samuel Rowbotham, more specifically, Lady Elizabeth Blount, founded the UZS shortly after his death. The Universal Zetetic Society was active well into the early 20th century. It published many issues of a magazine that was a circular based on Rowbotham’s book titled, The Earth Not a Globe Review. In the Preface of her book, Zetetic Astronomy, Lady Blount herself declares her Christian views as they relate to God’s cosmos, “While, as Zetetics, we are not called upon to explain phenomena, or construct hypothetical astronomical systems, it is our duty to show how far popular hypotheses fail, because the popular theory is made the basis of attacks upon the cosmogony of the Bible.”
The membership significantly increased under the leadership of Lady Blount. But the Universal Zetetic Society significantly slowed after World War I. It was later revived in 1956 as The Flat Earth Society by Samuel Shenton.
1The Flat Earth Society
In 1956, Samuel Shenton (an Englishman and direct descendant of the Universal Zetetic Society) founded the International Flat Earth Research Society (IFERS), more commonly known as the Flat Earth Society. The Flat Earth Society eventually based itself in the US under the leadership of Charles K. Johnson until he died in 2001. Johnson inherited Shenton’s Flat Earth Society library from Shenton’s wife. He industriously grew the Society posting flyers and distributing the Flat Earth News newsletter, maps, and other publications, as well as applications to join the Flat Earth Society, to anyone interested. Rowbotham’s Flat Earth philosophies were widely broadcast on the radio by the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church. William Carpenter, a printer and ardent supporter of Rowbotham, published Theoretical Astronomy Examined and Exposed Proving the Earth not a Globe, in eight parts.
The self-proclaimed, Hong Kong-based, Johnson successor, “Daniel Shenton,” picked up the IFERS torch in 2004 in the context of a web-based Flat Earth Society forum. Renewed interest resurrected an official Flat Earth Society website launch in 2009. It is accepting new members and offers access to the world’s largest public collection of Flat Earth literature, as well as a user-edited encyclopedia. Shenton has conducted several interviews. Part of this society separated to form a new web-based Flat Earth Society Wiki group, which also features a forum.
Flat Earth Society of Canada was also established in 1970 by a collective group comprised of a philosopher (Leo Ferrari), writer (Raymond Fraser), and poet (Alden Nowlan). They did not support Flat Earth as a “science,” but rather satirized basic Flat Earth theory until 1984. The Canadian Flat Earth Society was reinstated in 2004 in the philosophies and humor of the original group and a Flat Earth Museum was newly-opened in Newfoundland on Fogo Island in 2016.
Pop culture has also adopted the Flat Earth Society, although not always in the most positive way. Musicians, talk show hosts, novelists, bloggers, podcasts, and composers have incorporated Flat Earth theory into their works, rhetoric, and media.
In the 1980s an album titled The Flat Earth was released by English musician Thomas Dolby. Although Dolby is not a Flat Earth believer himself, his fan club adopted the name of the album for their club and website forums. Daniel Shenton was inspired by Dolby’s album to resurrect the Society and offered Dolby membership. Also in the 1980s, talk show hosts Wally George (Hot Seat) and Australian Don Lane had Flat Earth Society members on their shows strictly for the entertainment.
The Society was strongly denounced in a 1990 punk rock song, “Flat Earth Society,” by the band Bad Religion. But, Rapper B.o.B. composed “Flatline,” which boldly proclaimed the Earth was flat, and supported other conspiracy theories.
In 2016 flat earth topic songs were incorporated into television shows, such as Modern Family, and flat earth references were made in others, like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Regardless of belief, interest, or rejection of the Flat Earth theory, it creeped into our culture and continues to pique interest, spark debate, and be used as artistic reference today. Flat earthers are out there and the membership continues to grow. The original spiritual beliefs and biblical interpretations that are the underpinnings of the Flat Earth theory and Society have withstood time, global crises, and individual preference.
There are certainly more than 10 things you should know about the Flat Earth Society and how it continues to promote independent free thought, provoke discussion, and encourage open debate.