A delicate exercise


It must be tricky to critique flat Earth stories, which are risibly goofy and in defiance of the evidence, when you personally believe in young Earth stories, which are just as idiotic, but Danny Faulkner of Answers in Genesis tries. He attended a flat earth conference, and what’s remarkable about his essay is how gingerly he treads. Make no mistake, Faulkner does not believe in this flat earth crap, he gives a few specific criticisms of some of their rationalizations, and it is not currently the policy of Answers in Genesis to support flat earth claims (they say the Bible does not claim the Earth is flat), but give them time — if flat-earthers become numerous enough to be fleeced, expect even more niceness from AiG.

It’s just the irony of it all. Faulkner was getting a little taste of how loony these fringe Bible kooks look to the rest of us, with their weird claims that flout all the evidence, but are fervently held solely because they connect them to their religious beliefs. No, the Bible doesn’t flat out state that the Earth is flat, but it is a reasonably inferred part of the mythology, and there are all kinds of hints that the ancient authors modeled the world that way; it also doesn’t come right out and say that the Earth is only 6000 years old, but it is also clear that the ancient authors had no concept of deep time, and so AiG has inferred and imposed a set of interpretations on the Bible that bolster their preferred preconceptions. There is no difference between flat-earthers and young-earthers in their methodology or their biases or their abuse of science.

There’s also the lack of perspective. I’ve attended creationist events, and this is exactly what they sound like: disappointingly vague, reliant entirely on religious testimonies and that damnable Christian persecution complex.

I was a bit disappointed by the content of the conference. I had expected that I would hear and see information about flat-earth that I hadn’t encountered already, but that wasn’t the case. Many of the presentations largely were personal testimonies of how people had come to believe in flat earth. Hence, I didn’t learn much about the flat-earth model that I didn’t already know. However, I did learn much about the flat-earth movement itself. In conversations and in the presentations, I learned how people came to lose jobs, friends, and even family members once they, in their own words, “came out of the closet about flat earth.” Therefore, many of the people in attendance clearly viewed the meeting as a safe refuge where they could meet ostracized people like themselves. This clearly brought joy to many attendees, and I suppose the last thing these people would do would be to castigate someone in their midst who isn’t a flat-earther, provided that person behaved as a guest.

I’ve never seen a creationist talk that wasn’t thickly larded with personal testimonies about their religious beliefs, that didn’t end with pious ranting about Jesus, and that wasn’t full of offended indignation that those wicked seculars wouldn’t let them preach the Gospel in public schools.

If you want some real fun, Faulkner mentions this nice flat-earther he met, named Noel Hadley. He’s a hoot. He thinks Francis Crick learned about the structure of DNA from LSD-fueled sex parties, Peruvian shamans, ancient Egyptians, and snake myths.

But let’s not forget, the Egyptians also had a part in Crick’s discovery. Did Pharaoh not wear a cobra on his crown as a symbol of the divine word and third eye—the pineal gland—by which true hidden knowledge might be discovered to the devoted initiate? In his book, The Secret in the Bible, author Tony Bushby suggests the capstone of the Great Pyramid was once a clear crystal or glass that produced a visible beacon of light from its apex. He writes: “Whenever a light is shone down into a glass pyramid in exact scale or proportion as the Great Pyramid, a ‘Rainbow Serpent’ is created. The light provides a type of force or energy that, in turn, creates the vertical spiral of light, a serpent upraised, invisible in rock, but visible in a clear substance. That is what the Ancient Egyptian Priesthood meant when they said, ‘A serpent lies coiled in the Great Pyramid.’” Bushby’s conclusion is as you might now suspect. The Rainbow Serpent, directly referenced by the priesthood, was a double helix like representing Francis Crick’s strand of DNA.

Every continent seems to have a role in ancient serpent worship. Claude Lévi-Strauss writes of the Aztecs: “In Aztec, the word coatl means both ‘serpent’ and ‘twin.’ The name Quetzalcoatl can thus be interpreted either as ‘Plumed serpent’ or ‘Magnificent twin.’” Throughout shamanic religions, from Australia to Tibet and eastern Asia, back into Egypt again, throughout Africa, and finally North and South America, visions of “spiral ladders” or “braided ropes” cannot be overlooked either. Authors Mircea Eliade, Willard R. Trask, and Wendy Doniger write in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, “the symbolism of the rope, like that of the ladder, necessarily implies communication between sky and earth. It is by means of a rope or a ladder (as, too, by a vine, a bridge, a chain of arnyaw, etc.) that the gods descend to earth and men go up to the sky.”

Right. The guy who illustrated his article with this abomination knows a lot about DNA.

Danny Faulkner, meet Noel Hadley. You two are indistinguishably crazy twins, and you don’t even know it.

Comments

  1. procyon says

    I’m all for the “flat Earth” claims. I mean look around….It’s flat, for sure. I just wonder what happens when you get to the edge and look over? Or why the oceans don’t spill out and drain over the edge?

  2. says

    Yeah, and I’m all for the “young earth” claims. I can’t remember anything before about 1960, so obviously the world didn’t exist before then.

  3. procyon says

    Just remember that any evidence of life before Eden are temptations craftily placed in the ground by the fallen angels to tempt your faith.

  4. Ed Seedhouse says

    Wait a minute. I have read the “bible” twice, and both times it was clear to me that the cosmology of the early books is definitely a flat Earth. Seems to me if you believe in a young Earth because “the bible sez so” then you should also, ipso facto, believe in a “flat” Earth. And flat Earth has more evidence in it’s favour than young Earth.

  5. chigau (違う) says

    I’ve been to Heathrow airport, so I know that it exists.
    Not so sure about England, though.

  6. Artor says

    But wait…what happens when that spiral beam of light shines on all the grain stored in the pyramid?

  7. lumipuna says

    Yeah, and I’m all for the “young earth” claims. I can’t remember anything before about 1960, so obviously the world didn’t exist before then.

    Whenever some old fogey claims the world existed before 1980s, I just ask them, “Were you there?”

  8. lumipuna says

    I learned how people came to lose jobs, friends, and even family members once they, in their own words, “came out of the closet about flat earth.”

    Somehow I suspect these people had deeper problems than just believing in one silly conspiracy theory. Like, they acted paranoid when confronted with mainstream worldview. Or they were obsessively spending time in online crank communities. Or they actually believed every crankery that sticks to magnet.

    Either that, or it’s imagined persecution. I’ve assumed that belief in flat earth is typically casually held by people who want to believe something silly just for the sake of being contrarian. I thought flat earthism would be ideal for that purpose because it’d make you look fundamentally weird but not in a dangerous way.

  9. KG says

    Or why the oceans don’t spill out and drain over the edge? – procyon@1

    Duh! They do, but God is continually pissing into the ocean to make up for what’s being spilled.

  10. aziraphale says

    I think flat-Earth is distinctly crazier than young-Earth. It’s possible not to be familiar with the evidence for the age of the Earth, but anyone who watches TV has seen pictures of the Earth from the ISS and from the Moon. To believe in a flat Earth you have to believe in a huge ongoing conspiracy with no apparent motive.

  11. jazzlet says

    aziraphale
    The ‘underside’ of earth is where our alien lizard overlords live when they aren’t mimicing humans, you can’t have people trying to get there, our overlords can’t be expected to put up with human intrusions in their leisure time!

  12. notthatanyonecares says

    When I was young man in the USAF working radar evaluation and QC I was quite knowledgeable about the shape of the earth.

    Having retired I don’t much give a [expletive].

    I’ve never quite understood why some want to give them, flat earthers, so much attention.

  13. grasshopper says

    How does a flat earth form? Gravity must be different in flat-earth land. And I could never learn to be a plumber there, because water flows down hill, and that’s all you need to know to be a plumber.

  14. wsierichs says

    Several prominent 4th-century bishops gave extensive sermons about Genesis that explained to their congregations (presumably including lots of pagans wanting to get in on the good sides of the emperor’s new bffs) how the Earth is a flat plate, covered by a dome, immersed in a sea of water. The water dripped through the firmament, cooling the Earth from the sun’s heat; but because the sun was constantly destroying the water, eventually the water would run out and the Earth burn up. Or some variation on this idea, such as the sun drawing up water (clouds) to cool itself. The bishops included Basil “the Great”; John Chrysostom, Lactantius and Ambrose. They did not necessarily agree on all the details, such as, was the Earth set on giant, immobile pillars or did god hold it in his hand and occasionally tilt the Earth, causing earthquakes. But the flatness and the hard dome over the Earth were constants.

    These sermons were part of a larger pattern of attacks on pagan philosophers and the “wisdom of this world,” which was “foolishness” to the Lord. They mocked the philosophers who argued that the material world was made of atoms, who tried to claim the Earth was spherical, based on natural observations, etc. The Bible gave the only wisdom anyone needed to know, and if you didn’t understand that wisdom, then just ask your local bishop. Whatever you do, pay no attention to those pagan philosophers.

    Also, I recently read a Martin Luther sermon in which he said, “don’t ask” what material made up the firmament or the sun; indeed, they cannot be any known material because if they were a hard material, the sky and Sun would literally melt because of their enormous speed across the sky. They were just “wonders of God.”

  15. blf says

    It’s possible not to be familiar with the evidence for the age of the Earth, but anyone who watches TV has seen pictures of the Earth from the ISS and from the Moon. To believe in a flat Earth you have to believe in a huge ongoing conspiracy with no apparent motive.

    You also have to both be unobservant and not think. For instance, living at the seashore, I am quite familiar with the point that sailing yachts are not visible after a certain distance, and the first part which becomes visible is the top of the masts / sails, the hull being the last to become visible. I also cannot see the N.African coast despite it being only a few hundred kilometres away. Independent of living in a port, I also know there is a round dark thing visible on the moon coincident with a “lunar eclipse”.

    Whilst one can invent reasons for each of these (and other) observations of non-flatness, Occam’s Razor suggests the inventions are mistaken.

  16. John Morales says

    blf, I don’t think that’s how the Razor works. It’s not an appropriate tool for adjudicating between theories (or hypotheses) unless those theories are equally explanatory — because it’s not that the simpler one is more likely to be correct, but that it’s easier to apply.

  17. aziraphale says

    blf, I was at Loch Ness this summer and found a poster for the Flat-Earth Society. I thought it would be amusing, and easy, to take a photo showing the effect you describe. I couldn’t do it! There were mirages strong enough that the distant boats appeared to be floating in the air.
    Also, some people live quite far from the seashore. It would be interesting to see how that parameter correlates with flat-Earthism.

  18. Snarki, child of Loki says

    Damn, do the flat-earthers have a mailing list?

    ’cause they’d be PERFECT marks for “cliff-side real estate” scams.

    “Oh sure, it LOOKS solid just beyond the edge. That’s an illusion. DO NOT STEP OVER THE LINE.”

  19. blf says

    Occam’s Razor is not a principle of logic but a heuristic or “rule-of-thumb”. There is no precise formulation. Some people do indeed suggest statements similar to “all things being equal, prefer the simplest”, but that is neither universally accepted nor precisely defined. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, derived from any axioms.

    Flat-Earthism requires ad hoc explanations piled on top of ad hoc explanations piled on top of ad hoc explanations probably piled yet deeper. Spherical(-ish)-Earthism does not — there is no ad hoc at all — and the various “levels” are all(?) supported by multiple lines of independent evidence. The overall structure might seem more complex, and certainly explains a lot more, and the explanations are robust and predictive, and so therefore Occam’s Razor in none of its forms can possibly apply? Yeah, sure, clearly the weaker alternatives means Occam’s Razor is the indisputably wrong heuristic to use in a summary.

  20. blf says

    There were mirages strong enough that the distant boats appeared to be floating in the air.

    Yes, I live in S.France by the Mediterranean Sea, famous for its good “seeing”. I’ve also been to Loch Ness (and elsewhere with poor “seeing”), and vaguely recall, now that you mention it, the problem of mirages and other optical illusions.

    Also, some people live quite far from the seashore. It would be interesting to see how that parameter correlates with flat-Earthism.

    Interesting point! No idea.

    I myself first ran into the Flat Earth Society many yonks ago, at University. Where they were treated as a joke. At that time they had a rather nice looking “certificate of membership” costing almost nothing, well within a student’s budget, so a lot of people were “members” just for the giggles of being able to hang a genuine certificate of lunacy on the wall. Along with bizarre movie posters and other oddball, cheap, decorations.

  21. John Morales says

    blf @22, a much better explanation, but one aspect amuses me:

    The overall structure might seem more complex, and certainly explains a lot more, and the explanations are robust and predictive, and so therefore Occam’s Razor in none of its forms can possibly apply?

    If one theory is more explanatory, adducing the Razor as a reason to prefer it is otiose, no?

    (Is the principle not reflexive?)

  22. archangelospumoni says

    Speaking of flat earth, check out the latest Republican filth. They are deleting the tax free status of tuition waivers, mostly for graduate students. They are specifically making the tuition waiver value taxable up front. Go to grad school, get a small stipend for living expenses, get a tuition waiver in exchange for teaching a little, conduct your research, etc.
    Nothing but rotten, stinky, ugly, fetid, putrid, pus-filled Republican filth.

    We already know/knew a great many Drumpfheteers hate the general concept of knowledge, advancement, improvement, brains, mankind’s knowledge, but this is a new one. Not only is this impossible for any Drumpfheteer to actually defend, but this will COST the economy in the long range.

  23. zetopan says

    “Wouldn’t we see all the turtles during an lunar eclipse?”

    But we do see them; since they are all stacked on top of each other you see a single circular shadow
    because their heads, tails and limbs are all tucked into their shells. Take that you Evilotionists! /s

  24. zetopan says

    “Right. The guy who illustrated his article with this abomination knows a lot about DNA.”
    Since the chirality is backwards this obviously represents humans and other life on Earth “before the fall”. See, literally anyone can be an expert theologian peddling apologetics.

  25. Ed Seedhouse says

    blf@22: “Flat-Earthism requires ad hoc explanations piled on top of ad hoc explanations piled on top of ad hoc explanations”

    Flat earth makes a lot of sense if you are a desert nomad like the people in the legends in the early books of the Xtian bible. Just look around. To the plain sense of your eyes you live on a mostly flat plane with a dome above you which touches the ground at the horizon. Realizing that the plain is not actually flat requires fairly subtle observations, though not, of course, ones unavailable to the naked eye.

    Sure there is lots of evidence, of a fairly subtle sort, that the “flat” hypothesis is iffy, but then how do you explain that clear and obvious dome that rests on the distant horizon? Or are you going to tell me, a medieval serf, that the earth is a huge sphere resting on nothing at all? Go ahead, pull the other one…

    Would you have come up with the hypothesis that the Earth is actually sphere floating in emptiness if someone hadn’t mentioned it to you? I doubt if I would have, especially if I was living a hard scrabble life of a nomadic hunter or an early farmer. It’s easy to look back from the mountain of knowledge that we stand on today and look down on our ancestors who had to work it out from scratch.

    It took us quite a few tens of thousands of years to work this out since humans became “modern” to work this out. Their brains were as intelligent as ours. Don’t scoff at them. Everything is “obvious” once you already know it.

  26. robnyny says

    Official Flat Earth Society map of the world:
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-30AIYo8RQNk/Ve35TZGFghI/AAAAAAAAE-Y/cZ-C8JllRKw/s1600/antarctica%2Bjpeg%2B-%2BRim%2BWorld%2B-%2BSettlement%2Band%2BColonization%2BPlan%2Bfor%2Bthe%2BAntarctica%2BPerimeter%2Bof%2BOur%2BFlat%2BEarth.jpg

    According to Google: Distance from Santiago to Melbourne 11276 km. Let us plot the routes.

    Theoretically, according to flat earth theory and this map, the shortest distance between Santiago to Melbourne would cross the United States and Canada, in a straight line, somewhere near Toronto or NYC. According to this map, it would be a much longer route to travel around the left edge of the map, for example, Santiago-Easter Island-Auckland-Melbourne. (Easter Island is at about 10 o’clock on this map in the South Pacific, but is not marked.)

    Google Map distances:
    Santiago to Easter Island 3756 km
    Easter Island to Auckland 7051
    Auckland to Melbourne 2640
    Total 13447 km

    Santiago to Toronto 8613 km
    Toronto to Melbourne 16254
    Total 24867 km

    How is it that the apparently straight line between Santiago and Melbourne (via USA/Canada), which is the shortest route by flat-earth logic, is almost twice as long as the apparently much longer curved route via Santiago-Easter Island-Auckland-Melbourne? What could account for that?

  27. robnyny says

    Sorry — Easter Island is around 8 o’clock. It might be marked, but the print is small and pixelated.

  28. says

    Wow, that flat earth map would have been handy for the explorers crossing Australia from south to north, looks like a week off and a tin of biscuits should cover it.

  29. Rich Woods says

    Did Pharaoh not wear a cobra on his crown as a symbol of the divine word and third eye—the pineal gland—by which true hidden knowledge might be discovered to the devoted initiate?

    No, Pharaoh did not. The uraeus on the crown of Lower Egypt represented sovereignty and protection, specifically that of the snake goddess Wadjet.

    Is there any branch of knowledge which these people don’t fuck up?

  30. zetopan says

    “Would you have come up with the hypothesis that the Earth is actually sphere …”

    The ancient Greeks considered the Earth to be basically spherical in the 6th century BCE. Eratosthenes even used measurement and calculated the actual diameter to within about a 2% error in the third century BCE. Meanwhile, according to biblical fables, both Jesus and Satan thought that the Earth was flat, and apparently all of the biblical authors completely agree with this. http://biblehub.com/matthew/4-8.htm
    http://www.philipstallings.com/2015/06/the-biblical-flat-earth-teaching-from.html
    https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Flat_Earth

  31. says

    @30 robnyny

    That map…looks like the whole earth should be daylight at the same time. No midnight sun for people up north.

    @22, blf

    Occam’s Razor is not a principle of logic but a heuristic or “rule-of-thumb”. There is no precise formulation. Some people do indeed suggest statements similar to “all things being equal, prefer the simplest”, but that is neither universally accepted nor precisely defined. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, derived from any axioms.

    If you want to avoid such downfalls, use a combination of “Bayesian Reasoning” and “Kolmogorov complexity”. Some guess work will remain, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be the formulation or definition, or logic which has to be guessed. Only the input percentages will have to be estimated.

  32. consciousness razor says

    Brian Pansky:

    If you want to avoid such downfalls, use a combination of “Bayesian Reasoning” and “Kolmogorov complexity”. Some guess work will remain, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be the formulation or definition, or logic which has to be guessed. Only the input percentages will have to be estimated.

    It’s not entirely clear what you may have in mind, but I don’t think Bayesianism is a way to avoid anything like that.* As John Morales said, Occam’s Razor can help when you’ve got theories which are roughly equivalent in terms of explanatory power, since then you’ll want to consider other factors like parsimony (or mathematical elegance, etc.) to make a decision.

    If one theory just doesn’t explain the same number/kind of phenomena or it doesn’t help you understand things as well as the alternatives, then the razor presumably shouldn’t shift you one way or the other. It’s not as if you’d want to say “well, sure, this theory here explains tons of shit, but before knowing anything I’ve decided in advance that the world ought to be simple/easily-describable/uncomplicated/etc., so I’m sticking with a theory that fits those criteria despite the fact that it doesn’t help me understand as much.” That would be a silly attitude to have, and it certainly wouldn’t be compelling to anyone else, rationally or otherwise.

    *This is a bit of a tangent, but statistically speaking, we ought to be Boltzmann brains, no? (You could imagine countless other examples, but this one can be pretty fun.) That’s kind of a problem, of course, since we aren’t BBs. You could shove a whole lot into your priors, but I think if you’re being very explicit about all of the assumptions you’re making, you’re going to need a lot of other stuff before you make any real progress on that front.

  33. Ed Seedhouse says

    zetopan@24 “The ancient Greeks considered the Earth to be basically spherical in the 6th century BCE.”

    Yeah, some of them did. But recognizably modern humans had been around for at least 80,000 years or so before that. Modern humans colonized Australia 50,000 years ago and so far as I know did not know the Earth was a sphere when Europeans arrived a few hundred years ago. In fact Europeans were arguing over the nature of the Earth less than a thousand years ago. These were not stupid people!

    Tell me an observation you can make with unaided senses that will show unequivocally that the Earth is not flat. I can only think of one and that requires being near the ocean. If you lived on the prairies a few hundred years ago what observation could you make with unaided senses that would unequivocally show that your model of the Earth’s size and shape were wrong?

    Sure, it is irrational for anyone today to believe the Earth is flat. Go back no more than a few hundred years and it was not so irrational, in fact I would say that it was in fact perfectly reasonable for most of the human population.

  34. consciousness razor says

    Ed Seedhouse:

    Tell me an observation you can make with unaided senses that will show unequivocally that the Earth is not flat.

    That’s more or less what Eratosthenes did. I don’t know what you mean by “unaided senses” or “unequivocally” (or why we should care about those), but he did use geometry, to analyze observed/measured phenomena which he understood to be relevant (i.e., angles and distances).

    It’s still logically possible that the Earth isn’t round (even now, given all of the evidence we have). If you were very seriously motivated to do so, you could deny that this is an “unequivocal” demonstration of the sort which should satisfy us. You may have to say or do a lot of wacky stuff for it to work out that the Earth is flat — gigantic conspiracies involving NASA not to mention just about everyone else, bizarre physics to make shadows appear as they do, and so forth — but it can be done, since for practically everything there is never totally undeniable “proof” of that sort. Nonetheless, for any reasonable person, the kind of evidence I described/linked before ought to suffice.

    What you might want to say is that many “ordinary” ancient/prehistoric people were smart, reasonable, etc., but they did not happen to use their cleverness to notice such things, or they didn’t connect the dots to draw that kind of conclusion out of it. But it’s not as if you need anything very special or sophisticated in order to do it. Sure enough, many people just spent their time on other things, which of course doesn’t actually tell us very much. It was “rational” for such people back then to believe the Earth was flat, in the sense that if they took their everyday experiences for granted and tried to make sense of them as best they could, they probably would not notice much that would be terribly difficult to explain given the Earth’s flatness. But if you looked a little closer, thought a little harder, actually figured out precisely what you did think and tried representing it mathematically, didn’t just take a whole bunch of shit for granted, etc., then your reasons for believing it would have gone away.

  35. Ed Seedhouse says

    consciousness razor@38 “That’s more or less what Eratosthenes did.”

    Well, he never went to Syene for example, he relied on reports from travelers. He used geometry to do the calculation, a technology not available to the average person even a few hundred years ago. Without that technology he couldn’t have done it.

    People can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the flat Earth theory must be wrong using their unaided senses (Eratosthenes did much more than that, though), but it requires some fairly sophisticated thinking and observing . I went to the trouble of determining this for myself in my teens, but it was surprisingly hard to do even though I had access to many books that basically told me how to do it – I was merely repeating observations for myself.

    I’m not putting him down, his achievement was remarkable, but the fact remains that the spherical earth was in dispute in Western Europe more than a millennium later. The educated there did believe the Earth was spherical, but that was largely because they accepted the authority of Aristotle as infallible, not for any rational reason.

    I seem to recall, by the way, that I read an article by Asimov about this many years ago, and that I am mostly repeating that based on an increasingly foggy memory.

    In fact here’s a quote from Asimov I found on the internet that illustrates my viewpoint:

    “Nowadays, of course, we are taught that the flat-Earth theory is wrong; that it is all wrong, terribly wrong, absolutely. But it isn’t. The curvature of the Earth is nearly 0 per mile, so that although the flat-Earth theory is wrong, it happens to be nearly right. That’s why the theory lasted so long.”

  36. says

    @ Brian Pansky, optical illusions can be observed with the naked eye, so therefore they can be used to explain “everything”.

  37. K E Decilon says

    A few years ago, I thought that I might have found a visual aid to show the curvature of the earth. Similar to ships vanishing at the horizon, except we are inside the phenomenon.
    On a bright clear day with a high cover of cirrus clouds, we know that those clouds are way up there, 5 or 6 miles. If the atmosphere is clear enough, it appears that the cloud cover goes all the way down to the horizon. I know that those farthest clouds near the horizon are probably across Lake Michigan, and likely 2 states away.

    https://goo.gl/B6dHii

    I suspect that I am looking at the curvature of the Earth, from inside the atmosphere.
    It seems that if the Earth was flat, those clouds would not reach the horizon. There would be a gap, and the vanishing point would be quite different.
    Of course, my high school plane and spherical geometry have been rusting for over 50 years now. If anyone here can give me a better explanation, I would be glad to hear it.

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