Humans are known for our creativity, able to come up with brilliant and wonderful new ideas that forever change how we see reality. From fire to the telephone to various life-saving vaccines to the motor car to the Internet, there seems no end to our innovation. A skill and a talent rivaled only by the ability to believe and hold on to notions and theories that have long ago been shown to be at least false if not outright laughable.
It turns out that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around as the Vatican argued for centuries, earthquakes are caused by the tectonic plates as opposed to the gods being angry, and exactly how extensive does the fossil record have to be before Evolution ceases to be a ‘theory’?
It has been done with Relativity, which is roughly fifty years newer. Another long ago disproven notion that is harder to kill than Scottish Independence is the daft idea that the world is flat, the current generation of gullible ninnies to fall this load of poppycock known as Flat Earth Theory, also known affectionately as ‘Flat-Earthers’.
The cause of the disease
The belief, nothing else could be so intractable, that the Earth is flat dates back to Ancient Greece which, incidentally, was also the time that it was show to be false. One of the secondary myths going along with the Flat Earth Theory is the popular lie that Christopher Columbus set off to prove that the Earth was round, the circular nature of the planet having been a well established scientific fact in Europe by the 15th century. Backwards enough to burn ‘witches’ and conduct a ‘Holy Inquisition’ but not quite enough to think the Earth was flat.
Flat Earth theory: New age of stupid
We have the 19th century British author and tinker Samuel Rowbotham to thank for the rebirth of the notion of a flat Earth. Rowbotham was the progenitor of the now infamous Bedford Level experiments. Named after the Bedford River in the Bedford Level in Norfolk England where they were conducted, the Bedford Level experiments were a series of observations meant to measure the curvature of the earth. Rowbotham went out into the river and with a telescope held exactly 8 inches above the water and watched a boat, a flag fastened to the top of its mast three feet above the water as it moved gradually down the river. According to Rowbotham he never lost sight of the boat for over six miles. He argued that if the Earth was a sphere, the top of the mast should have been below his line of sight by at least 11 feet.
He published his findings in a pamphlet in 1849 which would become a 430 page book titled Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not A Globe by 1881 using the name Parallax. Not satisfied with simply distributing his ideas through print, Rowbotham also gave lectures all over the British Isles. Rowbotham’s text and lectures provided the ground-work for the modern flat-earth theory, basically arguing that the Earth is a plane, gathered around the North Pole and enclosed and surrounded at the edges by a large wall of ice, similar to an old-fashioned nautical compass. Which explains, at least in his mind, how explorers not to mention the Royal Navy who had beaten Napoleon and his Spanish allies senseless at Trafalgar earlier in the century, were able to sail between countries and even continents without getting lost over the edge. So concerning were his theories to enlightened citizens of Britain that a letter-writing campaign was mounted to the Astronomer Royal, imploring that there be an official rebuttal of Rowbotham’s claims.