Meet the people who believe the Earth is flat

Aug 29, 2016

By Alexis Kleinman

When Malachi Henderson went skydiving a few weeks ago, he noticed that the Earth looked flat, even from the plane. He mentioned it to the pilot. “The higher you get, the flatter it looks,” the pilot replied. Henderson wasn’t surprised: The pilot’s response was evidence of something he’d been researching for years.

Henderson is one of a growing movement of Americans who believe that the Earth is flat. They refer to themselves as flat Earthers.

Flat Earthers have a wide range of convictions. Some come to the movement from a religious place, others from a scientific one. But most believe in one simple principle: that NASA and everyone involved in space exploration are liars and that there is a massive conspiracy to hide the fact that the Earth is flat.


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53 comments on “Meet the people who believe the Earth is flat

  • Wouldn’t it be better not to even refer to this nonsense?

    Citing articles like that may give causal readers the false impression that a long debunked idea may still have some empirical basis to support it.



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  • @ OP – link! – Henderson has been researching flat Earth for around two years, he said. He’s been interested in various conspiracy theories for about 12 years, and the trail led to flat Earth theories.

    Clearly demonstrating that he has absolutely no idea what “research” is, and absolutely no idea what a scientific theory is! – Hence looking at barmy opinions on conspiracy “theory” and pseudo science websites, is considered to be “research”!

    Flat Earthers have a wide range of convictions. Some come to the movement from a religious place, others from a scientific one. But most believe in one simple principle: that NASA and everyone involved in space exploration are liars and that there is a massive conspiracy to hide the fact that the Earth is flat.

    . . . and of course, they have never heard of all the national space agencies and space exploration companies in other countries!

    https://www.nasa.gov/about/highlights/AN_Structure_OtherAgencies.html

    Selected international space agencies:

    Europe
    European Space Agency (ESA)→

    Russia
    Russian Federal Space Agency (in Russian) →

    Italy
    Italian Space Agency (in Italian)→

    Canada
    Canadian Space Agency (CSA)→

    France
    Centre Nationale d’ Etudes Spatiales (CNES)→
    Centre d’études et de Recherches de Toulouse (CERT)→ (installation of ONERA)

    Germany
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)→

    Japan
    Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)→
    JAXA→ Earth Observation Center

    Sweden
    Swedish National Space Board→
    Swedish Space Corporation→

    United Kingdom
    British National Space Center→

    Australia
    Australian Government Space Portal→




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  • @OP – When Malachi Henderson went skydiving a few weeks ago, he noticed that the Earth looked flat, even from the plane. He mentioned it to the pilot. “The higher you get, the flatter it looks,” the pilot replied.

    As with many quotes from creationists and flat-Earthers, this is nonsense with a reference to some supposedly authority figure thrown in to add pseudo-weight!

    http://earthscience.stackexchange.com/questions/7283/how-high-must-one-be-for-the-curvature-of-the-earth-to-be-visible-to-the-eye
    Visual daytime observations show that the minimum altitude at which curvature of the horizon can be detected is at or slightly below 35,000 ft, providing that the field of view is wide (60°) and nearly cloud free.

    Note that the given minimum of 35,000 feet (10.7 km) is a plausible cruise altitude for a commercial airliner, but a passenger window probably won’t give the necessary 60° field of view.



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  • I think it’s a highly worthwhile OP. The whole point of the site and foundation is to promote Reason and critical thinking around the world. We have to look at extremes. They remind us of the terrible danger we all are facing here in the US and around the world. Extremism, as we all know, is becoming more mainstream in American politics, and it is extremism that we must guard ourselves against and take seriously – no matter how absurd it is; it must not be allowed to prevail.

    As Bonnie’s article makes clear, these libertarians, with their extreme views, are not so wholly different than Trump’s supporters, and the Trump supporters, who believe in a fantasized glorious past (Make America Great – Again!) are not so wholly different than mainstream Republicans, and Republicans in general are not so different than creationists. And creationists are not so wholly different than Flat-Earthers. —They are all driven, to a large extent, by passion (driven by bigotry, fear, superstition, mythology), at the expense of reason (and decency), and have an intensity about them. (Yeats)

    (The absence of Reason is not the only problem, although it is a huge, huge problem. But life is far more complex than that. Reason in excess is problematic too. Insufficiency of passion is problematic. Reason and passion are double-edge swords.)



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  • The contorted group-think is very similar to that of YECs.

    The first qualification for Flat-Earth belief, is profound ignorance.
    Then assembling “plausible to the ignorant answers” to the obvious questions which will be produced to challenge their Flat-Earth claims.
    The most simplistic denial of evidence, is to claim a lying conspiracy of those presenting it – compounded by a deep ignorance/ total lack of awareness, of measuring techniques, and the huge numbers of people who would need to be involved in the conspiracy.

    The very existence of a horizon on a level surface such as the sea, indicates a curve.

    Even the ancients knew that an observer can see an object further out to sea, from a cliff top, mountain-top or mast-head!



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  • The map at the top of the story is obviously wrong from the flat-earth point of view, since it is a projection of the whole globe in flat form. The problem is that everything on the map is distorted, the north pole very little, but Australia almost unrecognisable and the Antartic just a white margin. I doubt it would be possible to draw a convincing map of the flat earth, with no distortions.



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  • I think Dan is spot on in pointing out that theres more to it than using reason or passion. Pure reason fails if the starting premises chosen are incorrect.



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  • I thought the “Flat Earth Society” were just a bunch of English eccentrics, getting together in some place that serves alcohol for an excuse to get bladdered!
    Nobody SERIOUSLY can think that the earth is not a globe?
    All you need is a clear day, pair of binoculars and a ship steaming towards you across the horizon – You see the mast first and gradually the rest of the ship appears as it crosses the horizon!
    Simple, empirical evidence – don’t get me even started on the obvious mathematical proofs….



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  • 12
    Pinball1970 says:

    @11
    We had a flat earth society at uni, they always seemed happy and they went to the pub a lot.

    I think we have to smile sometimes.

    If these guys are serious then they are just bat shit crazy its as simple as that.

    Beyond hope or reason, they are one rung down the crazy ladder from creationists and YEC who occupy the bottom rung.



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  • Pinball1970 #12
    Aug 30, 2016 at 8:03 am

    If these guys are serious then they are just bat shit crazy its as simple as that.

    Which would explain why they see no problem with using maps based on global surveys to create their flat-Earth-maps, which they then distribute globally using the internet via satellite networks!

    Similarly, the mental compartmentalisation and ignorance of physics denying YECs, seems to also give them no problem with using the physics they are denying to distribute their denials!



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  • @OP – Flat Earthers have a wide range of convictions.
    Some come to the movement from a religious place,

    That is not at all surprising!

    others from a scientific one.

    I would however, need to see some evidence for that claim!

    others from a pseudo-scientific one. perhaps!

    When Malachi Henderson went skydiving a few weeks ago, he noticed that the Earth looked flat, even from the plane. He mentioned it to the pilot. “The higher you get, the flatter it looks,” the pilot replied.

    Mmmm! Skydiving planes don’t have pressurised cabins, so don’t go high like commercial jets or military aircraft! – So quote a “pilot” who never goes high enough (see#4) , as an “expert authority”!
    A characteristic cherry-picked conspiracy theorist dud-data source!



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  • How do the flat-earthers explain the varying climates of the Earth, the change in seasons for certain areas and not others, and how perpetual ice can be maintained at the center and edges of this flat disk?



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  • 17
    Pinball1970 says:

    @14

    Actually the higher one gets the more curvature one would see on the horizon.

    Eventually you would see nothing except curvature, a sphere, if you were far enough away as we do with the moon and Sun



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  • 18
    Pinball1970 says:

    That is a an example of how calculus can be explained, the more you zoom in to a curved surface the flatter it appears to be.

    Between two points on enormous sphere like the earth everything feels flat, you have to make the distances larger and larger before you realize the geometry is curved



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  • “Gravity was not proven, and Isaac Newton and Einstein, all those scientists, are also Freemasons and Satan worshipers,” Patrice said.

    Ah, I get it – all science is good-old Satan’s lies. The last refuge of a thoroughly dim-witted religionist!



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  • Michael #15
    Aug 30, 2016 at 10:40 am

    How do the flat-earthers explain the varying climates of the Earth, the change in seasons for certain areas and not others, and how perpetual ice can be maintained at the center and edges of this flat disk?

    The usual procedure for conspiracy theorists, is to ignore it, make something up, or claim those presenting evidence are conspirators cunningly plotting to mislead “TRrrroooo thinking Flat Earthists”!

    For anyone claiming to have refuted gravity, there are probably no limits!



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  • H’m I think they have just started reading some Terry Pratchett that they have bought thinking that it’s a non-fiction science book. Mind you they haven’t mentioned the Turtles or Elephants yet have they?



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  • If our minds can take 2D images from the TV and imagin them 3D, then with the right delusion, I see no reason for the opposite to happen.



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  • How do they explain t o themselves the people who circumnativigate the earth by ship, plane, rowboat and come back to where they started.

    How do they explain how satellites work?

    How do they explain satellite photos showing no edge?

    How do they explain the photos of earth taken from the moon?

    I gather they just ignore them because they are counter to their expectations.



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  • You can’t be a flat Earther and be an atheist

    Well, thank god for that!.

    But then I made the mistake of reading on, and got to the hatchet job on those who doubt the official story of 9/11. Conflate 9/11 ‘spiracy nuts with flat earthers, moon-landing-deniers, etc and you don’t have to address embarrassing questions like those raised by the more reputable groups — architects and engineers, and also pilots and at least one high school physics teacher — who just might know what they’re talking about.

    So we’ve all had a good laugh at the flat-earth-crazies, and along the way, nodded sagely when they made outrageous conspiracy suggestions about the events of 9/11. Even thinking that somebody made a huge profit, and that somebody wasn’t Bin Laden, has to stay in the realm of off-the-scale batshit crazy.

    It’s called tarring with the same brush. Don’t fall for it.

    For the record: earth is round, moon has footprints, the WMD story was a pack of lies, and 9/11 needs a real investigation. To me that day left us with C_A (CIA without the Intelligence), NORA_ (NORAD without the Defense), FB_ (FBI without the Investigation) and NI_T (NIST without the Science). No wonder Trump is still in the running.

    When it comes to Reason and Science, this site too is sadly silent when it comes to that particular elephant.



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  • As per the first comment in here, why are we wasting space on this drivel? If people really think the earth is flat or that gravity doesn’t exist then they’re mentally ill and their “opinions” should be of no consequence to us. I’m sure there are folks out there who think they’re Napoleon Bonaparte or Queen Elizabeth the First – do we have to get their stories posted here as well?



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  • Ceres, the asteroid. 945 kilometers estimated diameter. So about 100 times the estimated diameter of the thingy that played a serious part in exterminating the dinosaurs. Yes. A head-on collision with Ceres should be sufficient to eradicate the black hole of ignorance on the third stone from Sol. It would take out all other life on this planet? What chance of survival does other life on this planet have in the face of the black hole of ignorance?
    (Anybody finding sarcasm in this post is welcome to fill his 500 kiloton former crude oil tank-ship with it).



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  • GrumpyKraut #28
    Aug 31, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    What chance of survival does other life on this planet have in the face of the black hole of ignorance?

    Bacteria are amazingly resilient, and have colonised some very extreme environments.

    Allegedly intelligent life – much less resilient!



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  • Right. I forgot about bacteria. Maybe because Stephen Jay Gould carries on about them to a tiresome degree in “Full House”. Not that he is empirically, numbers-wise, wrong. But some of his conclusions are dubious, to say the least.



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  • Aha moment: That’s where the mountains came from: wrinkles from trying to squish the spherical surface onto a plane. BTW, it looks like FE is a strictly northern-hemisphere delusion.

    why are we wasting space on this drivel?

    Oh, lets see: its almost 15 years since something that we’re not to tolerate outrageous conspircy theories about, according to Dubya. Time for another coat of tar….



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  • The stated objection about people on the equator “flying off” due to the tremendous speed with which they would spin around the globe makes sense ! Travelling 40000 KM each 24 hours is moving fast. Luckily everything around them travels at the same speed and moreover the travelling is done in almost a straight line. The centifugal component is only about 1/330 times the gravitational force that hold their feet firmly against the globe. So a 80 kg person will “lose” only 250 grams.

    But now about Elvis …



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  • M27Holts #19
    Aug 30, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    And as everybody knows, gravity means that any body with sufficient mass is molded into a sphere!

    It also means that the beer-belly overhangs the Bermuda shorts! 🙂



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  • I think Cantaz is right although I liked that the article refuted every assertion the conspiracy theorists made.

    There are people in this world who believe any number of ludicrous things. I think the only useful approach is to shut them down and not give them a forum unless they are willing to be subject to the requirement to offer proof and be disputed. Like the guy who wrote “how to make an atheist” does in his classes. If you can’t support and defend you position with objective reasoning then you get shut down. No respecting of unfounded opinions.

    I agree with one point made thpugh: I don’t think you can be an atheist and a flat-earther. But since that’s just my unresearched opinion, maybe I should be shut down. Hoist on my own petard!



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  • “The higher you get, the flatter it looks,” the pilot replied. Henderson wasn’t surprised: The pilot’s response was evidence of something he’d been researching for years.

    For a moment there I honestly thought Henderson had been researching the optical phenomenon that distance compresses perspective (at least in human eyes, don’t know about eagles).



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  • 40
    Pinball1970 says:

    @19
    Where the inherent tensile strength of the material is over powered by the gravitational force.

    Mind you we do have some very big asteroids that are quite irregular shaped.

    Perhaps just enough not to start to crush everything to the centre?

    @30

    Not half as tiresome as he was with baseball (S J Gould)

    Imagine if Dawkins started going through the rules of cricket at the beginning of the ancestors tale?

    If you have one SJG book reference where he does not mention it at all I will buy it tomorrow.

    I am British, I hate base ball it’s a stupid game as is American football and basket ball

    None are related to punctuated equilibrium in a way that will inspire me to read about it.



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  • Pinball1970 #40
    Sep 2, 2016 at 8:12 am

    None are related to punctuated equilibrium in a way that will inspire me to read about it.

    I can probably save you a lot of time by saying that evolution does not proceed at a uniform rate.
    Following the opening of new opportunities (catastrophic extinctions, land-bridges opening up when sea-levels drop, radical climate changes, or continental drift bringing continents together) – branching speciation into new niches, and the evolution of new ecosystems, can happen in much quicker busts than previously or generally, when conditions have been more stable.
    Stable equilibrium in ecosystems tends to have evolution proceed slowly and steadily.
    Radical changes bring quicker busts of adaptation, – or extinction for those which do not adapt quickly enough.

    I think that covers it!



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  • Pinball1970 #42
    Sep 3, 2016 at 7:57 am

    @41 RD gives a summary of this in the Blind watch maker
    You not a fan of SJG Alan?

    I have only read quoted extracts of his writings – and checked out quote mining misrepresenting them by creationists.

    His writings on evolution seem clear and scientific.

    http://brembs.net/gould.html
    THE EVOLUTION OF LIFE ON EARTH – A SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article. – October, 1994. – STEPHEN JAY GOULD.

    Creationists love to pretend that “The Cambrian Explosion” is some near instantaneous event. The fossils show rapid evolution – taking only a few million years, but to a YEC, who can’t count beyond thousands, such time scales are meaningless!



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  • Pinball1970 #42
    Sep 3, 2016 at 7:57 am

    You not a fan of SJG Alan?

    Gould is a capable geologist and biologist, but you should be careful when looking at alleged quotes of his work, to read what Gould actually writes, and NOT what creationists claim he writes!

    https://ncse.com/cej/2/4/misquoted-scientists-respond

    Dr. Stephen Jay Gould
    Professor of geology, Harvard University; author of The Panda’s Thumb; and probably the single most misquoted and misused scientist among the creationists’ unwilling allies.
    This excerpt is from “Evolution as Fact and Theory,” Discover, May 1981.

    It is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists whether through design or stupidity, I do not know as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms.
    Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level but are abundant between larger groups. The evolution from reptiles to mammals . . . is well documented.
    Yet a pamphlet entitled Harvard Scientists Agree Evolution Is a Hoax” states:
    “The facts of punctuated equilibrium, which Gould and Eldredge . . . are forcing Darwinists to swallow, fit the picture that [William Jennings] Bryan insisted on and which God has revealed to us in the Bible.”
    – page 39 –



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  • I never “got” SJG. I tried reading some of his stuff but it didn’t inform me at all. I’d no idea what he was getting at. Dawkins, on the other hand, laid out his material clearly and in a form I could digest, I grokked it. Did SJG and Dawkins disagree over some detail? I’ve no idea. The Dawkins angle makes sense to me, SJG never quite seemed to get round to what he was trying to say, if he in fact disagreed at all.

    Maybe it was the baseball thing.



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  • @alan #43

    SJG: I tried reading the linked article.

    Yet powerful though the principle may be, natural selection is not the only cause of evolutionary change (and may, in many cases, be overshadowed by other forces). This point needs emphasis….

    Darwin himself strongly emphasized the multifactorial nature of evolutionary change and warned against too exclusive a reliance on natural selection…

    I find myself at a loss to find the “other forces” that overshadow natural selection. Anyone able to explain in a way that SJG hasn’t been able to?

    Natural selection is not fully sufficient to explain evolutionary change for two major reasons.

    OK, so now I try to find these two reasons.

    First, many other causes are powerful….

    FFS, this is waffle.

    At the lowest level of substitution in individual base pairs of DNA, change is often effectively neutral and therefore random.

    Yes, so what?

    mass extinctions wipe out substantial parts of biotas for reasons unrelated to adaptive struggles…

    OK, so we have “survival of the luckiest” along with “survival of the fittest”. Both are Natural Selection, if you include in Nature the happenstance of where and when an asteroid impacts…..

    Anyway, that didn’t seem like Major Reason Number One.

    Second, and the focus of this article, no matter how adequate our general theory of evolutionary change, we also yearn to document and understand the actual pathway of life’s history.

    WTF? I had to re-read a few times, yes that is the “Second” that follows the “First” I quoted above. “We yearn to document”? THAT is Major Reason Number Two?

    Webs and chains of historical events are so intricate… that standard models of simple prediction and replication do not apply.

    Yes, of course. How does this in any way undermine Natural Selection?

    Most of the rest of the article had me nodding “yes, of course”, as he re-stated the obvious. He does bring in a wide catalog of facts, but there doesn’t appear to be any central thesis that he’s trying to explain. Other than that there’s no particular direction to evolution. Is that all he’s saying? Or is there really more, as he seems to suggest, without actually delivering.



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  • SJG

    mass extinctions wipe out substantial parts of biotas for reasons unrelated to adaptive struggles…

    Utter bollocks. In any struggle you win some, you lose some. Fast changes you tend to lose. There is no qualitative difference between fast and slow.

    Interestingly things can evolve to evolve and evolve to adapt. Error rates in genetic mutation are necessarily an evolved trait with a very narrow band seemingly being selected, balancing higher mutation rates for better responses to faster changing selection pressures with the loss of functionality risked by the inevitable greater errors. In an environment of very fast change evolution becomes impossible. Mathematical modelling shows replicators tracking selection pressure rates of change with changing mutation rates. It also may be that epigenetics evolved its capacities to act as a buffer between the two with its fast if modest adaptions.

    The most spectacular evolutionary achievement in evolving to evolve/adapt is of course the suite of seven mental capacities that create super fast track adaption, culture and cultural evolution, skills, and semantic knowledge.



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  • OHooligan #47
    Sep 6, 2016 at 12:35 am

    Second, and the focus of this article, no matter how adequate our general theory of evolutionary change, we also yearn to document and understand the actual pathway of life’s history.

    Webs and chains of historical events are so intricate… that standard models of simple prediction and replication do not apply.

    Yes, of course. How does this in any way undermine Natural Selection?

    I think this is the point about random events influencing the complexity of evolutionary paths.
    It is the point which we regularly have to make to theists pretending their god created the big-bang and predicted human evolution from there on.

    We can track back the past history of particular species, from genetics and fossils, but because of random events and the opportunist nature of genetic mutation and environmental elements of natural selection, we cannot (and could never) make long term predictions of the future course of evolution of surviving individual organisms.

    We can however predict extinctions from sudden or catastrophic changes. (Such as asteroid impacts , changes to atmospheric or marine chemistry, radiation from solar flares, or changes to a planet’s orbit by gravitational influences from other bodies.)

    What happens to the new niches created, is determined by surviving random past or future mutations and the forces of natural selection – but as species are geographically mobile, these forces will be working across numerous diverse environments on a random and opportunist basis.

    That is: The random mutant variations of surviving species, will interact with diverse environmental changes and each other, while moving around exploring opportunities.

    Your comment on “the survival of the luckiest”, covers aspects of this!



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  • 49

    Thank you Alan. I remember being frustrated by SJG, I forget which book, I think they’re probably all the same in that respect. Survival of the luckiest, a phrase coined in a pub during a meeting with long lost school pals, in the “whatever happened to…” conversation. We were there, and certain others, less lucky, were not. QED. Darwin was mostly right 🙂



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  • This dumb idea doesn’t have anything to do with belief. It has everything to do with obstinance and fear. People like Henderson are one of those “left behind” Americans who would rather challenge everything, including common sense, than accept that they: 1) don’t know much about anything, and; 2) don’t want others to think they care what others think. This is Yosemite Sam being ornery and drawing a line in the sand and daring Bugs to step over it. Henderson is one of those bad-tempered people who hike their pants up and stomp off when challenged because they fear a confrontation they know they’ll lose. So, what better way to “win(?)” an argument than to start one yourself where you know no one can shut you down without going to great expense and/or time? Let’s face it, it’s pretty easy to prove to this guy that the earth is indeed not flat. You don’t need math or an understanding of universal laws. You just need money to put him on a rocket that has a window and shoot him into the earth’s orbit. I WOULD say we start a crowd fund to make it happen, but I’m thinking a free adventure is exactly what a putz like this guy would be looking for.



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  • @ShesTheBeth#51
    “You just need money to put him on a rocket that has a window and shoot him into the earth’s orbit.”

    Better yet, an approximate Apollo 8 rerun, send him out toward the moon for the odd orbit there.
    But as to your crowd funding thought – I wouldn’t pay for a return journey from the moon, waste of money.



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  • @Pinball1970#
    “@30 Not half as tiresome as he was with baseball (S J Gould); Imagine if Dawkins started going through the rules of cricket”

    Well, there’s “A Devil’s Chaplain” ©2003, chapter 5.4, “Human Chauvinism and Evolutionary Progress, Review of “Full House” by S. J. Gould”.
    Dawkins fires off six lines of cricket reporter jargon that might just as well be advanced quantum physics as far as I could understand it.
    But he got me interested, and I bought “Full House”, the only book of SJG that I own. Having become something of a baseball statistics nut from my nine years in the US, I found the .400 batter chapter to be the most amusing. Much of the rest of the book elicited mainly a “ah … yeah .. but so what?” reaction from me.



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