The Flat Earth Society has become a byword for sticking your head in the sand, whatever the scientific facts. Believe it or not I am not talking about religion.
According to the Guardian newspaper, Daniel Shenton should be the most irrational man in the world. As the new president of the Flat Earth Society, you’d imagine he would also think that evolution is a scam, Sarah Palin is a serious politician and global warming a myth. He should argue that smoking does not cause cancer and HIV does not lead to Aids. Yes, that Flat Earth Society, a group that has become a living metaphor for backward thinking and a refusal to face scientific facts. Yes, it is still going, and no, this isn’t an early April fool.
In fact, Shenton turns out to have resolutely mainstream views on most issues. The 33-year-old American, originally from Virginia but now living and working in London, is happy with the work of Charles Darwin. He thinks the evidence for man-made global warming is strong, and he dismisses suggestions that his own government was involved with the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
He is mainstream on most issues, but not all. For when Shenton rides his motorbike, he says it is not gravity that pins him to the road, but the rapid upward motion of a disc-shaped planet. Countries, according to him, spread across this flat world as they appear to do on a map, with Antarctica as a ring of mountains strung around the edge. And, yes, you can fall off.
If you thought that flat Earthism was gone, think again. The scientific evidence is stacked against Shenton, obviously, just as it is against those who think global warming is a hoax and that the dead stalk the Earth as ghosts – but that doesn’t appear to trouble him in the least.
“There is no unified flat Earth model,” Shenton suggests, “but the most commonly accepted one is that it’s more or less a disc, with a ring of something to hold in the water. The height and substance of that, no one is absolutely sure, but most people think it’s mountains with snow and ice.”
The Earth is flat, he argues, because it appears flat. The sun and moon are spherical, but much smaller than mainstream science says, and they rotate around a plane of the Earth, because they appear to do so.
Inevitably, Shenton’s argument forces him down all kinds of logical blind alleys – the non-existence of gravity, and his argument that most space exploration, and so the moon landings, are faked. But, while many flat Earthers have problems with the idea of orbiting satellites, Shenton navigates the London streets using GPS. He was also happy to fly from the US to Britain, but says an aircraft that flew over the Antarctic barrier would drop from the sky, and from the planet.
The Flat Earth Society was originally formed as the Universal Zetetic Society in 1884, after the Greek word zeteo, “to seek”. Zeteticism, Shenton says, emphasises experience and reason over the ”trusting acceptance of dogma” – or, it seems, overwhelming evidence. Only a personal trip into space to see the world as it is for himself would persuade him. “But even then, in seeing it, I would have to be convinced there weren’t any tricks involved.”
Wait, so if we flew him into space and he saw the earth from above he would ask if there were any tricks involved. Fuck it. I’m out.