Samuel Birley Rowbotham, an English inventor, created the Flat Earth Society in the early part of the 1800s. (1)
The Flat Earth Society mission statement was “to promote and initiate discussion of Flat Earth theory as well as archive Flat Earth literature.”
Even though the Flat Earth Theory was abandoned during the fourth century BC when the Greeks hypothesized that the earth was a spherical shape, there were still many who held onto the belief that the earth was flat. (2)
Rowbotham based his society on the Bedford Level Experiment (3) that attempted to determine the shape of the earth.
“Observations carried out along a six-mile length of the Old Bedford River on the Bedford Level, Norfolk, England” were taken during both the 19th and 20th centuries. Rowbotham took the first test results that concluded the earth was flat and ignored the following tests that attempted to recreate those first results to validate the original experiment results.
All subsequent tests “firmly supported the established view that the earth is a sphere”.
Using the erroneous results of the first round of testing in the Bedford Level Experiment, Rowbotham invented the Zetetic Astronomy. This proposed form of astronomy contends that:
“The earth is a flat disk centered at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars only a few hundred miles above the surface of the earth”. (4)
Transatlantic Migration of Rowbotham’s Society
The UK-based society published volumes of newsletters, leaflets and even books. The society and its theory of a flat earth were eagerly embraced by John Alexander Dowie of Zion, Illinois, where he founded the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church. “Dowie was a restorationist and sought to recover the ‘primitive condition’ of the Church”. He was a believer in divine healing and somehow Flat Earth theory fit nicely into his brand of religion. (5)
Unlike many organizations, the society didn’t die when Rowbotham did in 1884.
“Lady Elizabeth Blount established the Universal Zetetic Society.” Her goal was to continue spreading the Flat Earth Theory as a “Natural Cosmogony in confirmation of the Holy Scriptures, based on practical scientific investigation”.
In 1956, Samuel Shenton of Dover Britain picked up the torch once more by forming the International Flat Earth Society. Shenton led the society away from the original focus of religion-based theory and imbued the organization with his personal interest in “alternative science and technology”.
Shenton Claims Satellite Photos Fake
As astounding as it might be, even the photos from the first satellite put into orbit around the earth didn’t deter the society’s stance against a spherical earth. In fact, Shenton’s response to images taken of earth from the satellite that clearly depicted a globe-like shape was:
“It’s easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye.”
When Shenton died in 1971, Ellis Hillman, the president of Shenton’s organization, added a large portion of Shenton’s library to the Science Fiction Foundation archives (Hillman helped to found). The SF Foundation’s function is to “promote science fiction, and bring together those who read, write, study, teach, research or archive science fiction in Britain and the rest of the world”. (6) Hillman’s actions are most curious.
Shenton’s wife retained the other portion of the library and gave it to Shenton’s successor, Charles K. Johnson, a former airplane mechanic. By now the organization was known as the International Flat Earth Society and Johnson ran it from his Lancaster, California home.
Society Claims Apollo Moon Landings Hoaxed
In 1969, when the first Apollo Moon Mission was successful with astronauts actually walking on the moon, Shenton accused the government of hoaxing the entire mission.
Even though the event was televised and photos were published in magazines and newspapers, the society claimed the landing and subsequent ones were all filmed on a Hollywood sound stage. There are many people today who believe this conspiracy theory who perhaps don’t realize the origins of this conspiracy theory. (7)
His successor, Johnson stated:
“We maintain that what is called ‘Science’ today and ‘scientists’ consist of the same old gang of witch doctors, sorcerers, tellers of tales, the ‘Priest-Entertainers’ for the common people. ‘Science’ consists of a weird, way-out occult concoction of gibberish theory-theology…unrelated to the real world of facts, technology and inventions, tall buildings and fast cars, airplanes and other Real and Good things in life; technology is not in any way related to the web of idiotic scientific theory. ALL inventors have been anti-science.” (4)
The modern version of the Flat Earth Society claims that the United States government and its agencies, especially NASA have misrepresented the truth to the public about science, technology and, of course, the actual shape of the planet.
This accusation begs the question that if the moon and other telescopically visible planets within our solar system appear spherical, why would the earth not conform to this common cosmic shape? How can the Flat Earth Theory stand up to watching a lunar eclipse when the earth’s shadow falls over the moon?
Another simple method that clearly reveals a spherical earth is one the ancient astronomers figured out. The stars rise at different times and at varying heights above the horizon. This can only happen with a spherical planet.
And, perhaps the easiest test is to view the horizon from a tall building, mountaintop or airplane. Any of these points of view reveal an undeniable spherical curve to the horizon and has to leave the average person with the question of why anyone would still believe in a Flat Earth Theory.
References & Image Credits:
(1) Wikipedia: Samuel Rowbotham
(2) Wikipedia: Flat Earth Society
(3) Wikipedia: Bedford Level Experiment
(4) Flat Earth Society
(5) Wikipedia: John Alexander Dowie
(6) Science Fiction Foundation
(7) Wikipedia: Moon Landing Conspiracy Theories
(8) Glenn Beck
(9) Earth Not a Globe
(10) Big Education Ape