MacDonald: ‘I couldn’t prove it wrong’: Fort Collins’ Flat Earth Society

Alexandra MacDonald

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

People often believe in conspiracies because of suspicion aimed at seemingly inexplicable events — probably instilled in us by our almost institutionalized mistrust of authority.

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One of those conspiracies is the flat Earth theory, which has suddenly exploded over the past decade or so. For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s the theory that, despite ample scientific evidence, the Earth holds no curvature and is in fact flat. 

It may also be surprising that Fort Collins is home to a decent-sized flat Earth community, which holds regular meetups to discuss the theory.

The issue is that this theory holds no water (pun intended). A large part of the flat Earth community that makes them so disagreeable to most people is that they present almost no solid evidence for believing the things they do. Actually, not believing in evidence is the basis for most of the argument that the Earth is flat. 

There are several theories in this conspiracy, including not just how the Earth itself is shaped, but how the solar system surrounding it functions as well. Some argue that the system is not heliocentric — based on a revolution around the sun — but geocentric instead. Some believe that what we inhabit is actually a dome and that this “Maze Runner”-like cage was set up by a much higher power than ours. 

The main reason flat-earthers reject scientific data, like in a published study titled “Effects of the Earth’s Curvature and Lunar Revolution,” is because subscribers haven’t seen it for themselves.

Their argument is that any picture showing the curvature of the Earth from space is a photo illustration and can’t be trusted.

Samantha Peters, a stay-at-home mom who attends the weekly flat Earth meetings in Fort Collins, referenced a passage from John 20:29: “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ 

Flat-earthers make a lot of references from a biblical standpoint, not a scientific one, and this is a significant reason why they hold a lack of trust for academic research and fact.

“If all of these conspiracies had factual information to back the claims instead of other conspiracies, then we would be able to take it more seriously.”

It’s not shocking to find actual evidence that the Earth has a curve and that you can’t see it from just standing in one spot. If Eratosthenes in 200 B.C. could use geometric skills and shadows to calculate the circumference of the Earth, then the much more advanced technology we have today shouldn’t be an obstacle for any flat-earther to check the math for themselves.

However, many flat-earthers use conspiratorial reasoning instead, hence the reason why flat Earth remains a conspiracy theory that isn’t present in academic curriculums.  

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“The next time you see something and you think you believe it, question it,” Peters said. 

There isn’t any firm evidence that can prove the Earth is flat. There is only evidence that it’s round, and this is often ignored. 

The big question to ask is why people choose to believe in something that has been repeatedly proven to be false and why they argue that the science isn’t dependable. The answer isn’t a lack of education or even lower intelligence; it’s that the Flat Earth Society’s members commonly fall into a simple feedback loop. 

When a person first explores the conspiracy, there’s a denial of the ideas that flat Earth offers. The ideas disrupt what people have been taught most of their lives. Secondly, there’s a doubt of the present factual evidence when they try to disprove flat Earth.

Kevin Dunn, also present at the flat Earth meetings with Peters, explained that he joined after he had been doubtful too. 

“I couldn’t prove it wrong,” Dunn said.

Newly-born skeptics go to the internet for help and then meet new persuasive friends on forum boards like the Official Flat Earth Discussion Group on Facebook. Their questions and curiosities are met with bogus answers backed up by flat Earth videos on YouTube and wiry personalities fueled by paranoia. 

There’s no question of sources in those forums, only thumbs up and poor grammar. The suspicions that arise are snowballed, drawing back to the supposed “chemtrails” left by aircraft and the argument for anti-vaxxers. If all of these conspiracies had factual information to back up the claims instead of other conspiracies, then we would be able to take it more seriously.

The Earth is undoubtedly round, gravity exists and seasons are caused by the Earth’s tilt. If the Flat Earth Society really wanted to discover once and for all that the ground we step on is truly a flat object, then there’s no reason why the members can’t collectively do the research to see it for themselves. 

Alexandra MacDonald can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @alexandramacc.