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JACK SMITH

Global Skepticism : 'Modern Scientists,' a Flat Earth Society Member Says, 'Sit Around Chewing on Cigars, Thinking Up Absurd Theories'

November 15, 1987|JACK SMITH

KNOWING THAT I doubt the reality of telepathy, reincarnation, precognition, clairvoyance, channeling and the presence among us of extraterrestrials, a reader wonders why I have never questioned the beliefs of the Flat Earth Society.

"Hey, you missed one" writes Jack Findlater. "Their pitch, in essence, is that the assertion that the earth is round is only a theory, never proven, and that scientists have banded together in a Machiavellian conspiracy or plot to mislead a naive public into believing that we are living on a sphere, whereas it's obvious, they say, that the world is flat. Oh, well, it's easy to reject, out of hand, information that doesn't agree with our own preconceptions."

There's the rub. I have a preconception that the earth is round. So it's easy for me to reject the notion that it's flat. Perhaps it is also my preconceptions that cause me to reject the reality of telepathy, reincarnation, channeling and all the other paranormal phenomena that Shirley MacLaine has made so chic today.

Wondering whether the Flat Earth Society was still in business, I asked our library to check it out for me and found that it does indeed still exist, but it has moved its headquarters from Dover, England, to Lancaster, right here in Southern California. There was a telephone number.

I should not have been surprised. What more amiable climate is there for any crackpot idea than our own little corner of the globe?

I called the Lancaster number. A woman answered. I said, "Is this the Flat Earth Society?"

She said, "I'll call Mr. Johnson."

I gave him my name and asked if I had reached the Flat Earth Society.

He said, "Yes, this is it."

He said his name was Charles K. Johnson, and that when the former head of the society died in Dover in 1971, the headquarters was moved to Lancaster (about one-fourth the way round the world).

I asked him what was the purpose of the Flat Earth Society. "Are you just kidding? Or do you really believe the earth is flat?"

He was serious. "The whole idea of the earth being a spinning ball is just ridiculous," he said. "We have studied the earth and found it flat."

I asked him the obvious questions. If the earth is flat, why don't we fall off the edge.

"There is no edge. As far as we know, it's endless."

I pointed out that scientists have generally agreed that the earth is a sphere since Pythagoras articulated that theory in the 6th Century BC.

Johnson scoffed at the Greeks. He characterized them as "a bunch of old men sitting around on marble steps spinning fantasies."

"The same with modern scientists," he said, "only they sit around chewing on cigars and drinking whiskey and thinking up absurd theories."

What about the pictures from Apollo, showing a round earth?

"Absurd," he responded. "There was no moon landing."

He said the whole thing began when Nikita Khrushchev came up with his story about Sputnik circling the earth, and then President Kennedy had to top it, so he came up with our story about men landing on the moon.

"The whole thing was a game they cooked up to produce more jobs."

I didn't ask him why, if you got in an airplane and flew directly east, you'd eventually come back to your starting point. Or why the sun rises and sets every day. He seemed to have his mind made up.

The Flat Earth Society's main concern, Johnson said, is that children are being misled by the round-earth theory. In that respect, its mission is the same as that of the Creationists--the rescue of our children from science.

Among the things that men believe, though, I'd say that believing the earth is flat is the most irrational. Science writer Isaac Asimov has noted that "presumably educated" people insist that the earth is flat, dismissing all the scientific evidence as fake.

I think it's easier to believe that we have been visited by extraterrestrials, or that people are able to communicate through telepathy, than to believe that the earth is flat. But not much.

I find the demonstrated facts of the universe fascinating enough without having to believe in fantasies. Our planet, round or flat, is an insignificant speck in a galaxy of billions of larger bodies, among billions of other galaxies. But I do hate to be accused of looking at the universe with a closed mind. Who knows? The Flat Earthers may be right. If the earth is a spinning ball, why aren't all of us dizzier than we are?

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