In a world that is so polarized, I think that it is very important to understand other peoples viewpoints. More important than that, I think we need to understand the context in which ideas emerge.
This is paramount because it helps us communicate better.
This view can be really challenging when it comes to chatting with flat earthers, but I think we can learn much from trying to understand where they’re coming from and what the context is.
Do we ourselves know the Science
We can be very quick to dismiss a flat earthers as being laughable, but here’s the thing – do we ourselves know the science behind why the earth is round?
I believe in science. I believe that the earth is a sphere. I’ve never seen the earth from space to confirm this, but the science makes sense to me.
Even though Pythagoras(vegetarian) and Aristotle theorized the earth as being round, it was Eratosthenes of Alexandria (276BC – 194 BC) who figured out the circumference of the earth to an astonishing degree of accuracy.
He knew that on the Summer Solstice (June 21st) at noon, no shadows were cast in a specific city far away from him. He decided to see if the same was true in his own city.
Interestingly this wasn’t the case; if he stuck a pole vertically in the ground, then a shadow of 7.2 degrees could be seen. The most plausible reason why one city would have a shadow and the other no shadows at the same time, would be if the earth was curved.
Using some really simple high school math, the angle of the shadow and the distance between the two cities he calculated that the earths’ circumference is 40,000 km.
Here is a wonderful video that explains it even better.
Incredible! A dude over two thousand years ago figured out the circumference of the earth just by using observation and high school math. And it took over two thousand years for us to visually confirm this by going into space.
Having a conversation with a flat earther gives us an opportunity to reaffirm that we ourselves know the science.
Now it’s one thing to understand the science, but it’s quite another thing to see a proof demonstrated in front of your eyes. I gained a even greater respect for Stephen Hawking with his show called Genius. In it he gets regular folks to discover big science ideas for themselves through real world, easy to grasp experiments.
In the video below, the participants find out the earth is not flat with a brilliantly elegant experiment.
Communication of Science is Really Bad
The bigger problem is this – communication of science is really bad and it’s getting worse. It’s been massively degrading over the years.
Our greatest science communicator who ever lived was the great Carl Sagan. Across a myriad of media including books, television and radio he inspired and invigorated an entire generation to be fascinated with science.
I can recall as a kid watching him explain how the fourth dimension worked and my mind was totally blown.
I rewatched his Cosmos series again recently, and I was even more impressed at how inclusive he was of other religions, ideas and history.
In one show he talks of the Hindu belief that the universe has been reborn hundreds of thousands of times. I thought this notion was ridiculous at the time, but now we’ve got Roger Penrose expressing similar ideas and they make sense too.
I was impressed that as a scientist, Carl Sagan sought out all kinds of knowledge, and he wasn’t dismissive of teachings outside the boundaries of science.
That ability to connect the unconnected, to involve rather than dismiss is what inspired an entire generation with science.
Even the great Faraday, a renowned scientist from a background of poverty opened up science to the masses way back in 1825 through the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.
These were science lectures open to the public, both rich and poor, and they no doubt spurred on many scientists of the day. And the tradition of having lectures open to the public is something that continues to this day.
But in the 21st century, not many great science communicators exist, apart from the wonderful Neil de Grasse and a few others.
This has left a void where the voice of science is now faint; and that void has been filled by preaching of beliefs like creationism and flat earth.
Science has it’s shortcomings, but it’s a wonderful tool that sheds light on so many brilliant marvels in the universe.
Science needs to be universal taught, and taught in such a way that is practical.
I at first remember thinking flat earthers are weird. After all, how can you deny thousands of years worth of science. I thought the same thing of creationists.
But when we look at the environment from which flat earthers and creationists emerge, it’s hardly surprising that science isn’t a major actor in their lives.
This is in part because science and math aren’t taught and disseminated enough in clear simple terms.
We need our great science communicators, and lacking those, we ourselves need to fill the void. And if we’re to fill the void we had better make sure we know the science ourselves.