Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Ultimate Conspiracy Theory

…perhaps not the ultimate conspiracy theory but it’s up there with David Ike’s Reptilian invasion. We are, after all, talking about Flat Earth Theory here; that’s right, I said Flat Earth – as if geocentrism wasn’t bad enough (- or equally as bad is Biblical literalist David Lowe’s claim that “Our Sun isn’t a Star” with “proof” from the Bible of course -  see my footnote *). As evidence that I’m not kidding check out these links:

One link I found particularly interesting was this one:

…as it concerns a certain Charles K Johnson who was president of the flat Earth Society from 1972 until his death in 2001. Today, the Flat Earth Society has cut itself adrift from Biblical literalism and now stands simply as a society of conspiracy theorists, but in the days of Johnson, the Flat Earth society was very much bound up with Biblical literalism. Picking out some highlights from my last link we read:

"You can't orbit a flat earth," says Mr. Johnson. "The Space Shuttle is a joke—and a very ludicrous joke." (Johnson believed space flights to be part of a conspiratorial fraud – as do the neo Flat Earthers)

"Nobody knows anything about the true shape of the world," he contends. "The known, inhabited world is flat. Just as a guess, I'd say that the dome of heaven is about 4,000 miles away, and the stars are about as far as San Francisco is from Boston." (Dangerous claim to make because a clever and resourced amateur could probably conceive an experiment to measure the parallax at that distance - if he felt it worth pursuing!)

The sun and moon, in the Johnson version, are only about 32 miles in diameter. (Ditto – but why state the two significant figures of “32” rather than the round 30 or 40? This suggests that Johnson had some very precise ideas here)

Johnson's beliefs are firmly grounded in the Bible. Many verses of the Old Testament imply that the earth is flat, but there's more to it than that. According to the New Testament, Jesus ascended up into heaven. (“Firmly grounded in the Bible” – the times I’ve heard that one!)

"The whole point of the Copernican theory is to get rid of Jesus (My emphasis) by saying there is no up and no down," declares Johnson. "The spinning ball thing just makes the whole Bible a big joke."  (That’s not so far removed from Ken Ham’s claim that those Christians who don’t support Ham's views are preaching a Jesus different from the Jesus of the Bible)

"Wherever you find people with a great reservoir of common sense," he says, "they don't believe idiotic things such as the earth spinning around the sun. Reasonable, intelligent people have always recognized that the earth is flat." (Funny claim that; when I look out to sea with a pair of binoculars the world actually looks round to me!)

"We're two witnesses against the whole world," observes Charles Johnson. "We've chosen that path, but it isolates us from everyone. We're not complaining; it has to be. But it does kind of get to you sometimes." (It’s the inverted modesty of the “we are a hero remnant” syndrome; part of the conspiracy theorist's mental complex)

"It's the Church of England that's taught that the world is a ball," he argues. "George Washington, on the other hand, was a flat-earther. He broke with England to get away from those superstitions." If Johnson is right, the American Revolution failed. No prominent American politician is known to have publicly endorsed the flat-earth theory in the past two centuries. (The North American tendency toward non-conformity and anti-establishmentarianism comes out here! They've never got over  the unhelpful meddlings of the British crown and the war of independence! When it's not the Church of England, it's Darwin!)

One would, of course, never study Flat Earth theory  in a purely scientific and comparative way as a serious contender to the academic establishment’s position, any more than one would study David Ike, Gerardus Bouw, David Lowe or Ken Ham as if they are making serious and radical scientific proposals. One studies these people and the communities they stand for from the point of view of sociology, psychology and religion, but not science. In particular, the inverted pride that comes from believing oneself to be part of an elite remnant group who know the “Truth” and sees one’s community as a heroic tribe battling for Right, is a way of coping: This coping response seeks to break up our huge anonymous and homogeneous industrial societies into smaller more emotionally amenable tribes.  Paranoia, marginalization, alienation, epistemic insecurity and fear, are the underlying emotions that get transformed into the sense of superiority found in the belief that the main stream rank and file have been fooled into believing the heresies propagated by the malign evil intelligences of the conspiring establishment. Members of these marginalized communities console themselves with the thought that they must be cleverer or more privileged than those outsiders who have been fooled along with “all them others”. In the confines of these more intimate communities bonds of trust can be formed with its relatively accessible leaders and gurus who rule and guide them - in contrast to the establishment’s ivory tower authorities who are completely distrusted as, perhaps, the emissaries of evil. By immersing themselves in these marginalised religious community society's cultural refugees make themselves big fish in small bowls rather than remain the inconsequential tiny fish in a huge ocean where a sense of belonging and identity is often lacking.

There is, however, an interesting philosophy of science aspect to all this. The Flat Earthers, like other fundamentalists, find themselves in the intellectual rear-guard action of a science of negation as they critique established science. Their positive science, if they have any, involves much special pleading as it attempts to explain away such things as the shadow of the Earth on the Moon during lunar eclipses. We see here what suppositionalism is all about: Undeterred as they are with the difficulty of joining the dots of observation with their flawed back ground concepts the fundamentalist suppositionalists will bend and tweak their favorite theory with all sorts of ad hoc devices until it fits. At the bottom of this is the epistemic conceit that their opinions have divine authority and therefore can never be revised. This vehemently asserted conceit is probably a reaction to secular society as a whole where one finds so much aimlessness, purposelessness, meaninglessness, emptiness, uncertainty and nihilism.

It is ironic that fundamentalists and conspiracy theorists are held thrall by a cynical post-modern scepticism in the ability of society to make both moral and epistemic progress; they do not believe our world to be providentially rational enough for this to happen. (See for example: http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/arbitrariness-in-mature-creation-theory.html)

* Footnote:
Here is Biblical Literalist David Lowe's summary of why he doesn't believe the sun to be a star. As you might expect it’s all down to his very literal reading of the Bible:

In closing, the best evidence we can have is the very inspired words of God Almighty, who has clearly told us in his revelation to us that the Sun and stars are not the same. Here is a summary of the main arguments of this paper:
Over and over, the Sun and stars are mentioned separately in the same sentence. The Sun and stars have different Hebrew and Greek words and meanings Paul tells us that the Sun and stars are different in glory. Luke clearly distinguished between them in Acts 27. Moses tells us the Sun was created, then the stars were "also" created. David tells us in Psalm 72:17 that the Sun will endure forever. Isaiah tells us in Isaiah 13:10 that the stars will not give their light in the future, and Jesus tells us that stars will fall from the heaven. Yet Jesus also tells us that the Sun and stars will have different and separate prophetic futures - the Sun will only be "darkened" temporarily, since in the end, the Sun, according to David, and verses in Revelation, will endure FOREVER, while the stars will "fall from the heaven".
See: http://www.geocities.ws/rebornempowered/thesun.htm

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