Myths And Misconceptions About Flat Earth Theory

CULTURE | October 12, 2019

Depiction of the earth as flat. Source: (youtube.com)

Today, the term “Flat Earther” has become synonymous with “idiot.” That is to say, it is frequently used to describe anyone who harbors beliefs that go against those held by mainstream society. It is intended as an insult; however, it loses its sting when used against those who actually believe the Earth is flat as it is a term they proudly accept.

The moniker “Flat Earth Theory” is actually a misnomer as there is no singular theory encompassing the belief that the Earth is flat. There is, instead, a wide range of ancient cultures throughout the world which based their beliefs on the idea of a flat Earth. It was a common belief in Greece, India, and China, just to name a few. The Greeks, as well as the early Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures, believed the Earth to be a large disc surrounded by a gigantic body of water. The ancient Chinese believed the Earth was flat and square while the heavens were spherical. The Norse beliefs were similar to that of the Greeks and Egyptians, with the addition of a giant sea serpent in the waters surrounding the flat Earth. The Mountain Arapsh people of Papua New Guinea believe Earth ends at the horizon.

Early Earth model. Source: (aplanetruth.info)

The idea of the Earth being flat is not new. In fact, it is quite ancient. And the original “Flat Earthers” were far from idiots. For example, the works of both Hesiod and Homer describe the Earth as flat. Philosophers such as Thales and Lucretius, and even Democritus, who founded atomic theory, believed the Earth was flat. It wasn’t until the 6th century B.C. that people began to question the long-held belief. By the 4th century B.C., the educated classes commonly subscribed to the idea of a spherical Earth. By the 1st century B.C., the spherical Earth had become canon. 

A ship about to sail off the edge of the world. Source: (empowerireland.ie)

A common myth is that people during the Middle Ages believed it was possible to sail off the edge of the Earth. In fact, a widespread rumor held that the Catholic Church attempted to dissuade Columbus from embarking on his journey for fear he would sail off the edge of the world. The source of this rumor is believed to be 19th-century author, Washington Irving. While the belief in a flat Earth may have lingered in some circles, it was very uncommon among the educated in the Middle Ages.

Even among those who still believe the Earth is flat, there is very little fear of falling off the edge. The modern model of the flat Earth is a disc, with the Arctic Circle at its center and Antarctica as an ice wall around the rim. Therefore, any ship would run into the ice rather than falling off the edge. This model is also geocentric with the sun, moon, and stars moving in a circular pattern around the Earth, thus explaining the daylight circle.

Flat Earthers’ explanation of daylight cycles. Source: (videoblocks.com)

A popular stereotype is that Flat Earthers are Christian fundamentalists. The idea was first perpetrated in the 1970s by Charles K. Johnson, the president, and spokesperson for the Flat Earth Society, which had been started in 1956 by Samuel Shenton. Johnson became famous for his outlandish claims and absolute refusal to believe the Earth is round. Not only did he insist that the moon landing was fake, but he also claimed to believe in the “traditional Christian view” of a flat Earth. However, Orthodox Christians dating at least as far back as the 5th century believed the Earth to be spherical. While there are Christians who believe the Earth to be flat, they do not represent all Christians and they make up only a small part of the Flat Earthers.

Shaquille O’Neal. Source: (youtube.com)

Just as the idea existed in multiple cultures throughout the ancient world, Flat Earthers today exist in various cultures and religions. For example, Mohammed Yusuf, founder of Boko Haram, believed the idea of a spherical Earth to go against the teachings of Islam. Other Flat Earthers are celebrities such as Shaquille O’Neal and rapper Bobby Ray Simmons Jr. aka B.O.B., who recently attempted to crowdfund a satellite to go into space and prove the Earth is flat.

Tags: Flat Earth Theory | Myths And Misconceptions

Like it? Share with your friends!

Share On Facebook

Penny Chavers


Penny, besides writing, loves to spend her time with family and friends. In her spare time, she also enjoys playing the piano, board games, and taking online classes on topics that interest her.