The flat earth conspiracy claims sinister forces perpetuate a lie about the shape of our planet. According to proponents of this theory, the earth is really a flat disk instead of a spherical globe. They claim there is a conspiracy by all the governments of this world to deceive us about the shape of the planet. They also claim the space programs are purely propaganda put in place to perpetuate the lie.
And they’re absolutely serious about it.
Unfortunately for these people, there are a great many facts about our planet that are completely inconsistent with a flat disk model. When we look at the facts it’s very clear the earth is spherical instead of flat.
Normally I wouldn’t waste my time, but unfortunately I see Christians buying into this whole flat earth thing. In fact, some of the most vocal proponents of this silliness are Bible college students and graduates. Therefore, let me share how I know the earth is spherical. You can know it too based on everyday observable phenomena.
But first, here’s a photo taken by astronaut Scott Kelly from the international space station. It clearly shows the curvature of the earth. Anecdotally, Kelly was two years ahead of me at college. It was a military school and he made me do push ups. More than once.
As we get started, let me share something from my background that’s a bit unusual. Hopefully you will appreciate that I do indeed know what I’m talking about when it comes to this. My formal training was as a licensed deck officer on ocean going cargo ships.
Before I graduated college I passed the US Coast Guard Third Mate’s exam. I was licensed for open ocean, unlimited tonnage vessels.
Demonstrating proficiency in celestial navigation was one of the requirements for my Third Mate’s license. My training included how to determine a fixed position with a sextant, a clock, and a nautical almanac. It took a bit of complicated math, but we could generally get a decent fix of our position on the earth with between 3 and 5 stars when we had a clear horizon at twilight.
I’ve calculated star fixes many, many times. So I know it works with pretty good accuracy. Though to be fair, it’s a perishable skill and I haven’t messed with celestial navigation in decades.
Not only was I a merchant mariner, but I also was a navigator in jets flying off aircraft carriers for 6 years. I’ve logged hundreds of flight hours and have seen the curved horizon from altitude. I’ve launched after dark, climbed up to altitude, and watched the sun set again.
Fortunately you don’t have to take my word for it about esoteric mathematical calculations, or military experience. You can know for yourself that the earth is spherical by simply looking out your window and putting two observable facts together.
Fact 1: The sun rises and sets every day.
Fact 2: Light travels in a straight line.
With a flat plane, as soon as the sun is above the plane it would be light everywhere at once. However the time that the sun rises and sets varies wildly around the world based on longitude, latitude, and season.
And that brings us to the first reason the flat earth conspiracy will make you look silly.
Lisa and I moved here to Scotland from Colorado. Here the sun rises and sets approximately 7 hours earlier than it does back there because of the difference in longitude. This difference is what time zones are all about.
Time zones only make sense if the earth is spherical. As the earth rotates on its axis, the part facing the sun changes. Time zones allow everyone on the earth to have a more normal daily routine based on daylight hours. This is because they account for the spherical nature of our rotating planet.
With a flat earth, the sun would rise everywhere all at once instead of half the planet being dark at any given time. The fact that I am up and at work hours before the sun even rises and my friends in Colorado get out of bed is evidence the flat earth theory is silly.
That time difference fits perfectly with a spherical planet, but makes little sense if the earth is flat.
Seasonal Shifts In Day Length
Another fact that reveals a spherical earth that you can easily observe right where you live is the seasonal shift in day length. In the summer time there are more hours of daylight than there are in the winter time.
In Scotland this change day length is particularly significant. Our summer days have nearly 18 hours of daylight. But our winter days only have less than 8 hours between sunrise and sunset.
This seasonal difference in time from sunrise to sunset fits perfectly with a spherical earth that has a slight tilt to its rotational axis. But it makes little sense if the earth was flat because the sun would rise and set consistently.
Long summer days and long winter nights is another way the flat earth conspiracy theory makes you look silly.
Latitudinal Shifts in Day Length
The reason why Scotland has such a pronounced difference in the length of daylight hours between summer and winter is because it is located so far north. In fact, there is a significantly greater difference in the difference between our longest day and our shortest day of the year compared to where we used to live in Colorado.
The longest day of the summer in Scotland has 10 hours more daylight than the shortest day of the winter. In Colorado there is only a little more than 5 hours difference between these same two days.
Yet those who live close to the equator have a very different experience. In those locations the difference in day length for those same days is often just a few minutes.
The fact that the duration of sunlight is so different at different latitudes on the same days does not make sense with a flat earth model. Yet this also fits perfectly well with a spherical earth.
Again, this easily observable fact about our planet makes flat earth proponents look silly.
For me, the celestial navigation I did as a merchant mariner is really the definitive proof I need to know that the earth is spherical instead of a flat disk. Proponents of the flat earth conspiracy absolutely cannot refute the reality of celestial navigation.
As an interesting side note, those who advocate the flat earth like to claim that everyone thought the earth was flat until about 500 years or so ago. That is simply not true because the first person to accurately calculate the circumference of the earth was Eratosthenes in 240 BC. That’s significantly earlier than the 1500 AD time frame they often reference.
Yet there is a reason why the flat earth folks will use the 1500’s as the time when the spherical earth model began to gain prominence.
It’s because that is when mariners started figuring out how to make the first reasonably accurate calculations of their positions using celestial navigation. Latitude was much easier to calculate than Longitude because the lines of Latitude run roughly parallel to the rotation axis of the spherical earth. However, it took a few hundred more years before mariners were able to accurately calculate their Longitude.
Turns out they figured out the math involved to calculate Longitude fairly early on. However, they had a problem. Because the lines of Longitude run perpendicular to the spherical earth’s rotation, the Longitude calculation requires a way to keep very accurate time aboard ships. Pendulums don’t swing accurately when they are subject to the motion of the sea. It wasn’t until clock-making technology increased enough in roughly the 1700’s that celestial navigation fully matured.
The British were the first to master shipboard clock technology. It gave them a significant advantage in both war and trade, and therefore contributed to the rapid growth of their empire. I’ve been to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, and have seen some of these early shipboard clocks first hand.
The only way the math required for accurate celestial navigation positions works out the way we calculate it is because the earth is spherical. If the earth was flat like some believe, celestial navigation would instead be based on plane trigonometry instead of spherical trigonometry. And if that were the case, I would be explaining to you that the earth must be flat. But it’s not. It’s a sphere.
Math does not lie.
Therefore, the fact that the spherical trigonometry based math required for celestial navigation produces accurate determinations of one’s position on the earth is definitive proof that the earth is spherical.
Celestial navigation truly makes proponents of the flat earth model look silly.
Anyone who has done a significant amount of practical navigation around the earth can tell you that there are different ways to represent the earth on a piece of paper, i.e. what we call maps. (There’s a difference between maps and nautical charts that ships use at sea. But that’s beyond the scope of this discussion.)
The are many different approaches to challenge representing a spherical object on a flat plane for use in a practical environment, like for shipboard navigation. The technical name for each of these approaches is called a “map projection”.
Because they represent the spherical earth in a flat plane, all map projections contain some kind of distortion.
For example, the most common map projection used was developed in 1569 by a Flemish cartographer named Gerardus Mercator and is called the “mercator projection.” This map projection is widely used in large part because it depicts compass courses as straight lines.
The mercator projection basically “projects” the spherical earth onto a cylinder and then unrolls the cylinder to lay it flat. This causes increasing distortion as one gets closer to the north and south poles along the top and bottom edges of the map when the whole earth is depicted.. With the mercator projection the shapes stay the same, but the area of the shape increases significantly towards the poles. Because of this distortion, land masses like Greenland and Antarctica appear far larger on these maps than they really are.
Even with this distortion, the mercator projection makes for an incredibly useful map.
The “azimuthal equidistant projection” is another map projection with some interesting properties. This map picks a point on the globe and then spreads the earth out from a sphere to a plane around that point creating a circular map. The distortions with this projection get bigger as the distance from the center of the circle increases. The distortions are pretty severe at the outer edges of the map circle when depicting large areas like the entire planet.
One useful property of this map projection is that all straight lines which pass through the center point of the projection are great circle routes. We’ll discuss the importance of those in a moment.
But the main reason I mention this one is because flat earth proponents tend to use one particular azimuthal equidistant projection. They invariably show the earth as a azimuthal equidistant projection centered on the North Pole.
They explain away the massive distortion of how this map depicts Antarctica by claiming everyone who has ever been there and reported back is in on the conspiracy to convince the rest of us that the world isn’t really flat. Regardless, they can’t explain how massively distorted Australia is with their map.
When we understand that all map projections are simply a way to depict a sphere on a flat piece of paper, we realize that their insistance that a particular projection is the only accurate way to map the earth makes proponents of a flat earth look a little silly.
Great Circle Routes
I mentioned great circle routes. It turns out the flat earth model has a further catastrophic disconnect from readily observed reality. Any mariner or jet pilot knows and will tell you that the shortest route between two points on the earth is not a straight line, but rather a curved great circle route. This is because the earth is spherical.
It is top of mind for all jet pilots and licensed deck officers because that shortest route is the one which uses the least amount of time and fuel. Time and fuel are two of the biggest expenses when it comes to operating ships and jets.
The costs involved create a huge incentive for them to travel the shortest route possible between two places because that is the route which burns the least amount of fuel. Fuel costs money. Most ships and aircraft are there to make a profit for their owners. Burning less fuel means more profit.
A vessel on a great circle route will constantly be changing heading instead of holding a steady compass heading for the entire trip.
The flat earth model has huge problems accounting for these great circle routes. For example, the great circle route between Cape Town, South Africa and Sydney, Australia bends south near Antartica. However, on the map that the proponents of the flat earth model use, the shortest route between those two cities should require a flight across half of Africa and all of Asia.
Fly between those two cites and you will fly over water, not land. Here are a couple of maps with the routs plotted to help you see the difference.
Again, the basic economic reality of curved great circle routs is true because the earth is spherical and not a flat plane. These facts make the proponents of the flat earth model look a little silly.
Figurative Scripture Interpretation
Finally, the reason why some Christians have bought into the whole flat earth conspiracy theory so completely is because the way they have chosen to interpret scripture. They take a tiny number of verses and insist that these particular verse must be interpreted literally.
They refuse to consider the possibility that these verses could be interpreted figuratively even though the Bible is full of figurative language throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
Here are just a handful of examples in no particular order.
Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.— Philippians 2:17 (NKJV)
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.— Hebrews 5:12 (NKJV)
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;— 2 Timothy 4:3 (NKJV)
He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind,— Proverbs 11:29 (NKJV)
And the fool will be servant to the wise of heart.
I am the bread of life.— John 6:48 (NKJV)
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”— John 8:12 (NKJV)
Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.— John 10:7 (NKJV)
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.— John 15:1 (NKJV)
Each of theae phrases of scripture I highlighted in bold use figurative language to convey an important truth. And this is just a tiny, tiny sampling of the figurative language used in scripture.
Every scripture Christians share with me to support their belief in the flat earth conspiracy have legitimate figurative interpretations. Interpreting those verses figuratively instead of literally removes any conflict with the spherical earth.
Sometimes I get the sense that flat earth believing Christians fear their entire faith in Christ will fall apart if those verses aren’t literally true the way they currently understand them. It’s like a figurative understanding of those verses somehow invalidates the inerrancy of scripture. Yet they have no problem seeing the figurative use of language elsewhere in scripture.
Unfortunately they seriously erode their own credibility when they deny so many glaringly obvious facts about our world, such those I have explained above, just so they can hold onto their literal interpretation of a handful of verses.
It’s especially silly because they insist their particular verses must be literally understood, while also insisting others must be understood figuratively. For example, one verse flat earth proponents often go to is this one from Isaiah:
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,— Isaiah 40:22 (NKJV)
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
They will say that the “circle of the earth” must refer to a flat plane circle. Their claim it cannot refer to a round sphere, even though the same Hebrew word is used for both. They also refuse to acknowledge that Isaiah could have just used a figure of speech to refer to “the whole earth”. Yet the very same Biblical author Isaiah also wrote this verse:
He will set up a banner for the nations,— Isaiah 11:12 (NKJV)
And will assemble the outcasts of Israel,
And gather together the dispersed of Judah
From the four corners of the earth.
By their literal logic, this verse must be referring to a square. Yet it is not possible to interpret both of these verses literally because a circle does not have four corners.
However, if we interpret both verses figuratively, there is no conflict at all. When understood figuratively, both verses refer to the entire earth without describing the specific shape of the planet.
Insisting their interpretation of a handful of scripture verses is the only possible way they can be understood makes proponents of flat earth look a little silly.
Please know that I genuinely love everyone as best as I am able. So please hear my heart, that I say this in the kindest possible way I know. If you believe the earth is flat instead of a sphere, you are deceived.
Again I state the obvious. Math does not lie. Nor does it have an agenda.
If the math behind celestial navigation revealed the earth was flat, I would have written an article explaining why it must be so. But the truth is that the earth is spherical.
I do agree that flat earth is a conspiracy. Unfortunately the conspiracy is exactly backwards from what the proponents of the flat earth conspiracy theory claim.
Instead of it being a conspiracy to discredit scripture, it’s actually a conspiracy to discredit those who buy into it. Seeing believers sucked in by this lie saddens me. It greatly diminishes their credibility across the board and makes them far less effective for the Kingdom of God.
This flat earth conspiracy is a credibility killer for those who choose to perpetuate it. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by furthering this lie.