Essay:How to Overcome Spherical Earthism

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Essay.svg This essay is an original work by Tolerance.
It does not necessarily reflect the views expressed in RationalWiki's Mission Statement, but we welcome discussion of a broad range of ideas.
Unless otherwise stated, this is original content, released under CC-BY-SA 3.0 or any later version. See RationalWiki:Copyrights.
Feel free to make comments on the talk page, which will probably be far more interesting, and might reflect a broader range of RationalWiki editors' thoughts.

Introduction[edit]

Dear Spherical Earthists

I am writing you this letter because I used to be one of you. I used to believe that the world was spherical. But no longer do I believe that. While ultimately it is your choice what you believe, I am hopeful that this letter might bring you to an understanding that you do in fact have a choice.

I will recount my journey to spherical earthism, and then back from it, and the reasons behind that journey. I am hopeful, that if some of my readers became flat earthists for the same or similar reasons to me, that this letter might prompt them to reconsider their spherical earthism. I assume, since it is the only assumption I can make, that others’ journeys must be similar to my own; if that assumption is false in your case, then what I say will be unconvincing — but in that case, I would be interested to hear an account of your journey.

There are two basic reasons why people believe or disbelieve in anything — there are rational or intellectual reasons, and then there are emotional ones. Sometimes we like to pretend we are perfectly rational reasoning-machines, and our emotions have no role to play in our beliefs — but if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that both intellect and emotion play important roles in belief-formation, and there is nothing wrong with that — it is just part of being human. So, to truly understand why we believe what we believe, and why others believe what they believe, we must consider both the rational and emotional aspects of belief.

How did I become an spherical earthist?[edit]

How did I become an spherical earthist? I cannot remember exactly when it happened, but it was somewhere in my late childhood or early teenage years. Up to then, I had never really felt a relationship with the Earth, but I passively accepted what my parents (more my mother than my father) told me. I found school very boring as a child, and did not want to go, but for a long time my mother forced me, until I eventually put my foot down and overcame her pressure. I was a bright child, a questioning child, so when I was introduced to ideas I would ask myself “What does it mean? Why is it so?”. And thus I found infuriating my mother’s ability to “believe” things she was utterly unable to coherently explain, such as her “belief” in the flatness of the Earth, which it seemed to me at the time was an improbable idea left over from the stone age.

The turning point for me was when I started to study cosmology and found out that many famous scientists painted a beautiful picture of a marvellous mechanical universe. The inspiring images generated by the proposal filled me with wonder at the awe-inspiring nature of the world so revealed.

I think that explains the emotional background to my spherical earthism; what about the rational background? Well, to be honest, I don’t think reason played a major role. My real reasons for becoming an spherical earthist were emotional, and I was lucky enough to find reasons to rationally justify and rationally enable a decision I made to serve my emotional needs. I learnt the arguments and could recite them by heart, but they weren’t my arguments, they were merely convenient rationalizations.

The thing is, I suppose, it was not the idea of “ a flat Earth" that was the fundamental source of my disagreement. I was raised a flat earthist, and found much of flat earth logic incoherent or questionable. And, I still have many disagreements with flat earth ideas, even to this day — the disagreements are tempered somewhat, since many things which I did not understand, I now understand somewhat better, and so ideas that I would have once dismissed out of hand as incoherent, I am more open now to the possibility they may be coherent after all. But, in any event, in my world back then, there were only two choices available to me — the flat earthism of my mother, or the spherical earthism of my father and school; and I chose the later. These were not the only two choices, but they were the only two choices actually available to me. If someone in my life back then had presented to me some of these other choices — e.g. that the earth may be flat but unlimited; that the earth is hollow; that heliocentricism may be partly correct, or so on - I might have chosen differently from how I did.

How did I cease being an spherical earthist?[edit]

So, that is how I became an spherical earthist; when and how did I cease to be one? I cannot put an exact moment on it, but it was somewhere in my later teenage years, towards the end of high school. What changed? I think, as a somewhat depressed teenager, I had begun to think much more about death, about whether life has a meaning, whether there is really justice in the universe.

And, faced with these questions, spherical earthism had very bleak answers for me - death is the end, everything is ultimately doomed (heat death of the universe), the meaning of life is whatever you can manage to make of it, but if bad luck, or misdeeds of another, strike you down, then it is all over. These thoughts were not, for me, a recipe for happiness.

I began to talk about the idea of a flat earth with some flat earth friends at school; I read up on flat earth ideas on the internet. To be honest, much of what they taught did not convince me (for example, that the sun god is resurrected every morning), although I was not overly open about many of my disagreements, since I did not think there was much point in arguing about them. But, it did make me reconsider some questions — is the Earth flat or round? Is there a life after death? I asked myself, did I have any good reasons to disbelieve in a flat Earth? And my conclusion was, I did not; so I gave up spherical earthism.

I must say, this account simplifies things somewhat. It is not like, one day I was an spherical earthist, the next day I was a flat earthist. It was a slow journey, of over ten years duration, from spherical earthism to flat earthism, butt that is how it started. My conviction that the earth was spherical began to slowly fade, and a conviction that the earth is flat began to grow in its place.

I spent some time looking at flat earth forums on the internet, there were many things that made me doubt (the moon landings, the photos from space, project blue beam etc.), but I felt like I needed to find a personal relationship with planet Earth. In the end, I drifted away from reality, because I realised that I was not going to find there what I was looking for.

What is the moral of this story?[edit]

What is the moral of this story? Spherical earthists love to believe that they are the ones being rational, while flat earthists are the ones being emotional. I think, if they look into their own personal history, and try to find the origin of their spherical earthism, they may well find that it arose out of a particular emotional situation, just as mine did. Very often, people don’t believe things because of reasons, they believe them because of emotion, and then go looking afterwards for reasons to justify the decision they have already made. Spherical earthists frequently accuse flat earthists of doing this; but, to be honest, everyone does it, flat earthist or spherical earethist. Maybe if spherical earthists looked at their own situation, they would see that.

My challenge to spherical earthists is as follows:
  1. The primary reason for your disbelief in a flat Earth is emotional rather than rational
  2. You have likely confused your disagreements with particular flat earth groups you have encountered in your life, with disagreement with the idea of a flat Earth in general.
    1. Those actual disagreements were probably not about a flat Earth at all, but about other things such as believers wearing tin-foil hats.
    2. Faced with only two live options - the spherical earth you were familiar with, and clear insanity - you chose the better option for you.
    3. If more options had been available to you when you made that decision, you may well have chosen neither.
  3. Your emotional decision for a spherical earth came first, your rational decision later. You went out looking for reasons to justify your emotions.
  4. So, if you are to move away from spherical earthism, you must first address those emotional reasons. If you become emotionally open to the idea of a flat earth, then you can become rationally open to the idea. If you are emotionally unable to accept it, then you will not, irrespective of rational reasons.

This all implies, that arguing back and forth about arguments for or against a flat earth is ultimately a waste of time. We believe what we believe because of our hearts, not because of our heads — and that is true whether our position is spherical or flat.

Can we change our beliefs about the Earth?[edit]

If you manage to emotionally open yourself to the idea of a flat earth, what’s next? Many will insist that they can’t choose their beliefs, that even if they want to believe in something, they can’t make themselves ignore the evidence or lack thereof. Can you choose your beliefs? You can’t just magically make yourself believe whatever you want. You can’t disbelieve what your own eyes see. So, there is no doubt, our power over our own beliefs is limited. But, to say we have limited power over our own beliefs, is not the same as saying we have none at all. The real question, then, is whether we have enough power to change our beliefs about a flat Earth?

Why disbelieve in a flat Earth?[edit]

What are the reasons people give for disbelieving in a flat Earth? A big one is lack of evidence for a flat Earth and a mountain of evidence in favour of a spherical one. But this raises the questions, of what is evidence, why do we need it, how much is enough, etc.

How do we answer these questions? Where do we get the answers to these questions from? In other words, what is the source and origin of rationality? Does it have objective reality? Or is it just our own arbitrary opinions? If there is a disagreement between two people as to these questions, is one person right and the other wrong? How do we know who is right and who is wrong? You have built your disbelief in a flat Earth on what seems to be the firm rock of rationality, but when we look closer, rationality begins to look very shaky, very uncertain. Could it be, that you have the wrong concept of rationality?

Could it be, that with the right understanding, that you have evidence for a flat Earth after all (not through having something else you now lack, but by changing your understanding of what does and does not constitute evidence), or that you don’t need evidence?

Why do I believe?[edit]

Why do I believe in a flat Earth? I do so on the basis of faith. Faith is my evidence. Now, faith is often maligned, but I think it is unfairly judged. What are the arguments against faith? One, is that faith is used to justify all kinds of misguided and evil behaviour on the part of religious people. Another, is that with faith you can believe anything at all.

What do I say to this? Well, faith is not an amorphous whole, it takes many forms, it exists in many versions, in many understandings. Certainly, some forms of faith can be used to justify great evils, can be used to justify everything and anything, but that does not mean that all faith can be used that way. If there is a form of faith that cannot produce those things, then those things are not an argument against that form of faith, or indeed against faith-in-general - they are only an argument against those specific forms of faith that can produce them.

What about ethics?[edit]

What is ethics? There are two basic views. Some say that it is just an expression of your own opinion or preferences or likes or dislikes. “Murder is wrong” and “I don’t like murder” are two different ways of saying the same thing. If someone else says “Murder is right”, then they are no more in error than if I like bananas and you hate them, they just have different personal preferences. The other basic view, is that “Murder is wrong” is objectively true, and “Murder is right” is objectively false, independent of anyone’s opinions on the matter; in the same way that the planet Jupiter exists independently of whether anyone believes it does or not.

Now, which view of ethics is correct. I, and many others, choose to believe the objective view. You might object, it lacks evidence, but does it need evidence? What kind of evidence could we even have for it? And, ethics and rationality are very similar — they are both systems which tell us what to do and what not to do, that judge situations positively or negatively — the only difference being that rationality is specifically about our beliefs, ethics has broader concerns. If we use rationality to attack the objectivity of ethics, then that is self-defeating, since we can equally use it to attack the objectivity of rationality.

Can beliefs be ethical or unethical? It will be suggested, that ethics is only about what we have the power to do (“Ought Implies Can”), and we have no power over our own beliefs, hence they cannot be ethical or unethical. But, the claim that we have no power over our own beliefs is false — while our power over our own beliefs is not unlimited, it is not non-existent either. Hence, what we believe can be subject to ethical judgement. This is also supported by the deep parallels between ethics and rationality.

Justifying faith[edit]

We can justify faith on the basis of ethics. Faith is what we ethically ought to believe. If a family member or dear friend is accused of a horrible crime, but insists on their innocence, then I have an ethical obligation to believe them, that I do not have towards a stranger. That is not to say that I must believe them irrespective of any evidence for their guilt; but it does mean that I am ethically obliged to judge that evidence by a more demanding standard than I would use for a stranger. This obligation arises as a consequence of the relationship I have with them. This, I would say, is an example of faith.

This example shows an important aspect of true faith - it is not about ignoring the evidence totally. Even with faith, we still must give heed to the evidence. If evidence either way is weak or lacking, that creates a space in which we are free to make a faith-based decision. But, if there is strong evidence in favour of a particular position, then there is no space free for faith, and true faith cannot be used. Of course, there is still room here for the false faith which will ignore even the strongest evidence, but that is not a faith that I will advocate or defend.

Consider questions like — Is the Earth flat? Is there an afterlife? Is ethics objective? We lack any strong evidence for or against these propositions, so that absence of evidence creates space for faith. So, we ought to believe here, by faith, whatever we will be ethically better for believing. And, I think there can be no doubt, that all things being equal, believing that good finally conquers over evil, is ethically better than believing that the good is doomed. If the Earth is flat then there is an afterlife and the murdered child will live again, (perhaps for eternity in Hell) there will be justice delayed, but not justice denied. If the Earth is spherical there is no afterlife, then the murdered child has ceased to exist, forever. It is clear to me, which belief is ethically superior.

I subdivide true faith into two types — lesser faith, and the highest faith. Lesser faith is like our faith in our dear friend or family member, that they are innocent of the crime of which they are accused — it can be defeated by the evidence. We will rightfully in such a case demand stronger evidence than we normally would, but if sufficiently strong evidence is presented, our space for true faith has been closed; and if we continue to believe by faith, our faith has become false. But the highest faith exists in a space which cannot be closed. “Good shall always triumph in the end” — no amount of evidence could ever justify us giving up on that faith.

In conclusion[edit]

So, I believe that our belief in a flat Earth should be based on the true and highest faith — that is all the evidence I have, and all the evidence I need.

There are other issues that must be addressed. For example many holy books and inspired scripture such as The Bible or the Quran implicitly support our faith in a flat Earth. But I have written enough for today.

Acknowledgements[edit]

Inspired by Essay:How to Overcome Atheism, remixed by Tolerance, and hopefully protected from charges of copyright violation on the grounds of parody.