This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
Here are a few indisputable facts: The Earth is round. It revolves around the sun. Gravity holds the Earth and all the other planets in orbit, and it holds us here on Earth. It's why things fall to the ground.
But in 2017, nothing is indisputable anymore. The Flat Earthers want to revert to a pre-Copernicus understanding of Earth. You know those old illustrations where it looks like the entire Earth was a flat plate sitting in a snow globe? Yeah, that's sort of what these people all believe.
This conspiracy theory alleges that the Earth is actually a flat disk surrounded by an impenetrable ring of ice that we call Antarctica. In their view, no one has ever traversed the entire width of the continent in a straight line, so therefore, there is no proof that it's even a continent at all. Who is to say that Antarctica is not a wall of ice arranged in a ring around outside the entire edge of the flat disk? Although, I have to say that this map of Shackleton's Antarctic explorations looks straight enough.
Now, this idea has been universally mocked. The president of the Flat Earth Society has been called the world's "most irrational person." Former US president Barack Obama referred to climate change deniers as the Flat Earth Society. Worldwide, the entire notion smacks of a willful ignorance and a heard-headed refusal to accept a mountain of scientific evidence.
So who the hell actually believes this stuff? A lot of people in Indonesia, it seems. The whole conspiracy theory, a mess of pseudoscience, claims that shadowy global cabals are tricking us with Photoshop and "fake science," and lots and lots of (misused and misunderstood) science jargon, ticks off so many boxes on the Indonesian conspiracy theory fringe's list of loves, that it almost seems tailor-made for this country.
But Indonesian Flat Earthers aren't the same as their foreign brethren. Flat Earth Indonesia dismisses the Flat Earth Society as a bunch of nut cases too obsessed with old NASA conspiracy theories. The Indonesian Flat Earthers are obsessed with using science to prove their point. A typical conversation with one of these guys usually involves mentions of Aristotle, Copernicus, and Galileo Galilei before moving on to quantum theory and Newtonian gravity.
It makes it really hard to talk to them. But for you all, I tried. I reached out to Yudi, an IT professional from Jakarta who runs the Flat Earth Indonesia Facebook page, to see if he could convince me that Earth is flat.
VICE: OK, so you say Earth is a flat disk surrounded by ice, and that all of that ice is Antarctica, right? So then how could so many explorers cross the continent in the past?
Yudi: There's no such thing as the edge of the Earth. There is only an ice border surrounding the circle—it's what we call Antarctica. Why are we so sure that Antarctica isn't a continent? Because, so far, there's no human expedition route that splits Antarctica in two, from one edge to the other, in only one straight line. The line is always bent or curved.
So if Earth is flat, what is holding it up? We can only find out by going through Antarctica by any means necessary. Or maybe if we drill all the way down to all the layers of the Earth, which so far only goes as deep as seven miles.
Related Video: Ten Questions You've Always Wanted to Ask a Flat Earther
So you don't believe that Earth is round. What about gravity?
Gravity is a hoax. There is a difference in mass between one substance and another. This interaction is what makes certain substances get "pulled down" to the ground, to Earth. But at the same time, there are substances that get "pulled up." People ask me, "Isn't Earth floating in space?" Who knows. We don't have a photo of the Earth from far away in space. [Editor's note: aside from this one.] The best we have is one from the International Space Station (ISS), and that doesn't even show Earth as a whole, much less show an Earth that is floating in space.
Wait, you don't believe in gravity? What about the tides? The interaction between Earth and the moon sort of proves that gravity exists.
The tides are caused by the activity of the Earth magnet that is at the bottom of the sea. It causes the change of sea levels. So what about this "theory" that the tides are caused by the moon and the sun? By gravity? It's easily countered by the tidal map. Look at it. If the general theory is correct, and Earth is indeed round, then the tidal map would be divided into four areas and in different colors, with two areas in full red-yellow [high tide] and the other two areas in full blue [low tide].
OK, so what about lunar eclipses? There will be a partial lunar eclipse visible in Asia next month. How can a lunar eclipse happen if the Earth is flat?
The lunar eclipse happened because of the x-Moon. Chances are the x-Moon is round, transparent, or blue. It's a sky object blocking the sun. This also refers to the effects of Rayleigh scattering [_Editor: It's what makes the sky look orange at sunset or something like that_].
But all the other planets in the solar system are round. Why are so you convinced that Earth is flat?
Other planets in the solar system? I don't buy it. All of them are stars with strong radiance that are being observed from Earth. The results of firsthand observation will always show a bright, blurry object. The rest is just software. Just look up "astēr planētēs." [_Editor: He means that the word "planet" comes from the Greek words "astēr planētēs" or "wandering stars."_]
Ferdinand Magellan once traveled around the world in a boat. He started at one point and returned to the same exact point. The US Air Force has done the same thing but with an aircraft. Isn't this proof that Earth isn't flat?
What sort of navigation tools did they use? Was it a ball-shaped compass? Try to gather information whether the compass in southern Australia will be slightly slanted as it points north. If you're going around Earth using a compass that points north, and you are going straight east to west, then, logically speaking, the route is circular. This is something a lot of people fail to understand.
A lot of countries have sent out satellites that orbit the Earth. Russia and the US have the ISS, and from all of these photos, we can see a round Earth. Why do you still insist that it's flat?
Satellites and the ISS do exist. It's just that the distance between them and Earth's surface is questionable. Do satellites really orbit Earth? What about the maximum distance when the rockets launch the satellites? Now, more than ever, I believe the claims that the height of the ISS and satellites are highly inaccurate.
What about all the small, simple evidence that's out there. Like how a ship slowly appearing over the horizon looks small.
This is caused by several factors, some of which are basically a mirage. It's a reflection of light caused by the atmosphere at sea level, where it looks like it's "slowly appearing" but also "floating" or even a "reverse mirror" effect. There's also the vanishing point. When we look from far away there is nothing, then when you look through a camera zoom it's different. I recommend using a Nikon Coolpix P900. Why? Because of the difference in the vanishing point.
You also think that the sun is only several hundred miles from Earth. Wouldn't that make the sun very, very small?
Let me put it this way, if the sun is able to make Saturn visible from Earth, shouldn't we all be burned right now? Logically speaking, Saturn is a star of its own. It's unique.
OK then. Just one last thing. What will happen if we go to the tip of Earth?
You mean the edges of Earth? So far nobody can break through its "gates," which are the ice walls of Antarctica. From the colonizers, we learned that the farther we go, the more extreme the weather gets.