I am cursed, it seems. This morning in my bath, rather than enjoying pleasant morning thoughts like most people, I lay contemplating the strange logic of Biblical literalists. It occurred to me that flat earthers are mostly Biblical literalists, just like Young Earth Creationists, and left me wondering about two things:
- Do Young Earth Creationists also believe the Earth is flat?
- How similar is the logic of the two groups?
It didn’t take two seconds to answer the first question. A quick Google of “answers in genesis is the earth flat” led me here, where they explain that the planet is spherical. I love how they manage to convey a veneer of rationalism. It makes everything on that site hilarious. (Update… That article is well written, up to a point. It diverges from reality when it comes to the section explaining how Christianity does not teach the Earth is flat and that this idea is a myth, and then presents some solid arguments for a spherical Earth after that. I suppose they do some “good” apologetics. One must mix real science and facts with the Christian dogma in order to appear rational. However, reading their Bible literally for some things but not others, such as the age of the planet, seems more than a little disingenuous. I find it disturbing that the writer understands science and clearly studied astronomy in some form, but also ignores other science. His writing will surely fool many readers who cannot see the blurred line where facts end and dogma begin.)
Of course, they don’t believe in evolution. They don’t believe in gradual changes over millions of years, but do believe in a god that poofed us into existence as we are now, and do not realize that we are obviously still evolving. They do believe a man could survive for two days in the belly of a giant fish, a worldwide flood, dinosaurs were on the planet at the same time as humans, and all kinds of other crazy things that never happened. But they don’t believe in a flat earth. So even those nutjobs cherry pick what to believe and what not to believe. It honestly baffles me.
But their beliefs that conflict with reality have to be explained. To make sense of them, they must use motivated reasoning, mostly ad hoc reasoning, to explain how it can make sense. In fact, their beliefs create huge problems for their worldview, so this kind of reasoning is required for anyone who holds views that clearly contradict reality. A 6000 year old Earth must mean that dinosaurs were not here 66 million years ago, but shared the planet with us. That means that the fossil record needs to be denied, because it can’t be true to someone who accepts (that part of) their Bible as literal truth. To do that, they invent their own “science” which is all about denying real science and providing ad hoc explanations to explain why reality does not conform to the Biblical mythology they hold as fact.
Similarly, flat earth views lead to a worlview that conflicts with reality. They must invent explanations for why nobody has photographed the edge of the world, and they don’t even believe in satellites. Yet they use technology like GPS (Global positioning system), and cellphones. They must explain how those things work without satellites. Besides the convoluted explanations (Cellphone towers must use some kind of magic?), this of course requires a massive worldwide conspiracy.
So that answers the second question… They do, of course, use similar logic to hang on to their worldviews.
The late, great, Carl Sagan explained how this kind of logic works. Since I don’t have his book, I’m copying this from RationalWiki here.
“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage”
Suppose (I’m following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!
“Show me,” you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle–but no dragon.
“Where’s the dragon?” you ask.
“Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely. “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”
You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.
“Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floats in the air.”
Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.
“Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”
You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.
“Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.”
And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.
He could have gone on, of course. He could have explained that to know the dragon was there, one must have faith. Of course, the obvious question to that kind of claim, at least from me, is this: If there is no way to detect the dragon (or the god), how do you know it’s there? To which he would probably respond that it revealed itself to him. Sound familiar? You can’t ever win in an argument with this kind of logic that makes the claim unfalsifiable, but you can see through it and know that it is not valid.
Edit: Any relation between this post and the comment on my recent post about mind control is no coincidence. When I mocked the idea of mind control, the commenter who believes in conspiracies involving it was quick to move the goalposts, using motivated reasoning to redefine what mind control is such that it includes the effects of advertising and propaganda, and then went on non sequitur style to assert that chemtrails are real. Similarly to today’s topic, there is no way of reasoning with conspiracy theorists, because they use similar crazy “logic” to hold on to beliefs that contradict reality.