Gosh darn it, a celebrity has gone and done it again. Kyrie Irving, of the Cleveland Cavaliers, has declared himself a “Flat-Earther” and here I am fruitlessly searching for my pitchfork under the shelf where i keep my Judaica. At what point did the roundness of the little ball of dirt we call home become so plainly clear that any other opinion on the matter became too taboo to hold?
Here is the part where I list a bunch of smart ancient Greek dudes who, by the end of the fifth century BCE, saw no alternative theory that held any water besides our planet being spherical. The support of this theory continued to wax and wane like the phases of our similarly spherical Moon, from then until today; an age in which very few public figures dare to contradict the status quo.
See I can’t really answer my own poorly phrased and pseudo-rhetorical question. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact period, like the Enlightenment or the Industrial Revolution, during which this belief gained its intellectual tenure.
But that isn’t because I’m lazy (though I am), nor is it because I’m dumb (no comment).
Honestly I find it difficult to nail down the solidification of a fact, because over the course of history our definition and acceptance of beliefs has been objectively subjective and without a logical pattern.
The only recurring motif in the process has been our shockingly consistent ability to ignore information when it doesn’t suit us. But that is a point which will lead us into an entirely different rant.
It seems that every week there is a new study showing that coffee is good for us, then coffee is bad for us the following week. Marijuana appears to flipflop back and forth between being a medical Godsend and the Devil’s tobacco on nearly a daily basis. This doesn’t appear to be upsetting anyone – except a couple of fanatical Rastafarians – as the overwhelming trend seems to be simply an attitude of ignorance towards the inconvenient truth.
To my scientific peers, don’t kick me out of the faculty Facebook group just yet. My intention is not to argue with the plain and obvious fact that Earth is an ellipsoid. Nor is it to belittle the constant uphill battle that it has been and continues to be to conduct theoretical and empirical research in the war for truth and knowledge.
All I’m trying to say is that the average person who you’ll meet on the street will hold whichever belief better suits their weltanschauung. More specifically, regardless of the evidence for or against a specific truth-claim, people will overwhelmingly go with the narrative that makes sense to them.
If I had the time or energy, I would very much like to conduct a survey of a few thousand random people from a variety of different backgrounds. I would ask them all the simple question of whether or not the Earth is round. Now the numbers may vary on how many would answer in the negative or the affirmative, but that is irrelevant. What is relevant is that I could practically guarantee that only a tiny fraction of those surveyed would be able to justify their belief based on reason and evidence.
The showdown of Mr Average Joe versus Mr Kyrie Irving on the topic of our planet’s flatness (or lack thereof) would likely not be an intellectual or scientifically grounded debate. It would be somewhat of an emotion-filled argument where Irving would argue conspiracy and Joe would argue power in numbers.
Neither man “knows” in the empirical sense whether or not his view is actually fact. Neither man has been to space nor seen the Earth from above with his own eyes. Neither man has conducted scientific research.
But both men would likely be willing to fight to the death to defend his belief… a belief that makes them both feel correct and comfortable in their worldviews.
Moral of the story?
1) Irrespective of good intentions, the views of a celebrity or athlete on a topic outside of their profession are best taken with a grain of salt.
2) Unless you know the facts behind a fact, attempting to defend it could potentially prove you ignorant, stupid, or simply a bandwagon supporter.