I Joined the Flat Earth Society Philippines, and This is What Happened
When I joined the Flat Earth Society Philippines last year, my first impression was that it was an online page with more members than it should have, but what I saw surprised me.
When I was in college, I was one of those people fooled into thinking we never landed on the moon (I was highly impressionable; I watched a conspiracy documentary about it on Discovery Channel). I was discussing the conspiracy theory with my seatmate when another classmate, the patron saint of moon landing believers, decided to butt in.
“Pare, we landed on the moon,” he proclaimed. “Astronauts installed mirrors on its surface to reflect laser beams back to earth.”
“That’s a hoax,” I dismissed. “Humans would never survive the radiation belt surrounding the atmosphere.”
Our argument became quite heated and we began to raise our voices, then both of us snapped.
“Read up, you moron!” both of us yelled, and we ended up whacking each other in the face with our Science textbooks.
This happened while the whole class was praying the Angelus. We were in the front row and our classmates watched us, mouths agape while in mid-prayer. Ironically, our strict Science professor, Ms. Garcia, was in front the whole time trying hard to suppress her laughter because of our stupid spectacle.
It was at that moment when I vowed to respect other people’s views no matter what they are. And then I encountered modern flat earth believers.
Why I Joined Flat Earth Society Philippines
Our face version of whack-a-mole happened in 2006. Twelve years later, I found myself at odds with the resurgence of the flat earth theory. I was astonished when I discovered that there is such a thing as the Flat Earth Society Philippines. I remember blurting out a couple of expletives when I realized it wasn’t a joke or satire.
“If we can tolerate different religions, why can’t we tolerate flat earthers?” asked a friend. Mind you, he’s not a flat earther—he just likes to play the devil’s advocate and argue for things he does not really believe in.
“Flat earth is not a religion!” I said.
“Yes, but it’s a different set of beliefs. Aren’t we advocating for tolerance of different beliefs?” he replied.
“Yes, we are, but it is an established fact that the earth is not flat,” I said. “You cannot believe that 1+1 = 3 when we know it is 2!”
“That’s the point. A belief is something you think is true, regardless of evidence or facts that oppose or support it,” he replied, his bored face challenging mine.
I googled “belief.” I was annoyed to find out that his definition was right. Urgh. He had probably planned this debate to lure into a trap. I looked up and saw that he was grinning. He was enjoying this.
Eventually, my annoyance dissipated, but my curiosity didn’t. I knew that believing in something that seems preposterous does not make a person crazy or stupid. After all, it wasn’t long ago when I had whacked a person’s face with a Science textbook because I thought I was intelligent and he was stupid. Well, okay, I am rationalizing my past issue with the moon landing, but you get my point.
I looked up “flat earth society Philippines” and several groups appeared on my screen. I just looked for the one with the largest number of members, and clicked “join.”
An 1893 model of the flat earth
How Flat Earth Society Philippines Welcomed Me
Apparently, clicking the “join” button on their web page does not automatically make you a member of the group. You have to pass a certain screening process by answering a series of questions such as why you want to join the group and what you want to learn from the group.
“I want to learn more about flat earth society,” I typed.
It took several days before my application was approved. Once I got in, the page moderator posted a welcome note indicating my name and profile on Facebook. Members started offering words of support and encouragement.
“Another globehead converted! <3 ”
To be honest, it was uncomfortable being welcomed like that. I felt like a newcomer to a support group part-timing as a religious group. I didn’t know the appropriate response.
Profiling the Flat Earth Believers
The very first thing I did when I got on board was to check the society’s list of members and their profiles.
Some of the most active ones are foreigners. When I checked their profiles, I saw their timelines were filled with bible quotes and plant-based alternative medicine.
I was surprised to see personal and online acquaintances among them, one of whom is a respected and talented academician from a distinguished university, another is an American Fulbright scholar who is an author of an international bestseller.
Their presence in the group calmed me down. “This is not a very crazy thing to do, after all,” I thought. “I’m just as sane as these two geniuses!”
When I continued profiling the members, I realized the three of us weren’t the only “smart” people in the group. I was happy to see that some of its members are engineers and scientists. There was one guy who works as a geodetic engineer, and another guy works as an ocean navigator. These are actual people whose lives are about measuring the shape of the earth.
“If this geodetic engineer thinks the earth is flat, then perhaps there is some credence to flat earthism,” I thought. He turned out to be the founder of the group.
So I did some research on my own, which I do not advise, quite frankly, because I am easily impressed with flat earth explanations involving complicated math problems that I don’t really understand.
Main Arguments of Flat Earthers
Based on the conversations and posts I’ve seen of members of Flat Earth Society Philippines, I was able to classify their arguments into two groups: religious arguments and scientific arguments.
For this particular flat earth group, the bible is central. There were more Old Testament passages posted on the web page than scientific data. I wasn’t prepared for that. One of their core beliefs based on the bible is that humans are at the pinnacle of God’s creation. Building on that tenet, flat earth theorists argue that humans deserve the place at the center of the universe because we are the most important beings ever created.
Do you see where this is going?
“Just because all other planets and celestial bodies are spherical does not make Earth spherical,” said one of the members of the group. “That’s a false analogy. The Earth is special.”
I also learned about the Firmament. Apparently, this is also mentioned in the bible in Genesis. It is a solid, impregnable dome that covers the flat earth along with its entire atmosphere. According to the flat earthers that I encountered, everything we see in the sky—the sun, the moon, the stars, and planets—are encased in the Firmament.
An ancient Hebrew depiction of the universe and the firmament dome
This means that the sun and the moon are smaller than they are portrayed by established scientific institutions. “They are small orbs of light circling above the earth opposite each other,” said one believer. “We never really landed on the moon. That’s impossible.”
His statement brought back fond memories of my face getting whacked with a Science textbook.
It’s easy to doubt the foundations of modern science when you cannot explain some basic concepts in Physics.
One of the prominent arguments that flat earth society uses is the helicopter argument. They argue that if the earth is rotating at a speed of 460 meters per second, then helicopters would just need to hover to get to their destination. Flat earth believers posit that since the earth is flat and does not rotate, this does not happen. (Here is an explanation on why helicopters don’t move when they hover above earth.)
Another popular scientific argument among members of Flat Earth Society Philippines is the Bedford Level Experiment. It was a series of experiments done in the 1800s supposedly disproving the earth’s curvature. It has been replicated by flat earth theorists many times using more modern equipment.
Members of the flat earth society argue that if the earth had a curvature, you wouldn’t be able to see a 5-foot tall person 25 miles away. Using laser, they conduct this over the ocean to avoid non-level ground.
Flat Earth Society Philippines in a Nutshell
Never judge a book by its cover. When I discovered that members of the Flat Earth Society Philippines also did civic works such as feeding programs and medical missions, I was humbled.
I joined the flat earth society thinking that most of its members are cuckoo. When I left (I was kicked out for asking too many science questions!), I realized that although some of its most active members are a bit eccentric and unusual, most of its members are just regular people.
I do not believe that the earth is flat, and I believe we landed on the moon, but I will now respect a person if he or she believes otherwise. After all, many versions of the flat earth theory have some very strong linkages to faith, and I respect that. I also realize that tolerance and openness to conversations is a good way of avoiding getting whacked in the face with a Science textbook.