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Sabine Hossenfelder: Flat Earthers are wrong but not stupid

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The thing to keep in mind, perhaps, is that most people who are convinced that the Earth is a sphere don’t actually know why, for sure.

Some flat earthers find the idea is appealing for religious reasons, others are of the crowd who think NASA is evil, space a fake, and the moon landing didn’t happen. But mostly it’s because they think they are merely being rational skeptics. They have not themselves been able to prove the earth is round, so they believe they are only reasonable when they request evidence. CNN for example reports from a flat earth conference: “Like most of the speakers at the event CNN spoke to, he was convinced after he decided he couldn’t prove the Earth’s roundness.”

Sabine Hossenfelder, “Flat Earth “Science”: Wrong, but not Stupid” at Back(Re)Action

I want to leave aside here that, of course, you cannot strictly speaking prove any empirical fact; you can only prove mathematical identities, so more precisely we should speak of seeking evidence that disfavors the hypothesis that the earth is flat. Of which there is plenty, starting with the historical evidence about how stellar constellations shift if you travel, how the length of shadows changes, to Newton’s 1/R2 force law that is the law for a sphere, not a disk, not to mention Einstein and gravitational redshift and the perihelion precession of mercury, and so on, and so forth.

The problem that flat earthers have is that they cannot do most of these observations themselves. So if you buy the idea that it’s only your personally collected evidence that you should accept, then it seems you cannot refute the idea that the earth is round, and so flat earthers philosophy forbids them to accept scientific fact.

Sabine Hossenfelder, “Flat Earth “Science”: Wrong, but not Stupid” at Back(Re)Action

Let’s keep this info handy if we encounter assertive flat-Earthers. Hossenfelder adds,

It is not possible for each and every one of us to redo all experiments in the history of science. It therefore becomes increasingly important that scientists provide evidence for how science works, so that people who cannot follow the research itself can instead rely on evidence that the system produces correct and useful descriptions of nature.

Sabine Hossenfelder, “Flat Earth “Science”: Wrong, but not Stupid” at Back(Re)Action

Well, she does a pretty good job herself.

5 Replies to “Sabine Hossenfelder: Flat Earthers are wrong but not stupid

  1. 1
    Querius says:

    What’s ironic is that Dr. Hossenfelder is on the “flat earth” side of the arguments over quantum mechanics and cosmology. She complains that there is currently too much theory and speculation (based on mathematics) and not enough experimental data. Her 2018 book, Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, is an excellent read for those interested in the subject!


  2. 2
    polistra says:

    At a time when all of Science is actively participating in a holocaust, perhaps there are more important lies and false assumptions to worry about.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    As to this comment from Hossenfelder,,,

    Some flat earthers find the idea is appealing for religious reasons,,,,

    Although she did not expand on that particular comment, that short statement from her reveals that she has bought into the myth that ‘religion’, i.e. Christianity, once taught that the earth was flat.

    But, as historian Tim O’Neill, who happens to be an atheist himself, explains in his series ‘The Great Myths’, “But those of us who actually care to check facts,,, know that this (the belief that medieval Christians believed the earth was flat), is all complete crap.”

    THE GREAT MYTHS 1: THE MEDIEVAL FLAT EARTH – June 1, 2016 – Tim O’Neill
    Excerpt: But those of us who actually care to check facts – something the New Atheists preach about but, strangely, rarely do on matters historical – know that this is all complete crap. Anyone who can bother to read Jeffrey Burton Russell’s Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians (1991), Google a Wikipedia article or even read can get a solid understanding of how the idea that the Medieval Church suppressed the concept of a spherical earth and taught that the earth was flat is a wholesale fiction that arose in the nineteenth century. They can read up on how, in 1828, the American novelist Washington Irving invented the whole idea of a conflict between the Church and Columbus to spice up the otherwise rather dull story in his fictionalised biography A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. This book, unfortunately, became the best selling biography of Columbus for the next century, and so fixed the myth in the English speaking world as something “everyone knows”. Despite the fact it was completely made up.,,,

    Here are several other widespread myths that Tim O’Neill, (again an atheist), has written on, which many ‘new’ atheists falsely believe about medieval Christianity,,,

    History for Atheists,,,
    The Great Myths 1: The Medieval Flat Earth
    The Great Myths 2: Christmas, Mithras and Paganism
    The Great Myths 3: Giordano Bruno was a Martyr for Science
    The Great Myths 4: Constantine, Nicea and the Bible
    The Great Myths 5: The Destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria
    The Great Myths 6: Copernicus’ Deathbed Publication
    The Great Myths 7: “Hitler’s Pope”?
    The Great Myths 8: The Loss of Ancient Learning
    The Great Myths 9: Hypatia of Alexandria

    All of these myths are part of the greater false ‘warfare’ myth, promoted by atheists, that Christianity is, and has been, constantly at war with science.

    The Two Guys to Blame for the Myth of Constant Warfare between Religion and Science – February 27, 2015
    Excerpt: Timothy Larsen, a Christian historian who specializes in the nineteenth century, notes:
    The so-called “war” between faith and learning, specifically between orthodox Christian theology and science, was manufactured during the second half of the nineteenth century. It is a construct that was created for polemical purposes.
    No one deserves more blame for this stubborn myth than these two men:
    Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the founding president of Cornell University, and
    John William Draper (1811-1882), professor of chemistry at the University of New York.

    Excerpt: The concept of “the Dark Ages” is central to several key elements in New Atheist Bad History. One of the primary myths most beloved by many New Atheists is the one whereby Christianity violently suppressed ancient Greco-Roman learning, destroyed an ancient intellectual culture based on pure reason and retarded a nascent scientific and technological revolution, thus plunging Europe into a one thousand year “dark age” which was only relieved by the glorious dawn of “the Renaissance”. Like most New Atheist Bad History, it’s a commonly held and popularly believed set of ideas that has its origin in polemicists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but which has been rejected by more recent historians. But its New Atheist adherents don’t like to hear that last part and get very agitated when they do.,,,,,
    Concluding paragraph
    It should be clear by now that value-laden terms like “dark ages” and “Renaissance” belong to a period of dusty historiography that modern scholarship has long since outgrown.

    The story usually told by atheists is that Christianity suppressed the rise of modern science and that it was the ‘enlightenment’, and/or the “Renaissance”, where reason supposedly finally triumphed over the ‘superstition’ of Christianity, that modern science was finally able to be born.

    But the fact of the matter is that it was Christianity, and Christianity alone, not enlightenment thinking, that gave rise to modern science,

    Christians – Not the Enlightenment – Invented Modern Science – Chuck Colson – Oct. 2016
    Excerpt: Rodney Stark’s,,, book, “For the Glory of God,,,,
    In Stark’s words, “Christian theology was necessary for the rise of science.” Science only happened in areas whose worldview was shaped by Christianity, that is, Europe. Many civilizations had alchemy; only Europe developed chemistry. Likewise, astrology was practiced everywhere, but only in Europe did it become astronomy.
    That’s because Christianity depicted God as a “rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being” who created a universe with a “rational, lawful, stable” structure. These beliefs uniquely led to “faith in the possibility of science.”
    So why the Columbus myth? Because, as Stark writes, “the claim of an inevitable and bitter warfare between religion and science has, for more than three centuries, been the primary polemical device used in the atheist attack of faith.” Opponents of Christianity have used bogus accounts like the ones I’ve mentioned to not only discredit Christianity, but also position themselves as “liberators” of the human mind and spirit.
    Well, it’s up to us to set the record straight, and Stark’s book is a great place to start. And I think it’s time to tell our neighbors that what everyone thinks they know about Christianity and science is just plain wrong.

    Contrary to what atheists believe, It is simply impossible to ‘do science’ without Theistic and/or Christian presuppositions. As Paul Davies explained, “even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is a rational basis to physical existence manifested as law-like order in nature that is at least partly comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.”

    Physics and the Mind of God: The Templeton Prize Address – by Paul Davies – August 1995
    Excerpt: “People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature-the laws of physics-are simply accepted as given, as brute facts. Nobody asks where they came from; at least they do not do so in polite company. However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is a rational basis to physical existence manifested as law-like order in nature that is at least partly comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.”

    In fact, although the atheist often insists he is being completely ‘rational’ in his promotion of reason over the supposed ‘superstition’ of Christianity, the fact of the matter is that, (in his adoption of naturalism/materialism, and in his rejection Christianity), the atheist ends up forsaking rationality itself. The reason for this is primarily because the atheist, in his adoption of naturalism, ends up being forced to deny the reality of his own free will, (which is a primary property of his own immaterial mind that enables him to reason rationally).

    Sabine Hossenfelder herself rejected the reality of her own free will when she promoted ‘superdeterminism’ over and above the recent experimental closing of the ‘free-will loophole’ by Zeilinger and company

    But this issue with finding a notion of free will that is compatible with deterministic laws (or even partly random laws) is not specific to Superdeterminism. It is therefore not an argument that can be raised against Superdeterminism. Literally all existing scientific theories suffer from this conundrum.
    – Hossenfelder

    Again, in denying the reality of their own free will, the atheist ends up forsaking rationality itself,

    Sam Harris’s Free Will: The Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex Did It – Martin Cothran – November 9, 2012
    Excerpt: There is something ironic about the position of thinkers like Harris on issues like this: they claim that their position is the result of the irresistible necessity of logic (in fact, they pride themselves on their logic). Their belief is the consequent, in a ground/consequent relation between their evidence and their conclusion. But their very stated position is that any mental state — including their position on this issue — is the effect of a physical, not logical cause.?By their own logic, it isn’t logic that demands their assent to the claim that free will is an illusion, but the prior chemical state of their brains. The only condition under which we could possibly find their argument convincing is if they are not true. The claim that free will is an illusion requires the possibility that minds have the freedom to assent to a logical argument, a freedom denied by the claim itself. It is an assent that must, in order to remain logical and not physiological, presume a perspective outside the physical order.
    – per evolution news

    (1) rationality implies a thinker in control of thoughts.
    (2) under materialism a thinker is an effect caused by processes in the brain (determinism).
    (3) in order for materialism to ground rationality a thinker (an effect) must control processes in the brain (a cause). (1)&(2)
    (4) no effect can control its cause.
    Therefore materialism cannot ground rationality.
    per Box UD

    As J.B.S. Haldane and C.S. Lewis explained,

    “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.”
    – Haldane – [“When I am dead,” in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927],

    “Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought.
    But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else.
    Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”
    – C.S. Lewis – The Case for Christianity

    Thus, far from his naturalistic worldview delivering the atheist from the supposed ‘dark world’ of Christian superstition, into a world of reason and rationality, the atheist instead ends up being delivered into a dark world of irrationality and anti-reason.

    The naturalistic worldview is simply, for lack of a better term, completely insane,

    Although the Darwinist firmly believes he is on the terra firma of science, (in his appeal, even demand, for methodological naturalism), the fact of the matter is that Darwinists are adrift in an ocean of fantasy and imagination with no discernible anchor for reality to grab on to:

    Basically, because of reductive materialism (and/or methodological naturalism), the atheistic materialist is forced to claim that he is merely a ‘neuronal illusion’ (Coyne, Dennett, etc..), who has the illusion of free will (Harris), who has unreliable, (i.e. illusory), beliefs about reality (Plantinga), who has illusory perceptions of reality (Hoffman), who, since he has no real time empirical evidence substantiating his grandiose claims, must make up illusory “just so stories” with the illusory, and impotent, ‘designer substitute’ of natural selection (Behe, Gould, Sternberg), so as to ‘explain away’ the appearance (i.e. illusion) of design (Crick, Dawkins), and who must make up illusory meanings and purposes for his life since the reality of the nihilism inherent in his atheistic worldview is too much for him to bear (Weikart), and who must also hold morality to be subjective and illusory since he has rejected God (Craig, Kreeft). Who, since beauty cannot be grounded within his materialistic worldview, must hold beauty itself to be illusory (Darwin).
    Bottom line, nothing is truly real in the atheist’s worldview, least of all, beauty, morality, meaning and purposes for life.,,,
    Darwinian Materialism and/or Methodological Naturalism vs. Reality – video

    It would be hard to fathom a worldview more antagonistic to modern science, indeed more antagonistic to reason, rationality and even to reality itself, than Atheistic materialism and/or methodological naturalism have turned out to be.

    2 Corinthians 10:5
    Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

  4. 4
    Querius says:


    I’m glad you brought this up. As very few people nowadays know, about 200 years before Christ, Eratosthenes tried to measure the spherical circumference of the earth from Alexandria using shadows. He was off by only about 100 miles! How many scientists today could devise his method?

    The sphericity of the earth was argued by the ancient Greeks on three counts:

    a. Certain stars appeared and disappeared at the horizon in the southern horizon as one traveled north and in the northern horizon as one traveled south.

    b. The earth’s shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse was always the arc of a circle.

    c. Ships disappeared beyond the horizon regardless of their direction of travel. This effect manifests itself in a little as three miles, making the ship look as though it were sinking.

    The reference by Dr. Hossenfelder to religious beliefs were those introduced by the medieval Catholic church. They were not the views of the ancient Greek mariners and likely not those of the skilled Phoenician mariners or of the common people of that day who talked to them.


  5. 5
    rhampton7 says:

    Most people have seen footage taken from orbit of earth, an obviously spherical body. Aand some are old enough to have seen the Earth filmed from the vantage of the Moon. So I think most people DO know why the Earth is not flat and why it IS stupid to think so.

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