Until very recently Flat-earthers were a quaintly amusing bunch of morons you only really encountered on the internet but, a while back, my friend and I were out for a sociable evening drink when we found out the real truth when we met one. Now before I embark on this tale, I need to point out that both my friend and I (his name is Ben) are scientifically literate atheists and, though I don't specifically remember, I have to assume we were discussing some aspect of science. A smartly dressed man in his late forties stepped out if the pub and stood a little way from us, smoking and listening intently to our conversation. Having heard the subject under discussion (and like I say, I presume it was science related), he decided to interrupt. "It's all a lie," he said confidently as Ben and I responded with laughter. We thought it was a joke, I even mentioned Pratchett's "Discworld" turtle, but I couldn't have been more wrong. He wasn't joking, he was serious, earnestly so. "No one has been to Alaska," he said, "no one is allowed to go." "I have friends who lived in Alaska," said Ben but he told him that wasn't true; apparently, they were all deluded or lying, "you can't cross the Antarctic." "I'm in the Ernest Shackleton Society, I know a lot of people who have gone into the Antarctic," Ben retorted. "But they have never actually crossed it," came back the still confident response, "there's a wall of ice there that stops people." I have to admit I was in a state of shock. Not the kind of shock you're in when something terrible has happened or your entire world feels like it's falling apart or anything, the kind when you can't really believe what you're seeing in front of your own eyes, and for me that was trying to adjust to the idea that someone could literally be that stupid. Eventually, I recovered enough to make some sensible, albeit aggressive, responses. "You've been watching too much 'Game of Thrones', mate" I said laughing at him [not, I'll admit, my best retort]. It didn't stop him as he continued to advance his moronic ideas. "Look, mate, you're talking bollocks, we are both strong science adherents, we understand how science works in a philosophical sense," I said [better, though a bit vicious]. Being brutally honest, I just wished he'd go away so we could continue our conversation and have a good laugh at "the crazy" who had just ambushed us. But no, that didn't stop him either. "I just watched a video of the astronauts on the ISS pouring water into a ball that floated free in the air. Care to explain to me how they could do that?" [much better]. He glossed over that one. Eventually, I just got plain irritated and told him to take his stupid idea somewhere else ... he disappeared back inside the pub. Ben and I started talking about the encounter, the Flat-Earther gained a nickname and Ben told me of a question he always wanted to ask one. Flat Earth F***head (FEFH) returned. "Do you believe in Jesus?" He asked with renewed enthusiasm. "Nope," I said and Ben said, "it's all a lie!" I think we might have got off light there, it seemed we had stopped him making some kind of point he was planning to. "Ask him your question," I looked at Ben and he nodded. "I have a question," Ben said to FEFH, he seemed receptive. "You know the Americans dropped a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki?" FEFH nodded. "It was an airburst device," Ben continued, "it exploded about two thousand metres above the city and for a brief moment it was about one hundred times brighter than the sun." FEFH was looking a bit bemused, clearly wondering where the question was going. "So," Ben grinned, "if the Earth is flat why are there no reports of that flash being seen in California?" FEFH looked momentarily confused then brightened, "you know why they set that bomb off, don't you? It was to break the firmament..." That was as far as he got, Ben and I said, nearly simultaneously, "We don't care, answer the damned question." I don't know how he did it but he managed to avoid it and steer towards a different subject, it's a particular skill most creationists seem to have strongly developed ... none of them ever answer any of the questions they can't but clearly should be able to if they were right. After some brief, pseudo-confidential comments to Ben (something about me having had too many injections). he ended up saying that he'd leave it there but at least he'd planted a seed. I laughed (and not very nicely), informing him he was sorely mistaken. We left the pub soon after and went elsewhere ... he followed but I don't think he was specifically following us. The way he was dressed and acting (I saw him engage others on the same subject) did bring something home to me which was that he was clearly using his pub trip to evangelise (as opposed to knocking on people's doors). I'm not sure which is worse.
ConclusionClearly FEFH failed to convince us that his views had any merit but it did make me wonder what leads people to such insane viewpoints. I read recently that twenty percent of young American males believe the Earth is flat and, at any other time in my life, I would have laughed it off, thinking or saying, "only in America." However, recently, in the UK we voted to leave the European Union, a view I consider almost as insane and we've just elected a clown for a Prime Minister, you maybe heard of him? He goes by the name Boris Johnson, which is short for Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (I kid you not) ... I wonder if his real name is "Pennywise"?