The Flat Earth Society is an organization whose members adhere to the belief that the Earth is flat rather than a sphere. Although it would seem that this organization was founded before the fourth century B.C., when Greek philosophers and scientists advanced the idea of a spherical planet, it was not. Instead, it was founded in 1956 by Samuel Shenton who was a Fellow of both the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Geographic Society. He believed that his theory was based on common sense and scientific evidence and did not believe that scientists had enough proof to ascribe to the view of a spherical Earth.
When Shenton died in 1971, the organization was taken over by Charles Johnson and the society’s headquarters were moved from England to California. Johnson inherited much of Shenton’s large library containing flat earth literature when he took over the organization. Johnson claimed that there was a conspiracy against the theory of a flat earth. The new president of the organization also thought that the Sun and Moon were flat discs about 4,800 kilometers from Earth and that the stars were only approximately 6,400 kilometers from our planet.
When Samuel Shenton was presented with the pictures taken by probes from space showing a spherical Earth, he wavered at first. He restated his position though and said that the photographs could easily fool the untrained eye and that they had been faked. The Flat Earth Society also declared that the 1969 Moon landing was a hoax and it had been scripted and filmed. The Flat Earth Society took some of its philosophy from the Bible, claiming that the creation text shows that the Earth was created flat. Johnson in particular quoted biblical passages in his newsletters. Johnson also turned to the United Nations’ flag for proof of a flat earth. The globe portrayed on the flag looked similar to the model of a flat earth as described by the Flat Earth Society.
The Flat Earth Society began to decline in membership during the 1990’s, and it came to an end when Charles Johnson passed away in 2001. After the Flat Earth Society disbanded, several other groups seemed to have made use of its name at one time or another. There are number of flat earth forums and websites up and running. Even though at least one group has borrowed the Flat Earth Society’s name, it may not be directly connected to the old organization.
Astronomy Cast has an episode on Earth.