“Behind the Curve”

(Scott Garrison) #1

For those of you w/ Netflix accounts, there’s a documentary recently added to their lineup — “Behind the Curve,” directed by a Daniel Clark. Looks like it’s also available on Amazon Prime & iTunes. I stumbled upon it this past weekend, and was fascinated by it in a “wreck on the side of the road that you just can’t pull your eyes away from” kind of way. Once I started watching it, I just couldn’t stop.

The film chronicles the present-day flat earth movement, and the director does a remarkably even-handed job of allowing the various flat earth advocates he interviews to present their perspectives w/o subjecting them to ridicule. (If you’re familiar w/ the documentary filmmaker Erroll Morris, he often takes a similar approach…letting the eccentric folks that he interviews have their eccentricities speak for themselves, without additional comment or input.)

The principal flat earth advocate in the film is a guy from the Seattle area named Sargent. If you watch the trailer below he’s the middle-aged guy wearing cargo shorts, a cap & a black t-shirt…one gathers from the documentary that this appears to be what Mr. Sargent wears every day of his life. And he may or may not still live w/ his mom; I couldn’t quite tell. He does podcasts & the YouTube channel thing, and is one of the flat earth movement’s most influential figures. The camera crew follows Sargent to a prime viewing spot for the solar eclipse back about 18 months ago (in one of the film’s more ironic moments), and also to the International Flat Earth Convention (or whatever it was officially called) in Raleigh, NC a couple years back.

As an aside, I live in Raleigh, and I remember this thing making the local news back when it happened. I have no idea how that convention ended up here, other than they apparently must’ve gotten a really good rate at the Embassy Suites.

On the counterpoint side are a couple physicists, a couple psychiatrists & astronaut Scott Kelly. You may recall that the latter spent a year on the International Space Station, and thus has personally orbited the earth more than a few times, with a window to look out of while he was doing so.

The flat earth movement appears more broadly to be a haven for conspiracy theory types of multiple stripes — anti-vaxxers, 9/11 truthers, anti-CIA tin foil hat wearers, as well as a variant of Young Earth Creationism, though without an apparent attachment of the latter to the sort of fundamentalist Christianity with which most of us are familiar. But familiarly, there’s a suspicion of “science” and “scientists” as either (a) those who blindly accept whatever they’ve been told along the way, or (b) part of some nefarious global conspiracy…albeit one whose presumptive end-game goals are never quite articulated.

A few of the flat earther’s discuss the kinds of experiments that they need to do to prove their claim, including one involving a laser (SPOILER ALERT…the laser “experiment” does not confirm that the earth is flat, in spite of multiple do-over’s; this leads to compete exasperation on the part of the guy running the laser).

I found it also surprising that there are such pronounced rifts within the flat earth community. There’s another podcaster/YouTuber who really has it in for this Sargent guy, and Sargent’s maybe Platonic/maybe not quasi-girlfriend (the cute redhead in the trailer) is another podcaster who is a rather polarizing figure among flat earther’s. Some of the conflict clearly revolves around (pun intended) influence & power within the community, but there’s also an element of orthodoxy involved, with often zero tolerance for anyone who deviates from accepted flat earth purity. And anyone who does deviate in some fashion risks being labeled an apostate, or worse, a planted CIA operative. For such a fringe group, with such a fringe foundational position, the flat earther’s appear to keep their tent pretty small.

Even though there are presumably very few flat earther’s within North American Christian YEC-ism — for practical purposes, I’ll assume that number is zero — there are unmistakable parallels. One is left asking the question, “Why do people like this believe what they believe?”…especially w/ regards to:

(a) a sincere conviction that “we” — and only “we” — are the keepers of The Truth, ie, this special knowledge which everyone else could possess, too, if they would only remove the scales from their own eyes,

(b) an insistence upon adherence to accepted group orthodoxy,

© a rigid adherence to their position in spite of the complete lack of supporting peer-reviewed scientific evidence,

(d) a mistrust of said peer-reviewed conventional science, and of those who engage in such work,

(e) as a corollary to both of the above, an inexplicable optimism that it’s simply a matter of time before they themselves pull off the experiment or observation that will definitively prove their claims to the world, and

(f) an inability to rethink one’s underlying position when such experimental attempts fail so spectacularly.

Three stars. Definitely worth a view.

Link, which has the trailer imbedded…


(Laura) #2

Thanks for sharing… sounds like quite a rabbit hole. Despite how much YEC organizations hate being compared to flat-earthers, there are some pretty clear parallels, especially the hyper-focus on who’s “in” and “out,” and the nature of influence, charisma, and personality in small groups.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #3

They were probably just charged a flat rate. :drum:

(Mervin Bitikofer) #4

For all we know, such conspiracy enthusiasts could be rarer now than at other times in history, and it wouldn’t necessarily seem so to us even if they were fewer and farther between. Because the web today allows the few scattered souls to reach out and find their own more easily than ever, and to make a splash by self-publishing on the internet. Then they can let a wider public’s fascination with odd views multiply the attention to it beyond what their predecessors from a generation or two ago could have leveraged.


No, they are recruiting new members. Extreme distrust of the government is a common theme you find in YEC, Anti-vax, and Flat earth conspiracy theorists. I met my first Flat Earth person recently–he’s a very sweet college student. And we live in a very desirable area of the country! Go figure.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #6

I’m sure recruiting does happen as you say, and you could be right about relative growth, but I remain to be convinced anyone could be certain of this.

What makes it stand out in such stark relief to our awareness today is how isolated (in certain philosophical ways) a person [or group, rather] would need to be today to maintain such a belief with all the easy resources at our disposal that should help dispel it (to those so inclined to look).

I think it would be very difficult to tease apart the truly faithful from the dabblers who may be less than serious about it the final analysis, but just love blending in with counter cultural stuff today in defiance of anything perceived as mainstream.

(Laura) #7

Just remember, it has nothing to do with the evidence at all, because we’re all looking at the same evidence – it’s all about how you interpret it and what your presuppositions are. :stuck_out_tongue:

(Shawn T Murphy) #8

Dear Laura,
I have said this a number of times on this forum that there is much more evidence avaialbe than modern Christians want to accept. There are many more divine revelations than the words in the Bible that everyone is looking at. Orthodoxy does not seem to recognize Jesus’s promise to keep sending prophets (John 14:17 15:26 16:13), to the spirit of truth to continue His teaching.

In addition, there is a wealth of spiritual evidence that many choose not to accept, that provides much more information about the world we live in than the limits of the material sciences.

(Laura) #9

Yes, God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell believers. But also,

1 John 4:1:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Any Tom, Dick, or Harry can call himself a prophet and start selling books. We don’t just accept “spiritual evidence” because someone calls it “spiritual evidence” any more than we’d accept “scientific evidence from NASA” just because a random YouTube superstar makes a claim about it.


But people are are highly selective about what information they what to believe, and misinformation can be spread even faster than information. There are plenty of other reasons why people choose not to see facts.

Belief in YECism was dying out until the visions of the Seventh Day Adventist prophetess brought it back to the mainstream.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #11

Pffft, flat earth! We all know the earth is a horizontal cylinder.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #12

BTW that Mark Sargent guy is a particularly crazy flat earther. He believes the entire sky is a hologram projected onto the firmament after the Tower of Babel incident

(Mervin Bitikofer) #13

That wouldn’t be too surprising. It was probably also helped along by the general clamor towards mechanistic understandings of the universe, which also influenced our approach to biblical understanding. Then in the resulting furor of “higher” biblical criticism, the reactionary fundamentalism wall all too happy to pick up the other end of that rope, and YECism quickly got its formational nourishment from that polarized contest. Or something like that.

It would be interesting to know what the source fuels of other conspiracy theories are like our flat-earthers.


Such as prophet Joseph Smith?


That would be anti-government sentiment. They don’t want you to know, what the government won’t tell you, etc. I asked what happens when a person walks to the edge of the earth for a peek, and was told that the government turns you back.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #16

And I think that must be mixed with a kind of reverential awe toward the government and how powerful it allegedly is to be able to pull all this off.

I remember growing up with something of a mentality that “government agents” (read: FBI, secret service, secret agent types … that sort of thing) were the de-facto archetypes of power in my little-boy fantasies. Where other kids were more exposed to and immersed in super-hero comics, my imagination tended to glamorize what I imagined were real-life, high-up government people. Maybe that says something about the household I grew up in and some sort of “respect for authority” that was inculcated in us. Certainly there must not have been too much anti-government (or pro-small government) sentiment expressed. But had there been, perhaps my naive admiration for imagined unlimited powers would have been turned more toward conspiracy theory.

(Shawn T Murphy) #17

No, I have not studied the revelations from Joseph Smith to see if they passed the 1 John 4 tests. I cannot verify that he was inspired by a spirit of truth, but it is interesting to see how a series of (young) revelations were not maintained in their entirety. It was not until the age of media that it was possible to record such revelations and to be able to properly investigate them.

(Scott Garrison) #18


Very, very well played. And I’m truly ashamed of myself that I didn’t make that joke first myself.

ETA…sorry, tried to quote your joke about the flat rate, but apparently I goofed.

(Phil) #19

I have been reading a few articles, and may be a good subject . Will put it in a new post.

(Mary) #20

Two questions:

Where is the edge of the earth for the flat earthers? Presumably wherever they say, we could show them otherwise by crossing it?

YECers usually have the bottom line “The Bible says it, so I believe it”. So God supposedly trumps science. Do flat earthers have any bottom line like this?