My birthday was last month, and my dad visited from Oregon with one of my younger sisters, who’s almost 19 years old. We had a lot of discussions, especially related to my dad’s recent departure from the Mormon church, but the one that stands out most is the one with my sister about her Flat Earth beliefs.
Let me start out by saying my sister isn’t stupid. She may be a little naïve at times, but she’s incredibly smart. And I don’t hate her, or like her any less, just because she happens to believe something that isn’t true.
When I first heard that my little sister–we’ll refer to her as K.K.–was a Flat-Earther, I was really surprised. She had never denied facts outright, although I was concerned for what seemed like an unexplained support for Donald Trump. It turns out all this stuff can be explained pretty easily: her boyfriend is a Trump-loving Flat-Earther.
Our Outside Influences
K.K. isn’t a dumb and gullible little girl. She isn’t someone who would just give up her own identity for a boy–she is her own person. Yet it seems like that’s what’s happening. So what is really going on?
The fact is that we are all influenced by the people who we love and trust, and her boyfriend is that for her. We allow those closest to us to affect our behavior and beliefs in all sorts of ways, and she is still relatively young, so this type of thing is pretty much expected.
But right now, K.K. is a Trump-supporting Flat-Earther who believes in all sorts of crazy things. I don’t love her any less, but it is because I love her that I want to talk to her about these issues and teach her how to be a better critical thinker. If I didn’t care, I might just ignore her entirely.
I could tell throughout our initial discussion that K.K. wasn’t so firmly married to these ideas that she could never be convinced otherwise. She fell back a lot on the old conspiracy theorist standard, “I just think we should be able to ask questions!”
I told her that I couldn’t agree more. I said we should be able to ask the important questions and put anything to the test using the scientific method. I explained to her that science is all about challenging authority and questioning everything, but I also noted the importance of following the evidence we do have instead of ignoring it.
I told her that I’ll always love her no matter what she believes, I taught her about the differences between skepticism and denialism, and I sent her home with a copy of my most recent book, No Sacred Cows: Investigating Myths, Cults, and the Supernatural. The book essentially debunks the notion of a Flat Earth, and teaches readers to approach issues with scientific skepticism, so I hope she puts it to use.
K.K. went home and I hugged her goodbye. She is and will always be my sister, even if we disagree on things.
If you have a story about a Flat-Earther you know, or have some advice for how to deal with my sister in this situation, please feel free to discuss in the comments.
Yours in Reason,
David G. McAfee