Flat Earth

So I was tagged in a facebook post that said:

Are the 100 mile long salt flats with an inch of rain not enough proof? Lol obviously not for y’all. Keep researching. They can’t even explain gravity but I’m supposed to just go with it?

Along with the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQ7_9eIAlT4&feature=youtu.be

I tried to post a response, but my reply is gone now… so I thought I’d post it here since I didn’t want all of my time wasted…


First some questions. I tend to type a lot, so sorry. If you read what all I write, I appreciate it.

1) Would anything change your mind on this? If so, what?

2) Can you devise any experiments that would be able to disprove your worldview on this? (It really is a worldview, haha!) Do you think you could perform any of these experiments? You are looking for experiments that could possibly *disprove* your beliefs. Confirmation bias is something humans are good at. Avoid it at all costs!

– We enjoy modern convenience today so experiments today are easier than before. For example, you could collaborate with someone else across the world, write down your observations during an agreed upon time period, then send each other the results before viewing the other’s finding. Did your expectations measure up to reality? Why not?

3) Why do you think there’s some conspiracy that the Earth is a sphere?


At any rate I did watch a bit of the video and its reasoning is spread all over the place. The argument is not very well structured at all. Some responses to some of your comments:

Comment: “Why should I believe nasa? Cause they have enough money to try and change my mind? Yall getting your information from people you’ve never met or possibly met but take their word on it?”

Response: It’s not just NASA doing these sort of experiments. There’s many physicists who as part of their training will conduct classic experiments. What you see is all of these physics students becoming convinced at the current understanding of the universe. There is a reason. The experiments work and the students do them themselves. I have a B.S. degree in physics (working on my Ph.D. in mathematics now). We did many experiments in undergrad without really the professor even supervising us. We did things normal people wouldn’t do such as measure the speed of light and such.

On top of this, this is one reason why tenure is important. Everyone always complains about these tenured professors that are so difficult to fire. But the entire point of tenure is that these professors have proven their academic work and tenure allows them to publish on what they want. This is a safeguard against people feeling pressured to go against the common held beliefs and publish their honest to goodness findings. If you don’t want to believe in NASA, okay I suppose. But you’re making a far wider claim than just NASA fyi.


Comment: “Remember planet is just another name for moving star. Notice all planet pics are CG.”

Response: Huh………..?

Sorry but the term star has a very specific meaning. A star undergoes nuclear fusion. Planets do not undergo fusion. The reason that we don’t have picture of planets from other solar systems is because we can basically only really detect 2 things: (1) There is a planet there and (2) the composition of elements of the planet. Better techniques are being implemented all of the time though, so we’ll see.

If you’d like for me to explain how we know these things, I can explain that, but it is a bit complicated. Point (1) relies on typically observing the nearby star as a reference and point (2) relies on our understanding of Quantum Mechanics. Both are kind of a bit complicated.

But we can easily take pictures of planets from our solar system… In fact anyone can go do it if they really wanted to. I went and took images of Jupiter and used them for some computations before.


Comment: “Who’s to say they’re spot on with everything they’ve explained? Cause I know you don’t know nor do I.” and “Quit letting others think and speak for you and do your own research.”

Response: There’s plenty of classes you can take on astronomy or even tutorials of these things available online nowadays. Have you gone and looked at any of them and tried to see the experiments involved?

Do your own research huh? Have you done your own experiments? Have you done ones that would prove you wrong? Try to prove yourself wrong. When you struggle to do that, maybe you’re onto something. Avoid confirmation bias. Relevant video:



Comment: “You mean to tell me gravity this magical force is holding in water and everything else but we have enough power from rocket boosters to break that and go to space? What?! I’ve taken to many pics myself to believe in flat earth.”

Response: The first sentence, huh…? The water doesn’t have a force on it pushing up (other than the equal and opposite reaction)… the rocket does though…

The second sentence… so what…? That doesn’t prove *anything*. Any smooth object is *locally flat*. Key word here is *local*. This is the *entire* concept behind multivariable calculus: That “well-shaped” objects appear flat when you zoom into them. It’s the same idea that a smooth curve looks like a line when you zoom in at a particular point.

You’re going to have to find some other way to illustrate your point, because it doesn’t prove what you think it does.


Comment: “They tell me it’s 93 million miles away?! Wtf how you even measure that?”

Response: There are numerous ways to measure the distances to objects. Remember trigonometry?

Parallax: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parallax

A historical explanation of the computation: http://www.exploratorium.edu/venus/question4.html

Here are some general methods mostly for objects far away:

General List of Methods: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_distance_ladder

Standard Candles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_distance_ladder#Standard_candles

What’s also important here is that there are many methods. We can use these different methods to cross-check our answers. Do you not believe one computation? What about 2 or 3 that use different ideas but give a very similar number? Starting to become more convinced now?

But that’s still a good question on how they measure it. It’s nontrivial, so it’s understandable it’s not entirely clear. If you look at all I posted, there’s a lot of complicated methods used!


Comment: “Why me? Lol If your mind hasn’t changed by now I’m not gonna be able to do it. You can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink.”

Response: We’re all subject to confirmation bias. How do you know you’re not the horse refusing to drink? In some way, we all are normally like that. So that’s why I said earlier that trying to disprove what you believe is important.


General points:

1) We know more about gravity than you seem to think we do. General relativity is our current understanding of gravity which I doubt many even know what it really says:


The problem is, modern physics has made amazing predictions which have turned out to be true. All of these predictions could have torn down our current understanding of the universe, but to this day, our experiments confirm what we find about General Relativity. These theories could have been torn apart time and time again, but they haven’t. You know why? Because they predicted outcomes with amazing accuracy:


All of this is from physicists working independently from each other and publishing their findings and experiments / methods for others to check. You have physicists who are tenured, you have students taking part in this process, etc. You really have to believe in some super large conspiracy where people devote their entire lives to participate in this kind of conspiracy if you really want to doubt these people’s hard work. I only mention this since you may doubt the intentions of everyone working on this. But seriously that’s really kind of bull. The pay is less than you’d expect and people do the profession because they love the work and they love the thrill of discovery.

2) To go with point (1), what’s interesting is just how well our current model of the universe lines up with reality. As we measure objects further and further away, we see a progression of *what* is happening. This makes sense though. As we look further out, we are looking backwards in time. We should see an evolution of the universe as we look at more distant objects. And indeed, this is what we find.

What’s also interesting is that we still observe the same physical laws appearing to hold when we observe light from distant galaxies. They still have structures that make sense based on the physics we recognize today from what we observe near us.

3) I hope you don’t mind me commenting and I hope you re-evaluate your views on that video…

Best wishes.

Apply for an Officer Position Today!

This Tuesday (3/8) we have just kicked off our Membership Coordinator elections, and we’ve now opened applications for all other available positions. Those include Vice President, Community Officer, Education Officer, Public Relations Coordinator, and Treasurer. If you’re interested in holding one of these positions please fill out our application here. Please fill out your application by Sunday, March 27. Note that the deadline has been extended to the 27th following some technical difficulties on OrgSync.

The duties of these positions are described here:

Vice President

  • Fulfills the duties of the President in their absence
  • Acts as the primary liaison to affiliate organizations and longterm collaborators
  • Acts as the primary representative to University student coalitions

Community Officer

  • Required to organize a minimum of one weekly community building event
  • Required to organize a minimum of two singular community building events per academic semester
  • Required to organize a minimum of one service event per academic semester

Education Officer

  • Organizes all public education and advocacy events
  • Explores ways to educate members and the public about scientific and critical thinking, secular values, and non-theistic views
  • Required to organize a minimum of one advocacy event each semester
  • Required to organize a minimum of two education meetings per semester

Public Relations Coordinator

  • Controls the outward-facing public image of the group
  • Acts as the primary representative to the public
  • Manages social media and other web assets
  • Maintains the Secular Students at Iowa website
  • Broadcasts news pertinent to Secular Students at Iowa
  • Creates advertising campaigns, advertising materials, and graphic assets for the group and specific events


  • Maintains all financial records of Secular Students at Iowa
  • Is responsible for submitting all budget requests, grant requests, and other funding requests to the appropriate organization
  • Advises the Officer Board on all financial matters
  • Responsible for fundraising events

After you fill out an application, you’ll be contacted by our President, Aaron McLaughlin, to set up a time to have an interview with the Officer Board for your position!

Membership Coordinator Elections

Are you an undergraduate or graduate/professional student member of SecSI who is looking to get more involved in the leadership of our group? As you know, we have started the process of selecting our officers, and right now we’re focusing on the Membership Coordinator position. The Membership Coordinator is an officer who represents the interests of the members at the officer board, and organizes membership outreach events (such as tabling at student org fairs). This is also the only elected position SecSI has.

If you’re interested in becoming Membership Coordinator, all you need to do is shoot an email to Aaron (our president), and say you’re interested in running. His email is aaron-mclaughlin@uiowa.edu. He will reply asap with all the details you need to know about the election! The basic gist is the following: At the beginning of our meeting on March 8, we’ll be having “debates” of sorts with all the candidates for the position, as an opportunity for you to explain to the membership why you want the position, and allow the membership to ask you questions about your thoughts on the position. Of course, it is not required that you be there for the debates, but we do encourage it. Immediately after that meeting, a voting form on OrgSync will go live, and that’s how we’ll conduct the election.

Remember, democracy works best when there are more options – if you’re interested in the position, you should definitely run!

Evidence in Science

I saw an article posted on my facebook page.

I had to comment. So I commented. I copied and pasted the comments below:


“Though many similarities may be cited between living apes and humans, the only historical evidence that could support the ape ancestry of man must come from fossils.”

Actually, no. Most of the compelling evidence for evolution comes from DNA:






In particular, the fusion of the 2nd chromosome one is rather interesting. Would appreciate any comments/thoughts.


Well, I got a response. I will not post the entire response. I commented back with the following (and quoted what I responded to):


Thanks for your sincere response and thoughts. I have no issue about you sincerely believing in God. So the only thing really to comment on is:

“No, compelling evidence is an opinion based on what you chose to believe.”

Hmm. This is my main issue. Please let me explain why I do not think this is the case. I think my point is best illustrated by examples:

Let’s talk about physics first. Quantum theory is very strange. Some of what it says is actually quite disturbing to almost everyone. Richard Feynman, one of the most brilliant physicists of his time, said “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” This is quite strange. Why do physicists even accept quantum theory when they are so disturbed by it? Why do they insist it is correct?

This is because, they have seen “compelling evidence” that forced them to accept these strange ideas. Quantum theory made predictions about reality that were so strange and bizarre that physicists found completely ridiculous that they thought the predictions were nonsense. The famous Schrodinger’s cat was originally meant to show how absurd quantum mechanics was (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schr%C3%B6dinger%27s_cat). Well physicists ran experiments and it turns out quantum theory got the predictions spot on. Physicists were forced to change what they believed about reality because of “compelling evidence.” Now we have computers and cell phones because of quantum mechanics. We believe it now because we rely on it. It works. Some details may need to be tweaked, but it has had amazing predictive power.


As another similar example, take the Large Hadron Collider (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Large_Hadron_Collider). This scientific instrument took a lot of time, money, and effort to build. It was built to specifically look for particles. Physicists didn’t just randomly have a “gut feeling” that there were more particles out there. They had *informed* opinions. Our theory of particles demanded that certain kinds of particles must exist for our theory to be an accurate model of reality. One of which is the Higgs Boson. After much time and effort and physicists insisting the Higgs existed, we found a Higgs Boson. Impressive, right?

Why do physicists trust their theories? It is because they *predict*. And these predictions can go terribly terribly wrong. If we’re off, it means our theories have a major flaw in them and physicists have to figure out how to readjust the current theory or rewrite a new theory entirely. This happened with classical physics. Classical physics made predictions that were not aligning with reality. Physicists had to rewrite their theories. Quantum mechanics and general relativity were soon born after physicists scrambled to develop new theories of nature. Now, these two giant theories have made amazing predictions in nature that we rely on today. The more a theory predicts correctly, the more we feel like it is an accurate model of reality. Theory guides experimentation. Experimentation confirms or denies the theory. If a theory is confirmed over and over again, that’s when scientists start being convinced that the theory is accurately describing reality. Each of these confirmed experiments is “compelling evidence” that the theory works. ANY experiment where the theory gets its predictions wrong, then that spells disaster for the theory. If a theory survives hundreds of tests, it had hundreds of chances to be discarded.

The predictive power of these theories in physics, give “compelling evidence” that these theories are at least close to how nature works. Maybe there’s some details that we didn’t get quite right. If so, they are only minor things. No major things can be wrong. There’s many awesome things that they predicted correctly. I can mention some if you are interested.

Veritasium has a great video illustrating this sort of thinking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKA4w2O61Xo

But with all that said, my question is: What if the theory of evolution made *predictions* that it got right? Just like quantum theory or general relativity? Maybe you do not think such “compelling evidence” exists. Okay. But if evolution had predicted many things about nature, and biologists then looked and then found out that evolution’s predictions were right, would you say that is at least impressive? (Maybe you wouldn’t be convinced, but would you have anything to say about that?)

I know this is a bit of a long comment, so thanks for reading if you did.


Ken Ham on Bill Nye

I recently came across a post on facebook which linked to the following article:


I couldn’t help but comment on this post as there are many things wrong in this article. Unfortunately, the post was removed after my comment was posted. I decided to post my comment here for those interested in what I had to say:

Unfortunately, this article mainly elaborates on how much Ken Ham does not understand evolution. There is a good reason why the term “the selfish gene” was coined. It is not the individuals, necessarily, that are selfish, but the genes. The “survival of the fittest” does not necessarily mean the “survival of the strongest”. Rather, it means “survival of the fittest GENES”. A “fit gene” depends on the context. A gene may be “fit” in one context and “unfit” in another.

What’s the “Best Way to Live?” – who defines the best way? The problem with Ken’s question is that it assumes a “who”. Who says there is a who? (Haha, couldn’t help myself there!) As Nye explained in the video, nature, from evolution, defines what is the best way. Nye does have basis to claim “the best way” that he does. We have done studies and know how humans behave, how they liked to be treated, and how they treat others. Nye was explaining that we are social creatures. This golden rule is something that has been around for an extremely long time. At least in the thousands of years in nature (if not millions or even billions – depending on how you look at it). By simple observation, we can deduce this rule. It’s a rather simple deduction to make really.

Ken Ham seems to think only the physically strong survive. If Ken Ham wants people to take him seriously, he needs to at least understand what he’s talking about. As I explained above, the genes are what matter. In a group of social creatures, anyone that is a “jerk” is NOT FIT. A selfish individual is often removed from these types of groups. Alone, they are more vulnerable and hence less likely to survive. To be “fit” you have to “fit in”. And what a group will or will not accept depends on how they are. (Again, from evolution.) So what Nye was saying is essentially, our ethics works for us, because our ethics is about us. This is certainly something that can be studied and objective statements can be made. It’s not hard to understand and do. There’s fields that study the human mind and behavior. Psychology, sociology, etc.

And the last thing to correct: The earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Just need some good old physics on this one.

Winter Break Officer Transitions

As a new semester approaches, SecSI’s officer board is going to be going through some transitions. Daniel Valentin, our Education Coordinator, will be stepping up as our Vice President; Annie Gudenkauf, our Service Coordinator, will be stepping up as our Community Coordinator; and Thomas Panther, our Advocacy Coordinator, will be stepping up as our Education Coordinator. We wish these officers luck in their new positions!

In addition, Rachel Gibbons, our Vice President, and Nikki Battaglia, our Community Coordinator, will both be stepping down from the board. We would like to thank each of them for all they did for SecSI!

Two positions are now left vacant: those are the Service Coordinator and Advocacy Coordinator positions. The constitutional ammendment we made at the beginning of the semester will remove these two positions at the end of this academic year, so we have chosen to not fill either position.

We’re Going to Skepticon!

Hey members! We’re going to be taking a trip to Skepticon 2016! We’ll be leaving at different times on Friday, November 13, and returning on Sunday, November 15. Any members are welcome to join us. If you’re interested in going, please email Hayley Callaway at hayley-callaway@uiowa.edu

Graveyard of the Gods

On Friday, October 30th, SecSI will be hosting a Graveyard of the Gods on the Pentacrest West Lawn from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM, as a farewell to the thousands of gods which have been forgotten throughout history. The display will demonstrate that many gods from all cultures are no longer worshiped or have faded in popularity.

The event is not an attack on religion, but a way to demonstrate that Blaise Pascal’s infamous Wager doesn’t work – primarily because it assumes only one possible god to bet on.

SecSI will have a table along with free Halloween candy and a variety of interesting secular literature.

This display is part of a national event run by the Secular Student Alliance, a non-profit that supports secular student groups, including SecSI, all over the country.

The Iowa City Press Citizen has written a piece detailing the event here.

If you’re interested in going, please RSVP on the Facebook event here.

Assistant Officer Positions Open

SecSI has some more exciting leadership opportunities available! The Public Relations Coordinator and the Education Coordinator are both accepting applications for Assistant Officer positions.

Daniel Valentin, our Education Coordinator, is looking for someone interested in helping organize educational meetings, presentations, and other events. Anyone looking for a more active role in supporting secular education in SecSI is welcome to apply for this position.

Ian Wold, our Public Relations Coordinator, is looking for someone to either run SecSI’s social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), or someone to work on graphic design (creating posters, pamphlets, flyers, handouts, etc.). If you’re interested in helping SecSI on these fronts, you should definitely apply for this position.

In order to become an Assistant Officer, you must be a SecSI member. Assistant Officers are not allowed to vote in the Officer Board, so both student and non-student members may fill the role.

If you’re interested in applying for a position, you will need to fill out either the Assistant Education Officer Application or the Assistant PR Officer Application. Afterwards, you will be contacted either by Daniel or Ian to schedule an in-person interview with you and Aaron McLaughlin, SecSI’s President.

Members have until Tuesday, October 13th to submit their applications to these positions.

SecSI Shirts

Our new shirts just came in the mail today! They look awesome, they’re comfortable, and they’re 100% SecSI. If you’d like to get your hands on a SecSI shirt, we will have them available at every general meeting. If you’re not able to make it to meetings but still want a shirt, please contact Ian Wold, our Public Relations Coordinator, at ian-wold@uiowa.edu. They come in sizes Small through Extra Large, and will cost $15 (Or, if you’re a member, your first shirt is only $10).

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