Appendix B: Additional Notes on Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe, 1st ed. 1865

The book opens with these words: “The term ‘zetetic’ is derived from the Greek verb zeteo; which means to search or examine—to proceed only by inquiry.” [ref. B.1]  Rowbotham says further, “Speculative men, by force of genius may invent systems that will perhaps be greatly admired for a time; these, however, are phantoms which the force of truth will sooner or later dispel; and while we are pleased with the deceit, true philosophy, with all the arts and improvements that depend upon it, suffers.” [ref. B.2] 

Rowbotham argued that the Copernican system is without a proven foundation.—“The foundations or premises are always unproved; no proof is ever attempted; the necessity for it is denied; it is considered sufficient that the assumptions shall seem to explain the phenomena selected.” [ref. B.3] 

Let the practice of theorising be cast aside as one fatal to the full development of truth; oppressive to the reasoning power; and in every sense inimical to the progress and permanent improvement of the human race. [ref. B.4] 

The hatred of theories was a recurring theme throughout the book, as further evidenced by quotations given in Chapter 1. 

If the earth is a globe, standing water must be convex.  Standing water is the key from the beginning.  Rowbotham writes a very similar description to one found in his first flat-earth publication (1849) describing one of the experiments upon which zetetic astronomy was based:

In the county of Cambridge there is an artificial river or canal, called the “Old Bedford.” It is upwards of twenty miles long, and passes in a straight line through that part of the fens called the “Bedford level.” The water is nearly stationary—often entirely so, and throughout its entire length has no interruption from locks or water-gates; so that it is in every respect well adapted for ascertaining whether any and what amount of convexity really exists.  A boat with a flag standing three feet above the water, was directed to sail from a place called “Welney Bridge,” to another place called “Welche’s Dam.” These two points are six statute miles apart.  The observer, with a good telescope, was seated in the water as a bather (it being the summer season), with the eye not exceeding eight inches above the surface.  The flag and the boat down to the water’s edge were clearly visible throughout the whole distance! [ref. B.5] 

This was, of course, the location of Rowbotham’s former Owenite colony.  He described more and similar experiments, including a clever experiment involving a tightly stretched line to show that water is horizontal [ref. B.6]  and the mirror experiment discussed by Proctor. [ref. B.7] 

One important argument was his quotes from balloonists who say that from altitude, the earth looks positively concave. [ref. B.8]  Elliott, an American balloonist, said, “I don’t know that I ever hinted heretofore that the aeronaut may well be the most sceptical man about the rotundity of the Earth.  Philosophy imposes the truth upon us; but the view of the Earth from the elevation of a balloon is that of an immense terrestrial basin, the deeper part of which is that directly under one’s feet.” [ref. B.9] 

Rowbotham insisted that the north pole is the center of the earth. [ref. B.10]  As for the south pole, it doesn’t exist.  The extent of the southern ice, like the extent of the great deep, was completely unknown to him.  For all he knew, both might extend infinitely. 

[T]here is no practical evidence as to the extent of the southern ice and the ‘great deep.’ Who shall say whether the depth and extent of the ‘mighty waters’ have a limit, or constitute the ‘World without end?’ [ref. B.11] 

A major problem for zetetic astronomy—one Rowbotham obviously hadn’t thought of when he ignominiously ran away at Burnley—is why ships sailing out to sea seem to vanish hull first, going “hull-down” as nautical jargon had it.  Rowbotham argued that it is false to assume that only a convex surface can cause ships to go hull-down. [ref. B.12] 

The zetetic law of perspective is a crucial part of zetetic astronomy, for it is required to account for nearly all of the visual effects commonly attributed to the sphericity of the earth.  Rowbotham dealt with it in detail. [ref. B.13]  Artists make use of a concept called the vanishing point, the point at which a group of parallel lines appear to converge.  In conventional perspective, the vanishing point is at infinity.  Not so in zetetic perspective.  According to Rowbotham, “parallel lines appear in the distance to converge to one and the same datum line, but to reach it at different distances if themselves dissimilarly distant.” [ref. B.14] 

Many of the conventional “proofs” of sphericity were easily dealt with.  How can the earth be circumnavigated if it is not a sphere?  Rowbotham suggested that the skeptical might experiment by walking around a small table.  Is the table then a sphere? [ref. B.15]  He correctly argued that this objection is based on the false premise that only a globe can be circumnavigated. [ref. B.16] 

Arguments against rotundity: Rowbotham claimed Polaris has frequently been seen from below the equator, and this is a powerful argument against rotundity. [ref. B.17] 

An obvious objection to zetetic astronomy is that it predicts that degrees of longitude should get longer the further south one goes.  To this, Rowbotham replied that no actual measurement of a degree of longitude had ever been made south of the equator.  Besides, distances south of the equator don’t fit the globular view:

[P]ractical navigators give the distance from the Cape of Good Hope to Port Jackson as 8,000 miles; from Port Jackson to Cape Horn as 8,000 miles; and from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope, 6,000 miles, making together 22,000 miles.  The average latitude of these places is 45°, at which parallel the circuit of the Earth, if it be a globe, should only be 14,282 miles. [note B.1]  Here, then, is an error between the theory of rotundity and practical sailing of 7,718 miles. [ref. B.18] 

Rowbotham neglected to say what the distance around the 45th parallel should be according to zetetic astronomy, but it would be half again the circuit of the equator, some 32,400 nautical miles. 

It was commonly believed in England that surveyors laying out railways and canals adjusted their sights for the curvature of the earth.  Rowbotham said that method turned out to be unsatisfactory.  It was replaced by a technique known as the foresight–backsight method, which, as Rowbotham recognized, works equally well on flat or spherical earths. [ref. B.19]  Nevertheless, he insisted that the British government tacitly acknowledged that the earth is a plane.  As proof, he cited standing order No. 6 of the House of Lords, which regulated plans submitted to the government for public works:

[A] datum HORIZONTAL LINE, which shall be the same throughout the whole length of the work, or any branch thereof respectively; and shall be referred to some fixed point stated in writing on the section, near some portion of such work; and in the case of a canal, cut, navigation, turnpike, or other carriage road, or railway, near either of the termini [emphasis presumably added by Rowbotham]. [ref. B.20] 

To a flat-earther, horizontal means flat, not some uniform distance above sea level. 

It was not just Newtonian gravitation that Rowbotham rejected, but much of Newtonian mechanics.  He noted that a ball dropped from the masthead of a ship strikes the same place whether the ship is moving or not.  That would be conventional, except that he claimed that on a moving ship, the path of the ball is a diagonal line. [ref. B.21]  (The path would be curved.) More unconventional was his claim about what happened when the ball is thrown upward from the masthead.  In this case, he claimed that the ball would expend its vertical and horizontal momentum simultaneously, and drop straight down from its zenith.  This would cause it to miss a moving ship. [ref. B.22]  He claimed that if such an experiment were tried from a moving earth, it should have the same result. 

Air-gun experiment according to Rowbotham

Air-gun experiment according to Rowbotham.

If conventional theory is correct, Rowbotham argued, the motion of the earth’s surface in England should be about 700 miles per hour.  He says he fastened an air-gun to a post and adjusted it to vertical with a plumb-line. [ref. B.23]  “On discharging the gun, the ball ascended in the direction AC, and invariably (during several trials) descended within a few inches of the gun at A; twice it fell back upon the very mouth of the barrel.  The average time that the ball was in the atmosphere was 16 seconds …” [ref. B.24]  Allowing half the time for the ascent and half for the descent, Rowbotham calculated that the earth should have moved 5600 feet in the meantime!  That is, the ball should have fallen more than a mile from the air-gun! 

Having proved (to his own satisfaction) that the earth is an immovable plane, Rowbotham now calculated the height of the sun using reported observations of its apparent altitude and plane trigonometry.  He concluded that its altitude is less than 4,000 miles. 

The sun’s path above the terrestrial plane is a circle.  This can be inferred because part of its path is an arc, and from a favorable position it can even be observed directly:

Captain Parry, and several of his officers, on ascending high land in the vicinity of the north pole, repeatedly saw, for 24 hours together, the sun describing a circle upon the southern horizon. [ref. B.25] 

Eclipses of the sun were not a matter of dispute.  In both conventional and zetetic astronomy they are caused by the moon passing between the sun and the observer.  If the earth is an immovable plane, however, it can’t be the cause of the moon’s eclipse.  To rebut the idea that the earth passes between the sun and moon, Rowbotham noted that “cases are on record of the Sun and Eclipsed Moon being above the horizon together.” [ref. B.26]  He supported this claim with a barrage of references from conventional scientific sources. 

As for the calculation of eclipses, often cited as evidence for the validity of modern astronomy, it proves nothing at all.  “The tables of the moon’s relative positions for almost any second of time are purely practical,” Rowbotham wrote, “the result of long continued observation, and may or may not be mixed up with hypothesis.” He noted that Ptolemy calculated all eclipses for 600 years, and the Babylonians are known to have calculated eclipses in 719 B.C. [ref. B.27]  Science gadfly Sir Richard Phillips and astronomical writer Mary Somerville both acknowledged that eclipses can be calculated without modern astronomy. [ref. B.28] 

Because gravitation is fallacy, the cause of the tides must be sought elsewhere.  Rowbotham argued atmospheric pressure causes the earth to slowly rise and fall on the waters of the Great Deep like a huge ship gently rocking at anchor. [ref. B.29]  The larger the vessel, the slower its motion, and the earth is so large it takes 12 hours to rise or fall. [ref. B.30]  When the earth falls, the inrushing waters cause the flood tide, and when it rises again the waters recede. 

The moon’s phases are caused because not all of the moon is self-luminous.  Apparently, it rotates to present more or less of the luminous part to the earth.  The idea that the moon is a solid spherical body with mountains and so forth is absurd. [ref. B.31]  Maps of the moon are pure fantasy, their features no more real than faces in a fire. [ref. B.32]  People see them because various authorities tell them to study maps and drawings of the moon before looking at it, so they will know what to look for. [ref. B.33] 

In early 1851, scientific journals were full of reports and comments on Foucault’s pendulum experiments, which reportedly demonstrate the rotation of the earth.  Rowbotham noted that many rejected this claim, and several who tried to replicate Foucault’s experiment failed to get the same results.  He quoted several authorities for this. 

In the second-last section of the book, “Perspective on the Sea,” Rowbotham argued that perspective works differently for objects up in the air and on the ground.  “In the first case the centre of the object is the datum to which every point of the exterior converges; but in the second case the ground becomes the datum, in and towards which every part of the object converges in succession, beginning with the lowest, or that nearest it.” [ref. B.34]  This is exactly what occurs when objects seem to disappear behind the curvature of the earth.  On a flat canal, a telescope will always bring the object back into view, but on the undulating sea this is not always possible because of the swells.  He claimed that a telescope magnifies the waves and exacerbates the situation. [ref. B.35] 

In the final section, Rowbotham accused conventional astronomers of jugglery and fabrication [ref. B.36]  and warned:

The soldiers of truth and reason have drawn the sword, and ere another generation has been educated, will have forced the usurper to abdicate.  The axe is lifted—it is falling, and in a very few years will have “cut the cumberer down.” [ref. B.37] 

The flat earth also proves the inspiration of the Bible.  Rowbotham also had some harsh words for those who argued that the purpose of the Bible was to teach people how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go:

To say the Scriptures were not intended to teach science truthfully, is, in substance, to declare that God Himself has stated, and commissioned His prophets to teach things which are utterly false! [ref. B.38] 

Rowbotham argued that the implications of conventional astronomy threatened the very foundations of Christianity.  For example, how did Adam’s original sin affect those in other stellar systems, if such there be? [ref. B.39] 

Rowbotham then fired a barrage of scriptures:

Hebrews 2:5, Ephesians 1:21, Luke 18:29–30, Matthew 12:32 teach that there is only one world.  Revelation says the stars will fall on the earth.  How can thousands of stars fall on earth if they are larger than the earth and millions of light-years away? [ref. B.40] 

Exodus 20:4, Deuteronomy 4:18, and numerous other verses refer to waters under the earth.  In many parts of the Atlantic and Pacific, no bottom can be found. [ref. B.41]  There are no bounds to the great deep (Jeremiah 31:37).  Neither the height of the heavens nor earth’s foundations can be searched out. [ref. B.42] 

Scripture teaches an absolute up and down, and heaven is above the earth:

Deuteronomy 26:15, Exodus 19:20, Psalm 102:19, Isaiah 43:15, Psalm 103:11, 2 Kings 2:11, Mark 16:10, and Luke 24:51[ref. B.43]  Even Jesus “lifted his eyes to Heaven and said, Father, the hour is come.” [ref. B.44]  If there is a plurality of worlds and no absolute up or down, where is Heaven to be found? [ref. B.45] 

He concluded that the belief in heaven is endangered or destroyed by astronomy. 

By exposing astronomy as a fraud, Rowbotham claims he deprives atheism of a powerful weapon: [ref. B.46] 

The scriptures are therefore literally true, and must henceforth either alone or in conjunction with practical science be used as a standard by which to test the truth or falsehood of every system which does or may hereafter exist.  Philosophy is no longer to be employed as a test of scriptural truth, but the scriptures may and ought to be the test of all philosophy. [ref. B.47] 

Some might ask what is the benefit of Rowbotham’s system.  He argues that the great benefit of zeteticism is that it will bring noble-minded atheists to religion. [ref. B.48]