Conspiracy theorizing and religious motivated reasoning: Why the earth ‘must’ be flat

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Flat Earth ideology is arguably the paragon of science denial and one of the more famous historical examples of conflict between religion and science. How is it that some people can believe this idea in the face of modern scientific evidence? The latest reemergence of Flat Earth ideology also appears to embrace conspiracy theorizing, disputing the Apollo Moon landings and accusing NASA of falsifying video footage and the Earth-from-space photography. To what extent, then, is accepting a flat Earth (and rejecting a spherical one) an attempt to reduce cognitive dissonance in the minds of flat-Earthers emerging from conflict between scientific consensus on the shape of the Earth and literalist interpretations of the Bible, and to what extent is this belief driven by extreme distrust of information provided by government institutions? Moreover, do Flat Earthers view themselves as skeptical consumers of scientific information, in similarity with climate skeptics? This study examined if (1) Biblical literalism and conspiracy ideation predict belief that the Earth is flat, and (2) people with higher conspiracy ideation (including those who hold Flat Earth beliefs) view themselves as more rational and logical than suspicious. Here, two samples were analyzed and compared: one recruited from a national online marketing panel (N = 513) and a sample of participants recruited from the first annual Flat Earth International Conference (n = 23). Results showed no significant difference in religiosity and belief in evolution between the two samples; however, the Flat Earth sample was significantly higher in conspiracy mentality. Results here also indicate that Flat-Earthers consider themselves significantly more skeptical and logical than the national sample.

Conspiracy Theories, Flat Earth, Motivated Reasoning, Science Communication, Public Acceptance of Science, Public Understanding of Science, Religious Beliefs, Worldviews