An estimated 250 people converged on West Edmonton Mall’s Fantasyland Hotel Thursday, for the first of a two-day conference on an issue that was settled by science hundreds of years ago.

The event is billed as the first Canadian Flat Earth International Conference.

Organizers said within the room, there were a number of differing views about the nature of the world we call home.

“You’re going to find so many various beliefs here, but the one thing that we all kind of agree on is that we don’t believe we’re on a spinning ball, flying through space,” said Robbie Davidson, the organizer of the event.

The primary belief of so-called “flat earthers” is that the world is a stationary disc, with all the continents and oceans on top; the Arctic is in the centre, and the Antarctic is a ring-shaped wall of ice around the outside.  Another major component of the theory is that the sun, moon and stars move, not the Earth.

One of the key speakers, Mark Sargent, said he initially became interested in 2014, but spent most of his effort trying to debunk the theory.

“I hated this thing. I was banging my head on the keyboard going ‘this is ridiculous,’” he said.

Now, Sargent believes our known world is inside a dome-like structure with walls around the outside and a cover. He carries a small model, inside a shallow jar. Sargent admits he doesn’t know what is outside that dome.

Some flat earthers believe in a conspiracy, keeping the general population in the dark.

Sargent suggested governments know the truth but want control. He also believes if people found out such a basic belief was fundamentally wrong, it could cause mass panic.

“Even if there was a 10 per cent chance that the population would be running through the streets with pitchforks and torches, would you take that chance?” he asked.

Scientists, astronauts disagree 

Frank Florian, the director of planetarium and space sciences at Telus World of Science, said there is not even a remote possibility that the planet we live on is a flat disc.

Florian points to experiments done by ancient societies, involving comparing shadows, and watching ships arriving and leaving over the horizon, and more modern experiments, all pointing to a round planet.

“It’s not just one person saying it. Basically, a group of scientists are analyzing different things and they’re all coming to the same conclusion,” Florian told CTV News.

Florian said the simplest evidence can be found by watching a lunar eclipse. As the Earth passes directly between the sun and the moon, the world’s shadow can be seen on the lunar surface, and that shadow is curved.

lunar eclilpse

CTV News also reached out to Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to command the International Space Station. He also circled the Earth several times while in orbit.

His staff told CTV he was unavailable, but pointed us to a prerecorded video in which he speaks sharply against the flat earth theory.

“It’s patently untrue, so there’s no point in engaging in conversation, because all you’re doing is giving that person credibility,” Hadfield said in the video.

Organizers and speakers at the Flat Earth International Conference admitted their evidence for a flat earth is circumstantial, but said raising questions and having a debate about the world is healthy.

“I think science is all about just asking questions. It was always a thing that was encouraged,” said Davidson.

CTV News also asked the Canadian Space Agency for an interview on the topic, but that request was declined.