THE FLAT EARTH. It is not at all certain who first sailed round the world, but until it happened - and long after for the sceptics - everybody thought the world was flat.

Was that proof? Navigation skills were limited, and few people on a ship knew where they really were. The captain could have told his crew "We have been all round the world" when it was not true at all. And why should the sponsor of an expedition believe him? The man had set out to prove the world was round, and here he was saying that he had done it! The world is full of researchers whose research proves what they want it to prove.

Second question. When everybody believed the world was flat, there must have been a few people with doubts. Seamen knew that you saw the mountains of a country before you saw the beaches. Lookouts at seaside towns knew that you saw the masts of a home-coming ship before you saw the hull. How did that square with the flat earth idea? Perhaps the belief was so universal that doubters kept quiet. Are there some beliefs today that don't really stand up, but are so fashionable that nobody will gainsay them?

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