Photos by Autumn Walter |CIGAR| Samuel Murray found himself at Conspiracy Theory Night hosted by URI’s Debate Union.

Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics made headlines last year when he went on the “Road Trippin” podcast and claimed he believed the Earth was flat. This statement sparked debates across social media and brought the “Flat Earth Theory” into the spotlight. Last Thursday night, I found myself on the same side as Irving when I participated in the University of Rhode Island Debate Union’s “Conspiracy Theory Night.”

The Debate Union is an organization that partakes in debates ranging from topics regarding current events to the validity of whether we all live in the Matrix. Cate Morrison, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, started the official organization four years ago, and hosts weekly debates to all who want to participate. Since then the Debate Union has participated in several intercollegiate debates across the country, and Morrison sees the potential for debating to grow any student’s confidence and skill set to present solid arguments.

“We see it as an opportunity for students to be able to talk about issues that are important to them,” Morrison said. “It’s important for giving people a sense of their own capacity to be advocates, to speak to issues that matter in the world to themselves and to learn how to become effective agents of change.”

I walked in not knowing what to expect when first hearing “conspiracy theory night.” I was pleasantly surprised to see a group of passionate debaters who did not truly believe in outlandish theories. They even encouraged me to take free pizza, so I ignored my journalistic integrity and grabbed a couple slices.

Like every meeting the Debate Union has, they start by listing off potential topics to debate and vote on which ones they like the best. Some that stuck out included the existence of cryptic people (like Bigfoot), the Moon landing conspiracy and if Elvis was still enjoying life down in Mexico. The winner (and the one I voted for) was whether the Earth is flat or round.

“We talk about the Earth being flat, but what about the Moon being flat,” Alyssa McDonnell, a member of the Debate Union, said. From that moment I knew we were in for a thought provoking debate.

Each group then gets 15 minutes to prepare their arguments and after the time is up each debater gets three minutes to present their case. My group, which consisted of Eric Melaragno, Lydia Forrest and Tabitha Lewis, took the side of the “Flat-Earthers.” The opposition, consisting of McDonnell, Isabelle Ury, Noah Steinberg and our own Photo Editor Autumn Walter, believed the Earth was round and that we were basically insane.

The two groups went back and forth trading blows to logic and sanity. Some of the arguments included that the Earth was similar to that of a snow globe and there was a dome covering the entirety of planet. Another one was that ordinary people do not go into space, as the only people allowed are cleared by the governments of countries around the world. The ordinary Joe does not waltz into NASA and say “fly me to the moon,” they must pass clearance and keep quiet otherwise they might be “silenced forever.” Solid points.

I presented two arguments when I was given my chance. The first had to do with photos of the Earth taken from space being altered to look round. Have people ever heard of Adobe Photoshop? It’s very easy to alter photos, so we shouldn’t trust any ordinary photo we see.  I then took to the drawing board and wrote down two names; Irving and B.o.B, a professional rapper. I stared down the “Normal-Earthers” and said to them that these people believe in a flat Earth and are role models to millions, and we should trust them.

After everyone said their two cents, Morrison, who acted as the judge, declared the “Round-Earthers” victorious, squashing my group’s claim of a flat Earth and declaring scientific evidence more powerful than fantasy beliefs. Overall, Morrison was pleased with the change of scenery and said it was important for students to take a breather from the serious topics once in a while and just have fun.

“It was an opportunity to go in the places where debate gets weird,” Morrison said. “Where regular codes of expectation for evidence for reasonability of claims and things sort of get all busted, and that’s fun to sort of engage with and gives our participants an opportunity to think outside the box a little bit, even if that’s creative and funny and weird.”

In the end each person has their fair share of laughs and I came out with a new appreciation for debating anything out of the ordinary. The Debate Union meets in the first floor of Washburn Hall, and be reached at URIDebateUnion@gmail.com. Morrison encourages any student who wants to test out their debating skills to join, as they “welcome people of all experience, including none.”

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Sam Murray
Sam Murray is a senior at the University of Rhode Island majoring in journalism and minoring in business. Hailing from the great town of North Andover, MA, Sam lives and breathes New England sports while maintaining a sharp and vigilant eye on today’s important news around URI. Sam can also be heard on 90.3 WRIU talking about and broadcasting URI sports. You can reach Sam at samuel_murray@my.uri.edu or on Twitter @smurray1212.