|By Christoph Stappert
"The riddle does not exist. If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered."
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, German Philosopher 1889-1951, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus
Itís hardly original to start off with a quote, but this one is short as well as inspiring, and I wanted to get to the point without further ado. Clyde Lewis has invited me to write an article on the current "Did we or did we not land on the Moon?" debate, as I "seem to be the most intelligent of the people posting in the forum on this subject" (under the handle ĎEisfeldí). While that flattering statement is certainly untrue and reveals more than just a little disregard for a series of other posters, I will pick up the glove in their name.
So who is this guy, anyway? My name is Christoph Stappert, Iím a 24 year-old student from Germany. My main classes at University are philosophy, with accompanying studies in history, psychology, music and literature. As a German, I write this article in a language foreign to me, and will ask your kind forgiveness for any strange vocabulary or grammar I use. My English is pretty fluent, I think, and Iíve been to America a couple of times. Iím sure the style wonít detract from the meaning. Since one aspect of this debate is the political one, regarding the Moon Race between the US and Soviet Russia, some of you might even regard me as kind of neutral.
Speaking of neutrality, however, I must confess that I have been a space buff for all my life. As a kid I just devoured every book or film available on astronomy, the Apollo program , the Space Shuttle, and so forth. I maintained the fascination and, growing up through the years, became more thorough and systematic about the whole thing, studying various science and engineering treatises just as a hobby. Needless to say, I donít have any doubt whatsoever that the Apollo lunar landings were real. Can I still be neutral on the subject? Yes I think so, more of which later.
Iím apparently not a real scientist. While I have read a lot and could explain to you in laymanís terms how a neutron star is formed or what a tidal lock orbit is, my knowledge does in no way approach the schooling of people like Phil Plait or the guys working for NASA. Clyde called people like me "armchair scientists", and I can find no fault with that term. There is nothing wrong with being an armchair anything as long as you know who you are and do not pretend to be smarter than the professionals (although conspiracy theorists usually lack that sort of insight).
That is why I will not talk about moon rocks, Van Allen radiation levels or astronaut photographs here. Sorry if I disappoint you, bear with me, I think itíll get interesting enough. Suffice to say that neither Clydeís website nor the recent FOX TV special present any new or damning arguments to support the "Apollo hoax" theory. Every single piece of their so-called "evidence" has already been debunked and utterly discredited numerous times Ė "no stars", "radiation", "footprints", all of it. Have a look at Phil Plaitís Bad Astronomy (http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/tv/foxapollo.html) or Jim Scottiís answer to another "Apollo hoax" website (http://pirlwww.lpl.arizona.edu/~jscotti/NOT_faked/). I couldnít do it any better or more thoroughly than a professional astronomer.
A person must realise what he (or she) is good at. My talent lies not with science or engineering. I am a space buff, but I know my limitations. I tend to be good at philosophy, however, where you learn a great deal about logic and reasonable thinking, analysing arguments and weighing them one against the other, debating and communicating with other people in a fruitful way.
And since a proper conspiracy theorist is not perturbed by hard facts anyway (Clyde has already expressed his disregard for people who use science as a "crutch"), we might as well try something else this time. I will analyse, from a philosophical point of view, some of the methods and devices which the "Apollo hoax" crowd, other conspiracy theories and tabloid reports in general use to promote their false claims. I would never expect to convince the likes of Clyde himself. But if one or two undecided kids who visit his website learn something about how to deal with conspiracy theories, or about logical thinking in general, I have served my purpose. And remember, these are merely suggestions which I have found useful in real life. Do not take them for Gospel truth, Iíll choke you if you do!
1. Conspiracy Theory: Basically, the claims of the "Apollo hoax" promoters amount to the classical, all-encompassing and self-sustaining conspiracy theory. They propose a powerful, impenetrable and utterly ruthless conspiracy designed to fool the masses. Who stands behind that conspiracy is naturally unclear, but usually governments, the media and big corporations are said to be involved. Their most valuable asset is the power to censor and manipulate information, that is TV pictures, newspaper articles, books etc. By deciding what people see, they decide what people think. The level of control varies for each conspiracy theory Ė some claim all news broadcasts are carefully staged and every phone line tapped into, while other theories are less almighty. The "Apollo hoax" theory, with several hundred-thousands of perpetrators and literally billions of dupes, is in my view a pretty major scenario.
The psychology behind such conspiracy theories is simple, really: mystery shows like the "X-Files" are very popular. The mass media get ever more omnipresent and aggressive, fuelling peopleís paranoia and feeling of helplessness. Most people also hold a certain mistrust for politicians (probably the most hated profession in any country of the world). We all know that sometimes they do lie to us, so why not this time? In addition, the conspiracy theory is a comfortable way to avoid a serious hard-fact debate. After all, every piece of evidence, every claim brought forward against the conspiracy theorists could have been manufactured by the conspiracy itselfÖ
But letís take it seriously for a moment: could a conspiracy the scale and complexity of the proposed "Apollo hoax" actually work? Ok, people can be deceived, but they are also suckers for the truth. From all we know about history, there is always someone willing to talk, and succeeding. There is always perceptive and plain well-brained people outside of the conspiracy, journalists, scientists, rival political parties who expose the lie. Not today or tomorrow, but eventually: Richard Nixon and Watergate, Ronald Reagan and the Iran contra affair, the CIA and the Bay of Pigs. By contrast, the evidence that we went to the Moon with Apollo has been in the public domain for over 30 years, and only a very small cottage industry of conspiracy theorists believes the landings were faked. If NASAís "fake" had been half as sloppy as those theorists claim Ė badly tailored photographs etc. Ė, I suspect there would not be a single soul left on this planet taking Apollo for real.
Then again, how would I know anything about conspiracies? After all, as Clyde put it, the truly powerful conspiracies are the ones never even suspected!
2. Scepticism: Which brings me to the most potent weapon of the "lunar hoax" crowd, their endless and systematic scepticism. They will look for alternatives to your arguments, however unlikely. For example, the Apollo astronauts brought back some 800 lbs of moon rock. But couldnít those moon rocks have been faked? Geologists worldwide have examined them for 30 years and say they are real. But couldnít those geologists be on NASAís payroll? Even so, we do not have the technology to "fake" a moon rock. How do you know? Maybe NASA has the technology and is keeping it secret. Or maybe the moon rock is real and was brought back by unmanned probes. And how do we know there is 800 lbs in the first place? Have you seen them yourself?,
Letís follow this kind of scepticism through to the bitter end, for a moment: how can you be completely sure about anything? How do you know that each and everyone you ever met is not lying to you? How do you know there are other people at all? The sensory perceptions of your eyes, ears or your whole body could be wrong. You could be in a coma and hallucinating all these things! Or you could be a supercomputer running some kind of life-simulation! As you see, total scepticism ultimately leads to an abyss of folly. We simply cannot be completely sure about anything.
While not even the "Apollo hoax" theorists are that far removed from reality, their aim is clear: to disprove at all costs, no matter what you say. What they do is take suspicion as if it were evidence. Suspicion is to assume that something could, in theory, be true, however unlikely. Evidence is clear and verifiable proof that indicates something is true. Indicates, not proves! Because ultimately, there is no such thing as irrefutable, impenetrable proof. That doesnít mean everything is necessarily wrong. We have common sense and experience which tell us that some things are more likely than others. And at some point, we must just decide what we choose to believe and trust. This is how scientific thinking works.
In any way, extraordinary claims Ė like "the lunar landings were faked" Ė require extraordinary evidence. The "Apollo hoax" crowd raises countless suspicions, but fails to present substantial evidence (whatever "evidence" they did bring up was debunked by Phil Plait and others). Therefore, I for one choose to believe NASA.
3. Wrong "logic": Logic, according to Greek philosopher Aristotle, is the theory of reasonable thinking. More precisely, the figures and methods (not the content!) of reasonable thinking. Without going into too much detail, here is a very basic example of a logical deduction: "George Bush is a human. All humans are mortal. Therefore, George Bush is mortal." (oh my, some people will argue with me thereÖ).
What many conspiracy theorists do is present arguments that look logical in their superficial form, when they turn out to be meaningless under a little scrutiny. Take Clyde, for example: "It's been 30 years since we landed on the moon. It was 30 years ago we went 250,000 miles to deep space. We send up shuttles. Shuttles that only go 250 miles into space. Why aren't we flying shuttles to the moon? It's simple. We never went."
Wrong "logic" in its worst form. Not to mention that Clyde again confuses suspicion with evidence, there is a fatal fault in his deduction: you have no common element. "Bush = human" combined with "human = mortal" means "Bush = mortal". By contrast, "Apollo = 250.000 miles" combined with "Shuttle = 250 miles" meansÖ nothing, really, from a logical point of view.
We donít even need Aristotle for that, a little common sense will do: these are different times. The political aims and budgets are different. Even with todayís technology, it would take NATO billions of dollars and years of preparation to stage anything like the D-Day invasion of WWII. Even with todayís technology, NASA would require the same things to go back to the Moon. Just a question of resources and how they are being spent at the time.
(By the way, Clyde, speaking of the "Gorsky" article: itís Neil Armstrong, not "Niel"! If you canít get the scientific facts right Ė I understand you are a talk show host and have no time for that -, at least try to do a little research on the namesÖ).
4. One-sidedness: Another basic prerequisite for logical thinking is to look at both sides of the argument. You look at the evidence indicating that something is true, then you look at the evidence indicating it isnít. You analyse and weigh the arguments against one another. Based on your findings, you make an informed decision.
Thatís the last thing a conspiracy theorist wants you to do! They will only present you with the evidence speaking in favour of their views, as Clyde does. Everything speaking against his "evidence" or in favour of NASA is carefully left out (although I must admit, this could be about to change with the very article you are reading hereÖ). Ironically enough, despite their blatant one-sidedness, most conspiracy theorists will claim to be just the opposite. Clyde has repeatedly described himself as "a well rounded open minded thinker", and his only agenda as "to question".
Well, I for one have read "Mr. Gorsky", the article stating: "Itís simple. We never went [to the Moon]". That looks like quite a definite answer to me. In fact, the whole website is presented as if the Apollo landings were obviously a fake, without the "shadow of a doubt". In a court of law, when you accuse someone of fraud or any other crime, the accused does not have to prove his innocence. Instead, you, the accusing party, must prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt (as the actual term goes). The burden is not with NASA to prove they did go to the Moon, it lies with the "Apollo hoax" crowd to prove that they didnít (which is why Clydeís far-fetched comparison with the O.J. Simpson trial is another example of wrong "logic" and ultimately works against him).
Conspiracy theorists might get a little whiny and belligerent when you allegedly restrict their right to question. Some of the more erudite ones will start preaching about the constitution and amendment so-and-so. However, no one is restricting anything. There is nothing wrong with questions, only with wrong answers. Clyde gives quite a lot of both and makes it look as if the Apollo landings were already proven to be a fake. That is slander, and no constitution I would respect grants you a right on that.
So what about me then, am I neutral? After all, I have already admitted to being a space buff and believing the Apollo landings were real! However, there is no contradiction. Open-mindedness does not mean that you donít have any opinion whatsoever (a hard thing to do). It merely means that you are willing to give all sides of the debate an equal shot. I am not dogmatic about the whole thing: show me substantial and verifiable evidence that indicates we didnít go to the Moon, and naturally I will revise my opinion. I have yet to see such evidence from Clyde or anybody else.
By contrast, Phil Plait and the other "Apollo hoax" debunkers are indeed open-minded in the true sense of the word. Have a look at their sites, and you can read their views as well as the unabridged uncensored claims of the conspiracy theorists. Decide for yourselves.
5. Motivation: So why do they do it? Why would someone put forward a "theory" based on obscure conspiracies, wrong "logic" and some plain false "facts"? Why would someone stand by it with religious fervour, ignoring heaps of counter-evidence with endless scepticism?
I believe there are several factors at play here. First and foremost, as always in our society, is the dollar. The originators of a conspiracy theory are always a bunch of "professionals", most of them journalists, authors and other media people. Having failed with more serious subjects, and ruthless enough to brush all notion of conscience aside, they publish books like "We never went to the Moon!" or newspaper articles like "Bush secretly shipping arms to Iraq!". Needless to say, those hacks do not believe in the yarns they publish, not for one second (letís assume the FOX guys did, would you let them run a TV station?). They are in it for money and attention, period. While those "professional" conspiracy theorists are a nuisance, I find them pitiful rather than despicable. Sure, itís loathsome and cynical to toy with your audience that way. But there are dictators in this world doing it on a far larger scale, so save your rage for the real bad guys.
Even so, the alarming thing is that you always get some people ready to believe the tabloids. I guess itís easily done when the subject is as complex and literally out of this worlds as Apollo. And in any case, you always find some people wanting to believe in conspiracies! There is a certain romantic flair and morbid fascination about them. Hell, I love the "X-Files", too! But rest assured, David Duchovny does not believe in aliens. We mustnít confuse fantasy and real life. Sound boring? It isnít. Quite often, the real-life findings of science are a lot more astonishing than anything our fantasy could have dreamed of.
The most powerful motivation to swallow the conspiracy theory, however, is the allure of the elite. The fact that you have seen through the lie makes you feel part of an enlightened minority. The rants of "brainwashed zombies" only confirm your views. You are smarter than them! More courageous, too. After all, the conspiracy doesnít think twice about shutting up anybody getting in the way. Still, like a knight in shining armour, you are willing to fight the juggernaut. But while the image of Don Quixote is charming in a delightfully nostalgic way, Iíd rather join the boring majority this time. The one that letís you think for yourselves. Once again, you decide.
Ironically, by writing this very article I have helped to maintain the allure of the elite. Some people will berate me for utterly wasting my time responding to obviously hare-brained charges. They may be right, too. Why give the "Apollo hoax" crowd the time of day, when all it does is confirm their attention-seeking habits?
Indeed, from my humble personal observations, I believe Clyde belongs to the first category of "professional" conspiracy theorist. That is, he doesnít actually believe in what he says. A talk show host needs sensations and controversy, he needs debates without conclusions (there is a sequel next week), most of all, he needs an audience. Judging from the forum outpour on this particular subject, the mission was thoroughly accomplished. Full credits to you, sir!
In one of his more poetic moments, Clyde said that "the extent of human stupidity, like the stars, is inifinite [sic]". While this is a revealing remark about the esteem in which he holds his audience, Clyde is only partially wrong: the potential of human stupidity is infinite. As is the potential for human knowledge. We may be stupid as individuals, but can grow wise as a race. All it takes is a little effort. Thatís why I wrote this article.
So go out and find your own truth. Be smart enough to question the people around you, and kind enough to trust them when you can find no fault. It takes humility to ask the right questions, and courage to accept the answers when you find them. Most of all, donít take my word for it! If my examples of critical thinking inspire one of you to question my motives, this article has served a purpose.
My only regret is that itís much too long, and I wish I had the style to present it all in a more entertaining manner. There is enough talk on the net anyway. To close with another quote of Ludwig Wittgenstein: "Every single fact you know can be expressed in three words. Whereof we cannot speak, we must pass over in silence."
Why didnít I keep that in mind? I guess itís been too much fun? Answers on a postcard, please.
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