So there was a bunch of us shooting the breeze late on Christmas Day and some interesting topics of conversation came up. There were two separate groups chatting away at different ends of the room and in the one I wasn’t in I overheard something about the moon, which piqued my interest because the moon is super cool. Unfortunately, it turned out that one of our guests, my friend who likes to connect with the energy of trees, was explaining how the moon landing was a hoax.
Now, obviously, this is ridiculous. There are so many independent lines of evidence proving that we went to the moon in 1969 that it is simply beyond question. One thing I am always mindful of, though, is that I used to say the same thing when I was young, dumb and full of bunkum. To this day I’m not really sure why I believed it, and other conspiracy theory nonsense to boot; I do know that I’m very pleased to be rid of it and it will remain eternally mortifying to me.
I decided, then, to let this one go and stay in my original conversation which happened to be with the two teenage children of the lady in question. Unfortunately they took up their mother’s lead and started listing all the ‘evidence’ for the moon landing of 1969 being a fake. It was the usual stuff: shadows not aligning, flags fluttering, odd reflections; all the same arguments that I was making a decade ago.
As an aside I’ll address one of these points as it gives me an excuse for a cool photo, below. What we have here is a photo of Buzz taken by Neil in the summer of ’69. You can see part of the Eagle and also their footprints. What you can also see is a ripple in the flag that makes it look as if it’s blowing in the wind. Given that the moon has no atmosphere there has to be another explanation for the flutter, though. My friends say that the culmination of the Space Race and NASA’s ultimate triumph was an elaborate fake orchestrated in the Nevada desert (Area 51, naturally). Buzz Aldrin says that the telescopic arm that the flag hangs off wouldn’t extend properly and he couldn’t get the damn thing properly unfurled. I’m with Buzz.
As it so happens, in later missions, the astronauts decided that it looked better with a ripple in it and so they all deliberately planted their flags that way. They may have been hard bitten military pilots but they weren’t averse to a bit of artistic flare when the mood took them. Who could have thought that crackpot conspiracy theorists would latch on to something so innocuous?
Now, hoax believers and UFOs (as the other conversation had progressed to) are one thing, but what came next was too much. One of my young companions let slip that they couldn’t be sure that the world wasn’t flat. Uh huh, I know. The notion, first posited by Aristotle in 330BC, was apparently still up for debate in 2015.
To be fair to them, they weren’t definitively saying that the earth was flat, merely that they weren’t taking a side in the flat-spherical debate. They said they were keeping an open mind. I reminded them to not to keep the mind so open that the brain can fall out. Having asked them what this flat earth would look like they described some cockeyed mess the crux of which involved all the world as we know it being surrounded by Antarctica, this brought to mind the classic diagram by Orlando Ferguson, below.
I gently asked how they explained things like seasons and how they’re different on the two hemispheres and also the different set of stars you get in the south but obviously they had no good answers for that, because there aren’t any. The only way they could be sure either way, they explained, was to fly south and see it with their own eyes. They seemed to believe they were being genuinely intellectually honest and rigorous and I applauded them on their intentions if not on their conclusions.
The crux of their argument was: we don’t know what is true therefore anything could be true. This is the argument ad ignorantium, or the argument from ignorance. It offers no evidence or positive argument to explain a position. It is frequently used by proponents of Intelligent Design normally in the form of: we can’t currently explain this one particular facet of this one organism using evolution therefore Jesus.
Being kids, there is still plenty of time for them to learn the error of their ways, as I did. Hopefully it won’t take them as long as it did me. That, then, is today’s logical fallacy, the argument from ignorance. Just because you don’t know something it doesn’t give you the right to fill in the gaps with nonsense. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.