Of Course We Went to the Moon

Last week Fox ran a science-challenged “documentary” claiming that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration faked the 1968 moon landing. The claims were so absurd that no rational person with an understanding of physics would buy their arguments.

But then somebody I thought knew better linked to this site which offers a video purporting to prove that NASA faked the moon landing. Ugh.

Anyway, just one example of how tenuous the conspiracy folks hold on physical reality is. The site contains an article by James Collier (famous in conspiracy circles for his Votescam book which claim all U.S. elections are rigged by a power elite) outlining what he thinks is the best evidence against the moonshot. Specifically,

Earth’s atmosphere takes light and bends it, spreading it around objects. Light reflects off air molecules and lights up the dark sides of objects. It is atmosphere, bending the sun’s light, that makes the sky appear to be blue. However, on the moon there is no prism of atmosphere to diffuse or bend light so the sky is totally black.

On the moon, the sun’s light should be blinding. In fact, the astronauts wear gold tinted face plates on their helmets to cut down 95-percent of the light from the sun.

The dark side of objects in NASA photos should be pitch black, while the lit side should be hellishly bright. Yet, all NASA photos from the moon are softly lit, and they appear to be taken in Earth’s atmosphere.

There are a number of “there’s too much light in those photographs” arguments which all ignore the most salient point — the Sun is not the Moon’s only source of light.

Specifically the Earth is a major source of light. In fact the light. On the moon the light given off by the Earth is about 100 times brighter than the amount of light we see from a full moon. Add to that the light bouncing around the lunar surface itself, and the apparent diffusion and lack of totally dark shadows is hardly any great mystery.

Betty Raidor, Victim of McMartin Preschool Hysteria, Dead at 81

Betty Raidor, 81, died recently of complications from a heart attack at her Bakersfield, California, home. Raidor was part of one of the most bizarre legal proceedings in U.S. history.

After children at the McMartin Preschool accused her and others of committing rape, sodomy, animal sacrifice as part of satanic rituals, Raidor and six other defendants were charged with numerous counts of child molestation. Their pretrial hearing phase lasted an astounding 18 months — the longest ever for a criminal trial in the United States — before all charges against all but two of the defendants were dropped.

Although charges against Raymond Buckey and his mother, Virginia McMartin, went forward and Los Angeles County alone spent $13.5 million prosecuting the cases, ultimately not a single person was ever convicted from any charge stemming from the McMartin case.

It did however ruin many lives, including Raidor’s who was financially ruined by the cost of mounting a defense and who found herself to be a pariah in her community. The case also helped bring to national attention ultimately false claims of vast underground networks of Satanic cults.

Contacted by The Daily Breeze about Raidor’s death, Charles Buckey — Raymond Buckey’s father — lashed out against the wrongful prosecution of Raidor and others.

How can you put something like that behind you when you lost all your property and everything you have is gone? Can you imagine that happening to a person who is a grandmother? They lost everything they had. The media did everything in its power to find those people guilty. And there were a lot of people in Manhattan Beach who thought they were guilty.


McMartin defendant Betty Raidor dies. Josh Grossberg, The Daily Breeze, February 23, 2001.

Forcing Kids to Pledge Allegiance to the State

It’s kind of amazing that the idea of forcing kids to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance keeps coming up, but it does. Virginia state SEnator Warren Barry wants to make Virginia one of 22 states that require students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, even though such laws are clearly unconstitutional.

In the 1930s and 1940s an enormous controversy erupted in the United States when children who were Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to recite the Pledge. They maintained that reciting the Pledge violated a religious injunction not to worship false Gods. The anger toward the Jehovah’s Witnesses were so great there were numerous incidents of violence where believers were beaten by mobs.

In 1940 the Supreme Court originally ruled that Jehovah’s Witnesses could be forced to recite the Pledge, only to reverse itself in 1943 and rule that students could opt out of the Pledge requirement for religious or philosophical reasons. Still the desire to force children to Pledge their allegiance to the state is a powerful idea that won’t die.

Barry is an ex-Marine officer who was infuriated to se children in a Virginia school goofing off and ignoring the morning recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Barry told Scripps HOward that he was so angry he wanted to send the kids to a Marine boot camp to instill the proper patriotism (quite a strange way to reinforce the Pledge’s message of “liberty and justice for all.”) Instead he introduced his bill that in his words “mandate[s] respect for the flag.”

When the Virginia Senate modified his bill to allow for religious and philosophical exemptions, he quickly withdrew it calling those who had changed his bill “pinkos.” That’s an odd statement considering that the Pledge itself was written by socialist Francis Bellamy best known, aside for the Pledge of Allegiance, for his utopian socialist novels such as Looking Backward.

Only in the United States would a conservative Republican be stridently pushing for American children to recite a statist loyalty oath written by a 19th century socialist.


Virginia state senator presses pledge requirement. Jessica Wehrman, Scripps Howard News Service, February 18, 2001.

It Takes Tolerance to Listen to a Really Bad Speech

Ugh. Being bored and sick last night, I figured what the heck — I’d tune into the end of the Grammy awards to see Eminem perform with Elton John. A lot of people I know were upset at the idea that Eminem might win the award for best album. My response to that worry was that there’s only one thing you ever have to know about the Grammy awards — these folks once awarded Milli Vanilli a Best New Artist award. ‘Nuff said.

Anyway, before Eminem performed Recording Academy President and CEO Michael Greene came out and gave a brief little sermon about how art always shocks, our parents hated Elvis, blah, blah, blah. I almost expected him to add that if Shakespeare were alive today he’d be writing lyrics like contemporary rap stars. Among other things, Greene said,

People are mad, and people are talking. And that’s a good thing because it’s through dialogue and debate that social discovery can occur.

Listen, music has always been the voice of rebellion — it’s a mirror of our culture, sometimes reflecting a dark and disturbing underbelly obscured from the view of most people of privilege, a militarized zone which is chronicled by the CNN of the inner city — rap and hip-hop music. We can’t edit out the art that makes us uncomfortable. That’s what our parents tried to do to Elvis, the Stones and the Beatles.

…Accept the fact that musicians, movie stars and athletes are not perfect, they make mistakes and can’t always be counted on to be role models. Art incites, entices, it awes, and angers, it takes all its various incarnations to maintain the balance, vitality and authenticity of the artistic process. Let’s not forget that sometimes it takes tolerance to teach tolerance.

What an absurd claim about art. Certainly no government official should prevent Eminem from making his music or stop Hollywood from making films in which the brains of a living human being are eaten (as is done in the movie Hannibal), but to say that essentially anything constitutes art is simply wrong.

Do we really need people like Eminem to provoke discussion? I think not. Under this sort of definition, Fred Phelps is a performance artist rather than a hateful bigot. I’m waiting for one of these Hollywood liberals to defend cross burning as artistic expression.

I think The Onion best caught the absurdity of such rhetoric with its classic story, ACLU Defends Nazis’ Right to Burn Down ACLU Headquarters. In a free society we shouldn’t look to the state to censor distasteful works, but neither should we expect that cultural elites will embrace as art anything that sells millions of copies simply by appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Decoding of Human Genome Unlikely to Make Creationism Go Away

Arthur Caplan claims that the decoding of the human genome should settle the debate over evolution vs. creationism once and for all. That, however, is exceedingly unlikely to happen.

The main problem is that Caplan seems to think there is such a thing as “scientific creationism” but every version of creationism I’ve seen is most decidedly not scientific. Which is not to say that creationism is necessarily false, but that most formulations of it are beyond the realm of science to evaluate.

Take, for example, the critic of evolution Philip Johnson who is quoted by Focus on the Family as saying the evidence is completely against natural selection. In fact the creationists quoted by FOF consider the fact that primates, rats and humans share common genes to be proof of special creation rather than evolution from common ancestors.

But to return to Johnson’s views, in his book Darwin on Trial Johnson argues that the problem at the core of evolution is the widespread acceptance among scientists of what Johnson calls “doctrinaire naturalism.” Johnson essentially argues that scientists simply leave God out of the universe by definition by assuming that any given observed phenomenon occurs through naturalistic processes.

Take something as important as the orbits that planets take around the Sun. Prior to Isaac Newton there were lots of speculations on what caused planets to maintain their orbits including a theist answer — God intervened to make sure planets maintained their orbit and didn’t crash into each other. Newton and other scientists, however, looked for a completely naturalistic cause and Newton was the first person to prove that elliptical orbits of planetary objects was explained by the inverse square law of gravitation.

Johnson essentially argues that by constantly looking for only naturalistic explanations for phenomenon such as the orbit of planets, scientists write God out of the picture without giving him a chance. This is to some extent true, but it’s hard to imagine how to create a theistic science that would involve God unpredictably intervening in the universe. In fact Johnson retreats at this point and has yet to give an adequate explanation of what he would put in place of naturalistic explanations.

The decoding of the human genome will settle nothing as far as the creationism debate goes since it merely adds the longstanding accumulated evidence of the similar genetic composition of a wide variety of species. Evidence which has already been rejected by creationists as proof of natural selection.