On of the topics of conversation on this, the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, is the allegation that Apollo was a hoax. I have had several friends report having seen shows these past few days that describe the Apollo program as a hoax and gives the ‘evidence’ for such a claim.
The broadcasting of such a show is a socially and morally despicable act. It is an exercise in lies and distortions, an invitation to engage in sloppy thinking, and an insult to brave people who did remarkable work to get people onto the moon by the end of the decade and return them safely to Earth.
I want to begin with the fact that giving time to this sloppy form of thinking is to endorse it. It is to say that this type of intellectual recklessness is morally permissible. Giving it a seal of approval means that we will have more of it. In some cases, morally reckless thinking such as this will get people killed. The conspiracy theorists are not the only people who have insufficient regard for the lives and well-being of the people in our community, so are those who give them a voice.
There is only one morally legitimate way to broadcast the claims of these conspiracy theorists. This is to present their half-baked ideas, explain the mistakes that these people are making, and to include in that message a proper level of condemnation of those who so utterly fail to check their work before they go public with their conclusions, and ignore the evidence against them.
This happens to be a free-speech issue. Certainly it is the case that conspiracy theorists have a right to express their stupidity in public, and broadcast companies have a right to broadcast as if to endorse this type of intellectual recklessness.
However, this simply means that conspiracy theorists have a right to immunity from violence for their expressions of stupidity, and that the broadcasters shall not be subject to criminal penalties. It is still permissible to give moral condemnation, and in this case moral condemnation is more than warranted. These people – both the conspiracy theorists themselves and the broadcasters who gave them a cloak of legitimacy – are evil people who lack the concern for evidence and truth that a good person would have had.
A good person would not have become a conspiracy theorist to start with. Instead, he would have demanded a better quality of evidence and intellectual responsibility from himself. That love of truth and sense of moral responsibility would have driven him to check his work, and that would have driven him to the evidence that these conspiracy claims were too absurd to be believed.
A good person would not have broadcast this intellectual recklessness when there are clear rebuttals to all of the claims that the conspiracy theorist offers as evidence. At the very worst, she would have used this as an opportunity to improve public education and decrease public gullibility to presenting the so-called ‘evidence’ then explaining the problems with it. And then asking the question, “What type of person would ignore these facts? What is the moral character of the person with such low regard for truth and evidence?”
The good person would have noted that intellectual laziness costs lives and promotes human suffering, and would have been driven by an interest not to contribute to the loss of life or human suffering and would have wanted not to become a part of or support those attitudes.
There has been more than enough written to debunk these hoax claims. What we are lacking is the moral condemnation that is appropriate for those who do not use these resources – who do not care enough about truth and reason and about the harms that come from intellectual recklessness and laziness.