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Edgar Mitchell, the 6th man to walk on the moon, is also an avid believer in ongoing alien visitations here on Earth. This aspect of his personal life isn’t really news, but a recent radio interview focused on this belief of his and the media, of course, has flown with it.

Now let’s step around the obvious fact that yours truly is an alien visitor. Strictly coincidence. I have never met Dr. Mitchell, and I have only been here since 2003. Not a factor.

You can hear the interview here, but here are the tidbits I want to focus on.

Mitchell: I happen to be privileged enough to have, uh, be in on the fact that we have been visited on this planet, and the UFO phenomenon is real, although it’s been covered up by governments for quite a long time.

Interviewer: I’ve heard, like, you know, crazy UFO nuts tell me this kind of thing before. I’ve never had Dr. Ed Mitchell, you know, the 6th man to walk on the moon, respected scientist in his own right, announce to me that we’ve been visited by aliens from other planets, and they definitely are out there, there’s no debating it.

Whether the interviewer buys it or not, I don’t know, but it is his job to stir up controversy. He leads the audience into the trap of the Appeal to Authority, by reminding us that Mitchell is a respected scientist and an astronaut, distancing him from those crazy UFO nuts. What the interviewer failed to mention was Mitchell’s Institute of Noetic Sciences, or that he put his life in the hands (so to speak) of a remote healer several years ago. Wacky beliefs rarely fly solo, after all.

Just to be clear, I have the utmost respect for Ed Mitchell. Space travel is hard work! But people in high places are still subject to the rules of evidence. Mitchell, like any other plebeian UFO nut, fails to present any. When pressed on the issue, he replies:

I don’t know all the inside details, because that isn’t my really main interest.

Not your main interest? Not your main interest?!?! Solid evidence of, not only extraterrestrial life, but intelligent life visiting this little rock would be the most incredible thing ever! I don’t care who you are– learning about aliens on earth would quickly become your main interest. So yeah, he’s got nothing. And until he (or anyone else) produces something tangible, nobody’s word can be taken over anybody else’s.

Of course, we’re all overlooking the most obvious flaw in all of this… The moon landings were faked! So who cares what some fake-o moonwalking wannabe says about aliens!

The wide world of woo-woo is a “shades of gray” kind of thing, a continuum, ranging from the mildly wacky to the extremely bizarre and downright dangerous. The question I ask myself is where do I draw the line between what I should worry about and what I can let slide? At what point does a silly belief become harmful to the point that I should step in and say something? It can be hard to tell sometimes.

For example, who would have thought that the Catholic Eucharist was anything more than the benign remnants of an old ritual? Not having any significant exposure to Catholicism myself, I had no idea of the underlying belief that communion wafers were literally transformed into flesh, or wine into blood. Yes, literally. This is magical thinking. This is nonsense. But even then, who would have thought such a silly idea could be dangerous? Could inspire assault and death threats??

After much thought, I come to the conclusion that the line need not be drawn at all. The beliefs themselves are not to blame. They are merely the symptom of something greater, and trying to knock them all down one by one is like playing whack-a-mole– only with hundreds and thousands of transforming, self-replicating moles. Knock one down and 30 more pop up.

Instead, we need to correct the problem at its source. We need to fix the faulty logic that is responsible for it all. People believe weird things because they don’t know how to ask the right questions. They don’t understand the shortcomings of personal anecdotes. They don’t realize the importance of real, tangible evidence– or what qualities evidence requires to hold scientific validity. Most importantly, they fail to accept their own fallibility. “I saw it with my own two eyes! It must be true!”

This is where the problem lies. Fix this, and we won’t need to draw the lines between crazy and crazier.

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