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The Great Moon Hoax of 1835

You can download or listen to the podcast version (7 minutes) here. ***** Back when I was studying history as a graduate student, one of my profs played us an episode from the CBC Radio program IDEAS. The radio show told about a strange malady that hit Upper Canada in the 1800s. People died of a sickness, later called Sarner’s Disease, and were promptly buried. However, on one occasion a coffin was unearthed. The body inside was contorted and had clearly been clawing at the roof of the coffin, trying to get out. The person inside had been buried alive, or, at least, not fully dead. The show went on to detail how people became reluctant to bury their relatives for fear they weren’t fully dead and so held off burying them. Fear of a public health crisis mounted, with the proliferation of dead and probably dead but unburied bodies. People started hiding bodies in the barn, under the dock, and anywhere they could find until they could be sure their loved one was fully dead. The program quoted professors from important universities, and gave a logical, comprehensive account of the strange malady of Sarner’s Disease. As sophisticated graduate students in history, the class drank it all in…until the very last sentence of the program which started out “This work of fiction has been created for the CBC by...” You could have heard a pin drop. We had been duped. Our prof had schooled us and given us a good lesson in critical thinking, and, frankly, not believing everything you hear. Nowadays, we’d call that fake news – a story that’s told so convincingly that it’s possible to believe it, even though it’s simply made up nonsense. Somehow we have the idea that fake news is something new. The Russians have been taking over Facebook or Twitter, or the leftwing media is withholding information in order to make the President look bad. Maybe, maybe not. But if fake news is out there, it’s certainly not new. PT Barnum supposedly claimed, “there’s a sucker born every minute” and he might have had something there. Batman on the moon? In August of 1835 the New York Sun published a series of six articles about recent astronomical discoveries made by the noted astronomer John Herschel. The articles were initially billed as being reprinted from the Edinburgh Courant. The Sun related how Herschel had taken an enormous telescope from Britain to South Africa to do his observations. The weight of the lens was reported as 6,700 kilograms, and the magnification power was 42,000 times! The lens was said to be 24 feet wide. Since high power telescopes have trouble with proper illumination, a second “hydro-oxygen microscope” lens illuminated the view. It was a truly magnificent toy for an astronomer. And to give it more credibility, a scholarly journal was now said to be the source of the articles – the Edinburgh Journal of Science – and it said that Herschel had found planets around far away stars Tales far more fantastic than these would come out of these stories. When the telescope was focused on the moon, life was discovered. There were flowers, and forests full of food and animals including some animals resembling goats and bison. There was a beaver-like creature that walked on its hind legs and carried its young in its arms. The most fantastic thing of all was a sort of creature that appeared to have wings attached to its back – a kind of bat-man if you will. This creature was seen in what appeared to be conversation with other bat-beings, suggesting the creatures were intelligent and capable of higher thought. Ultimately there had been no further story to tell. This was because, thoughtlessly, the astronomer had left his telescope set up in such a way that it caught the sun’s rays during the day. With a magnification of 42,000 times, the observatory that housed the telescope was quickly ablaze and everything in it was destroyed, the telescope included. People were fascinated with the tale and reprint after reprint of the Sun was made. Briefly it was the best selling newspaper in the entire world. Newspapers all over the world reprinted the article because everyone wanted to know about the newly discovered moon creatures. The articles were reprinted in pamphlet form and in weeks sold 60,000 copies. Even the New York Times described the story as “plausible and probable.” Falling for fake news because we want to? There was just enough truth there to get people going. Herschel was a real astronomer. And he really had gone to the Cape of Good Hope to study the skies. The Edinburgh Courant was a real paper, as was the Edinburgh Journal of Science. Unfortunately, Herschel was not the author of the articles and hadn’t even heard about them before they were published. The Journal of Science, while real, had gone out of print several years earlier. As for the Courant, it too was real, but it had been defunct for over 100 years. As for the telescope, what’s a hydro-oxygen microscope lens anyway? So why did people fall for it, hook, line and sinker? Maybe because they really wanted to. Science was making great strides and people were prepared to believe all sorts of incredible things in the name of science. Religion was taking a beating, and many people felt their faith shaken by a science that often insisted God was irrelevant. We needed a place to belong, and someone to belong with, and if not a higher power why not bat-people? But in case you think this was an isolated incident, don’t forget how a 1930s radio play – one hundred years later – of HG Wells War of the Worlds convinced people we were being invaded by Martians. They believed it despite the radio program repeatedly reminding listeners that it was only a story. Alone in the universe, we feared the bogeymen of the night. Whatever the reason, there’s always been fake news and there always will be. We devour it ravenously because the creators of fake news have learned to do the one other thing Barnum supposedly advised: Always leave them wanting more. This article is taken from an episode of James Dykstra’s History.icu podcast, where history is never boring. You can check out other episodes at History.icu or on Spotify, Google podcasts, or wherever you find your podcasts. To dig a little deeper see: EarthSky.org's "Would you have believed the Great Moon Hoax?" Hoaxes.org's "The Great Moon Hoax" JSTOR Daily’s "How the Sun conned the world with “The Great Moon Hoax” The Irish Times’ "The Great Moon Hoax" The Smithsonian Magazine on "The Great Moon Hoax was simply a sign of its time" Wikipedia on"The Great Moon Hoax"...

CD Review, Music, Parenting

CD REVIEWS: Bach and Beethoven for kids (and adults)

C.S. Lewis once made mention of a man who did not like children. Now some of our dislikes are simply a matter of taste – whether your favorite ice cream is chocolate or vanilla says nothing about your character – but this man recognized that his disregard for little ones was wrong. There is a beauty in little children, a wonder about what God has done in making these tiny new people that everyone really should appreciate. If a man doesn't, it is because of something missing in the man. Lewis was making the point that there is such a thing as good and bad taste – all is not mere opinion. When it comes to classical music I'm like this man. I've never appreciated it, but I recognize this as a deficiency in myself. I should like it. After all, this is music that has stood that test of time. We play Beethoven and Bach's music centuries after it was first written; does anyone think the same will be done for Lady Gaga, Beyonce, or Justin Timberlake? Even those of us who don't like Bach know that in a real tangible way he is better than Beyonce. Since having kids I've hoped that my daughters' musical tastes will be better developed than their dad's. So I was very happy to come across these two CDs: Beethoven Lives Upstairs and Bach Comes to Call. Each is a dramatized account of the composer's life, sprinkled throughout with a liberal dose of their music. In Bach Comes to Call (47 min) Bach appears in modern times, under unexplained circumstances, to a girl who is having a hard time getting her piano homework done. The composer encourages young Elizabeth by telling her the story of his own childhood and musical triumphs. In Beethoven Lives Upstairs (46 min) we are introduced to a little boy who has the misfortune to live below Beethoven's apartment. Beethoven, it turns out, is demanding, short-tempered, and makes the strangest sounds as he paces in his room. The boy airs his complaints to an understanding uncle who teaches the young boy to empathize with this great composer, who hears wonderful music in his head, but who can no longer hear it with his ears. How very frustrating that must be! A couple cautions to note. First, there is a moment in Beethoven Lives Upstairs that might lead to a little tittering. The boy complains that Beethoven was laughed at by little children who, while peering through his window, saw he was composing while wearing no clothes at all! Not a big thing, but it might have been nice to leave that detail out. Second, my wife and I have listened to other CDs and DVDs in this "Classical Kids" series and have yet to find any others we would want to recommend, so don't assume they will all be good. These two, however, are excellent, and a great way to foster a love of classical music in kids, and maybe even their dads. ...

Apologetics 101, Politics, Pro-life - Abortion

On "the Overton Window" and talking crazy

There are two ways to encourage our country to turn in a godly direction. Both involve talking. **** Glenn Beck, a radio talk show host in the US, authored a novel with the curious title The Overton Window. Before ever reading the book I had to google the title to find out what it meant. I was glad I did – it turns out "The Overton Window" is an enormously useful way of looking at how ideas are discussed in the public square. A political analyst, Joseph Overton, coined the term to describe how some topics/issues/ideas fall into a range - the Overton Window – where they are deemed acceptable for public discourse. To give an example, while no one likes property tax increases, we also wouldn't think it radical or unthinkable to talk about hiking them a point or two. It is an idea that can be discussed publicly without embarrassment, falling within the "Overton Window" of acceptable discourse. Now, some ideas fall outside the Overton Window. If we were to draw out a "spectrum of acceptability" (see the illustration below) for public conversations, then on the outer extremes would be ideas deemed simply Unthinkable. These are thoughts that, if anyone were to propose them, they would then be dismissed as crazy, bizarre, or bigoted. But as we move inwards, towards the middle, ideas start to become merely Radical, then become Acceptable, and as they become more and more Popular, they are so well thought of by the public, they may well become government Policy. The Overton Window helps us understand why some of the issues most important to Christians just don't get discussed. It's because a politician isn’t going to dare talk about ideas that will make him seem like a kook – if an idea falls into the Unthinkable, or Radical end of the spectrum, he won’t touch them. That’s where Christians are right now with the issue of abortion in Canada. And that's where we're heading on transgenderism. A daring politician may bring up ideas that are merely Acceptable, but most politicians try to find out which way the parade is heading, and then get out in front of it. So they will only bring up issues thought Sensible, Popular, or so accepted that everyone thinks they should be made Policy. I bring up the Overton Window because it is a very useful tool to direct, and measure, what we are doing when we set out to shift the public's stand on an issue. The opposition is trying, and largely succeeding, in making orthodox Christian beliefs seem radical. If we are going to change hearts and minds on issues like the protection of the unborn, marriage, human rights commissions, education policy, and restorative justice, we will have to begin by pushing our ideas back into Overton Window of "acceptable discourse." We want our ideas, once deemed unthinkable, to be seen by Canadians as simply common sense, and so popular they should be policy. Doing it right So how do we make the shift? There are two ways. 1. Speak the unthinkable to makes it less so Talking does wonders. The current transgender debate is being lost, quite quickly, and the biggest reason is that no one – at least none of our political leaders – are willing to speak up. The opposition has already managed to make it unthinkable to say, "God made us male and female, and wishing it was different can't change that truth." But what if someone did speak up? Here in Canada in recent months we've seen the impact that even one person can have when they are willing to voice what has become politically incorrect. University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson has made waves for publicly questioning whether people can choose to be genderless or "non-binary." Because he hasn't backed down, his solitary stand has become a movement of sorts, with thousands echoing his concerns. And it all started because he was willing to speak. Here's another illustration, this one from Joe Lehman, president of the Mackinac Center think tank where Joseph Overton first thought up the term “Overton Window.” If a teenage girl wants her parents to change her curfew from 10 pm to midnight the most strategic way forward would be for her to start talking about how all her friend get to stay out until 2 am. Now there's no way her parents will let her stay out until 2 am and she knows it, but if she makes a credible case for this extreme, she might just succeed in shifting 2 am from an Unthinkable idea, to merely a Radical one. And that, in turn, might just make midnight seem downright Acceptable. By overshooting what she is really after, she can tug her parents to where she is actually hoping they will go. We can do something like that too. We aren’t going to exaggerate our position like this girl – that would be lying – but we can take inspiration from her and speak out fearlessly on our most unthinkable ideas. If we are vocal, if we are heard, we can pull the public towards us, even if we don’t yet bring them all the way over. So, for example, if in our day-to-day lives we all start wearing pro-life shirts that celebrated the humanity of the unborn, and if in the next election campaign CHP candidates effectively and vocally make the case for the humanity of the unborn, and then we all use the ARPA Easy Mail to write our MPs, and write in to our local papers too, all of us calling for an end to abortion, we could succeed in pulling the public enough our way to allow a Conservative MP to push for an “Informed Consent” law. This is a law that would require women be given all the facts before they have an abortion. Of course we wouldn’t be satisfied with this one small step forward, but some children would be saved. It would be a start. But it will only happen if we are willing to speak the unthinkable fearlessly and boldly. 2. Speak the radical repeatedly During the 2008 election, one-time US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin brought homemade cookies for students at a Pennsylvania school. She had heard that there was a debate going on over whether public schools in the state should ban sweets. “Who should be deciding what I eat?” she asked a cheering audience. “Should it be government or should it be parents? It should be the parents,” Palin concluded. That a child’s parent should make their nutritional decisions, rather than some arm of the government, is not an extreme position. But unless, like Palin, we speak this truth repeatedly, repetitively publicly, and repeatedly (and repetitively) it could easily become extreme. It is only by repetition that common sense remains common. How not to do it Now there are also two approaches we can use to be sure we won’t shift our nation in a more godly direction. 1. We can't expect change if we won't speak This might seem so obvious as to be not worth mentioning, But it is our default. It is easier not to let co-workers know we oppose how a homosexual couple rewrote the BC public schools curriculum. It is easier to be quiet than do the research to be able to speak persuasively for the unborn. It’s easier to remain ignorant about what our country’s human rights commissions are up to. It’s easier to be unprepared, and unnoticed, easier not to stick out, easier to keep our mouths shut. It’s easier, but we can’t expect change if we won’t ready ourselves to speak on the issues of our day intelligently and persuasively. 2. We also can't expect change if we pretend to be less radical than we are One of the reasons I'm bringing up the Overton Window is because it is a more accurate way to evaluate success than some of our more traditional measures. We sometimes get caught up in measuring our success by how many Christians MPs or MLAs we’ve elected, or how many votes our candidate received, or maybe how many pieces of legislation “our guys” have managed to pass. But there is a problem with measuring success this way. It is possible to increase our vote total and elect more Christian MPs even as our nation becomes increasingly godless. We can even pass positive pieces of legislation, without changing Canadians’ hearts and minds. How? By downplaying our Christian convictions. If we pretend that we aren’t radical, that our radical positions are quite conventional, we can get elected. But without any mandate to make the changes we are actually hoping for. I want to note before I bring up this next example, that I am not trying to attack this man. I greatly respect him. But the strategy he employed is a very relevant example. When he was a Manitoba Conservative MP, Rod Bruinooge, proposed a piece of legislation that would have made it illegal to coerce a woman into having an abortion. It was, possibly, the very smallest step forward in the protection of the unborn, since it would have only protected those few children who were wanted by their mothers, but were being threatened by their fathers. It was a small step, but still a step!  But it was not sold as pro-life legislation. Bruinooge was quoted by WorldNetDaily.com as saying his bill “doesn't have any bearing on access to abortion.” He noted: “That's not related to this bill. Access to abortion in Canada is in all nine months….This bill doesn't have any bearing on that… This bill is neither pro-life or pro-abortion.” Now anything abortion-related in Canada would fall in the Radical/Unthinkable range. But if the public had taken Bruinooge at his word, and believed that his bill has nothing to do with abortion, perhaps they would have found it an Acceptable idea. The bill wasn't passed. But if it had, its passage wouldn’t have signaled any sort of shift in our nation. It will only have passed because MP Bruinooge avoided talking about abortion – so the bill won’t have done anything to change the public's mind about abortion. It wouldn't have done anything to shift the pro-life position in any positive direction in the public's mind. Conclusion The shift that we are after is going to involve pushing boundaries, being radical, bringing up the unthinkable. That’s how we are going to start to shift hearts and minds - when we fearlessly and repeatedly and effectively present God’s truth to our nation (Heb 13:6). And so to conclude I want to encourage you to speak out, in whatever organization you are a part of, and wherever God has placed you:  at your work, in the park, behind a podium, over the back fence, at the gym, Equip yourself to speak out and then speak. We all need to take on this task. This article was based on a talk delivered Nov. 22, 2010 at a CHP event, which you can hear here. ...