It can sometimes be hard to tell what is real, what is fake, and what is real masquerading as fake (or fake masquerading as real) on the Internet. Between satirists, both inept and adept, and the real thing, it can be challenging to determine the veracity of something. Toss in elected officials who compare a rote immigration executive order to the Nazis, who proclaim that women can’t get pregnant from rape because their body “shuts down,” and who say that global warming isn’t true because it’s cold in Verkhoyansk, and you really can’t dismiss outrageous statements out-of-hand as “trolling.”
The tendency to dismiss overtly mind-numbingly idiotic statements remains, however; for instance, when I picked this up on my radar, I was almost certain that it was a fake:
The “shell of water surrounding our atmosphere” that she references is called the “firmament,” mentioned in Genesis — specifically, the section of Genesis where God separates the “waters above” from the waters below. According to the 2 or 3 Baruch, a book of the Pseudepigraphia written sometime in 130 CE, the firmament can be pierced by a large tower — it’s hinted at being the Tower of Babel (if memory serves, it’s called a “tower of strife”), but the Book of Baruch is weird.
Taking that into consideration, what is a space ship if not a tower with a rocket attached? And aren’t satellites attached to the tips of these towers and rocketed into the atmosphere? Why should the firmament stop rockets if a tower can penetrate it?
Now, it’s much easier to dismiss this as trolling than to drop down to its level and engage it directly, and that’s is what my initial take on it was. But then I started looking. I found the same question, verbatim, on Yahoo! answers twice, with one thing standing-out: judging from the answers, they’re separated by nearly three years:
Now, it’s from Yahoo! answers. Anyone familiar with the Internet will tell you that Yahoo! answers is the playground for stupid people and people pretending to be stupid. This doesn’t even lend credence to the idea that she’s not a troll.
However, the idea that sustained spaceflight is impossible is not new. In fact, in some corners of the Internet, it’s accepted as truth — I give you the Flat Earth society. The forum I linked to is a debate over whether or not sustained spaceflight is even possible, so be ready from some weapon’s grade stupid. The salient point, though is that the idea, at least, has been entertained as being serious.
While digging, I ran across the post on The Straight Dope message board. While they could neither confirm nor deny, they figured it was a 50/50 likelihood of being real. I strongly lean towards “true” — I’d put the odds at closer to 60/40 in favor of true — especially since googling her username turned up a wealth of similar (and just as stupid) questions:
Yes, that first question asks “How did Adam’s rib evolved into Eve.” I’m rather partial to fifth question, since it highlights how clinging desperately to creationism engenders a total misunderstanding of every science, and how that warped worldview denies you even the basic logical facilities to work with.
All those responses are from 4 years ago. The individual posting the question in 2013 — who has an unidentified avatar — had their account suspended. I couldn’t verify if they were the same person, but I suspect they’re not. My intuition suggests that the question from 2013 is a troll, who reposted the original — and completely “sincere” — question from 2010.
So where’s this leave us? Well, we know that people believe truly stupid things. We know that this particular user asks questions in this vein, but, more importantly, more people than just this poster have entertained this idea. It doesn’t matter, then, if the user is a troll or not — there are people out there who legitimately believe that sustained spaceflight is impossible. Yes, the idea is utterly stupid and based on ignorance so willful it causes an epistemic BSOD to anyone not trapped in the hermetically-sealed tautology, but that doesn’t change the fact that people still believe it.
This sort of framing is sloppy and backwards even by the standards of typical creationist cargo cult science, but it perfectly encapsulates their thinking regardless. It’s also a reminder that the only difference between Nicole Breint and Ken Hamm is vocabulary.
At the end of the day, I’m reminded of Wolfgang Pauli’s apocryphal statement, which is really the only thing you need to know when you’re dealing with pseudoscience: “Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig, es ist nicht einmal falsch!” — “that’s not only not right, that’s not even wrong.”