Two fun religious facts about the U.S. missions to the Moon

1. On  December 24, 1968, the three-man crew of the Apollo 8 read Genesis 1:1-10 from the King James version of the Bible as they orbited the Moon. Madalyn Murray O’Hair sued to stop this blatant infringement of the First Amendment, but the Supreme Court rejected the case due to “lack of jurisdiction”. Seriously?

2. On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin took communion on the surface of the Moon. I am not making this up: he had real wine and a real Jesus wafer. As reports:

The background to the story is that Aldrin was an elder at his Presbyterian Church in Texas during this period in his life, and knowing that he would soon be doing something unprecedented in human history, he felt he should mark the occasion somehow, and he asked his pastor to help him. And so the pastor consecrated a communion wafer and a small vial of communion wine. And Buzz Aldrin took them with him out of the Earth’s orbit and on to the surface of the moon.

He and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement: “This is the LM pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then ended radio communication and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home, he read a verse from the Gospel of John, and he took communion. Here is his own account of what happened:

“In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.’

I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute [they] had requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madelyn Murray O’Hare [sic], the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly. I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility . It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.”

Fantastic. . . .

Here’s a dramatization that appeared in the “From the Earth to the Moon” miniseries:

And here’s Buzz’s tiny Moon Chalice:


h/t: Bryan L.


  1. GBJames
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink


  2. TMK2
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    If you were a primate 240,000 miles from Earth in deep space in a vessel with a computer with 1600 bits of memory on or circling an alien world that could kill you with one misstep and no quick rescue, if at all, you might be praying to a supernatural deity, too. Just saying.

    • GBJames
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      And there are no atheists in foxholes, right?

      Your comment would make as much sense if it said:

      “…misstep and no quick rescue, if at all, you might be pretending to be a unicorn, too.”

      Just saying.

      • boggy
        Posted December 13, 2016 at 4:25 am | Permalink

        An invisible pink unicorn perhaps?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

      Why? What possible good would praying to a non-existent imaginary friend do for you?
      Incidentally, the environment 240,000 miles from the Earth is only marginally more hostile than the environment 100 miles from the Earth. As Grant and Naylor put it, “It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere.”
      Meanwhile, Sithrak oils the spit. Just saying.

      • nicky
        Posted December 13, 2016 at 3:17 am | Permalink

        Or only a few miles down, be it sea or land.

    • Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      If I did pray in that situation, it would be that the people who built the Apollo spacecraft knew what the hell they were doing.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 13, 2016 at 12:17 am | Permalink

        Or as someone put it, do their best not to dwell on the fact that everything on the craft was built by the lowest tenderer…


    • Posted December 13, 2016 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

      Well, actually no since those 1600 bits of memory were deemed sufficient and it was thoroughly tested. Now, if 1600 bits hadn’t been tested, it’s likely they wouldn’t make it to the moon to start with, nevermind off of it.

      Disclaimer: I didn’t verify the accuracy of 1600 bits, but whatever the amount was, the same logic applies. Ever looked at ARINC429 messages? Pretty impressive the amount of information that can be packed into 32 bits in different configurations…it must be Jesus! (Or possibly exponents…)

  3. Doris Fromage
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I found this page in a distant relative’s papers (I transcribed it):

    The Power of One

    We are always saying that one person cannot do much to change the world. But one person, Madeline Murray O’Hare [sic], THE ATHEIST CRUSADER, succeeded in making it illegal to read the Bible or pray in school. Now she has obtained 27,000 signed letters protesting the decision of the astronauts to read the Bible as a Christian message to the world from their space craft while orbiting the moon in December, 1968. She plans to present to NASA these letters with a demand that the astronauts be publicly censured for their act, and further demand to prohibit any further demonstrations of religion by public leaders.

    You are but one, but you can do something about this. An effort is being made to secure 1,000,000 signed letters commending the astronauts for their action. This would be an overwhelming defeat for Mrs. O’Hare [sic] and a great triumph for religious faith. Don’t let her succeed with her plan because you do nothing.

    Here is what you can do:



    Let’s do this simple, but most important thing, and LET’S DO IT NOW.

    ____________________________________DETACH HERE______________________________________

    National Aeronautic & Space Administration . . . . . Date__________
    Manned Space Craft Center
    Houston, Texas 77058


    I personally appreciate and wholeheartedly support the decision of the astronauts to read the Bible from their space craft as they orbited around the moon during December, 1968.

    I further support the right of every human being to express his faith in God and the Bible without fear of censure.



    Huh. I never even knew about any of that…anybody know whatever happened to this letter-writing campaign?

    Notice that the above letter was never sent…

    • zoolady
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Radio off? Private moment? I don’t care what he eats or drinks on his ”own” time.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted December 12, 2016 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

        I am of that opinion as well. Reading scripture over the air should not have happened, but the private service, done off-air, seems fine to me.

  4. Kevin
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Religion is a diode. It can leave home, but its not coming to us from space.

    If aliens ever come here they won’t be bringing faith. But that’s not to suggest that aliens would not be capable of making earth’s religions look like cuddly kittens riding rainbow unicorns.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      If aliens ever come here they won’t be bringing faith.

      I like to think that is true (in the same way that I like to think there is life elsewhere in the universe), but I’m not willing to take that bet.
      The bet I would take is that any aliens that did arrive would not bring any faith with significant historical correlations with any Earthly religions. Doctrines (based on fear of death and reproduction control) might plausibly have parallels however, since any biological organism will have to deal with population problems (too many or too few) and death.
      Non-biological species (AI, to all intents and purposes) would be another can of … diodes, if not worms.

    • nicky
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 3:25 am | Permalink

      Michael Shermer pointed out (inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s third law “a technology advanced enough is indistinguishable from magic”) that an alien advanced enough (and that would supposedly be the case if they can visit us) is indistinguishable from God.

  5. Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    All adverts are crap, even the good ones, somebody said. But I’d make an exception for the current Quaker Oats ad campaign fronted by none other than Buzz Aldrin: now that’s quite an endorsement.
    Apparently he ate loads of porridge on the Apollo 11 flight. Here’s a link explaining the story.

  6. Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Neil Armstrong looked appropriately detached in that reenactment, as I imagine he was.

  7. rickflick
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Yes, religion is here, there and everywhere. Even outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
    I was just listening to the oral arguments in a case involving a giant cross supposedly “just” a war memorial on public land(see Hemant Mehta’s site). The cross has been up in the community for 90 years. For most of that time it was taken for granted by all the Christians that it meant the US was a Christian country. I guess some of the astronauts thought Christ’s jurisdiction extended throughout the universe.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Well, the guy was an astronaut, not a scientist. Obviously not a constitutional lawyer either. Also, if he wants to thank all the little people who made this trip possible he could thank all of us.

    • Mark Perew
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      He was an engineer with a Sc.D. from MIT.

      • Glandu
        Posted December 13, 2016 at 8:36 am | Permalink

        thesis subject, according to wikipedia : His doctoral thesis was Line-of-Sight Guidance Techniques for Manned Orbital Rendezvous, the dedication of which read, “In the hopes that this work may in some way contribute to their exploration of space, this is dedicated to the crew members of this country’s present and future manned space programs. If only I could join them in their exciting endeavors!

        I’ve read somewhere his thesis was still an authority in the domain, though I’m not sure it’s true. But a scientist, a good one.

        I’m not scandalized, as long as the prayer was not broadcasted. He deserved a pause his style, and didn’t annoy anyone.

  9. Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    The silliness of preaching-from-space is actually appropriate to the mission. It is not clear that there is any reasonable scientific rationale for manned space programs, aside from testing the effects on the astronauts. Over 20 years ago I had a chance to speak to a high official of NASA’s unmanned space program. He cheerfully asked whether I had any questions about our space program. I probably should have praised it for the wonderful achievements of the unmanned space program. Instead I asked him what scientific rationale there was for the manned space program. He seemed taken aback and said “um, I’d have to get someone else to answer that …”

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      It is not clear that there is any reasonable scientific rationale for manned space programs,

      I’ve examined the debris from two meteor impacts now. There’s your reason. While our species in restricted to one location (Earth) the species, and therefore possibly the entire content of self-aware life in the universe, has a non-trivial risk of becoming extinct in the next significant meteor impact. Or, indeed, by our own mind-boggling communal stupidity.
      If you do the calculus of risk, then a few million people’s deaths spent on getting life established in multiple other locations over the next few generations (let’s say, a millennium) is actually a pretty cheap deal. With a little care, we should be able to keep the body count a lot lower. Then we can get started on taking over the rest of the observable universe while it’s still observable.

      • colnago80
        Posted December 12, 2016 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

        Where do you propose to go? None of the other planets, asteroids, moons, or dwarf planets in the Solar System will support the life forms that exist on the earth. The notion that one could travel to a planet revolving around another star is piffle, given the distances involved. Star Trek and warp drive are fictional.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 12, 2016 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

          We’ll have to live on technology. As we’ve been doing since becoming dependent on the use of fire.
          Agreed Star Trek and FTL are fictional (all the recipes for “warp drives” require unobtanium of one or more species – shorthand for “is utterly impossible”). Which leaves us with a choice of generation ships (difficult, but no unobtanium), suspended animation (an alternative spelling of “unobtanium” at the moment, but not actually breaking any particular laws), transcoding humans into computers (“unobtanium”, spelling variant 42), or a combination of vonNeumann machines (in work), deep-frozen gametes (fairly compact, improving) and some sort of mechanised womb (distressingly close to “unobtanium”, but again, no laws of physics broken ; currently we are about one trimester of three on this technology).
          Within the solar system, to get any significant number of people (say, 0.000001% of the population) to any other planet to live in a ground-level space station (or to start mining unobtanium for a terraforming programme), we’ll have to have thousands of people living long-term in space in artificial habitats to build the necessary machines and acquire the necessary reaction mass and materials. At which point, we have no real option to using centrifugal force to mimic gravity, and mass for radiation shielding. Oh, and learning how to live without destroying our environment (artificial or natural). The radiation shielding means flights anywhere will take months, years or decades … and we’re onto generation ships already. Think of getting across the oceans by sailing ship.
          Stay on one planet, and we’re simply not going to leave any lasting mark on the universe. A few weird isotope distributions, and some peculiar patterns of ferruginous concretions in calcium-rich breccias with quite weird inter-granular cements. Everything else will be pretty much gone before the Sun goes red giant. Sic transit gloria mundae

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted December 12, 2016 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

            “using centrifugal force to mimic gravity”

            Not to get too far off topic, but according to Einstein, centrifugal force is gravity.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted December 14, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

              I don’t get that one. Are you thinking about the “which is spinning – the bucket or the universe?” thought experiment?
              Centrifugal force is plain old inertia, as far as I’m aware.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted December 14, 2016 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

                Yes to both.

                There’s no difference between a spinning bucket in a stationary universe, and a stationary bucket in a spinning universe. Relativistic frame-dragging is just Coriolis effect viewed from the other side.

                Similarly, just as the floor of the centrifuge accelerates you against your inertial tendency to fly off in a straight line, so too the surface of the Earth accelerates you with respect to the freely falling inertial frame. Gravity and acceleration are two sides of the same coin.

              • bobkillian
                Posted December 14, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

                “When does Zurich arrive at this train?”


              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted December 14, 2016 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

                I’d seen the “bucket” thought experiment before (obviously), but that’s still giving me qualms. How do you deal with the inertia of a uniformly moving body (i.e. non-accelerating). Surely you end up with having an additional entity and needing a trip to Ockham’s barber?

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted December 14, 2016 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

                No, inertial motion in flat space works the same as in special relativity. But inertial motion in curved space (near a large mass) follows the curvature. Deviation from that geodesic trajectory requires acceleration, which we feel as gravity.

          • Doris Fromage
            Posted December 12, 2016 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

            “Stay on one planet, and we’re simply not going to leave any lasting mark on the universe.”

            Why should that be a concern???

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted December 14, 2016 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

              On several levels, it’s not. Personally, having chosen to be sterilised without issue, I don’t have any stake in the future. But even with that, I do think that a universe without self-aware life would be a less interesting place than a universe with it. And since we currently only know of one biosphere with self-aware life I think it behoves us to do what we can to ensure that self-aware life continues.

          • nicky
            Posted December 13, 2016 at 3:36 am | Permalink

            You surely meant centripetal force, not centrifugal, I presume?
            The force in rotational movement is directed *towards* the centre of the orbit, not away from it. Without centripetal force the ‘orbit’ would be a straight line. {I’m not a physicist, but that elementary mechanics I remember from my school days).

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted December 14, 2016 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

              You surely meant centripetal force, not centrifugal, I presume?

              I too remember that elementary distinction. I chose to use the more well-known (if technically incorrect) phrasing.

          • somer
            Posted December 13, 2016 at 6:08 am | Permalink

            fact is its been a few hundred million years since (most likely) meteor carked the dinosaurs and most other things. Most species exist only 2 million years.

            • loren russell
              Posted December 13, 2016 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

              More like 65 million years [remember, Google is your friend], but that’s a rounding error for whatever concern we should have for descendants that distant.

              The solar death people are of course beyond wacky. Do they have any concept of what a few billion years is, or how that might be a clarion call to increase our space budget?

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted December 14, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

              The “dinosaur killer” (more accurately Chixulub impactor since dinosaurs are not extinct and it is much debated if it was Chixulub which caused the majority of the Cretaceous-Palaeogene extinctions) was 63.5 Myr ago, with a +/- of about 0.1 Myr. But it’s big brother could be hoving into view with the rise of the next Hili monologue for arrival around New Year.
              Human self-destruction is a higher probability in the medium term, but itself a good reason for having a sufficiently large, separate ecosystem that both are not likely to self-destruct simultaneously. Having 10 distinct ecologies improves the odds by increasingly modest amounts. Belt, braces, and button your shirt into your flies. (What’s that extra button inside the trouser front called? Sartorial experts?)

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted December 14, 2016 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

                “But it’s big brother could be hoving into view with the rise of the next Hili monologue for arrival around New Year.”

                Ah. The answer’s obvious then. We must shoot PCC(E). No PCC, no Hili monologue, humanity’s saved. 🙂


              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted December 14, 2016 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

                This is your plan. Not mine.
                [backs away slowly, seeking stout tables to hide behind and blunt instruments for self-protection]

      • Doris Fromage
        Posted December 12, 2016 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

        Dude, if we can’t fix our own problems here on our own planet where the environment is best suited to our survival, why should we imagine we could do better on a different planet, especially one that has not produced life of our type??? The concept makes no sense whatsoever.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted December 12, 2016 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

          Try telling your financial adviser that the concept of diversifying your portfolio and spreading your risk around makes no sense.

          They’ll tell you that trying a lot of different things and expecting some of them to fail is a better long-term strategy than trying just one thing and hoping it doesn’t fail.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 14, 2016 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

          Dude, if we don’t fix our problems here, we have no “Plan ‘B'”. I don’t know about you, but I like having a Plan ‘B’ – second air system when diving (not just when diving in “overhead” environments); two engines on my aircraft (over 40 of my colleagues have died in recent years due to failures of the single main gearbox of one type of helicopter, but not one has died from losing the A or the B engine) ; two diagonally opposed breaking circuits in the car (and I don’t like flying in my car!) ; other versions abound.
          Frankly, I do not believe that humankind has the common sense to avoid poisoning themselves. Given the monumental communal shortsightedness of the species, I think a Plan ‘B ‘ is a damned good idea.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted December 14, 2016 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

            “two diagonally opposed breaking circuits in the car”

            I think you meant ‘braking’. I don’t think you want them both *breaking* simultaneously…


            (Agree about the dual circuit brakes, btw)


            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted December 14, 2016 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

              OK. This is getting bad. I’m now trying to figure out how to make a joke about a dual Freudian slit experiment. That’s make me as happy as a dog with two . . . . sausages.

      • somer
        Posted December 13, 2016 at 6:06 am | Permalink

        We don’t even know of any habitable planets that could sustain life. Those that are would take generations to get to in a craft that would have to be designed a few generations from today.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 14, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

          Did I once mention a habitable planet as being necessary? You can make an argument that it’s desirable, but we haven’t performed the experiment to determine if a planet is essential. I deeply doubt that it is.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

      NASA’s manned spaceflight program was responsible for servicing and upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope for 16 years. Following the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003, NASA wanted to cancel the Hubble service mission scheduled for 2005, but the astronomical community rebelled and insisted that it be reinstated. Plans for a robotic repair mission were considered and then scrapped as infeasible. The last manned repair mission flew in 2009; Hubble would not still be functional today without it.

      • colnago80
        Posted December 12, 2016 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        And for the cost of the manned space program, a dozen Hubble telescopes could have been launched.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted December 12, 2016 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps so, but NASA’s charter includes technology development as well as space science. The ability to support science missions is a side benefit, not the primary purpose, of the manned spaceflight program.

        • Posted December 12, 2016 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

          Cumulative cost of Hubble was $10b, including repairs by the SS. Cost of the JWST is about $9b. Cumulative cost of ISS is $140b and climbing. The manned space program sucks the life out of the rest of science.

    • Posted December 12, 2016 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely right. Technology to keep earth habitable, even after an asteroid strike, is conceivable. But there is no imaginable technology, outside of science fiction, that would make Mars long-term habitable for humans, other than a small expeditionary experiment supplied at great expense from earth. And after Mars, it goes downhill. The idea of extra-terrestrial colonization is a pipedream.

      • Carl
        Posted December 12, 2016 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

        Humanity has overcome many problems in its history. At the time, solutions to those problems were unimaginable … until they were solved.

        • Mark Perew
          Posted December 12, 2016 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

          It’s not as if no one has been working on the problem of colonizing the moon, Mars, or even creating orbital habitats. The concept of an O’Neill Cylinder has been around for at least 40 years. However, we still lack the understanding of how to make something that mechanically complex and how to sustain something so biologically complex.

          • Carl
            Posted December 12, 2016 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

            And 100 years ago, we couldn’t even fly. To pretend knowing the limits of human knowledge is to behave like a prophet rather than a philosopher or scientist.

            • Mark Perew
              Posted December 12, 2016 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

              Actually, powered flight by heavier than air craft has been around for 113 years as of last week. People had been working on that for a while and making progress on the problem.

              I’m not proposing limits on what is knowable. I am pointing out that this is a very tough nut and we haven’t gotten beyond the stage of sticking a fragile tin can in low orbit.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted December 13, 2016 at 12:30 am | Permalink

                In 1961 Yuri Gagarin spent less than two hours in Earth orbit. 33 years later, Valeri Polyakov spent over 437 days in orbit. We’ve gone from occasional short-duration stunt flights in the mid-20th century to continuous human presence in space since the beginning of the 21st. That seems like significant progress to me.

              • Posted December 13, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

                None of that time outside the protection of the Van Allen belts. Even the short moon hops outside the belts are thought to have had harmful effects on the health of the astronauts.

      • nicky
        Posted December 13, 2016 at 3:56 am | Permalink

        Wasn’t that Arthur C. Clarke’s first law? If an expert says something is impossible, he’s probably wrong. If he says it’s possible he’s probably right.
        That being said, It appears ‘they’ (NASA, Space-ex, etc) see the payload as the main problem. I think there are heavier problems such as:
        1 – radiation (no magnetosphere)
        2 – low or no gravity (leading to bone density loss and papilloedema) and
        3 – no oxygenated atmosphere (asphyxiation at the smallest hiccup). There are undoubtedly more problems, but I consider these three a good start.
        Extra-terrestial colonization (immo) is not a pipe dream, but it is still far away.
        (the different puns were intentional)

  10. Woof
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    I remember watching the Apollo 8 Genesis reading live. I was 12 years old, and I was PISSED.

    I got over believing in Santa quite early.

    • Doris Fromage
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

      My eldest cousin and I both outgrew the god and jizzis we’d been raised with at age 11, shortly after outgrowing belief in Santa. Both our dads were ministers.

  11. alexandra Moffat
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    well, do we now get a turn? next landing on some moon or planet or asteroid, a statement lauding reason & science gets read – with no nods to mythology?

    • Carl
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      How about this:

      In our tolerant age, we like to say that everybody is entitled their own worldview, that every worldview comes with its own “narrative” of the history, and that all such narratives are created equal. So, according to the wisdom of polite society today, it’s a matter of personal preference whether the modern world emerged out of humankind’s emancipation from the shackles of religious superstition or whether instead it sprang directly from the head of Zeus, or was delivered in the form of a bountiful continent to this or that group of sectarian zealots. But the only choice we really have is whether to be conscious or to persist in destructive delusions. Of course, it remains just as fashionable now as it was in Jonathan Edwards’s day to lament the nihilism that supposedly grips us when we shed the false certainty of ignorance, and to bemoan the doom that will surely befall us when we depart from the simple faith of our fathers. But the fact remains that the common power of humanity— the capability for cooperative action that is really just another word for our moral well-being was never greater than after we lost our religion.

      Stewart, Matthew. Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic (p. 430). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

  12. Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Ok, I’m starting a Kickstarter to send PZ Myers with a communion wafer and a rusty nail to the moon.

    • Rita
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:38 pm | Permalink


    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

      Wine AND a rusty nail? Why bother with the wine?

    • allison
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      If it’s a one-way ticket, I’ll chip in!

    • Posted December 12, 2016 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      Better make it Pluto, just in case.

  13. Filippo
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    During Apollo 15, Dave Scott and James Irwin were tooling about in their lunar roadster surveying the hilly lunar countryside, reflecting aloud on what they were seeing. Irwin quoted from Psalm 121, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” IIRC, when Irwin left NASA, he went on an expedition to find Noah’s ark on Mt. Ararat.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      … and didn’t find it. Naturally.

  14. Jean Hess
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    How is eating and drinking possible while standing on the surface of the moon wearing a space suit?

    • GBJames
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      I think this happened inside the space capsule or lander.

      • nicky
        Posted December 13, 2016 at 3:59 am | Permalink


  15. ploubere
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Here on my campus in the red state of Tennessee, we had a talk by an astronomy faculty member about the search for other habitable planets, and if other intelligent life were found, what a conflict this would create for christianity. Did they also have their own original couple and a fall? Do they need their own Jesus or will ours do? If so, then Jesus would be doing a lot of traveling, which might explain why he hasn’t been seen for 2 millennia.

    • Carl
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      This is not a new concern for Christian theology. Inspired by Lucretius’s newly rediscovered De Rerum Natura Giordono Bruno regaled anyone who would listen with ideas of an infinite universe with an infinity of populated words. He was burned at the stake in 1600 for his trouble.

  16. Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Rather than comment on how I feel about religion being foisted on us by NASA astronauts from the moon (or anywhere else),I would like to highly recommend that you all read Neal Stephenson’s most recent novel, “Seveneves”. It starts with some undefined agent exploding the moon into to seven major pieces and what happens to the human race thereafter.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      Hmmm, IIRC (I don’t think I’ve ever read any of his stuff – discovering Ian M Banks at the moment) Stephenson is reasonably “hard” in his SF. So I’m wondering how that would go.
      [Opens his “astronomy toolbox” spreadsheet.]
      Spoiler warning!

      Seven seems important. So that would give a mean diameter of 1875km for the fragments (allowing 10% for volumetric expansion due to depressurisation). They would hurt if they hit Earth. That would be an atmosphere- stripping event – possibly an ocean-stripping event too. End of story.
      So, Stephenson won’t let them touch down. Possibly some serious bowel-loosening close approaches, but no touch down of the seven major fragments. Come to think of it – that’s implicit in the title. Maybe some heroics involving unobtanium to stop them touching down – but that would be determined by the geometry of the breakup.
      If none of them touched down, then I doubt any would acquire enough energy or angular momentum to leave the Earth-exMoon system either. So, next question – would they re-assemble into a Moon? From the thousands of runs done “in silicio“, there’s about a 30% chance of two neoMoons forming in a “Trojan” relationship (stop sniggering in America!), 70% chance of the Moon re-forming. There would be a debris cloud – volumetrically minor visually spectacular – which would “relax” (astrodynamically – I don’t think the inhabitants would find watching it very relaxing) into a ring then re-accrete in a short time (tens of million years only) onto the neoMoon(s).
      Meanwhile, the minor debris would be re-accreting to the Earth. Quite a lot of it. Quite energetically. Plenty of room there for unobtanium-fuelled heroics for an author. It’d be a multi-species generation story, of course (unless the unobtanium mines get a real working over).
      Interesting thesis for a story. I’d like to watch it play out. From somewhere in the vicinity of Jupiter. From inside a hollowed-out asteroid with some unobtanium-lined store rooms full of reaction mass and the energy to make it into delta-vee.

      • Doris Fromage
        Posted December 12, 2016 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

        I’ll bring the beer O_O

  17. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I was surprised that the Atheist group was active even back then. O’Hair disappeared, and was likely (?) murdered!

    “jurisdiction” – that is rich. They plant the American flag on the moon but then say the 1st amendment doesn’t apply between earth and the moon.

    otherwise, I am so, so deeply disappointed.

  18. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    I can understand this in the context of the communist scare in the US, if that was about the same time.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      “We have always been at war with Eastasia!”

      • Posted December 13, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Trump will now make an alliance with Eastasia.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 13, 2016 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

          … at which point Eastasia will *always* have been our valiant ally in the eternal war against Eurasia…


        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 14, 2016 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

          … while retaining the option to be at war with them the day after.

  19. Richard Jones
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    As a atheist I remember the Genesis reading without feeling any objection; that Aldrin may as an individual felt moved to communion on the moon disturbs me no more than the reading. Yes the astronauts are moved by myths, but it does me no harm.

    • Gamall
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      If somebody shoots in the general direction of their own foot (or somebody else’s) and *misses*, it does no harm either. But they should still be trained out of that habit.

      Irrationality is a bad habit, and should be challenged at every turn, not just when the harm it does is apparent and direct.

      • Pikolo
        Posted December 12, 2016 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

        You’re missing the point Richard made. If astronauts were allowed to take personal belongings than he had the full right to put whatever he wanted there. We might consider his pick suboptimal, but we should not deny him the right to choose, for he harmed nobody.

        Forcing people to do something never works in the long run. Forbidding him from performing his ritual would be an actual violation of religious rights of Christians. That would be something new, and might make some people realize how being mutual on this issue is the only way to go, but it would still be an injustice.

        • darrelle
          Posted December 13, 2016 at 8:06 am | Permalink

          I am not sure that Gamall missed the point. He/She/It made a point of their own in response. He/She/It didn’t say anything about forbidding any believers from performing any rituals. What Gamall said, pretty clearly I might add, is that irrational beliefs and behaviors (in this case, obviously, religious ones) should be criticized. And that withholding criticism of a specific instance because no harm resulted is not sensible.

          I don’t know about Gamall, but I would clarify that deciding for oneself to not criticize is just fine for whatever reason but telling other people that they shouldn’t (I don’t know or claim that this was Richard’s intent) doesn’t necessarily need to be taken seriously by those other people. It all depends on whether or not the reason is valid and in the case of religion “didn’t cause harm in this particular instance” is not a valid reason to withhold criticism.

          • Gamall
            Posted December 13, 2016 at 10:08 am | Permalink

            Darrelle got my point. Thanks.

            To elaborate a little:

            I don’t want to *force* people not to do X. I would very much like people to do the neuron-work necessary to realise that X makes no sense.

            While the end goal is to prevent harmful *behaviours* like , you don’t get there by forbidding the behaviours directly; and especially not by forbidding the harmless ones.

            You get there by correcting the *methodology* that people use to choose their behaviours. And this is important, because a methodology that produces nonsensical harmless behaviour X can be coaxed into producing *any* behaviour Y. Any conclusion can be derived from contradictory axioms.

            Any methodology that does not constrain itself to stick like glue to reality and its stated goals will eventually go haywire, no matter how good the initial intentions (look at the regressive left; at some point they have forgotten the *point* of social justice, and started worshipping its trappings).

            When somebody starts drifting away from reality, it is important, for themselves and anyone they might influence, to give them a gentle nudge back to earth. *What* am I doing? *Why* am I doing it? *How* do I expect it to work? *What* does it actually achieve, and is it consistent with the previous questions?

            And that reflex must be trained on the small stuff before it can successfully be applied to the big.

            The remedy? Merciless party pooping for everyone, always! Yeah!

            (I’m not saying you should question everything 24/7; having a bit of browser cache is necessary in practice unless you have super-thinking-speed; but you should be able to reexamine your premises from time to time, which is not easy if you’ve never done it before.).

            (as for whether I would force others to become party poopers… replay the argument: I won’t force them, but would like them to understand why they should)

            Okay, there’s a lot more that I’d like to try to unpack about that, but no time, and I am sure plenty of people have put it better than I could. Cheers!

            • Gamall
              Posted December 13, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

              My kingdom for a preview function:

              “prevent harmful *behaviours* like … ,”

              is missing [insert favourite religious atrocity here], because I used less/greater than signs, which were interpreted as HTML. Grr.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted December 13, 2016 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

                Firstly, you put it very well, I thought.

                I understand your annoyance at the vagaries of WordPress HTML, but I actually read your phrase as “prevent harmful behaviours, like” which is a bit of (I’m sure untypical) colloquialism but actually makes sense in the context.


              • Gamall
                Posted December 13, 2016 at 6:29 pm | Permalink


                “which is a bit of (I’m sure untypical) colloquialism but actually makes sense in the context.”

                That colloquialism was, like, totally not what I was going for, y’all.

  20. Craw
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    As an atheist I have no problem and never have had a problem with the Apollo 8 reading. The verse is central to our *culture*, not just some of the faiths in it. And it wasn’t a sermon, it was a reading. There is a difference.
    Grievance mongering almost 50 years after the fact. Shall we all complain about FDR’s Pearl Harbor speech, or Jefferson’s Declaration, or any god talk in the Gettysburg address?

    • Carl
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

      Jefferson’s Declaration? Our Declaration? It’s a repudiation of religion. Nature’s God is not the biblical god, it is simply Nature. Self evident truths are the opposite of revealed truths. Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, not from a deity.

      Truly, Novus ordo seclorum.

      • bobkillian
        Posted December 13, 2016 at 5:29 am | Permalink

        Well said. Seven well crafted sentences.

        BTW, I don’t find any god talk in the Gettysburg Address.

        • Posted December 13, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

          Near the end: “this nation, under God”.

          • Carl
            Posted December 13, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

            There is some controversy about the actual wording. Some drafts of the speech do not contain the phrase “under God” and some do. There is no videotape, but journalists did report “under God” was included.

      • Nick
        Posted December 13, 2016 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        The bit in the US declaration about a Creator endowing men with things is a bit Goddy, irrespective of the fact that it suited the rebels to claim those things were self-evident, so as to avoiding having to justify their actions.

        • rickflick
          Posted December 13, 2016 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

          Yuval Harari in “Sapiens” talks about various sources of authority for governments and morality. The founders basis for their government, he shows, is simply a fabrication. The idea of a creator, inalienable rights, self-evident truths, come from nowhere tangible. They seem to echo Christian moral principles, which are handed down supernaturally, more than anything. Jefferson was really groping for a justification for the kind of government they he thought might work, and it has been described as an experiment.

          • Carl
            Posted December 13, 2016 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

            Harari’s analysis of the American declaration is nonsense on stilts – a real black mark on his book and an insult to atheist intellectual heritage. It is demonstrably at odds with the history of what happened and what the founders thought. Their idea of equality does not come from Christianity, but from Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke. The founders had a deep philosophical foundation for their project. All the authors of the declaration were distinctly non-Christian and understood governments and moralities to be purely human endeavors. Freedom was their core value.

            • rickflick
              Posted December 13, 2016 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

              That was pretty much my take as well. Harari’s main point, I think, is that the justifications for human freedom and justice were not based on anything other that hope among the masses of disenfranchised. They are based on our hopes and dreams for a world of equality, as opposed to the divine right of kings, the will of the strong, or Christian mythology.

              But Harari does not dig deeply enough into the topic to establish what is really important about the ideas of the founders. He doesn’t seem to be happy to see democratic ideals as simply the best idea that’s come along. Pinker would add that the development of American democracy is part of a long tradition of improving our sense of what the good and just are. Democracy is likely the best chance for a civilization with a broad based state of human wellbeing.

  21. Posted December 12, 2016 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    When I went to the moon I prayed to ANYBODY OUT THERE to end global poverty. I’m still waiting.

    • Carl
      Posted December 12, 2016 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

      Careful, global poverty has been drastically reduced in recent years, both in frequency and absolute numbers. Prayer should get no credit.

  22. Roger
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Well what do you expect? They are rocket scientists, not brain surgeons.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 2:16 am | Permalink

      !! 🙂

      I could split a hair about whether astronauts are actually rocket scientists, but instead I’ll drop this here:


      • nicky
        Posted December 13, 2016 at 4:09 am | Permalink

        He he he!

      • Mark Perew
        Posted December 13, 2016 at 7:22 am | Permalink

        Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz is a NASA astronaut and creator of the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) engine. Dr. Chang Diaz is also an adjunct professor at Rice University.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 13, 2016 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

          My hairs remain split.

          That’s just one astronaut who was a rocket scientist, I’d guess almost all the others aren’t.

          (‘Rocket scientist’ meaning one who is involved in the theory and practice of rocketry, not just a scientist who rides in a rocket, of course).


    • Posted December 13, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink


  23. Posted December 13, 2016 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    ” It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.”

    Just like a dog, marking a snow bank or fire hydrant!

  24. darrelle
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    What is really interesting to me is that I’ve never heard of the Buzz Aldrin Communion on the moon. I grew up on this stuff. My father worked in the space program. I was nuts about the space program and had books and all kinds of manuals, program studies and other documents my dad would bring home for me. And this is the first I’ve ever heard of this.

    I’ve got to admit, it disappoints me. Not Buzz performing communion in the Eagle, but his intent to have done it publicly and his apparent attitude about it. Reading the excerpt from the OP I was at first just fine. Reading Buzz’s public statement inviting the public to pause and reflect on events, then signing off to perform his ceremony in private, I felt more respect for Buzz than I normally ever had. Then I read the rest.

    Not surprised for as Princess Irulan said you should take care to place a person in their time and take the most special care to locate them in their place. In Buzz’s case West Point graduate in 1951, distinguished high profile military career through the 50’s & 60’s, and of course he was located in the US. So, not surprised, but disappointed.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      I don’t hold it against him. It was a long, long, time ago. People in there early years are strongly influenced by their upbringing and exposure or lack of exposure to various perspectives on life. I would think that becoming a top military pilot and astronaut would leave relatively little time for serious reflection and the construction of a more sophisticated philosophy.
      Now, once he came out of the fast part of his life, you’d think he would have a chance to refine his thinking. I suspect he has changed over time, although I have no idea if he’s fully seen the light.

      • darrelle
        Posted December 13, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        He is very well educated. West Point graduate and a doctorate in astronautics from MIT. He is certainly a product of his times and his environment but I’m sure he had plenty of time and the capabilities for reflection of sophisticated philosophical matters. Though of course he may not have cared to do so.

        Now you’ve made me go look at the Wikipedia entry on him, and my disappointment is largely alleviated. From that entry . . .

        Later Aldrin commented on the event (the Communion ceremony on the moon): “Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion. Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the Moon in the name of all mankind – be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God.”

        But then I also learned that he is a bit of a climate change denialist Ahh well. No one is perfect. 🙂 More seriously, despite any criticisms I may have of him I still think he has led a highly admirable life.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted December 13, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

          I’m heartened by Aldrin’s comment.

  25. W.Benson
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Ironic that the Apollo 8 crew, supposedly rational and trained in science and engineering, felt compelled to read a text explicitly claiming that the universe, from the outset to man, came into existence in 6 literal days, and then have later moon missions bring back rocks that came into existence, if we accept radiometric dating, 4.44 billion years ago.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

      It’s metaphorical. (This is why theology is so important, so you can tell the literal bits from the metaphorical).

      [\irony], do I need to add?

  26. Xuuths
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Don’t be so surprised that a trained scientist astronaut took communion on the moon. Another trained scientist astronaut (Edgar Mitchell) did ESP tests in space.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      I’m willing to cut Mitchell some slack on that. ESP research was very much in vogue at the time; Puthoff & Targ were just beginning their remote viewing work at SRI and the debunking of that work was still years in the future. Modern neuroscience was in its infancy and the physicalist picture of the mind far from solidified. There was still room for respectable scientists to wonder whether some form of dualism could be true, and to do experiments to test that possibility.

      In the following decade, those experiments were done and ESP pretty much ruled out. But neither Mitchell nor NASA knew that in 1971.

  27. Posted December 13, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Modulo concerns about space, I have no problem with Aldrin using “private time” (necessary for psychological health) as he wishes, so long as he does not proselytize, etc. I have a bit more of a problem with the reading, since that was public, and looks like an endorsement.

  28. Posted December 13, 2016 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    In all seriousness, I think the out of jurisdiction argument seems valid. There’s different rules over international waters, for example. Surely, we can’t make the claim that the United States reigns Supreme throughout the Universe, with the minuscule exception of other places on our planet?

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

      I’m not a lawyer, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the jurisdictional issue was not about the spacecraft’s location in lunar orbit, but rather about the astronaut’s status as military personnel. So the suit would have to come up through the military court system to be eligible for review by SCOTUS.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

      I would certainly assume that the Moon was ‘out of jurisdiction’.

      However, had he been on the spacecraft at the time, I guess an analogy could be made with a ship in international waters, where the flag state (port of registry) usually applies.

      Antarctic bases are similar. So long as he went outside the limits of what might be construed as the ‘base’, he’s okay.


      • Posted December 13, 2016 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

        That’s a fair point. It’s also notoriously difficult to press charges for crimes that take place on cruise ships. So far as I know, the theory hasn’t been tested on a space ship. But yes, Communion on the moon surely wouldn’t qualify. It still would have made for an interesting case, as military personnel have access to religious services and often wear their uniforms. This isn’t viewed as promoting religion as a Government representative. Also, there certainly wasn’t any audience being held captive for their space transmission, which is often another key in these cases.

        The really important question here though is whether the Blood of Christ being exposed to the hostile environment of the moon killed him again. If so, is this murder and which jurisdiction applies?

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