Monday, May 30, 2005

Martians, ID and Evolution

I think it was Einstein who said that science can create a lot of speculation on little data.

Many, many people in the first half of the twentieth century were almost certain Martians were there based on science, based on notions drawn from both Evolution and Intelligent Design, oddly enough. Many assumed that as life will almost inevitably evolve if given a chance to do so as per the premises of Evolution it would therefore evolve or have evolved on planets besides Earth. The increasing amounts of evidence that Earth is a quite a privileged planet is coming to be evidence against such notions. On the ID side, there was this fellow named Percival Lowell who thought that some lines seen by astronomers on the surface of Mars were canals and therefore Mars was civilized. It was false evidence for Design as the lines that were seen were an artifact of poor telescopes, as I recall. I would note that if lines of a mathematical type of order were actually there, it probably would be valid to argue that as empirical evidence for a Martian civilization. The problem was that the empirical evidence the claim was being based on was not valid, not that such a claim is inherently invalid.

People used to take such notions very seriously with respect to Mars...and not just in the comical comic books:

Instead, the ideas used for narratives in the comics were taken seriously as narratives in general:
PARIS, Feb. 21--Edmond Perrier, Director of the French Botanical Society, in an amusing interview, declares that there can be no doubt at all that there are plants and flowers on Mars, and that the planet is inhabited. He has published a little pamphlet in which he describes, on scientific grounds, the Martians as he believes them to be.

Owing, he says, to the lightness of the atmosphere on Mars and the comparative absencse of fierce light, vegetation is luxuriant and the Martians are probably people like the giant Scandinavians. They are, he thinks, about twice the size of human beings, and have enormous noses and large protruding eyes.
Camille Flammarion, the famous astronomer, was interviewed on the subject today. He refuswes to follow M. Perrier in his more imaginative flights, but says he is conviced, after watching Mars closely for forty years, that there is no reason against Mars being inhabited, and says M. Perrier is probably right in what he says of its luxuriant vegetation.

(What Martians Are Like
By Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph
to the New York Times; Feb 22, 1912 pg. 4)

One sensational incident that many people have heard of as far as how seriously these ideas were taken was the War of the Worlds:
Ever since Professor Percival Lowell in the Nineties discovered the 'canals' on Mars, and other celestial observers caught signs of atmosophere and clouds, the world has been looking for messages from the ruddy faced neighbor...
The fantastic, but realistically sounding 'gas raid from Mars' adapted for broadcasting from H.G. Wells's story, 'War of the Worlds,' written in 1897, just when Lowell was seeing the 'canals' and Marconi was stirring up the ether, sent an unprecedented wave of public hysteria across the country last Sunday night. It has been a topic of conversation in and out of radio circles ever since.
[...] adapting the play, error No. 2 occurred when the names of New Jersey towns were used instead of foreign places mentioned in the H.G. Wells story. Such names brought the play all too close to home to sound like fantasy. Then, too, the listeners were in the mood to believe it could happen here. Americans had heard enough of European short-wave broadcasts and rebroadcasts in recent weeks ot realize that such catastrophes do happen and happen quickly. They had eavesdropped on commentators in London, Prague and Paris talking about just such a terrible event; they had seen pictures from overseas of women and children being fitted with gas masks. The radio 'news flash' sounded real.

And well it might when an announcer broadcasts such a statement as follows, and the ear catches only this much from the night air: 'Now, nearer home, comes a special announcement from Trenton, N.J. It is reported that at 8:50 p.m., a huge flaming object believed to be a meteorite, fell on a farm in the neighborhood of Grovers Mill, N.J., twenty-two miles from Trenton. The flash in the sky was visible within a radius of several hundred miles and the noise of the impact was heard as far north as Elizabeth.'

Error No. 3...was the use of the titles of Federal, State and city officials. For instance, it was broadcast that the 'Secretary of the Interior' had ordered the evacuation of a certain area in New Jersey; that the Governor had placed parts of Mercer and Middlesex Counties under martial law. Hence, one listener said, 'That scared me to death; I thought for sure then it was the real McCoy. I rushed into the street and found neighbors running in all directions.'

(Message From Mars
By Orrine E. Dunlap Jr.
The New York Times; Nov. 6, 1938 pg. 184)

Yet, it was repeated:
('Martian Invasion' Terrorizes Chile
By The Associated Press
The New York Times; Nov. 14, 1944 pg. 1)

And for a number of years ideas about the planet Mars, the planet of the god of war received similar treatment, example:
(Fair 'Arms' Against Mars
The New York Times; Jul. 27, 1939 pg. 13)

It was a pretty strong meme in its day. And the UFO types are still around demonstrating the continuing strength of these notions. People forget that scientists thought it very likely that they would find life on Mars until quite recently, given assumptions based on the mythological narratives of Naturalism and how a primordial mud puddle can supposedly be the common ancestor of all Life on a planet.

A side note,
It is possible that there is only one privileged planet that sits rather near the center of the Cosmos, just so, with quite a good view of the same. That may be so that those who have eyes, may see. Perhaps it is the remnants of what once would have been a Garden for creating and nurturing Life. There are stories of gardens within the garden, one called Eden, another called Gethsemane and another in which an empty tomb was found.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener."
John 15

A story about a garden:
The Garden, I
The Garden, II
The Garden, III
The Garden, IV
The Garden, V
The Garden, VI

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