Discoveroids’ Thoughts about Life on Mars

We’ve previously written about the positions taken by some of the major creationist websites on the existence of extra-terrestrial life. For the granddaddy of all creationist outfits — the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), see ICR Flat-Out Predicts: “No Alien Life Exists”.

And for the position of ol’ Hambo, founder of Answers in Genesis (AIG), one of the major sources of young-earth creationist wisdom, see AIG Accepts Possibility of Alien Life. Hambo is hedging his bets on the possibility of primitive life, but there’s no intelligent life out there, and even if there were, they can’t get into heaven.

Now we hear from the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

We already know the Discoveroids’ position — they’re pretty much committed to the proposition that life on earth is unique. Jay Richards is a Discoveroid “Senior Fellow” (i.e., full-blown creationist), and he’s a co-author of the creationist classic, The Privileged Planet. So let’s see what the Discoveroids have to say today.

Their latest post on alien life is Another Mars Rover, Another Chance for (Materialist) Redemption. It’s by David Klinghoffer, whose creationist oeuvre we last described here, and upon whom the Discoveroids have bestowed the exalted title of “senior fellow” — i.e., flaming, full-blown creationist. His name has some of the resonance of Red Skelton’s Clem Kadiddlehopper.

Klinghoffer (or Kadiddlehopper) is in full mystic mode for this one. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us and his links omitted:

NASA is getting ready to land a new rover on Mars, this one to explore Gale Crater, one of the lowest elevation points on the planet and where water might have been expected to gather at some time in the past.

For some reliable information about that mission, see this at NASA’s website: NASA’s Car-Sized Rover Nears Daring Landing on Mars. Okay, back to Klinghoffer:

Following standard procedure, NASA’s top Mars scientist, Michael Meyer, has been talking about, yes, the tantalizing possibility of finding evidence of life where once there was water. “One of the main reasons why we’re going to Mars is to figure out whether life ever started there,” he told Reuters. Since life as we know it requirers [sic] water, and since water flows down, Gale Crater is a logical place to look.

Nothing wrong with that. Then Klinghoffer quotes NASA’s Meyer, referring to it as an “interesting if-then formulation.” We haven’t checked the Meyer quote, and the bracketed material is in Klinghoffer’s original:

If in the second place in our solar system that we think life has a possibility [it] actually did start there, my conclusion would be that life is easy, it’s a natural process and the universe is just littered with places that have life.

Shocking indeed! Let’s see what Klinghoffer says about it:

This would constitute redemption for materialist evolutionism.

Aaaargh!! Klinghoffer’s paragraph continues:

Curiosity [the rover's name] will have the opportunity to investigate for the duration of one Martian year (687 Earth days). What if no evidence of life is forthcoming, as in fact has been the case with the previous Mars rovers? Would that incline Michael Meyer to the conclusion that life may not be “easy,” that perhaps it’s not a “natural process,” and probably the universe is not “just littered with places that have life”?

That’s supposed to be a serious question — If there’s no life on Mars, would a scientist conclude from that one data-point that life isn’t a natural process? Verily, dear reader, the creationist mind is a marvel! Here’s Klinghoffer’s smug conclusion:

That, of course, is one of those question you are not supposed to ask.

Well! The tension is mounting at Discoveroid headquarters. The fate of the “theory” of intelligent design seems to hinge on what the Mars rover finds.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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17 responses to “Discoveroids’ Thoughts about Life on Mars

  1. You can expect to find silly crazy people if you look for them. Creationists like anyone else are subject to cultural cognition, adopting ideas popular within their group and subconsciously reinforcing solidarity to remain in good standing (as outlandishly as it might manifest, as in this Martian exploration case). Studies have shown that presenting more contrary evidence to such people tends to entrench their preexisting views. My point, I suppose, is that your curmudgeonly blog’s audience will be people who wish to confirm their own views about creationism, while any creationists who visit are very likely to feel defensive and reinforce their own views. Insulting creationists may feel gratifying but if you really wish to change their minds then I suspect respectful dialog is necessary, which first requires a foundation of trust and respect. I’m concerned about fundamentalism and erosion of scientific thought and education, but I think scientists need to consider a more nuanced approach to the problem.

  2. >”Discoveroids’ Thoughts about Life on Mars”

    I say they should go for it.

    @ThatScientist: I am more than willing to have an honest dialog with a Creationist. I’ve done it before and it was very rewarding. A respectful dialog is a two-way street, and requires some agreement on basic assumptions and facts. Unfortunately, most Creationist who want open dialog are also ones who will lie and cheat any way they can, if they think it will win them a few points in The Controversy. These are the same folks who claim they are being repressed when the scientific response tells them they are wrong.
    When logical and reason fail, ridicule may be the only response left.

  3. Smug, but cagey. In case evidence of microbial life IS found on Mars, I’m sure there’s a preloaded backup explanation. (Scientific hoax, God’s mysterious plan, cryptic Bible passage reinterpreted as prophesy, etc…)

  4. It’s true that there are many people who are probably beyond reproach, but there’s a spectrum of views out there. “Creationists” aren’t a monolith just as scientists are not. Some religious people are more comfortable with difficult ideas and doubt than others. The key is to access people who are more equivocal, who are more critical thinkers. Another issue to consider is pragmatically “winning” the argument doesn’t mean persuading 100% of people to scientific views, it means persuading people that set aside from their own religious values scientific thought has its own validity, importance, and is moral and uncorrupting.

  5. The MSL might find some indicators of life, but finding life itself would be a long shot in my opinion. If life exists on Mars, it is likely to be underground, perhaps in aquifers. The MSL has an impressive suite of instruments, but it is not a drilling platform.

    According to the NASA MSL website – ‘Mars Science Laboratory will assess whether Mars ever had an environment capable of supporting microbial life. Determining past habitability on Mars gives NASA and the scientific community a better understanding of whether life could have existed on the red planet and, if it could have existed, an idea of where to look for it in the future.”

    The rover carries instruments that can detect some organic compounds, can detect methane, can photograph rocks and soil at basically hand-lens magnification, and so on. All cool stuff, but probably not enough to detect microbial life forms directly. Kling can probably relax, at least for the near term.

    On the other hand, if the MSL survives it’s landing, it is likely to last for many years. It is not dependent on solar power (ergo no dust problems and no winter downtime) and is larger and heavier than the existing rovers, which have proven to be quite tough themselves. With years of service ahead of it…. who knows what it will stumble across?

  6. Edwrits: “… who knows what it will stumble across?”

    You never know.

    ThatScientist: “The key is to access people who are more equivocal, who are more critical thinkers.”

    I agree, and I believe those people are terribly underrepresented. It’s not the reasonable people we hear from, it’s the loudmouthed kooks who scream for attention, and they get it.

    In a recent exchange with a Creationist (a Mr. Droner) who insisted that scientists should not be “scornful” of alternate ideas. I pointed out that it is exactly the business of science to scornfully tear down bad ideas. The difference is science has accepted rules and standards for doing this (peer review, etc.), and while not perfect, they clear work very well.
    Some of the Creationist clearly want a slice of scientific prestige to back up their political beliefs, specifically teaching Creationism in schools at taxpayer expense, but can’t accept with the scornful rejection they receive. And so they lie, cheat, misrepresent, quote-mine, invent, and slander to get what they want. I’m OK with ridiculing that sort of behavior, and I suspect the “rational religious” are too. I do make an effort not to make blanket statements, and to be very specific about just what I am mocking.

  7. Sometimes the sheer ignorance of a creationist precludes any sort of meaningful dialogue. In many cases the dialog can only go so far before the creationist resorts to spouting Bible verses and talking points while humming loudly and closing his/her eyes.
    Both Curmy and I, as well as some of the other commentators have spent years and thousands of (somewhat) civil conversations with hundreds of creationists. At some point it becomes pointless to continue trying to convince them of their error and ridicule becomes the default.

  8. Tundra Boy says: “Both Curmy and I, as well as some of the other commentators have spent years and thousands of (somewhat) civil conversations with hundreds of creationists.”

    And I have never seen one of them change his mind. Not ever. Not one. I’ve concluded that in the case of adult creationists, it’s virtually always a hopeless situation, and there’s really no point in engaging them in debate. Online rebuttal of creationist “authorities,” often followed by well-deserved ridicule, is what works for me. If there’s a genuine fence-sitter out there, the information is easily available and he can figure it out if he wants to. There’s no reason (or time) to go searching for such people.

  9. Curm states: “And I have never seen one of them change his mind”
    Since 2001 I’ve seen 2 change their minds and they were not on the site we’re both familiar with. Both were already questioning their beliefs. Creationists from the site that cannot be named are lost, never to be recovered.

  10. docbill1351

    I am unmoved. All creationists are dishonest. I’ve yet to meet an honest one. At one time Kurt Wise was referred to as an “honest” creationist but really he’s a “pure” creationist and doesn’t engage in blatantly dishonest propaganda as do all of the Disco Tute fellows, flakes and flatulaters. However, Dawkins commented that Wise’s hardcore, unmoving creationist stance was a “disgrace to the human species.” I agree with that.

    Dear Creationists,
    I. Do. Not. Care. About. Your. Opinion. You. Are. Factually. Wrong.
    Doc Bill

    And in closing, please watch or read this interview with Lawrence Krauss on why there is something instead of nothing, and how nothing is not your Grandfather’s nothing anymore. Krauss concludes:

    The two lessons I want to give people is that, you’re more insignificant than you ever thought, and the future is miserable. And those two things should make you happy not sad.

  11. Doctor Stochastic

    Does Original Sin devolve to any Life-On-Mars?

  12. Actually, this brings an important question that I have been mulling over for the past few days. What would it take to convince a Ken Ham and his ilk that evolution is a natural process of the universe? Even Richard Dawkins said that he thought that the odds of their not being a God was something on the order of 98.73% (or something close to that). Do the discoveroids have the courage to say that their is a possibility that their conclusions are wrong, their religion is wrong, and could they ever put it into a hard number the way Dawkins did on what they think the odds are their “theories” are wrong.

    I just can’t help but feel that it is somehow profound that someone like Dawkins could admit there is a possibility he is wrong (however slight) while the Discoveroids childishly insist that they have to be right and that is all there is to it.

  13. Hi That Scientist! Your comments are thoughtful
    and indicative of a desire for reconciliation. Thanks for those thoughts. After following creationists at SBOE in Texas for a few years and following the key issues I really just want to
    lay down some pre-planed supporting artillery , assault on line, jump in their foxholes and make significant adjustments to their brain housing assemblies. …Seriously, unless one is really stupid, very poorly educated or a liar, there is simply no way to logically support ID, YEC, OEC
    or any of the other forms of creationism as science. That only leaves denial as a motive, because their religious. views have served them so well in life to this point. To change that problem, one needs a lot of psychiatry. I really don’t think it’s possible to reason with the mentally ill and expect a cure of that denial.
    The alternative therefore is , to figuratively nuke ‘em till they glow , then zap ‘em in the dark… not PC but very satisfying.

  14. docbill1351

    What would it take to convince a Ken Ham and his ilk that evolution is a natural process of the universe?

    What would it take to teach my cat to speak French? Well, gee, Doc Bill, that would be impossible. It’s not that your cat is incapable of speaking French, rather he just doesn’t care. Mais oui, c’est vrais!

    All of the science and information is already out there and readily available in 5 minutes on Google or Wikipedia. However, all creationists are dishonest and they will not take that step.

    As for Dawkins, he has in fact made the statement that all scientific knowledge is provisional and that leaves an opening for gods, demons, fairies, Big Foot and all the rest, however, two things.

    One, in the entire history of mankind it has never once been demonstrated that these things exist. Quite the opposite, as mankind has learned more and organized it’s knowledge better and developed the scientific method, once unexplainable natural phenomena have been explained naturally.

    Two, explanations about nature and the universe do not require supernatural intervention, explanations, gods, demons, fairies nor Big Foot to sustain the explanation. The lie that dishonest creationists tell over and over is that Darwinism is atheism and that’s simply not true. The modern theory of evolution can be totally explained by natural phenomena; no supernatural intervention or design or tweaking required. It’s that simple.

    Why do I laugh at creationists? I dunno, I’m a bad person?

  15. Docbill!
    Agreed. Never try to teach a pig
    to read. It’s a waste of time and it annoys
    the pig. ha ha

  16. @DocBill:

    last line… “The modern theory of evolution can be totally explained by natural phenomena; no supernatural intervention or design or tweaking required. It’s that simple.”

    An important extension of that statement is that it does not preclude the existence of a creator (whether Yahweh, or Zeus, or other gods or the tooth fairy). It simply is a statement of what is. The question of whether God exists or not is not in the realm of science. The ToE just like particle physics explains what is observable and testable, it is neither good nor bad, but amoral. It has been tested and no evidence to the contrary found. That’s why creation stories (whether Genesis or any other) don’t belong in science class, but the ToE does.

  17. docbill1351

    @tj So true. Creationists don’t go after geometry. Creationism, itself, has evolved and you can read about that in fascinating, minute detail in Barbara Forrest’s book “Intelligent Design: Creationism’s Trojan Horse.” That said, the only thing that really, really, REALLY bugs creationists is human evolution. By golly, my granddaddy ain’t no monkey! How many times have we heard that?

    How. Many.

    That’s the nub of it, though. However, they are forced to address more evolution than they would like because as creationist and convicted felon Kent Hovind said, “You can’t ignore dinosaurs. They’re right there!” Thus starts the merry dance. In order to dismiss human evolution they’ve got to dismiss it all. Good luck with that.

    It’s all about being special and image of God and all that and, great Caesar’s Ghost, their God didn’t rule Planet of the Apes!

    Creationists don’t go after social studies. Only, yes, they do. Because the USA is special. Exceptional, you might say (and they do). Thus, we are special, so special we must be blessed, anointed, loved and protected by God ™. Same mindset.

    Conversing with creationists is like conversing with fruit flies. Here is Lawrence Krauss talking about the joy of reality in an interview with Cara Santa Maria on the HuffPo science page:

    That consciousness evolved on a random planet in the middle of a random galaxy in the middle of nowhere. Four billion years into that time, consciousness evolved and we can have this conversation and enjoy learning about the universe back to its early moments and out to the indefinite future. It’s amazing, and the meaning in our lives is the meaning we create and we should enjoy it, and make the most of our brief moment in the sun.

    CSM: Anything else?

    LK: The two lessons I want to give people is that, you’re more insignificant than you ever thought, and the future is miserable. And those two things should make you happy not sad.