Date: Fri, 9 Aug 1996 08:48:25 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 8, 1996 (Part On

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Date: Fri, 9 Aug 1996 08:48:25 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 8, 1996 (Part One of Two) Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #122 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 8/8/96 In This Issue... * Religious Grumblings Over Heathen Martians * October 30, 1938 -- When Martians Invaded, "People Of Faith" Panicked * About This List... LIFE ON MARS ~ GOOD SCIENCE OR RUSH TO JUDGMENT ? "Religious Groups in Turmoil," Says Times Of London... The prospect that a meteorite found in Antarctica may have originated on the planet Mars and shows evidence of possible microscopic fossils has scientists divided, the public fascinated, and philosophers musing about the meaning of it all. On Wednesday, a team of NASA and Stanford University scientists announced their case for the existence of possible Martian life. The discovery was based upon an examination of part of a 4.1 pound meteorite found in the Allan Hills section of the South polar region, and believed to have come from Mars about 16 million years ago, when the red planet might have been hit by a wandering asteroid. In August, 1994 part of the meteorite was examined by scientists at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston; chemical analysis suggested that it was of Martian origin. Further study revealed gold-colored specks of organic material and fossilized "worms" which resembled microbial remains found on earth. The Wednesday panel included a statement from NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin, who said that the agency "has made a startling discovery that points to the possibility that a primitive form of microscopic life may have existed on Mars more than three billion years ago..." Goldin went on to caution that "we are not talking about 'little green men'," but rather "extremely small, single-cell structures that somewhat resemble bacteria on Earth. There is no evidence or suggestion that any higher life form ever existed on Mars." A number of scientists expressed skepticism with the NASA revelations, although none expressed displeasure with the fact that the announcements of the findings really resembled the "cold-fusion" controversy of the 1980's, where "scientific findings" were first revealed in a high-profile press conference rather than a refereed science journal. The NASA-Stanford report will appear in the journal "Science" in its August 16 issue. Ostensibly, "word leaked out" about the article, thus prompting a press conference to release the team's findings. William Schopf of the University of California, who discovered the oldest earth fossils, said: "A lot more work need to be done before we can have fair confidence that this is proof of life on Mars." 'Souls" From Other Planets ? Religious groups in the U.S. were slower and somewhat less vehement than elsewhere on commenting on Wednesday's revelations. Ian Barbour, a theologian and physicist at Carleton College (Mass.) told USA TODAY, "I don't see it as a big obstacle to religious thought. To be sure, it's a further displacement of humanity from a unique status, but we've been facing that for a long time. The religious community has been slowly coming to grips with this over the years." The President of the Catholic University in Washington added: "If this (the Mars revelation) is true it can't contradict any true theory. It just may take some time to reconcile." Patrick Ellis added that "All of the religions on Earth are based on human history. Other life forms may have an entirely different relationship to God. There's no limit to God's creative potential." Televangist and religious-right preacher Jerry Falwell, however, was less sanguine. He told USA TODAY that "they can spend a trillion dollars looking for it (intelligent life) but they'll never find it. The Bible makes clear that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and Man." The reaction in Great Britain was more prounounced, and The London Times reported that religious groups there were in "turmoil" as they "tried to reconcile the biblical story of the Creation with the latest scientific discovery." A member of the Biblical Creation Soceity, a British-based creationist group that accepts the literal interpretation of biblical lore, said that "Creationists would be in an extremely difficult position if intelligent life was found elsewhere, because that would seem to conflict completely with what the Bible says. John Peet also noted that "The Bible seems to teach that the Universe and the Earth were made specifically for man, so it is difficult to see how life could appear elsewhere. But there is nothing in the Bible which says there is no plant life on any other planet." The Times also quoted Geoff Chapman, a Methodist minister and secretary of the Creation Resource Trust; "I doubt they can prove this meteorite actually came from Mars. I would doubt very much that there is such a thing as extra-terrestrial life. Chapman also suggested that "Evolutionists are desperate to find evidence of extra-terrestrial life," but said that his faith would remain in tact were such evidence found. The general administrator of the Pentacostal Assemblies of God in Britain expressed doubts as well, saying, "We tend to take scientific 'evidence' with a pinch of salt -- we don't agree with the Darwin theory of evolution, for instance." The Times noted that "mainstream Christian bodies were less perturbed" about the NASA revelations. Keith Ewing of the Evangelical Alliance insisted: "The discovery is no threat to Christian belief and it would be wrong to portray science and Christianity as in total conflict. The conflict arises only from an ideological position that science is the only valid form of knowledge and has got all the answers." For years, there have been reports that theologians in the Vatican have speculated on the possible implications for religious doctrine of life elsewhere in the Universe. The Church is well known for its role in the persecution of Galileo, who was convicted of heresy in 1633 for suggesting that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of the solar system. The Vatican apologized for that action, but has made no formal statement concerning extra-terrestrial life. The Times noted that a Church spokesman told the paper: "There is no proof yet, but if there were then it would cause some sort of rethink. But we will wait until they contact us." A representative for the Church of Englated stated that his group "believed that God created the whole Universe so I don't think there could be a problem." ***** WHEN MARTIANS DID INVADE, RELIGIOUS TENDED TO PANIC... (Part One of Two) On October 30, 1958, millions of Americans were shocked by the radio broadcast of H.G. Well's famous novel "War of the Worlds." This dramatic presentation described the invasion and conquest of the earth by creatures from the planet Mars -- and all in the period of about half-an-hour. The public reaction to the broadcast was totally unexpected; despite the fear prior to air time that the show wouldn't be sufficiently realistic, over one million persons who heard this radio play were convinced that the earth was under attack. They panicked, prayed, fled their homes, jammed phone lines and flocked to churches. Some claimed to smell the poisonous gas the Martian invaders were said to be spreading across the countryside; other insisted that they actually heard the sound of the battle, the firing of guns and cannon -- or even saw the blood-red glow of flames as the Martian juggernaut destroyed buildings, tore up bridges and wiped out whole armies The infamous "Panic Broadcast" was the artistic creation of a young producer named Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater Players. In 1937, CBS launched its "Mercury Theater On The Air" as a series of regular classical dramatizations. Grinding out scripts was a young and harried Howard Koch (remember "Casablanca"?); just five days before the "War of the Worlds" broadcast, he was distressed that the production would be a flop. Indeed, actor John Houseman recalled a decade later Koch furiously running around the studio insisting "Under no circumstances could 'War of the Worlds' be made interesting or in any way credible to the modern American ear..." Even following the Saturday night rehersal, a CBS sound man lamented that the production just didn't come off -- it was too fantastic, too absurd. Houseman and others recalled vividly that night, from the starting cue given by Orson Welles, to the voice of the studio announcer presenting the closing line accompanied by the music of the Tchaikovsky piano concerto in B flat minor #1. "This is the Columbia Broadcasting System..." Suddenly, network security people poured into the studio and began hustling the Mercury Theater Players into a back office. Copies of the script were quickly being destroyed or locked away. The phone was ringing frantically; among the callers was the mayor of a major midwestern town who insisted on talking to Orson Welles, to inform him that because of the broadcast, the churches of his town were packed, phone lines were in gridlock, and people were pouring into the streets. Reporters began to arrive at the CBS building. Did Welles know about the deaths, the suicides, the panic? Everyone had forgotten that it was Halloween. The following day, headlines across the country would tell the full tale of how a speculative novel by H.G. Wells had become the infamous "Panic Broadcast." A year before the "War of the Worlds" presentation, the Rockefeller Foundation allocated a grant to Princeton University to study the impact of radio on American society. It soon became known as the Princeton Radio Study, and was directed by Hadley Cantril. He had graduated from Dartmouth in 1928, received a doctorate from Harvard, and became president of the Institute for Propaganda Analysis. It was the Panic Broadcast, though, which trust Cantril into the public eye for organizing a systematic analysis of the panic, and writing a book about the event, "The Invasion From Mars, A Study In The Psychology Of Panic." Cantril and staff interviewed hundreds of people who had tuned in to the Mercury Theater that October night, many of whom believed uncritically what they were hearing. One disturbing find made by the Project was that religious "people of faith" displayed a heightened credulity, and were prone to uncritically accept what Welles and the other actors were telling them. Six million people tuned in that evening, many of them just a few minutes after the introduction. Cantril estimated that 1,200,000 believed that the show was factual. Not surprisingly, educational level was one factor in how people reacted. Those with higher levels of education were skeptical of the "Martian invasion." Those with higher incomes were less apt to believe the broadcast as well. Cantril also discovered that the better educated persons were less credulous than others, but not simply because they had more years of formal learning. The difference was in what he termed "critical ability," or critical reasoning. These types of listeners verified the broadcast by doing relatively simply things -- looking outside, turning the radio dial, calling a friend, even consulting a newspaper to see what was playing that evening on the radio. But for every 25 individuals found by the survey who did these sorts of things, 21 people did not -- this latter group simply believed, and often panicked. (End of Part One of Two) ***** AANEWS is a free service from American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For information about American Atheists, send e-mail to:, and include your name and postal address. Or, check out our cool new web site at You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to American Atheists and the aanews. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to:, and put "info aanews" in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


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